Five Important Tips for Moms Traveling with Kids: There’s no doubt about it — Traveling with kids in tow can be a lot like a tummy ache: It feels really good when it’s over. 

Family travel, even with tots, can also be fun and rewarding if you’re prepared for the potential pitfalls as well as the pleasures of discovering the world with young children.  Here are five tips that have proven helpful in the course of my traveling for both work and leisure with my son and daughter.  For the most part, I think these lessons learned can apply no matter what the age of your cherubs.

1.    Know where you are going – and why.  There is nothing more frustrating for everyone than losing you way on a driving trip.  Lost time leads to low flash points and high tempers.  And part of the excitement of a journey is planning and anticipating it.  Don’t blow that anticipation by getting lost when you are underway.  Have maps at the ready that you have studied and marked with your kids so that they feel invested in the itinerary.  And know what your sightseeing objectives are.  Do you want to understand the history of your destination?  Its current culture and cuisine?  Are you out to conquer a particular peak?  Or do you just want to loll around on a beach without an agenda?  If your kids are accompanying you on a business trip, do they understand that is the purpose and fun time may be minimal?

2.    That question leads to suggestion number two.  Negotiate!  Decide together, as much as possible, where you are going and why.  Like all of us, when kids have a say in things (like a famliy vacation), they can more readily accept outcomes. Draw up a “contract” that everyone can agree upon about your destination and your route.  Give the children as much decision-making as is reasonable for their age and for the reality of your travel circumstances.  For younger ones, either/or decisions are appropriate, while for older kids, choices (with parameters) work well.  The contract can also include rules for behavior and agreed upon consequences for infractions.  Those rules save a lot of backseat fighting when everyone is fatigued.

3.    Which leads to suggestion three.  Rest en route.  Traveling by any mode of transport is tiring, a fact too easy to forget when you think all you’re doing is sitting in a vehicle or airplane.  Especially on long road trips or when changes in time zones occur, it’s important for everyone to take breaks, naps, and to exercise physically.  Kids need to burn energy and no matter how many books and board games you bring along, they will need to run around, yell or otherwise let off steam.  Similarly, adults need to reinvigorate themselves through motion, nutrition, and fluids.

4.    Budget spending and stick to it!  Remember, we all have only so much time, money and patience.  Unless you are stopping someplace like Yellowstone National Park, those rest stops can lead to rampant consumerism.  The kids need to know this upfront and to respect it when temptation looms large.  It’s a good idea to build this into the contract (which some parents might want teenage children to sign!) and to wave that contract around just before setting foot in all those gift shops.  It can also be helpful to identify what kind of souvenirs are priorities.

5.    Prioritize.  If exploring Native American history and culture is the point of your trip, for example, talk about unexpected things you’ve seen and learned.  Make a list of questions to ask guides. Ask the kids questions and try to sort out the answers together. Read books before and during your experience that you can discuss. Have younger children draw things they saw. Older children might want to journal about sights and feelings. If you’re beaching it, maybe the topography and geographical history of your destination will be of interest.  Or maybe the kids just want to build castles in the sand.  Take lots of pictures for a CD or DVD scrapbook!

6.  Nannyize.  You may not have thought of taking a “nanny” along with you but don’t rule it out.  There are many lovely young adults (both female and male) from Europe and elsewhere who would love to experience another country or culture for the price of a ticket.  When my children were small we had a French au pair one summer; the next year her younger sister joined us.  (Several years later, while in France, we visited their family vineyard.)  Or you may want to take your regular babysitter along, especially if business is involved. It’s a win-win situation that probably does more to relieve stress than all the rest stops and souvenirs shops combined.

If none of these suggestions resonate for you, here’s my final tip.  Enjoy yourself!   It’s an irritating truism when you’re kids are young but the time really does fly and before you know it, they are young adults out in the big world on their own.  Cherish those family excursions while you can.  Soon enough they will be confined to memory with only that CD to remind you of the days when your kids still wanted to travel with you!

Elayne Clift is a frequent traveler & writer in VT.  She is the mother two 30 somethings.