Does the thought of flying with kids or going on a road trip fill you with dread? It doesn’t have to. From what to pack to tips for stress-free flying with kids, there are ways you can ensure more fun and less chaos while traveling, especially when in comes to transportation, whether we’re talking planes, trains, automobiles, or ships.
This represents the second in a three-part series on travel with kids based on years of experience traveling with my own children as well as helping families enjoy their dream vacations. Let’s take a look at ways to make transportation go more smoothly. These kid-tested, parent-approved tips will keep everybody happy.
What Families Say About Transportation
According to a survey by SmarterTravel, 65 percent of families prefer air travel over any other mode of transportation. While this might surprise you, especially considering the well-publicized toddler outbursts in airplanes in recent years, it shouldn’t.
Air travel lets you reach your destination far more quickly. It’s safe. And, let’s face it, many of the best travel destinations for kids require it.
In the survey, just 22 percent of parents chose car travel over planes, and 13 percent remained split between air, car, and other forms of transportation.
Flying with Kids and More
Why do I mention this survey? For a couple of reasons.
First, I hope it’ll put your mind at ease. No matter what you’ve heard about unruly passengers upset with families on planes, you can have great flights with kids and even toddlers.
Don’t be afraid to buy plane tickets and venture a little further afield. After all, you only get 18 summers with each of your kids. It’s important to make the most of them.
Second, this survey overlooked two super family-friendly modes of transportation: travel by train and boat. But more about the benefits of these modes of transportation in a bit.
Traveling with Kids on Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Boats
Of course, conquering transportation with kids comes with unique challenges. While flying or driving with infants usually proves surprisingly easy (as they tend to nap), toddlers and school-aged kids will feel confined and unable to get all of their wiggles out.
And let’s be honest, don’t we feel the same way at times, too? Just savoring the moment we can finally get off the plane or out of the car to stretch our legs?
General Travel Advice
For all modes of transportation, encourage your toddlers and school-aged kids to carry age-appropriate backpacks filled with their favorite books and toys for unplugged travel. These items will keep them entertained and comforted during travel.
And consider throwing in a few inexpensive surprises (e.g. playdough, Wikki Stix, Magna doodles, sticker books) to sustain them when their patience runs thin. Consider wrapping these little presents to take up more of your kid’s time and attention while ramping up the wow factor.
Advice for Planes
While tips for flying with kids abound, traveling with another adult definitely makes it easier. If you’re traveling with another adult, have them board the plane early during family pre-boarding. That way, they can get your seats ready, install infant/toddler car seats, and secure carry-on items while you and the kids stay behind. Then, board as late as you can with the children to avoid feeling cramped before take-off.
Make the Best of Layovers
Use layovers to your advantage when traveling with toddlers and school-aged kids. They offer just enough respite from flying to let you stretch your legs, move around, and grab a bite to eat. Let’s face it, you and your kids won’t be able to burn off much energy walking up and down the aisle of the plane, and you may engender some cold stares from other passengers in the process.
Layovers also make potty breaks easier and allow you the chance to ensure all of your children’s basic needs are covered before heading back on another flight. There’s no question that an overnight non-stop flight is better with little ones, but when those are not an option, keep in mind that tickets with layovers can cost significantly less money than their non-stop counterparts, so you’ll save money in the process.
Where to Sit & What to Bring
If possible, sit near the back of the plane where it tends to be noisier. You’ll also be closer to the bathroom and flight attendants. Keep infants, toddlers, and kids away from aisle seats. That way, you can protect them from being pinched by a passing cart as well as keep them corralled. Pack separate Ziploc bags with snacks, toys, books, and diaper change necessities. Don’t forget items like bottles and sippy cups for little ones or beverages and gum for older kids to help ward off inner ear pain during take-offs and landings. Breastfeeding also wards off this pain, so make sure you wear a nursing bra and bring along a cover-up if you’re breastfeeding. Here are a few more things that you should consider bringing.
Advice for Trains
Train rides offer a fun, family-friendly alternative to plane and car travel. Companies like Amtrak offer steep discounts for kids, which also make them well worth considering. As with plane travel, you’ll want to make sure you bring a variety of fun activities to keep your children occupied.
Another advantage of train travel that parents can appreciate? You can board while leaving your child strapped into their stroller. And if the wheelchair accessible area is not occupied, you and your stroller-riding kid can park there. No more waking up napping kids!
Besides this, many trains let you bring up to two carry-on bags that can weigh up to 50 pounds each, and if your child is under age two, you can bring a diaper bag along without it counting as carry-on luggage.
Train travel doesn’t demand that you arrive two hours or more in advance at the airport. You don’t have to worry about ear pain with infants, toddlers, and children due to changes in cabin pressure. Kids can go to the potty and walk around without restrictions (other than your supervision). Finally, kids love the excitement of hearing the train’s horns and signals.
Advice for Cars
For road trips with kids, always think safety first. Make sure that your children’s car and booster seats are properly installed. That said, safety seat instructions can prove notoriously confusing and difficult to understand. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the experts. Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) listing to find a child passenger safety seat inspection location near you.
Besides bringing loads of snacks and fun games and activities like those you’d pack for a plane or train ride, make sure you drive prepared. What does this mean?
Pack plenty of food, water, and the right types of clothing for your trip. Don’t forget a first-aid kit, a flashlight, jumper cables, extra oil, chains, and other basic car safety equipment for your vehicle. Here are a few more things that’ll make road trips go more smoothly. Set up roadside assistance if you haven’t already and then put the number on speed dial along with the numbers of local authorities such as Highway Patrol. Charge your phone thoroughly before leaving. Bring an extra phone car charger and battery, too.
Road trips with kids involve lots of pit stops. There’s no way around it. But today’s technology can make finding safe locations to pull over a cinch.
Download an app such as Roadtrippers or Roadside America. These apps list all of the best places to stop along the highway. Consider getting iExit, too, as it will help you find services such as rest areas, restrooms, and gas stations when you need them most.
And always keep a backup paper road atlas handy. Mistakes happen, even when it comes to GPS and Siri.
Advice for Ships and Boats
Travel by water can prove cheaper than flying. Your kids will enjoy the extra space to explore and run around, and you don’t have to suffer through airplane meals. But the advantages of travel by boat don’t end there. You can bring as much luggage as you’d like, which can prove invaluable when traveling with kids. Finally, you don’t have to deal with airport security.
For places like the Brazilian Amazon, the single best form of transportation is by river boat cruise. The Rio Negro, where our Brazilian Amazon river cruises take place, proves massive, and its wildlife is best seen from the water. Not only because so much of it lives in the rainforest canopy but also because a healthy portion live in waterways (such as freshwater porpoises like Pink river dolphins and Gray river dolphins.)
Since the Rio Negro is known for its dark color and natural acidity, which prevents mosquito larvae from developing, you and your kids can hang out on the deck without worries. The refreshing water temperatures invite swimmers to take a dip to ward off the heat of Amazonian afternoons.
Make Transportation Kid-Friendly
Whether you choose to travel by plane, train, automobile, or boat, you can turn any mode of transportation into a kid-friendly adventure with the right preparation and know-how.
Ready for more surefire tips to streamline flying with kids and more? Check our ultimate guide to traveling with kids that covers family travel planning.
At Our Whole Village, we create transformational trips for curious families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its peoples, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft for adventure-seeking families just like yours.