As we look toward spring breaks and summer trips, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my tips for traveling with kids. I am preparing to drive with my ten and eleven-year-old children for eighteen hours from Florida back to Indiana. I’d like to say that my carefully laid plans have been flawlessly executed, and the trip came off without a hitch. But if there is anything I have learned over my twenty-five years of traveling with five children, it is that creating expectations often causes a great deal of frustration. Very little in life goes according to plan, and even less so when children are involved. Successful travel often requires more mental than physical preparation.
Here are a few things to consider before hitting the road:
1. Communicate Communicate Communicate
Until I saw a sign proclaiming it was ten miles ahead, I did not know that Pascagoula was a real place. My only knowledge of it was from Ray Steven’s “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” a song I’d loved as a preacher’s kid. Had I simply forced my children out of the car for a photo-op, the cooperation would have been minimal. Instead, I gave them a heads up that I would soon be stopping for a picture that was important to me, and I wanted them to have happy faces. They gladly cooperated, and now I have a great picture to share with my dad…the other Ray Steven’s fan in the family.
2. Lower Expectations
Don’t worry if they didn’t thoughtfully examine every artifact in every museum. Kids are sponges. They will absorb more than you realize, and the benefits continue throughout life. My adult children will often have only a vague memory of something they saw on their childhood travels, but the memory prompts research. “Did we see a brain fork when we went to that museum in Fiji? What was that about?” A few minutes of Googling, and suddenly they have learned everything one could possibly want to know about Fiji’s history of cannibalism.
3. Ditch the Plans
Don’t hesitate to throw an entire day’s worth of plans out the window and let everyone stay in bed, watching Cartoon Network. Sometimes you need to recharge by taking a vacay from your vacay. This will benefit the kids much more than a strung-out mom pushing them to the next destination. For a week, I have been ten minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, but because the kids were tired and worn, we spent two days not even seeing the ocean. They were just as excited to roast marshmallows and watch for the rat that occasionally ambled out of the tropical foliage and across our little patio. I personally ate about sixty-three marshmallows to distract me from the rat.
4. Keep your voice calm
Kids want to know details beyond, “Are we there yet?” Answer their questions patiently, even if it means pausing your podcast for the sixth time. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to give them fair warning that you will need some peace and quiet. Kids are remarkably receptive to a calmly stated: “We are going to stop for a bathroom break, and when we get back in the car, Mommy needs everyone to be quiet for the next eighty miles.”
They are not nearly as receptive to a loudly bellowed, “NO ONE SAY ANOTHER WORD UNTIL WE GET THERE!”
Kids are wild cards in the deck of life. Play your travel hand calmly and wisely, and the positive memories will last a lifetime.
Originally published April 1, 2018