Taking my 13 year old down to sleep away camp this week reminded me of all the previous summers we’ve gone through the same ritual. I always try to squeeze in a couple days of vacation, but with packing for his time away from home, making travel arrangements, packing for myself, and meanwhile keeping the household running and getting my work done, it became a priority to make the travel as stress-free and simple as possible. Though my son can entertain himself now for the most part with his books and music, I like to take advantage of the time we spend together in planes and cars and catch up with my ever-growing son. I’ve found that we both enjoy books on tape in fun genres, choosing Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. We listen to together and then discuss and can usually finish a whole book together over the course of one vacation.
Travel isn’t quite as easy with younger kids, as I remember from my early days as a Mom. In the spirit of nostalgia and to help all you Moms with your own summer travel, I’ve put together a few tips for traveling with your kids, from the time they’re infants up to the pre-tween years.
With infants and toddlers, I’ve found that toys, rattles, and teething rings that have loops are best for travel. I string them together on soft cotton rope so that they can’t be lost under car seats or flung into the laps of fellow plane passengers. Suction toys can be stuck to airline trays or car windows and bringing only noiseless toys will save your sanity! Laying a beach towel or sheet over the back seat of your car will save you crushed crackers in the seats and drink spills on the leather. It’s essential to bring a no-spill cup, and I’ve found that the best new ones have a flip design. Also, plates with snap-on covers, baby spoons and forks, and healthful snacks carefully chosen by Mom are lifesavers. CVS Playskool makes very good versions of the cups, plates, and utensils, as well as cotton wet wipes that won’t irritate your baby’s face or fall apart when you’re cleaning up a spill.
With elementary-aged kids, entertainment without mess or hassle is the highest priority. I’ve found that Etch-a-Sketch, sticker books, and magnet books are as good as drawing but without lost marker caps or ink stains on the seats. It’s also easy to find no-mess coloring paper in any toy store. I like to find little gifts, like small books or travel-sized playdough containers, to wrap up and hand out during the trip as incentives for good behavior. To reduce backseat bickering, I put a soft cooler or small suitcase in the center seat. It keeps a boundary between the kids and gives them a surface for cards or drawing.
When you find yourself pushed to the limits of your patients, the Quiet Game—challenging kids to stay silent for as long as possible—gives you a much-needed rest.
Take these tips on your travels this summer and remember—family vacations are meant to be fun.