Traveling with Children

My children are no longer children, but, as adults, they all share a love of travel. Did I have anything to do with that?  I like to think so.

My husband and I started traveling with our daughters when they were infants. Most of the travel was not as exciting as what our family has done now that they are all adults, but even the mundane trips prepared them for a life of travel.

A Lifetime of Travel

One set of my daughters’ grandparents (and aunts and uncles) lived about three hours away by car. Due to the location of the closest airports to our home and theirs, flying would have taken even longer. We made the trip to see that side of the family four to six times per year – or more – starting when they were infants.

The View from our Cabin at the Lake (2007)

When my oldest was just over a year old, we made our annual trek to the resort in Minnesota. The other daughters traveled there with us before their first birthdays. The only time we missed the two week resort vacation, was when we opted for a vacation into Canada instead.

Along the way, we threw in a few other vacations. A couple times, one of the girls had an opportunity to fly to a destination, but that was rare. In 2009, my daughters, a son-in-law, and I flew to Europe for a three week vacation. Although we expected this to be the trip of a lifetime, we have all traveled on major trips since then.

Starting Young

Since we traveled so often to see family, my daughters were trained – or got used to – sleeping anywhere.  Even when we just traveled a couple miles to my parents’ house, the babies took naps in the available crib, a portable/pack-able crib, or even on the floor.  I realize this doesn’t work for every child, but if your child doesn’t object, teach them to become accustomed to it so they can sleep anywhere.

Although laws for car seats when my girls were young were lax compared to today’s standards, a comfortable, safe car seat is a must. As the babies grow into toddlers and then young children, a car seat or booster seat that allows them to see out of the window is preferable.

Handling Long Trips

With children of any age, long car or plane trips can become boring.  Each time we traveled on vacation, we purchased new small toys and books. We had a “trip box” that we used to store the the new items. No one could see what was in the box until we were on the road.

For babies and small children, teethers, rattles, and stuffed toys are good for in a car. If your child likes to toss their toys, look for toys that attach to the car seat.  Travel-sized games with pieces that are either attached or could be clipped on are available.  Although they were not a big hit for my girls, if your children like playing games together, travel games might work.

Walking the Path to the “Banks of Plum Creek” on our Trip to See Places in the Books of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Books and magazines were my daughters’ preferred travel entertainment. One advantage with books is that each child has their own, so there may be less fighting. Reading is usually a quiet activity, which means less distraction for the driver. Magazines were a favorite, because an article or two could be read in between bathroom and gas stops.

When my girls were young, hand-held electronic games were not as popular as they are now. Although these games can keep a child occupied for a long time, they might not be the best alternative.

Listening to music is another way to pass the time. If your children all like the same kind of music (and you can put up with it) you can play it through your car’s speaker system.  You may prefer that each child has their own device and set of headphones – take a spare set in case one stops working.

Counting Cows and the Alphabet Game

Family car games like Counting Cows work well if you are traveling through a rural area. Be sure to establish the rules ahead of time.

On our trips to the resort in Minnesota, instead of counting cows, we counted lakes.  We had our own rule about what counted as a lake – you had to be able to turn a boat around in it. My husband tried to accuse me of cheating, but we both knew there were more lakes on the right side of the road – it didn’t vary much from year to year.

When the girls were older, we often played the Alphabet Game. This game works better in a more populated area where advertisements and street signs are visible. After playing it several times on the drive to see the family, my daughters would remember where we found the difficult letters (Q, X, and  Z).

Twenty Questions, I Spy, and Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral, are other games easily played in a long car ride.

Reading Maps

Even though my husband easily knew the way to the familiar places we went, he would always bring the Rand McNally road atlas. He often asked one of the girls to be the navigator (or nagivator, as he called them).  This activity taught maps skills. An added benefit is that when children learn how to read maps they no longer have to as, “Are we there yet?”

Today, with GPS and in-car navigation, these skills seem less important. To me, map skills are still beneficial in reading the map on my phone, determining which way to walk, or estimating distance.

Car Sickness

Our family did not have major problems with motion sickness. A couple, including myself, had trouble with headaches, and one has mild car sickness.

If you or your child suffers with motion sickness – car sickness, air sickness, or sea sickness – talk to your doctor. There are a variety of preventative actions that can be taken. Sometimes medication is necessary.

My daughter finds that looking out the window does not bother her, while reading or looking down does. If she wants to read or knit while she is riding in a car, she takes medication.

The most popular motion sickness medication is dramamine, which is available in a children’s dose. Bonine and meclazine (a non-drowsy alternative) are also commonly used. Motion sickness medications are available over the counter, but it is recommended to talk to your doctor before taking them.

Instilling a Love of Travel

Although all of the above advice may be important, it only addresses practicalities. As your child grows, there are other things you can do to instill a love of travel.

Include your children in your travel. It’s fine to go on a romantic getaway with your spouse and leave the children at home – just don’t let that be their only experience with travel. Travel is not just for grown-ups. Many sites and activities have free or reduced prices for children. Careful planning will keep you budget in line.

Talk about what you see. Even if your travel is mostly local, pointing out items of interest keeps your children involved in the trip.

Two of my Daughters on our First Trip to Walt Disney World

Take vacations that include more than just theme park visits. We took our daughters to Disney, but on the same trip, visited the Kennedy Space Center, Cypress Gardens, Strawberry City, and the beach. Although the girls loved the theme park, they appreciated the other activities as well.

Include your children in your travel planning. If your child is involved in the planning from the beginning, they will be more invested in the trip as a whole. If your children are in junior high or high school, they might be interested in seeing something they learned about in school.

You may also want to include older children in budget discussions. Don’t just say, “We can’t afford that,” but rather let them see where each dollar of the budget will be spent. They may come up with their own ideas as to how to save money so their favorite activity can be included.

Encourage your children to read books that are set in the country you plan to visit. Historical fiction can especially bring a location to life. Have your children do travel research. If you want the trip to be an educational one,  each child can be in charge of researching a different area.

Traveling with My Children
I Love Traveling with my Daughters!

Now that my daughters are all adults, we love planning and taking trips together.  As I was writing this post, my daughter texted me with a couple questions about a trip we are beginning to plan.

I also enjoy hearing about the trips my daughters plan with their spouses. I’m glad that they, too, love to travel.

Do you travel with your children?  What advice can you add?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *