The holiday season is right around the corner and because the pandemic made it necessary to stay close to home last year, many families will be traveling together for the first time in a long time. Certified Child Life Specialist and our newest Piper + Enza contributor Katie Taylor shares some tips for traveling with kids this year!
Buckle up, it could be a bumpy ride!
We’ve all experienced how staying at home away from family and friends can quickly instill a love of and longing for travel. With vaccinations on the rise and states loosening restrictions, you may be considering the reality of traveling to see your friends and family over the holidays.
After months of staying close to home within a close circle of people, it may feel strange for your family to be venturing out amongst strangers to travel to another location. Traveling with kids in a non-pandemic world can be challenging enough, so if you are feeling more stressed than usual by adding COVID-19 to your list of things to consider, you’re not alone.
However, there are some things your family can do to make your traveling experience less stressful and more enjoyable. Remember, family experiences during the journey can be memorable and positive—not just at the destination.
Trips with kids don’t just start on the day of travel. It can take hours or days of packing to make sure you have everything. Traveling during a pandemic may take up more time than usual, but it will pay off in the long run. If you aren’t a pen and pencil person, consider downloading an app like Cozi to share lists and check things off once you’ve packed them. I’m also a huge fan of packing cubes (one set for each family member!). Think of it like little drawers inside your suitcase to keep everything organized. Go ahead and pack 2-3 extra masks and hand sanitizers in each carryon item—including your kids’. Everyone 2 years and older will be required to wear a mask on the plane. The national supply chain is predicting trouble, so consider packing more snacks than usual in case gas stations/airport kiosks are running low.
Prior to getting on a plane with kiddos, I hit up the $1 spot at Target and find “new” puzzles, games and activities to keep in our carry-on bag. Our family rule is that we can’t get out the new stuff until we hit 10,000 feet!
In terms of mentally preparing your kids, new experiences can be frightening, so giving kids a sense of control through preparation and choices is key. Consider watching videos on YouTube of airplanes, talk about the way the seats feel, and discuss the sensory experiences your child will feel. Then, offer choices when possible. Do you want to read a book together when the plane takes off? Window seat next to Mommy? Comfy stuffed animal in your lap? All of these small actions can bring comfort.
Be an Early Bird
While there is no need to stress about showing up somewhere excessively early, airports are reporting they will have a high number of travelers this season, so lines will be long. This summer showed us that airports can get crowded and overwhelming. The only thing worse than running through an airport to make your flight is running through an airport dragging kiddos behind you.
Lower your Expectations
I understand and endorse the American Academy of Pediatrics stance on limiting screen time, but I also understand and endorse the stress that can develop when traveling with children. Go easy on yourself and your kiddos with typical expectations for behavior. Your kids may get more screen time than is “normal” for your family, and that’s OK. Get prepared by downloading no-Wifi-necessary applications that are great for kids from companies like Toca Boca, Disney and PBS.
While there is much to be out of your control as you travel there are things you can have control of: pack up and be prepared, arrive early and lower your expectations. You’ve got this!
Katie Taylor is certified child life specialist, podcast host and CEO + Founder Child Life On Call, and a Piper+Enza expert contributor.