Just the thought of traveling long distances with young children is enough to strike terror into the hearts of many parents. Everyone loves their children, but many parents will go to great lengths to avoid making all but the most essential long distance journeys with our young families. Almost anyone with young children who has been brave enough to attempt such a journey will have their own horror story, and this only serves to exacerbate the myth that this is something to be avoided at all costs. Here are some tips and ideas on how to survive traveling with children.
In reality, journeys with children do not have to be anywhere near as difficult or as stressful as we imagine. In fact, with just a bit of careful forethought and clever planning, something in which most of us parents are very experienced, there is no reason long distance travel cannot be an enjoyable bonding experience for all involved.
Let’s look at some of the most common fears faced by parents planning a long journey with their young children, as well as some ideas for how these can be overcome:
Boredom. This is perhaps our number one fear as it is most often the precursor to difficult behavior. The longer we can keep our child distracted and occupied, the longer they are likely to behave. Many parents involve their children in planning the journey. Looking at maps, working out routes, and packing toys and treats, for example, are all great ways of helping the child to engage in the process and feel positive about the experience. There is no such thing as too many distractions, so it is a good idea to have a few hidden away on stand-by as well.
Personal Space. Young children are not always great at respecting the personal space of other people even while being very demanding of their own, which can lead to all sorts of problems in a cramped environment like an airplane. Parents should do their research by looking on websites such as Flights.com and make sure they understand what space will be available. For example, will the children in question need their own seat? On the day, it is also worth enquiring about any empty seats on the plane, as flight crew will often be happy to place children strategically to give them space to spread out.
Prepare Yourself. Whether in a car or a plane, it is important that parents do not let their guard down and expect to be able to relax. A long journey can be enjoyable, but parents are unlikely to be able to kick back and let their children look after themselves. Entertaining a child takes effort so it is important for a parent to be mentally and physically prepared for this, with plenty of rest beforehand and well-managed expectations.
The safety of our children is the number one concern of any parent, and is of far more importance than boredom or challenging behavior.
Here are some of the most serious safety considerations when traveling with young children:
Know the destination, and prepare accordingly. Ensure all required vaccinations are up to date and there are ready supplies of proper medication. And be aware of the situation with regard to local food and drinking water.
Make sure that the right level of insurance is in place for all travelers and read the small print to make sure children are covered for all anticipated activities. Have all the important information to hand, such as travel insurance details, contact information for the nearest medical facilities, and embassy support if necessary.
When travelling by car, ensure seat belts are used as well as age-appropriate child car seats. Plan the journey to include plenty of breaks to avoid driving while tired, and never drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Finally, make sure the children understand the risks by discussing these with them, without unduly scaring them but still encouraging them to take a degree of responsibility for their own health and safety.
An Enjoyable Experience
As with most challenging things in life, traveling with young children gets easier the more we do it. It takes some careful planning to start with, and often a great deal of focus and attention on the day itself, but this will pay off enormously in the long run as long journeys, instead of being a source of fear and dread, become something to look forward to and, at times, even the most enjoyable part of the trip.
What are your survival tips for traveling with children?