road trips, tips for travelling with children

5 tips for holiday travel with children

Column by Nicole Keck

family travel tips, kids, on the road,

The three little rascals, Chapin, Finn and Sawyer, explore the beach. ©Nicole Keck

At this time of year, “making a list and checking it twice” often involves more than gift giving. It also means double-checking the many to-do lists required to travel with children. This is no small endeavour; little people demand a surprisingly large cache of equipment, entertainment and food to make travelling successful — and by successful I mean relaxed, fun and meaningful.

That is exactly what time off of work and school should be, so a little extra forethought is worthwhile to make family travel at the holidays a success. Consider these five travel tips when organizing your trip, and be among the S.M.A.R.T. parents who give themselves a gift during the holidays — the priceless gift of returning with their sanity intact.

Besides, your children will thank you if you can avoid having a Griswold-esque adventure.

1. SURROUNDINGS. Anticipate your children’s needs when arranging their space. Can they reach snacks, drinks and toys? Can they reach things they shouldn’t? Snacks they can regulate themselves should be within reach. I learned this when my 3-year-old Sawyer once yelled to the front of the van asking for an apple, and I did the natural thing and tossed him one. I’m sure he didn’t expect it to hit him square in the eye, neither did I, and that was an embarrassing bruise to explain. But it made me think, why should I have to toss anything or play the seat-hopping stewardess to my fickle little friends? Even toddlers are capable of helping themselves, and they should, it’s good for them.

Also, carry paper towels, wet wipes, one extra outfit per child left out of the suitcase, a portable toilet or empty pop bottle for emergencies (boys only, let’s not get crazy). Take some plastic grocery bags too; I was recently without one when my son got sick and I was forced to discover that the drawer under the passenger seat doubles as a puke bucket. Oh, the things we do in a pinch.

Do anything you can to make it easy on yourself, and them. Provide a neck pillow, blanket and their favourite “lovey.” Also, adjust the vents to not blow on their faces; consider an entertainment caddy to hold necessities.

If you’re flying, bring gum to help ease the pressure off those little ears during take off and landing, and consider arranging in advance for rental equipment at your destination, such as car seats and pack-n-plays. In our experience, such items were clean, up to date and reasonably priced.

For more information on travel products for kids, check out this link to a helpful Today Show segment.

2. MOOD. Set the tone by staying in vacay mode. These family trips will someday be a sweet memory; squeeze as much enjoyment from them as you can. Allow an extra hour for each step, it helps to keep the mood pleasant. While driving, stop at least every two hours for fresh air and a stretch — it’s like putting money in the bank. Engage the kids in a positive way and keep the right frame of mind by acting unhurried; kids sense tension and follow suit. Keep them informed by explaining ahead of time what to expect; kids get stressed if they feel out of the loop or confused. Make it fun, and it will be.


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Finn and Sawyer, buckled up and ready for another road trip adventure. ©Nicole Keck

3. ACTIVITIES. Simply, don’t bring too much. Only carry things you can get a lot of mileage out of. Let them choose a couple of items they can’t live without, then get creative with the rest. Try compact items that have mix-and-match pieces, books that have magnetic changeable features, colouring books and a small box of crayons (this is not the setting for the box of 64 with built-in sharpener). Pipe cleaners travel well and can be shaped into anything. If you bring DVDs, be sure to have ear buds; use the library for fresh titles, or trade with friends — anything “new” automatically holds more fascination. Tuck toys and games away to bring out later, and don’t let on that you have a secret stash or they may hound you relentlessly until you surrender it.

4. REFRESHMENTS. Don’t let vacay mode dictate the food. Too much junk can wreak havoc on their blood-sugar levels, a sure ticket to meltdown-ville. Try to combine protein and carbs for staying power, but make it fun. Abandon the green guilt and go for convenience. Use prepackaged string cheese, goldfish crackers, fruit, individual prepackaged servings of peanut butter with pretzels or celery. Make some PB&Js ahead of time, because even if you plan on stopping for all your meals, chances are somebody will be hungry when it’s inconvenient. Juice boxes and water are a no-brainer. Give them their own divided baby formula container and fill each section with a different snack. Paper cups are also great for dry snacks.

5. TEACH. Make it educational. Research places you will travel to and through. Plan a scavenger hunt. Bring audio books the whole family will like. Take the time to learn together, and if you let them teach you, they’ll really get into it. Most importantly, savour this precious time with your wee (and not-so-wee) ones.

Nicole is currently a homeschooling, stay at home mother of three young boys, (a.k.a. the three stooges, the little rascals – you get the picture.) Her passion for writing was sparked at a young age when an English teacher said, “It is a noble thing for one to have command over his or her own language and to use it for good.” Nicole studied at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and before the children came along, she and her husband enjoyed active travel such as hiking, backpacking, canoeing and kayaking. The detailed journals and poetry she wrote during those adventures remain among her most treasured possessions. You can read more about Nicole at

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