Traveling With Kids - Infants and Toddlers

David Murphy says even very young kids can travel, but it takes some extra planning.
July 7, 2010 8:53:22 AM PDT
Kids can travel almost immediately, and in fact, an infant can sometimes be easier than a toddler because they sleep so much.

Assuming you've settled on an away-from-home feeding plan you can live with, and you don't mind lugging extra diapers in your bag, there's no reason to think it can't be done. Just be sure to bring plenty of Nuks (they'll toss a few on the floor during the ride), and a favorite cuddly toy or two. Baby pain medication is also a must, since you can't predict ear infections and teething problems in advance.

However, unless the situation requires you to travel with an infant, I'd recommend holding off on extensive trips until your child has turned one-and-a-half or two. By this point, they can be reasoned with to some extent, and you can explain to them the various constraints and rewards of the trip ahead of time, which can make them easier to manage. We flew with our kids and took them on long-distance road trips annually when they were preschoolers, and I can report a relatively high degree of success. Being able to explain to them what was going to happen and what special behavior would be required (i.e.: patience, and using their indoor voice) got us through a lot of miles peacefully. This approach becomes even more effective as they move from age three to four and five.

Early Wake-Up Call

Travel Writer Jennifer W. Miner suggests waking kids up early on travel days, even if they're a little cranky. This way, they may be more apt to take long naps later on, which can be a blessing during a marathon car trip or long flight. You may have an extra challenge getting them to fall asleep at night, though.

Bring plenty of on-the-road entertainment. A children's book-on-tape, or a CD with funny kid's songs can usually be borrowed for free from your local library. A cheap, portable DVD player with an AC adapter that can be plugged into your car's power supply is also a wise investment, assuming your car isn't already equipped with a video system (mine isn't!), or you don't feel like lugging around a laptop. Young kids get bored and irritable more quickly than older kids who usually bring their iPods and cell phones, and a few DVDs can kill a chunk of miles.

Pick-up a large road atlas and identify points of interest along the way (Rand McNally highlights these in red so they're easy to spot). It won't take much to amuse a preschooler, and a 15 or 30-minute stop two or three times a day gives you and your child a welcome diversion. What's more, Findlay University instructor Kelly Ruff, an expert on hazards and risk management, points-out that short breaks are great for drivers and greatly reduce the chance of fatigue-related accidents. Mini-golf offers a fun break if the weather's good. Even a roadside scenic overlook can work as a quick attitude adjuster.

Food Fundamentals

Snacks and drinks are a great idea, but I wouldn't go for too much candy. There's nothing more unpleasant than being trapped in a car with a toddler on a sugar rush. Stick with crackers, raisins, mozzarella sticks, popcorn bags, and fruit (which can be bought along the way). Avoid things that will get too messy when your kids drop their food. Bring variety to battle finicky appetites. For drinks, juice boxes are great, but anticipate spills and select flavors with the least chance of stains (I hope your kids like apple juice!).

Finally, tell your child that they're allowed to invite a couple of their best friends along for the trip (i.e.: stuffed animals, cuddly toys). Tell them it's their job to look after these friends and to make sure their comfortable along the way. During the trip, ask them how the friends are doing. And for God's sake, before you leave any restaurants or hotels, make sure the friends are not forgotten!

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