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5 Ways to Make Holiday Travel Easier

Traveling over the holidays with kids can be a lot to handle. But there are things you can do to make it easier and safer. Start by being a good role model and keeping calm, whatever happens. Kids notice more than we think they do!

Try these 5 trip tips to make the holidays simpler and less stressful for everyone.

1. Pack Smart

Delayed flights and traffic jams are part of holiday travel. To pass the time and help kids stay comfy, pack wisely. You can start with these items:

  • a favorite stuffed animal or blanket and extra toys, books, and games
  • phones, other devices, and their chargers
  • lollipops or gum (for older kids) to help with ear pain when flying
  • healthy snacks
  • diapers and formula, if needed
  • changes of clothes that are easy to get to in case of spills or accidents (for kids and for you!) 

A phone, tablet, or computer may be your go-to for keeping kids busy and can be a good use of screen time, but this can cause motion sickness in some children. Bring a list of other things to do, like these travel boredom busters.

Be sure to check the weather where you’re going and prepare for the right climate: hot or cold. You may need other supplies if your child has a condition like asthma or diabetes, so ask your doctor for advice. 

Keep important medicines where you can easily get to them, rather than in checked luggage. Have hand sanitizer or wipes available to help avoid germs that can cause sickness.

2. Plan Ahead to Save Time and Effort

For plane trips, try to schedule early, direct flights. Delays are less likely in the morning, and it’s often not as crowded. Fewer stops mean shorter stays in busy airports. It’s also less likely your luggage will get lost.

To save time checking and waiting for bags, try bringing just carry-on luggage. Make sure to follow rules about what's OK to have in carry-on luggage to avoid problems at security. Remember, you should always be allowed to bring baby formula on a flight. 

Kids can feel when adults get anxious. If you leave yourself time and set a good example of how to navigate stressful travel, your kids will do better, too. 

What about presents? You can order gifts online and have them shipped to your destination. Or mail them, if possible. This also makes extra room in the car if you’re driving.

3. Prepare Your Kids and Set Expectations 

  • Tell kids what to expect. If you’ll be flying and your child hasn’t been on a plane before, explain things like airport security lines and turbulence. You also can go over your expectations of how they will behave during the flight. On road trips, make a map with landmarks on it so kids can keep track of where they are.
  • Share contact information. For kids with phones, add the number and address of where you’ll be staying and your number. But because phones can get lost, also write down the information and put it securely in your child’s clothing. You may want to have young kids wear an ID bracelet with your contact details.
  • Plan where to meet. Big crowds are common during the holidays, so pick a meeting place in case family members get separated. Make sure younger kids know what to do if they get lost and who to ask for help, like a police officer or a parent with children.
  • Look into vaccines. If you’re going to a different country, ask your doctor if your family needs any vaccines. It often takes weeks for vaccines to start protecting you, so get them ahead of time.
  • Stick to a routine. Try to keep kids’ meals, naps, and bedtimes the same as usual. This can be tricky when changing time zones, so make a plan for how you will adjust schedules on your trip and when you return home.
  • Let kids know not everything will go as planned. Holiday travel is unpredictable! Setting the expectation that there may be delays or changes really helps kids to be less upset if those happen. Everyone may need extra patience. 

4. Plan your Accommodations

If you're staying in or visiting someone’s home, ask the hosts to lock up things like medicines, cleaning supplies, and guns. If you have a young child, offer to bring things like baby gates, latches for cabinets, or a playpen.

Let the hosts know ahead of time if your child has a food allergy. You can even offer to make a couple of dishes that your child can safely eat. Also mention the allergy to restaurant staff whenever you order in or dine out. And always have 2 epinephrine auto-injectors with you in case of a reaction.

If you’re staying in a hotel, check ahead to see if they have what you need to make travel smooth (like cribs). You can also talk to your kids about what the room might look like. 

5. Drive Safely

Be sure to buckle all passengers and have the right car seats or booster seats your kids need. If you’re renting a car, check with the company to make sure they have the right seats.

More cars are on the roads during the holidays, so it’s important to stay focused. Start by getting a good night’s sleep so you’re alert. Stop for rest breaks on long trips. When in crowded parking lots, pay extra attention. Drivers, shoppers, and kids may not notice you. Explain this to your teen drivers as well.

Be very cautious when traveling at night on holidays like Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when there’s more impaired driving. If you’re going to a party and plan to drink, don’t drive afterward. Choose a person to drive who won’t have any alcohol, or use a car service or taxi.

You may need to use GPS when traveling, so set it before you leave and have it talk you through the trip, rather than looking at a screen. If you need to make or answer a call or text, pull over at a safe spot first. Even using the speakerphone or another hands-free device can distract you when you’re behind the wheel.

Your kids may need your attention as you’re driving. Expect to take breaks and engage when you are able. 

Reviewed by: Meghan T. Walls, PsyD
Date Reviewed: Nov 15, 2023

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