Taking a holiday trip with kids requires the stamina of Superman and the organization skills of a cruise director. Most of all, it requires seeing the trip through children's eyes – being aware of what excites and worries them. Here's how to best prepare for plane rides, unfamiliar cities, and strange beds:
For the Plane Ride
- Carry plenty of toys, games, and art supplies. Then stagger their release during the flight. Lean towards toys and games that don't make noise, since even a relatively soft sound can become unbearable when you're stuck in a plane at 10,000 feet. And look outside the toy aisle for ideas: One mom says her daughter entertained herself on a short plane trip with only a pack of colorful paper clips. For an hour, she strung them together into necklaces, bracelets, and sculptures, and gave them out to the crew. Other crafty ideas: Bring a small rolling pin and cookie cutters to allow for more creative playdough-playing. Wrap up items like books or crayon boxes in colorful paper to buy a few extra minutes in unwrapping, and to make the ordinary exciting.
- Stock up on snacks before you board, and make sure they're ones your kids enjoy. Otherwise, you'll be arguing over the fact that you got the "wrong granola bars" with no remedy in sight. Call ahead to reserve a child's meal. That way there's a better chance your child will eat something.
- Explain air travel to younger kids before you fly. They'll want to know everything that's going to happen. You can do a dry run by putting on your best captain's voice and playing "pretend airplane" in your parked car.
To Make the Unfamiliar Familiar
- Task older kids with helping you do research online about your destination, comparing hotels, or mapping out itineraries. Having a "job" can make the trip more fun for them. Show younger kids photos of where you'll be visiting. It can be overwhelming for little ones to leave the familiarity of their homes. The more you can prep them by telling them what to expect, the more secure they'll feel once they've arrived.
- Help younger kids gear up for the trip by going to the library and checking out a few books. A book like Caillou at Grandma and Grandpa's, by Joceline Sanschagrin, helps pre-K kids feel confident that they can handle new experiences. Eloise, by Kay Thompson, looks at a hotel stay through a precocious child's eyes – perfect for 5- to 8-year-olds. As the stories become familiar terrain, your child will feel less anxious about the trip.