Tips for Travel With Kids
Last week, I had a FaceBook memory pop up with a little list of tips for travel with kids. Lightbulb moment! Blog post idea for me!
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My top tips for travel with kids: let them help you pack (key words: help you…if you let them pack, many things will be left out), let them each have their own bag/suitcase (and pay to check it if you need to), and make sure you have a device (phone, tablet, etc) for each of them on the plane! This is how I [used to] do it, by myself, at least once every other month or more.
Quick note: in our family, anyone who steps up to do things (travel or sports or anything else) has to carry their gear. This includes their suitcases and airports – which is why I added “pay to check it if you need to” – my husband is never a fan of checking bags, but even he agrees when it’s a long trip. It just makes things easier. On the flip side of that, if you don’t check the bags, get suitcases with 4 wheels. Really.
I’m going to go off on a tangent here for a bit. Devices are really a double-edged sword. We all know this. Screen Time rules go out the window for travel (car or plane), however we usually take the devices away once we get to the destination. We get out and explore everywhere we go, but the reality is that if we are combining work and play, sometimes we need to keep the kids happy while working.
We have tried multiple types of devices for our kids over the years, and of course I have opinions. My best advice? For little kids, get the latest version of LeapPad tablet. Our kids have had every version and loved all of them. (You can still get the Ultimate on Amazon, but the latest version is the Academy). I like these because you can connect to WiFi and download games – in addition to buying the game cartridges for the older versions – but the parents control the internet connections and you can only download learning games. Our kids still pull them out and play the games and watch the videos now (ages 6 and 9).
For older kids (or for younger ones if you buy a waterproof/bounceproof case like these), I say bite the bullet and buy an iPad. They are expensive. You can get a deal for a refurbished one (see link) or pay more for a new one. But, honestly, Apple has the best software from a security standpoint, and kids can’t just buy things through your account in games or other Apps. I always go for the biggest memory possible, in order to download movies and shows from Disney+ and Netflix (both allow you to download, although there are time limits on number of times to watch or number of days available before you have to connect again and refresh). I don’t buy cell service for the kids’ devices. I don’t allow them to watch YouTube videos or give them free reign on Apps.
This is where I tell you that kids will push limits. They will completely ignore you when you tell them to turn devices off. Kids will try to get games that you’re not ok with. They will click on ads (including on YouTube, and those ads are really bad, which is why we don’t allow it). And once they’re over 13 and have their own separate Apple account, they will push limits more.
Our rules? In our house, if we’ve given 3 warnings to put it away and get ignored, I get the device for at least 2 days (or longer, depending on how much fighting ensues). Most of the time, my kids don’t even ask for them back for a week or more. Different rules apply for The Teenager, and she has pushed all of the limits the most. I get full access to all devices any time I ask, and if she tries to hide things, she gets grounded and loses her phone. Before she turned 17, all devices had to stay downstairs between 11:00 PM-7:00 AM, and when that didn’t happen 3 times (after 2 warnings), I added screen time limits (which she really hated).
We also used to give our kids old iPhones that we’d removed the cell service from, so basically converted into an iPod. They loved (and still love) taking pictures, listening to music, and playing games, and it freed up our phones to keep up with the things we do while traveling (texting, emails, phone calls, etc.).
Beyond having a device for each kid, I also always have a “travel bag” that includes a couple of spiral-bound dry erase books and markers, a coloring book or two and crayons, as well as travel quiz games or flash cards and other random things (chewable Benadryl, chewable Motrin, Band Aids, etc.).
Obviously, our regular travel schedule has changed a bit since the pandemic, but I’ll be honest – we have still managed to get out and about a bit along the way. Mostly to hotels for one or two nights for a change of scenery, and the visits and overnights with the grandparents have been fewer and further between, but as we all roll back into life a little bit more, I am really looking forward to getting back to traveling! My kids miss it too!
My best advice? Have fun, keep your cool and try to turn as many of those trying parenting questions into Teachable Moments as you can. My best tips for travel with kids? Use all the things – devices, coloring, empty notepads, whatever comes in handy for you and your kids. Many of the travel bag things used to reside in my purse, and honestly, I moved all the kid stuff into the big bag, and I hardly ever carry a purse anymore (see our Group Q&A on the Giant Mom Purse for other tips on that).