Many families are planning to travel with kids in tow this summer, likely experiencing a proper vacation for the first time ever since Corona. Traveling with kids is always a challenge, but doubly so in the aftershock of the worst pandemic to ever hit mankind.
Many of these kids will never have experienced travel before, and parents are undoubtedly nervous. Will they be able to endure a long plane ride without incident? Will they misbehave at the restaurant? Even the best of children can behave badly if put under a lot of stress.
These worries can lead to travel modifications that are molded to better fit the child's comfort over everyone else's. What most people fail to realize is that when planning for travel, it is best to start by incorporated expectations into the everyday activities and actions that can help the behavior of a child no matter the setting.
I am a believer that, for the most part, children should be able to travel anywhere. We also can't control how they react to certain inconveniences related to travel such as flight delays, the ever-shrinking seats on planes, the kid-intolerant passenger or cabin pressure.
But just as we did, children learn by experience and the only way to teach them is by exposing them to scenarios where they can learn. Here are some tips on how to start small before hitting the big time in travel, and how to make sure the kids don't ruin your holiday fun.
Tell them masks are necessary to train them for snorkeling
The mask mandates are slowly fading away like the memories of a beloved departed one, but there are still many who are uncomfortable with kids running around unmasked – especially in confined spaces like airplanes.
If your kids haven't yet learned to enjoy to wear a mask, you can try the old "training" trick. Simply tell them that you are going to snorkel, and that the fun activity requires mask training. This way they'll become "used to how it feels to breathe through a tube underwater."
Trust me, this makes perfect sense in kid logic. They won't cause a scene when you mask them up, and likely they'll even thank you and have a blast imagining themselves swimming through a beautiful reef!
Start at home, and make them feel like "big boys"
If you want to be able to go to that nice restaurant with all the glass on the table and the shiny silverware with the kids, then practice for it at home because there is no place better to teach manners and avoid bad behavior. It's the only place where both you and your child can make a mistake, and try again, without judgment or fear that you will break anything or disrupt anyone else in the process.
Never underestimate your child's desire and ability to learn proper behavior. My boys delight in the opportunities to "act like big boys."
And it's about more than just saying Please or Thank you.
Setting the table as it would be at a fine restaurant, for example, even if just once a week, can help in educating the family on what to do with the cloth napkin, what utensils to use for what serving, and what side of your plate to locate your drinking glass.
Taking those lessons to more laid-back neighborhood restaurants makes it easier to practice. Behaviors that we often reserve for special, public occasions are better learned in the comfortable environment that home and more familiar places often offer.
Hit the road with micro-vacations
When an upcoming celebration proved to be too costly to fly to, my family and I decided to drive cross-country to get there and back instead.
The lessons from that trip served to be invaluable in more ways than one. For starters, my boys learned to overcome their intolerance of having to stay put for hours at a time. They were 2, 3, and 10 at the time, but this lesson has helped them demonstrate self-control in flights as well, something everyone involved can appreciate. And we, the parents, learned to relax about traveling with our boys.
If you foresee a long plane ride in your future, schedule some extended road trips beforehand. Start with an hour, then go from there. Take the time to enforce lessons in volume control, patience, as well as the ability to do nothing for an extended period of time. This last skill, the ability to do nothing, is one many of us struggle with even as adults but can often make any vacation one that everyone truly remembers.
If you are planning to visit a destination that will require a lot of walking, but walking is not something you do much at home, it might be good to train for it. Go on hikes at local parks, or walk a few extra blocks instead of taking public transportation. Allot time to rest and not feel rushed. Instilling the physical activity before your active trip makes it easier to enjoy once you get there.
Give them a chance to try
While in Costa Rica, my family and I were invited to go on a 3-hour hike across the rain forest in search of waterfalls.
Though the idea sounded fabulous in theory, I worried my youngest, then 5 and 6, would get tired and complain about the heat, or not be able to hike through the rocky, challenging terrain to get there.
But, not going would've meant missing a great vacation moment. So we went.
Though we went slower and the kids sometimes needed help in scaling certain lifts, with rubber boots and walking sticks in hand they made it to the falls. No one cried. There was a little complaining, but nothing that made the experience regrettable. Being able to swim under a waterfall as a family is something we will never forget and after that, there was nothing the kids weren't willing to do.
I learned that when it comes to our kids, we just have to give them a chance to try despite our own apprehensions. Recognize that it is, in fact, our apprehension that limits their courage to go for it. They will look to us for reassurance and if we want them to enjoy all that travel has to offer, we have to be willing to just let go, for them and for us.
Even if you have to try a few times before it becomes easier to travel with kids, the most important thing is to remember that it's suppose to be fun. The perfect vacation isn't about everything going as planned but about the surprises. Making the best of it – including the delays and crowds – teaches your kids (and you) how to just be in the moment.
For most families traveling, it's all about being together. As long as that is happening, then at least you know you are half way there. Best of luck with your travels, and perhaps you'd like to read How to put fit fun back in the family vacation.