We’ve done our fair share of traveling with kids. Some minivan trips were total nightmares that involved non-stop crying for hours and hours. Others involved non-stop screaming that I was convinced was going to get us into a car accident. I’ve been known to put on headphones, with my hands over my ears, and my head between my legs because “if one more person yells, screams, cries, whines, or asks me one more question so-help-me-god!” We’ve also had beautiful 6-hour road trips that felt like 3 hours and airplane rides where everyone slept. Through all our travels I’ve learned a few things that help make our traveling lives easier.
- Have Realistic Expectations. I made the mistake once of pushing my kids too far while on a hike through the Muir Woods. I was so dead-set on completing this silly paved loop through the woods that I completely let go of the whole reason we were there in thefirst place. We wanted our children to see the epic nature that is out in California. We wanted them to be awed by the grandeur of the trees. To be wowed by what our country has to offer our senses. Instead, all I remember (and I’m sure my children too) is being annoyed by the amount of whining and having this incredibly stubborn sense of needing to complete a stupid walking loop. I’ve since learned that it’s never about how far you go, it’s about taking in every ounce of what’s right in front of you. I took this new mindset with me more recently when we ventured to the Grand Canyon with our four kids in tow (8, 7, 4, and 2). We hiked a trail that went 1 mile down, enjoyed the stunning views, then hiked 1 mile back up. Everyone was happy, everyone loved it, and great memories were made!
The best way to keep the peace is snacks. So many snacks. All the snacks. Snacks for days. There is a time for healthy eating, planned meals and moderation. Road trips and airplane rides are not those times. I have our snacks down to a science and know exactly who is going to want what. My husband will want something with chocolate in it and something crunchy. I’ll want reduced fat Pringles, gummy bears, pull and peels, twizzlers, you know, the usual. My kids will want every snack ever made and I will oblige them. The phrase “enjoy the journey” was not coined by someone stuck in a minivan with four small children for 10 hours. “Enjoy the journey…. But with snacks” is way more realistic.
- Expect not to sleep the first night.
Just in case no one has told you this yet, no one sleeps the first night in a different place. Don’t think your kids will be exhausted from traveling and will crash immediately upon arrival. If it happens, GREAT. You win. But don’t plan for it. On our recent Grand Canyon trip, we flew in late and had trouble with the car rental place so our kids didn’t even get where we were staying until TWO O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING. They were full energy, running around, being simultaneously crazy and awesome that entire time. It was admittedly amazing to witness those kiddos handle such a long day of travel without falling apart. But back to my first point, lowered expectations for sure played a part in us being able to keep ourselves together during this time. I wasn’t expecting them to fall asleep or sit quietly while we were figuring things out. I just expected them not to run through the parking garage and get hit by a car. #parentoftheyear
- Bend the Rules
We don’t do a lot of screen time in our house. To clarify- this has 0% to do with good parenting choices or concern that screen time will negatively affect my kids. It has to do with the simple fact that we have too many kids and not enough screens. But on road trips, it’s all bets off and all screens on. The kids know what to do and have their own little system of keeping everyone happy- they set a 30-minute timer on their watches and do a rotation of devices once it goes off. The kid who has the “bad” tablet (or no tablet) gets their choice of which “good” tablet they want and whichever kid hasn’t had the “bad” tablet yet is the one who gets it. I’m not entirely sure what constitutes a good or bad tablet but apparently we have them. Who knew? Point is, if we were at home the kids would definitely not have the opportunity to play on a tablet for 6 hours straight. But in a car or on an airplane…. You kids can Temple Run your little hearts out.
- It’s Okay to Feel Desperate
This is a tough one to write about because there are some strong feelings about when it’s okay to give children medicine when traveling. So, all I’m going to do is tell you our situation, why we did what we did, and leave you to make your own personal choices. When our youngest of four kiddos was about one year old, he did this really fun thing where he would scream in the car. I mean, kids yell in cars and it’s no big deal but this was different. This was a very sudden, ear-splitting, heart racing, make you jump kind of scream. The kind that scares you so bad that you can easily lose control of a minivan traveling down a highway at 75 mph. His screaming was almost non-stop and it was dangerous. It was 100% unsafe for him to be doing that while we were driving long distances on a highway with our entire family in that van and there was 100% nothing we could do to make him stop (believe me, we tried). We got to the point where we had to weigh our options- we could keep driving, dealing with his screaming, and hope we made it home safely (my husband and I were desperate, near tears, and mentally exhausted. Not to mention our other three kids.) or we could try something we’ve never tried before- we could give our one-year-old medicine to make him fall asleep. We opted for the latter. He finally slept and we were able to drive a couple hours without the fear of another scream escaping his little baby mouth. Now whether you think this story is ridiculous because you “do it all the time” or ridiculous because “giving infants medicine to make them fall asleep is dangerous”, that’s totally fine. But to those who knowthe pure desperation I’m talking about, I want you to know it’s okay to feel that way and it’s more than okay to do something about it, especially when not doing something about it could have much worse consequences.
Traveling with kids is no joke and it’s not all sing-a-longs, happy kids and Instagram pictures in front of state signs. It’s also screaming, desperation, disgusting bathrooms off the highway, and parents who are about it lose it. But traveling with kids is so important and they’re never too young to begin experiences things. So, travel on fellow wanderers and keep going where you’re going!