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Whether you’re jetting across continents or driving to Grandma’s, travelling with kids can be daunting – even hellish – if you’re not prepared. But with these tried and tested strategies, you can keep them happy, save your sanity and make the trip easier for everyone on board.

Pack Right (Not Necessarily Light)

Before you go, locate a pharmacy, paediatrician, laundromat and grocery store near your hotel, so you won’t have to line your luggage with an entire trip’s worth of meds, clothes and diapers.

If flying, don’t forget to keep a few extras of the above, as well as lots of different snacks and a small blanket, some cutlery (no knives), bottled water, a hand towel, pacifier, wet wipes, first-aid kit and hand sanitiser in your carry-on to tide you over during unexpected delays and layovers.

You’ll want to pack travel-friendly gear for car trips (e.g. safety-approved car harnesses for booster seats, child-sized toilet seat instead of potty chair, a lightweight stroller or an all-terrain version depending upon destination, etc.) and no matter your mode of transportation, always bring a few familiar, favourite and never-before-seen distractions: toys, books, colouring kits, stickers, age-appropriate mini games and the absolutely must-have security blankie but NOT the entire toy box in your child’s room.

Choose Accommodation Wisely

When picking a place to stay at your destination, plan on renting a house, serviced apartment, condo or full-service hotel – think place to cook, machine for laundry, space for runabouts and room for timeouts. If your choice is a hotel, check for breakfast-inclusive packages, babysitting facilities, a swimming pool and even a park, playground or beach close by.

Plan Stopovers, Burn Some Steam

For short trips, a direct flight is preferable. However, if the journey is going to be 10 hours or more, plan a stopover – kids love the change of scene and opportunity to move and play about at the airport. Alternatively, book a multi-city ticket to break the journey for a few days and explore a new place. In case of extended road trips, plan pit stops and vista points as well as diner halts at regular intervals. Or consider a short detour to a park or playground – it’s a wonderful way to break the monotony of a long journey, release energy and cheer children up.

Preempt, Prevent, Prepare For Travel Sickness

Some of the biggest concerns about flying or driving with kids are the physical discomforts that journeys bring to tiny eardrums and fragile stomachs. To prevent that screwdriver-in-the-ear feeling due to changes in cabin pressure, nurse babies during take-off and landing, offer milk or juice to toddlers and candies or gummies (not chewing gum) to older children. Another physician-suggested, no-fail method to equalise ear pressure is to ask kids to close their mouths, plug nostrils and swallow, repeating as often as required. Alternatively, try Ear Planes Ear Plugs to relieve air pressure problems.

To minimise or avoid motion-sickness altogether, we recommend getting a good night’s sleep the night before, staying hydrated, keeping food in the stomach (e.g., a loaf of bread, dry cereals, ginger biscuits, green apple slices, lemon juice or even Coca-Cola/Pepsi/ginger ale) before symptoms manifest, and focusing the eyes on a far-off point ahead. And just in case, don’t forget to have a sick bag handy to avoid throw-up on your co-passenger’s lap, laptop or food tray.

Do Or Die! (Okay, We’re Exaggerating A Little)

Scientific thinker or hippie parent: Without getting into the great vaccination debate, putting kids through necessary vaccines before travel, being aware of health risks at the destination and taking required steps and medications beforehand are smart choices. Use insect repellent and OTC anti-histamines wherever and whenever required. Insist on hydration, ensuring consumption of boiled, sterilised or bottled water where necessary, and encourage eating fresh-cooked food at eateries, meaning no salads, buffet meals or ice. Carry hand sanitisers for personal use, and dry-wipe restaurant crockery and cutlery to keep bugs at bay.

Engage, Engage, Engage

There are lots of imaginative ways to fend off an “Are we there yet?” during long journeys – and Benadryl or the mind-numbing iPad/smartphone is not one of them. For starters, tire kids out before the journey and synchronise nap time (even if only for a few hours) with travel to buy some downtime for Mom and Dad. Besides that, don’t plan anything for yourself. In case of the fidgets, introduce age-appropriate interactive games (e.g. I-Spy, countries and capitals, intelligent riddles, puzzle play, board games, etc.). You could even bring out a story book or a goody bag filled with toys and treats at an opportune moment.

Backseat Brawls Or Sith Wars? Show’ Em The Way Of The Force

Allow some room for squabbling when travelling with kids of different ages. Minimise backseat brawls by establishing a clear set of rules at the start of the trip along with incentives and penalties for adherence and breaches, respectively. Involve children in the process of rule-setting, clearly outlining personal space boundaries, sharing norms and acceptable behaviours. Create a point and reward system, awarding each child a point for rule observance and vice versa with a prize for the winner at the end of the journey.

Safety First, Strap Up

Consider using a wrist strap, harness or rein for active little children when navigating crowds in busy places, even if you invite occasional stares or sniggers. It’s a great way to allow some freedom while also ensuring that kids don’t stray too far or get lost in a crowd. A parent-held monitor and child-worn bracelet that beeps when the preset distance between adult and child is breached works well for those who prefer a little discretion. For older children, fix a central meeting point at every new place you visit, and incentivise good behaviour.

Take It Slow

Go slow and not at the pace you would if you were travelling solo. Ideally, set the speed to what the youngest in the family can deal with. Don’t fill your itinerary to the brim, but try and enjoy a few simple things each day, inviting input from older children about what to do and where to go – there will always be a time in the future to explore the destination at length and, more importantly, the trip will be a lot more pleasant without all the wailing and whining.

Make It Memorable

Consider giving your child a hand-me-down digital camera to capture memorable moments from the trip; kids love to take pictures and videos, like adults, and will appreciate the new responsibility. More than that, it’s fascinating to see the journey through their eyes. Writing travel diaries and filling scrapbooks with little souvenirs and postcards from the trip are also wonderful ways to keep children busy and build memories to last a lifetime.

Article by Purnima Shrinivas

[Photo credits: kids on suitcase: Katsuhito Nojiri/Flickr; girl blowing bubbles: Javcon117*/Flickr]

Temper tantrums, melted ice cream in places you never imagined, not to forget  mental and physical exhaustion. Well, they're the easier days covered, but what is your personal experience of travelling with kids?



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