Summer is filled with fun and excitement. From sun-kissed days to sandy toes on the beach, or all-aboard fun-packed family trips to amusement park adventures, there's a lot about this time of year that nurtures the whole family's body, mind and spirit.
But when those lighthearted plans require family travel, some parents feel bogged down by some extra baggage: stress. Managing the planning, logistics and packing seems manageable, but there's a kid-factor that can seem less than controllable. But fear not. We have some tips to make those long car or plane rides and altered schedules enjoyable (and less whine-worthy) for the whole family.
"Knowing what to expect and offering lots of choices is the key to a successful trip," says Chantelle Bennett, child life manager, with Florida Hospital for Children.
Here are some tips to plan, pack and sit back and fill your heart and soul with summer joy.
- If you fly, have younger children's ears checked before you leave, especially if you are flying. Sometimes, ear infections show little signs. In-flight, an untreated ear infection can be very uncomfortable for children. If children are experiencing ear pain while in the air, encourage swallowing by offering a bottle or pacifier to young children and a lollipop or gum to older children.
- To prevent dehydration, give plenty of fluids and foods that are easy to digest, such as lower-sugar sports drinks and water.
- Children with medical concerns should carry their own identification, whether it be a medical necklace or an identification card. Include your telephone number, your child's physician's name and number, medication list and the child's medical concerns.
- Buy hand sanitizer - it works without water and is perfect for cleaning hands when you can't find a restroom.
- Bring nutritious snacks, like fruit, nuts and protein-packed bars that can be easily packed and eaten on the road to keep everyone healthfully nourished and happy.
- Plan ahead with a list of games to play in route to your summer destination. The license tag game is popular on longer road trips. Preschoolers can also boost learning identifying the colors of cars. Or, use letters of the alphabet to identify things seen through the windows as you drive along.
- Use a map to track your progress. School-aged kids can answer geography questions such as, where are we; how much farther; and what's the next town. Give each child a map and a highlighter to "travel" along. You might just stave off those repeated "Are we there yet?!" questions.
- There's nothing like a good long stretch to relieve car seat cramps. Look for parks, rest stops and other locations that offer a chance to stand up as well as an opportunity to play. A good rule of thumb to follow is this: a 20-minute break for every two hours on the road - especially with younger children.
- Write favorite songs on slips of paper and mix them up in a bag. Then, have each child pull a slip of paper from the bag. Everyone in the car has to sing the song that's written on the paper, or this can be a way to family-pick a playlist for the car.
- Have children pack their own backpack so they can bring favorite toys, books and music for entertainment.
- Prepare surprise travel packets. Wrap small prizes like presents and when the kids become antsy, give them an item to open. Plan for two a day - one midmorning, the other mid-afternoon. Include items such as books, travel games, snacks and age-appropriate toys that are good for travel.
Mindful Moms and Dads
- Plan ahead and pack each child's clothes in gallon size plastic bags. Inside each bag, marked with the child's name, include one day's change of clothes. Then, all that your kids have to do is reach into the suitcase and grab a bag when getting dressed for the day. This eliminates the digging, hunting and frustration when they can't find what they are looking for.
- Always keep a recent photo of each of your children in your wallet or on your phone - in the event of an emergency or separation you can seek help locating them.
- To easily identify your family at the airport, dress everyone in coordinating colors.
With a little extra planning and some mindful moments from mom and dad, your next summer trip (whether it's down the road or cross-country) can be a whole-health and a vacation-worthy peaceful experience for everyone on board.