My sister is probably the most efficient family traveler I know. She has her work cut out for her with 2-year-old and 4-year-old girls. Like a well-oiled machine, she’s ready for every contingency as if preparing for a survival operation. Sticky hands or nowhere to wash before eating? She pulls packets of wet wipes from a handy pocket of her carry-all, akin to Mary Poppins’ bottomless carpetbag. Hungry? She keeps Ziploc bags of healthy snacks and small juices or waters at the ready. Cold? Hot? Or dirtied your shirt? She pulls out fresh changes of clothes and layers from the bag. Need a blanket for a nap? She has one of those too.
Keep them entertained is the firm conviction my sister believes. A happy, entertained child is much nicer to travel with than a bored, cranky, screaming one. True, and it works. Coloring books, crayons, sticker sheets, paper, reading books, a portable kid’s computer programmed with educational games, and portable DVD players loaded with her girls’ favorite movies all fill my sister’s arsenal.
Did you know that children can be the ideal travel companions? Their excitement at nearly everything, interest in the smallest of details, energy, adaptability and rapid ability to pick up other languages makes them fun and valuable too. You’ll find that cute smiling children break down all international language barriers and bring forth smiles and warmth from adults of all countries. On the flip side, when things aren’t going so great, crying children can elicit sympathy and open doors fast by adults who aren’t used to crying bouts.
Any travel with children is an educational opportunity impacting more learning than in the classroom. Kids become students of life, culture, language, geography, history, nature, art and music when taken on journeys locally or across borders.
Most of the wisdom on the internet offering helpful advice for traveling with children boils down to a top 10 core points to follow:
- Make it fun, festive and happy! As in all things with kids, make it fun and interesting. For children, it’s 100% about the journey – every bug, plant, animal, rock, button or lever – along the way.
- Plan. Pack, plan and prepare for every possible event – at least in small quantities.
- Study. Know where you’re going, what the weather is like, activities you may do, any local cultural particularities you need to be aware of, medical contingencies, food in the area, etc. The internet stores a wealth of information. Traveler’s blogs and chat forums pertaining to the area give you first-hand insider knowledge and people you can ask questions. Involve older children in pre-trip studying and you not only increase the excitement, you also multiply your brain-storage capacity for details.
- Pack lightly. I know, easier said than done when you have to follow point #2 to plan for every possible scenario. When flying, your carry-ons are your most important piece of luggage – here is where you need your changes of clothes, blanket, snacks, medicines, Band-Aids, and your entertainment arsenal (see above). Kids age 4 and up can manage their own carry-on bags, giving you more room to spread it all around. The latest kid’s carry-on I just saw is a red “Lightning McQueen” race car (think Disney’s “Cars” movie) mini plastic backpack-of-sorts on wheels. Fun and perfect for kids to easily wheel around. Make sure to check airline regulations in advance to know what you can and cannot take on board.
- Feed them. Have snacks and water available at all times – in the car, at the airport, on the plane, etc. When you get past security at the airport, stock up on water bottles to bring on board the plane. Don’t rely on airline carts for your nourishment or you’ll be left waiting and wanting. There’s nothing worse than a hungry or thirsty child … or adult, for that matter.
- Start early. Take advantage of higher energy in the mornings to start your travels. If afternoon nap time falls during your flight, try to make your child as comfortable as possible to sleep. Otherwise, when you land, get to your destination in as short a time as possible so you can all rest. I don’t advocate ever traveling on a night flight with children, unless you’re going to board the plane near normal bedtime of 8:00 or 9:00 pm and fly long-haul for 11-12 hours; be prepared to have a sleeping child on your lap most of the way. The “Start Early” tip applies to activities during your travels as well – go do that morning tour and leave the afternoon for relaxing.
- Take breaks and take it easy. This one is important. You might be used to go-go-go, but your child might not be. Take breaks when possible. Make a mini-activity out of breathing deeply and stretching together to relax. Remember, a stressed-out parent cues a stressed-out child. When you get to your destination, follow the “take it easy” mode by choosing activities with short travel times.
- Make the airport easy. This means arriving early for your flight – everything takes longer with kids. You’ll hopefully have already checked in on-line and have your seat assignments pre-set. You’ll have packed your carry-on bags security snag-free. Everyone dress comfortably with slip-on shoes, little jewelry, and no belts if you can help it, so security check is a breeze.
- Wear them out. This applies more for airline travel than anything else. When you get through to the inner airport area and boarding gates, walk around, look at stuff, make it an adventure and discover new things. Your goal is to burn off extra energy before being strapped into an airplane seat for hours. Some airports even have play areas for kids.
- Make them cozy. No matter where you are, when it’s time for bed, make your kids as cozy and comfortable as possible – preferably with that favorite blanket or toy – so they’ll sleep soundly and get rest. It won’t matter if it’s a tent, hotel, train, plane or boat, so long as they feel safe and comfortable.
The airline JetBlue offers parents a 7-tip guide for easy flying with kids, plus a free downloadable “Soar with Reading Activity Kit” from their website that includes reading material and videos to keep your kids entertained. Check out their link here.
JetBlue is one of many airlines that fly to the Central American tropical paradise of Costa Rica. For travel to the popular top-international destination, turn to Team CRT for all of your travel needs. Team CRT gives you more than 20 years of expert guidance and personalized service; tell them what you want and they’ll design your dream vacation for you. The reliable and professional Costa Rica travel agency suggests 2 different family vacation itineraries, and is happy to personalize your trip just for you.
Here are a few more great links for kid-friendly travel:
By Shannon Farley