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Surviving Travel With Kids

Get to your destination with your sanity intact with some advice from our Facebook communities.

A favorite spin instructor of mine reminds us, “Your attitude will determine your direction this ride.” This is true not only when embarking on a 45-minute bike ride to nowhere, but also before a plane or car trip with kids. Be prepared, but don’t expect disaster. Your kids will pick up on your attitude and expectations, so make them positive.


With that idealistic mindset, here’s what the expert parents in our Main Line Parent and Philly Family Facebook communities have to say to help you get you where you’re going with ease. 

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Photograph by Lori Robbins

What you bring with you can make or break your experience. If you’re driving, you face fewer space limitations and rules, but either way, there are a few must-haves:


• Wipes, paper towels, and zip-lock bags

•  First aid supplies and in-case medicines

•  Extra changes of clothes for EVERYONE – yes, including the adults

•  Layers (for plane rides, pull-overs are better than zip or button-ups since they can be worn through security)

•  Pillows and/or loveys

•  Tray (if you’re traveling by plane, you can get by with your plane’s tray table, but if you’re traveling by car, pick up a magnetic sheet tray at the dollar store or make or buy a lap tray)

Food and Drink: For More Than Just Belly-Filling

Whether traveling by plane or car, don’t plan to purchase snacks on the go. Bringing your own snacks from home will ensure you have what your children like and will also save you time and money. Also, bring your children’s favorite water bottle. You can fill it after security at the airport, or at restaurants during a road trip.


Along with their favorite snacks, pick up some treats that you don’t allow regularly. These can be healthy, as long as they are special! Consider packing snacks in a fun divided container, or choosing snacks that are also a game (M&Ms to divide by color or to count; Fruit Loops or Cheerios to string on a shoe lace; Lego brick candy).


On a plane, some foods will also help your kids deal with ear pain. A lollipop forces your child to swallow and takes their mind off the take-off and landing. Applesauce pouches force swallowing as well, though they don’t last as long! Gum is a special travel treat that also helps kids deal with the cabin pressure on planes.

Your Bag of Tricks

Activities for travel should include many old favorites and some new surprises – and all must be travel-friendly (small, security-proof if you’re traveling by plane, inexpensive, and lacking tiny pieces). Depending on the age of your kids, you can ask them to pack their own backpack.


Photograph by Rachel Kramer

Require that their bag include headphones, screens if you’re bringing them, their warm layer, their lovey if they have one, and any activities they want to bring (which you must check to confirm are travel-friendly!). For younger kids who resist walking in airports, their very own rolling suitcase with their stuff inside can be very motivational.


In your bag, pack the surprises. Surprises need not be literally new, but should be new to your kids. They can be activities and games you borrow from friends or neighbors, make yourself or of that you pick up at the dollar store. Here are a few toys and activities that are repeatedly recommended by our community members:


•  Stickers: Reusable stickers and painters tape can go right on the airplane tray table or car window and be removed easily. Sticker books or simple paper and stickers works great too. Stamps are messier, but a small washable ink pad and stamps is fun.

•  Activity books: Mazes, crossword puzzles, hidden picture puzzles, dot to dots, etc. are quiet activities that occupy the mind.

•  Music and podcasts: Music and podcasts are relaxing, can easily be enjoyed as a family and allow for window-watching!

•  Magnets: Letter magnets, magnets that make up a scene, magnets to experiment with, etc., all are terrific on your magnetic tray. If you don’t have a magnetic tray, pack up some magnets inside a magnetic lunch box; kids can open and play right in the box.

•  Family activities: Road trip bingo, Mad Libs, I Spy, Hang-Man, Hedbanz (also available in a similar app, or you can make your own), and the License Plate Game involve the whole family and, on a long road trip, may be helpful for when things begin to feel monotonous to the driver.


While many are road-trip specific, some are good for long plane rides if your family can play quietly. Here are several games to print right off the web.


•  Play-Doh: Many community members reported that it was confiscated at the security checkpoint; it also has a tendency to get stuck. However, with those warnings in mind, it’s also stress relieving and fun. (Kinetic sand, beloved as it is, doesn’t stay together well enough to be feasible for travel.)

• Crayons, markers, etc: These seem like obvious things to bring — until you find yourself on the floor of an airplane trying to retrieve the fallen ones. Consider a magnet doodling board with attached pen, an Etch A Sketch, or a Melissa and Doug water painting book.


If you decide to bring crayons with young children, establish a one-in-the-bag, one-out-of-the-bag rule. Crayola’s Color Wonder markers are terrific as they don’t mark on anything but the Color Wonder paper.

In addition to these, here are some personal favorites from my family, who are regular car and plane travelers:


•  Hand-held games like Simon, Bop-It, or the Crocodile Dentist may be noisy and annoy the driver, but these are games my kids look forward to seeing when we embark on a trip. (We do not bring games with sound on planes.)

•  Small puzzles like Rubik’s cube, IG Twist, and Flexi Puzzle can occupy older elementary and middle school kids for a long time, and even challenge parents!

•  I hate the tiny stickers that come with sticky mosaic kits, but my kids love them. The solution? These are reserved for travel. A new coloring book, travel Spirograph or Fashion Plates have also been hits.

•  Question lists, sing-a-longs, and trivia are fun for the whole family to do together.

Marking Time

Especially if your travel is long, you won’t be able to avoid some “Are we there yet?”s. Providing a way for kids to know how long is left without asking you helps everyone stay sane. You can print off travel tickets. Give your kids a pre-counted bag, and ask for a ticket every 30 minutes. They will know how close the destination is by how many tickets are left. Or, create a paper chain with links for each half hour of the trip. As they remove the links every 30 minutes, the kids will see the time slip away.

To Screen or Not to Screen

Photograph by Lori Robbins

It’s a well-established parenting debate: some parent swear by screens when traveling, some are sworn enemies. For some families, including mine, screens are one of the novel things that our kids look forward to when traveling. They know that normal screen limitations are lifted for long trips. Other parents suggest that without screens, your travel can be the beginning of your family’s togetherness on vacation.


If you do decide to use screens, try some of these tips, courtesy of the MLP and PF Facebook communities:


• For the plane, choose over the ear headphone, like these or these, so kids can hear best.

•  If you’ve got fewer screens than kids, or just to allow kids to share if they’d like, bring a headphone splitter.

•  Download everything beforehand – don’t depend on WiFi on the plane.

•  Make sure everything is full charged before you go, and bring a remote charger.

Other Logistics

Here are some tips to navigate the most common logistical hurdles you’ll face before reaching your final destination:


Packing the car. If you’ve had the kids pack their own bags, put those in the backseat with them, along with blankets and pillows and trays. Also put a bin, box or bag there for discarded toys. Keep your bag of tricks up front, and when you hand new activities back kids can toss them in the bin if they tire of them. Needless to say, a trash bag is also helpful in the backseat!


Navigating security. Security is really confusing for kids. To avoid questions that can delay you, describe the process to your children ahead of time, and tell them that while in line they must listen to you and not ask questions but promise to answer any questions once you arrive at the gate. Then, be sure you do!


Bathroom and Other Breaks. Resist your regular routine of going to the restroom before boarding a plane, and go after takeoff. Your carry-ons will be stowed and your kids will be safe and secure on the plane. On a road trip, when you stop for one person to go, everyone must go so that you can avoid another pit stop soon after.


The rush that often goes hand in hand with travel can contribute greatly to your stress. When traveling by plane or car, take breaks for meals, walks, and sightseeing, and take it easy.


Before you know, you’re there! Enjoy the destination and know that you’ve got the trip home in the bag.



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