Travis and I took Kyle on his first long, out of state vacation when he was 16 months old and first trip abroad when he was 4. Travel days are tough, period. Flight delays, traffic, boredom, waiting in line after line after line wears on everyone, especially kids when they just cannot keep their shit together for one more second.
Here’s what you do: For your kid(s) – 1 part Benadryl + 1 part dramamine; for you: 1 part scotch to 2 parts soda. Headphones and tablets for all. Just kidding…but I had you going there for a minute, didn’t I?
Okay, seriously, I can’t for the life of me remember how we got started on this, but from a very young age we started hyping up travel days as fun, special times where we pull out all the stops: special snacks, iPad, movies on the plane, and new play things. And after about 2 years of repetitive reinforcement, it’s worked! Kyle is a superb traveler – seriously, a champ.
Here’s a quick breakdown of our strategy:
1. Food – have lots of it. I wrote a detailed post about that here. Always have 2-3 special foods that your kid hasn’t ever had before or knows they only get on special occasions. We try to alternate between nutrient dense foods with bits of treats: eat 15 pieces of raw veggies and get 5 bunny cookies.
2. iPad/tablet – We don’t let our son have loads and loads of screen time. We live outside as much as possible wherever we are. Since that’s not possible on travel days, we let him play copious amounts of iPad on road trips and on plane rides. Judge if you want, just judge away, I can handle your nasty thoughts between our screens ; ) Since he doesn’t get to use the iPad all that often on regular days, he’s able to keep himself occupied for long stretches with it on trips. I always try to download a few new educational apps before each trip as well. We also download shows on the Amazon Video app for him. He does actually self regulate at this point and knows when he’s had enough.
3. Audio Books – Kyle is now obsessed with audio books. This has been a fantastic development for us. We first introduced audio books about 6 months ago and it’s seriously been revolutionary. He loves the Ramona Quimby Series and Box Car Children. We have an audible.com subscription and highly recommend it. On our most recent 10 hour day in the car, he listened to audio books for about 7 hours. #winning
4. Podcasts – I like to have podcasts downloaded that we can all listen to together in the car. We’ve tried several: Storynory, Brains On! Science Podcast for kids, Barefoot Books Podcast, and a few family travel podcasts, but haven’t landed on any one that Kyle is crazy about. It’s worth a shot though, especially if you have older kids. We’re very much looking forward to listening to a number of the NPR podcasts, Hardcore History, and lots of others with him in a few years.
5. New or Recycling Stuff – If I have the presence of mind, I’ll try to find 1-3 new little things for Kyle play with. These can be very inexpensive throw-aways from a dollar store like a few new matchbox sized cars or construction trucks. Pipe cleaners, straws, rubber bands, chip clips, a fresh roll of scotch tape, and/or carabiners also do the trick.
Travis and I often use road trips and plane rides to catch up on reading, audio books, podcasts (sometimes together, sometimes not), and conversations with each other. The opportunity to have minimally interrupted conversations with your SO is uber hard to come by with a kid around. We try to take advantage of this time when Kyle is headphoned so we can to catch up, check in with each other, talk travel, planning, work, finances, etc.
Don’t be intimidated by road trips. If you haven’t done them before, it’ll take some adjusting for all parties involved, but it’s an inexpensive way to travel and well worth the effort.
Now, go somewhere!