My five year-old son loves to travel. He packs his bag a week before we are set for departure. When we get to security at the airport, he takes off his shoes and sets his bags in the trays to go through.
He loves looking out the window on the plane. He even loves the food they serve. He has definitely become a seasoned traveler. But he likes routine. He likes order. He likes to know what he’s doing from one hour the next. When taken out of his routine, he’s out of sync.
On our recent trip abroad to England and Israel, we noticed that he has gotten slightly easier to travel with, but part of it is that I’ve established tactics to deal with the unexpected behaviors. Here are twenty tactics I’ve developed along the way to keep in mind before, during and after your trip if you have a challenging child, or two, in tow:
- Be patient. Enough said.
- Realize the trip isn’t about you or what you want to do. Tailor it to your children. There will be future visits, other times when they’re older when you can travel the way you want to travel. Have an agenda, but be prepared to change it.
- Give your child time to adjust to the time difference. Allow later bedtimes and later wake-ups. After all, you’re on vacation.
- You know your child best. If your child has sensory issues, know their triggers and try to avoid them. For example, if they don’t like noise, try to stay out of crowded places.
- Don’t freak out about what your child is eating. Give it time and realize that they won’t eat like they do at home. But their habits will improve as the trip progresses.
- Don’t react negatively – positive reinforcement will help any situation.
- Be prepared to change your plans. Playgrounds break up the tediousness of going to museums and sight-seeing. Have fun at a landmark by letting them run around. For example, my son loved Trafalgar Square where he could climb up and sit near the lion statues and run around the square chasing pigeons. Say what you will about the latter – it doesn’t sound very humane, but it sure calmed him down.
- Make sure your kids wear comfortable shoes. Blisters on their feet will send you right home.
- My son is five and doesn’t normally sit in a stroller at home, but I knew my city-hopping would be cut short if I didn’t bring the stroller. He’s not a walker, and I knew I’d be sorry if I didn’t bring it along. It was the right move, that’s for sure
- When your kids start to complain about sight-seeing, take a detour. Get an ice-cream. Sit down. Be flexible and do something more child-friendly.
- Remember that certain behaviors are for attention purposes only. Try to figure out what they are so you can spot them and nip them in the bud when they occur.
- When your kids get into fights in public places, remove them from the situation. My kids started to fight on the London Tube, which was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It wasn’t possible to remove them from the situation and it was very embarrassing. All I could do after the fact was talk to them about the way it made me feel to try to get through to them about not doing it again.
- Carry wipes, first aid kit, water, crayons, jackets, extra layers, books. Be prepared for accidents or anything they may want that would upset them if you didn’t have it on you.
- Carry snacks. Keep staples in the room. Keep your child hydrated and satiated. It will keep them happier on your trip and you won’t have to spend inflated prices on basic items.
- On the plane in either direction, arrange playdates for your kids. It will make time go much smoother and faster. My daughter recently watched “High School Musical” with a new friend. Then they brushed each other’s hair and played with dolls. By the end of the flight, they exchanged contact information.
- Pick up souvenirs as you go to make the trip memorable.
- Make the trip fun and they’ll have fun. In London, when my kids got tired, we jumped on a double-decker bus and rode around the city
- Have a back-up plan. Make a list of things to do, give yourself options depending on rainy weather or evolving moods.
- Again, be patient. It will get you further than you will ever know.
- Lastly, plan activities your kids like to do, but don’t forget to try to squeeze in some time for yourself. That will also make you a better parent.
There is nothing better than showing your child the world. Don’t be afraid to do it; embrace it. My kids always come back more aware, more educated and more enlightened from our travels.