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10 tricks to make traveling with kids less stressful

Flommy Abraham, M.D.,
for Henry Ford Health System
It's true that traveling with children poses some challenges — and it may not be the big vacation that allows you to relax and unwind — but you will make memories that will last a lifetime.

With summer in full swing and vaccination rates climbing, Americans across the country are gearing up to pack their bags and hit the road, or the air, with their brood of kiddos.

You can travel with children of any age, but it's probably best for kids who are older than six months since they can support their own heads. If you are traveling with babies under six months or kids with special needs or chronic health conditions, consult your pediatrician before finalizing the trip.

Health concerns aside, keeping kids happy and entertained is usually the biggest challenge for traveling parents.

Dr. Flommy Abraham is a pediatrician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Plymouth.

Kid-friendly travel strategies

Whether it's your first trip traveling with children or you're a seasoned pro, traveling as a family can be overwhelming. From what to bring to how to get there, even the most relaxed parent might fixate on what can go wrong while traveling.

While the idea of traveling with children might be overwhelming, the most important thing to remember is, you CAN do it — and even enjoy yourselves. The following 10 tips and tricks will help you get there in one piece and make lifelong memories.

  1. Plan ahead. Pre-planning goes a long way to ensuring everyone is happy. Research the area in advance so you'll know what type of weather to expect, which points of interest you’ll visit and what gear you'll need. If parents know these things ahead of time, they'll know what to pack and also be able to plan pit stops, crafts and snacks.
  2. Give yourself extra time. Traveling with children requires a slower pace. After all, a toddler demanding to walk can't move as fast as a full-grown adult. If it usually takes you an hour to accomplish a given task (like getting from security to the gate), plan for two hours if you're traveling with kids.
  3. Talk to your kids about the trip. Make sure they know what's involved, how long you'll be driving (or flying) and where you're going. Tell them you're going somewhere fun. Then let them look up the destination so they can learn about the area. You can even let older kids play a role in making travel decisions.
  4. Pack wisely. Whether you're traveling by road, sea or air, make sure the items you need to keep your child clean and entertained are easy to access. Keep a stash of sanitary wipes, snacks, sunscreen, water and a change of clothing (for each family member) in a small bag. Headphones, toys, pillows and blankets are a nice plus too.
  5. Bring fuel. Bypass fast food joints and pack healthier homemade snacks. Boil eggs, prepare bags of trail mix and bring along whole fruit, nuts and seeds. And make sure you have plenty of water on hand. While it's tempting to eat junk food on a long road trip, it's also a recipe for kid (and adult) meltdowns.
  6. Prepare for emergencies. If you remember nothing else, make sure you pack a basic first aid kit. A proper kit should include bandages, first aid ointment and basic wound care supplies, as well as fever-reducing medications and any prescription or allergy medications your children use regularly. You should always have a thermometer as well as sunscreen, a tick kit and bug repellant with DEET.
  7. Use devices strategically. Movies, video games and digital devices are great, but travel time shouldn't be a license to prop your child in front of a screen. Instead, traveling is an ideal opportunity for bonding. You can play road trip games like "I spy," or "would you rather," or even break out some Mad Libs. There's nothing wrong with watching movies, particularly when children are in a car for several hours at a time, but be strategic about when and how you use screen time.
  8. Get crafty. Craft supplies are easy to pack and they can keep kids occupied in a pinch. Try car- and plane-friendly activities like origami paper folding kits, paper and crayons, or friendship bracelets made of yarn.
  9. Give them tasks. Whether your child is a toddler or a pre-teen, it's important to enlist their help. For school-aged kids, consider getting child-sized luggage with wheels so they can roll it themselves. And ask your kids to lay out their own clothes — give them a say in which items they pack. Kids want to do grown-up things and this is an opportunity for that to happen organically. You can even appoint your kid to be responsible for navigation and picture-taking.
  10. Know the rules. From whether you need to wear a mask to what time you have to check out of your hotel, knowing the rules before you go can minimize headaches. Travel advisories are changing daily as new strains of SARS-CoV-2 emerge. Make sure you check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest guidelines.

Enlist your pediatrician

Traveling can be tough on children. Some feel right at home on the road while others may have trouble sleeping in a new bed. Travel is a perfect time to model patience and calm for your kiddos.

As parents, there are things we can do to ensure a smooth trip. Often, it starts with a doctor's visit. Your child's doctor can make sure you have the prescriptions you need and offer strategies for managing common travel-related ailments like motion sickness, tummy troubles and anxiety.

If you're going on a long trip or traveling internationally, make an appointment with your child's pediatrician prior to your vacation. This is especially important if your child has allergies, asthma or another chronic condition that may require special accommodations.

It's true that traveling with children poses some challenges — and it may not be the big vacation that allows you to relax and unwind — but you will make memories that will last a lifetime. In fact, some of the best memories happen during family trips.

Want more advice from Henry Ford experts? Subscribe today to the Henry Ford LiveWell health and wellness blog to receive weekly emails of our latest tips.

To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Flommy Abraham is a pediatrician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Plymouth.

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