Traveling can be stressful for anyone. Adding young children to the mix can create challenges that might make it seem impossible. But traveling is important for children. It helps them to develop critical thinking skills, and exposes them to new sights, situations, and cultures. It can also be a great bonding experience for the family.

Want to travel more with the kids, but are worried about the stress it may cause? Use the tips below to help navigate air and car trips.

Tips for traveling via plane:

  1. Use early boarding to help reduce stress. Flight attendants will make an announcement before regular boarding that any passengers with young children are welcome to enter the plane early. This will give you a little extra time to find your seats, situate your little one, and get your luggage taken care of before the rush.
  2. If you’ve never traveled on an airplane with your child before, talk with the flight attendants on board. They may have additional instructions for you, and the face to face time can help reduce stress and make a friend out of a plane full of strangers.
  3. Use everything at your disposal, including in-flight entertainment. Distraction can be important, especially on long flights. While you may want to reduce screen time at home or during everyday activities, utilizing in-flight entertainment may help make your child more comfortable and may act as in incentive for travel – it becomes a special treat and can help reduce pre-travel jitters for those who must fly frequently. Don’t forget the headphones!
  4. If you’re scared of flying, pretend you’re not. Smile. Relax (as much as possible). Children pick up on the fears of their parents, and if you’re scared, they will notice. Any fears they pick up from you will make future travel even more difficult. On your part, faking it might re-attune your body to travel. Do it enough times, and you might find yourself not fearing it so much.
  5. Prepare for takeoff. Consider giving your child gum to chew, if old enough, to assist with pain in their ears during takeoff and landing. If you have a younger child, nursing or giving a bottle may also help.

Tips for traveling via car:

  1. Carry ginger ale and peppermint. These will help to reduce car sickness.
  2. Take advantage of rest stops and fast food play places. While you may not want to have all your meals at fast food restaurants, stopping at a play place provides a good opportunity for your child to use the bathroom and burn off some of their energy. Let them play for 10-15 minutes when you’re able.
  3. If you want to reduce screen time, but are not sure how to keep your kids occupied in the car, utilize audiobooks. Audiobooks are great for young readers. They help children learn to use their imagination to visualize scenes and can enhance word recognition. Children can also “read” higher level books this way.
  4. Set aside some new or “recycled” item(s) for the trip. Allow the child to have a special item for the first time, or recycle and old toy that they haven’t seen in a while. This will capture their attention and excitement, and possibly provide you with a little down time.
  5. With older children, encourage them to “help” you navigate. If you know where you’re going, put the phone away and give your child an atlas. Show them where you are and where you are going and see if they can find the routes that will connect you. As their skills grow, they may be able to spot shortcuts, rest areas, and fun places to stop and stretch your legs.

The benefits of traveling for children (and adults!) are numerous. Even if you don’t have the time or money to go very far, start small. Take your kids to a new park. Go to grandma’s house in the next town over. Start traveling with your children while they are young. The habits they form will make them more spontaneous, open-minded, and better travelers in the future.

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” – Frank Herbert