10 Tips for Holiday Family Travel
December 15, 2015
December 15, 2015
By Debbie Roberts
When you’re from a cold midwestern state, the sound of the waves crashing, the smell of saltwater in the air, and the warm feeling of sun shining on your back sounds like the best way to spend a vacation in winter. Although sometimes nostalgic for a white Christmas, spending the holidays on the beach in Florida sounds like a dream come true. Until you think about how you’ll get there. Not just traveling with your entire family, but traveling during the holidays with your entire family.
I’m no newcomer to holiday travel. M
y husband and I have been traveling with our two daughters since they were 6 months and 2 years old. Now that they’re 10 and 12, things are much, much, easier. Still, thinking about getting everyone packed, out the door, and through airport security is enough to make me pull the covers over my head and cancel the trip. After ten too many delayed flights, two cranky toddlers, and one very long New Year’s Day, I feel equipped to share some advice for the traveling parent.
These are my top 10 tips for traveling with a family over the holidays:
- Book the first flight of the day.
Yep, that means you might have to wake up at 4am, but trust me, it’s worth trading off some sleep for a lower risk of flight delays. The first flight of the day is the least likely flight to be delayed. The later on you get the more you could be impacted by the weather at airports all over the country, and you don’t want to deal with that.
- Pay a little extra for a nonstop flight.
The last thing you want to deal with is a delayed layover in a city where you know no one. It is bound to happen to you at least once. Your plane gets stuck in some weather-stricken airport and the airline can’t find a backup plane for you until the next day. They offer to put you up in a hotel, but usually this only happens hours after you’ve waited at the airport, you realize you’ve left all the other fresh diapers in the checked bag, and now you have to get on a shuttle to a hotel with an old rickety crib for your baby. Don’t take the risk, just book a nonstop.
- Don’t just pack snacks, pack meals.
Little bags of cheese puffs and on-the-go yogurt packs are not enough for a 6 hour journey. Even if you only have an hour-long flight, between the time it takes to get to and from the airport, arrive early enough to get through security, board, deplane, and get your luggage, you’re looking at a several hour trip. Make some travel-friendly (liquid-free) meals the night before and save yourself some hungry children and an $80 tab at the airport restaurant.
- Bring games, brain-teasers, books, etc.
A lot of time spent on travel day is simply waiting. Waiting in line, waiting to board, waiting to take off, waiting, waiting, waiting. Boredom can really get to kids. First they’ll become extremely antsy asking to go in every shop and restaurant in sight; then the hyper-energy phase takes over and they’ll be running circles around you; finally the cranky-monster children will come out and they’ll be whining, crying, and pouting about who-knows-what. Needless to say, bring some kid-friendly entertainment. Looking for ideas on what to bring? I found this helpful list of toys and games from Real Simple, it includes options for kids of all ages for plane and car travel.
- Carry-on a mini medicine cabinet.
You never know who is going to start coughing, sneezing, come down with a headache, or feel queasy on travel day. No need to count on the convenience store at the gate. Prepare for the worst-case-scenario and have your toolkit handy. Your family will be grateful, and you’ll thank yourself later. Oh, and remember baby wipes. Lots and lots of baby wipes. You’d be shocked at how sticky kids get in airports.
- Pump 3-5 days in advance of your trip.
If you’re breastfeeding, and if you pump, you’ll want to prepare for travel ahead of time. No one wants to deal with the stress of a clogged pump the night before a big trip. Make sure you plan ahead and pump 3-5 days ahead of time, any more than that and you should store the milk in the freezer. TSA regulations do not limit breastmilk (and formula) to 3.4 ounces (like other liquids). Just make sure you let a TSA officer know when you go through security, they’ll most likely put it through the X-Ray screening.
- Blankets, blankets, blankets.
Planes can be cold, airports even colder. Make sure you bring some travel blankets for you and your kids. Everyone will be more comfortable and you’ll help prevent your baby from catching a draft. I love these packable Eddie Bauer travel throws.
- Pack light.
Once the kids are old enough to carry or roll their own luggage, give them the responsibility. When kids know they’re the ones who will have to lug and lift their own stuff they’re more likely to pack less. My oldest made the mistake of over-packing on our trip to Costa Rica two years ago (where there’s a lot of carrying involved), and she’s been the lightest packer of the family ever since.
- Get to the airport early, and I mean very early.
Running through the airport is the worst. Having the airline hold the doors while you sprint through multiple gates at the massive Atlanta airport and show up to a plane of angry passengers who have waited 20 minutes for you is arguably even worse. Do everyone a favor, and get there early. Two hours ahead of the flight is my preference, even when flying domestic. It makes for a much more relaxing and enjoyable travel experience.
- Don’t forget headphones.
This one’s more for your own sanity than anything. After all your hard work getting everyone packed, at the airport, and the on the plane, the last thing you want to listen to is another person’s crying baby. Bring your headphones, plug in, zone out, and soon enough you’ll be at your destination, enjoying the holidays with your wonderful family.