Last week, we investigated how an organized tour can make life easier for single parents traveling with their kids.
Now, sports journalist, world traveler and single mom of three, Joumana Kidd, shares her top 10 tips on preparing for your journey.
1. First things first, make sure to get the kids involved.
Ask where they would like to go. If you’ve already picked the destination, don’t worry. It’s the experience that really matters, so ask what type of things they would like to do while they are there. And in my experience, the simplest things become so much more exciting when it’s “their idea.”
Don’t miss Single Parent Travel Tips & Organized Tours.
I make what my family calls “The Fun Schedule.” I go online and print out pictures of the hotel we’re going to stay at. I print out information on the different places we will visit on the trip. Then I make a real itinerary that I give to each of the kids. It lists what time we leave the house, what time we arrive at our destination as well as anything planned and already scheduled along the way.
3. Make sure to pack a medicine bag!!
Every time I decided to skip this task, I have lived to regret it. A thermometer, Jr. Strength Tylenol (or infant strength) Band-Aids, Neosporin and any other medications that your children may take regularly (i.e. inhaler). Don’t forget to pack your favorite headache medicine. And even if you think you’ve packed enough paper towels or tissue paper, think again. Double it.
Explore the great outdoors: Yosemite Rediscovered Through a Child’s Eyes.
4. Make sure to always have an emergency plan.
In the event that the kids are somehow separated from you….do they know what to do? What not to do? If they are too small to have a cell phone, do they know your cell number by heart?
When I get to any destination with my kids, the first thing I do is give them a meeting spot in case they are separated from me. “Anyone who gets lost go straight to (an easy location) and we will be there before you know it.”
I heard a great suggestion once from a mom of six young children living in a crowded suburb near San Francisco. She said she tells her children that if they get lost they should find a “mommy” and tell the mommy that they’re lost. After all, when worse comes to worse, who better than to help your children find their mom but another fellow mom?
Now, we all know there are the “mommie” moms, walking down the street pushing their name-brand colossal strollers, the bright pink or soft blue diaper bag around their shoulders as they’re humming a nursery rhyme and smiling gently (OK, that might be a bit extreme, but you get the idea).
And then there are the ones shouting invectives at their children in the grocery store line, pulling her little girl’s ponytails and gnashing her jaws as if her children are her worst burden (sorry for the visual, but we’ve all seen them). Point being, the former category are the ones you should point out to your children to ask for help.
Plan ahead: Six Great Back-to-School Family Vacation Ideas.
5. Get the kids involved in helping to find the gate at the airport, or to help read the road maps.
Children love the being a part of the process and it also teaches them responsibility. It also helps keep them occupied so they don’t get bored. When I’m really starting to lose their attention, we play a “secret agent game.” The whole idea is to stay together so that no one suspects we are agents.
Blend and look like regular travelers while looking for the gate that the bad guys are trying to take over. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you will keep them focused. This also helps encourage them to stay tightly together as a group. I’ve always been amazed how into it they get. I don’t question why, I just go with it for the sake of a better trip.
Traveling with young kids? Don’t miss more tips in Baby, Let’s Get Away: A Crib Sheet for Traveling With Tots.
6. Make sure to bring lots of fun activities to keep them busy on the plane or in the car.
If they happen to have homework or some reading to do, this is the perfect time to knock it out! I always run to my local store and grab a few NEW coloring and activity books in addition to a few silly games from the game aisle. Something about new toys keeps their attention.
This is also a good time to play their favorite little board games. My family loves to play Apples to Apples and Scattergories. Two easy, low-key games that don’t need a lot of space. Of course this doesn’t mean that you don’t bring the old faithfuls too, whether it’s a handheld game, an iPod, or a DVD player. As long as it keeps them busy.
But whatever you do … don’t forget the chargers because there’s always the trip home! (But if you should forget a charger, don’t despair. Explain your problem to the concierge and see if they have one that matches your portable device in lost and found. 90 percent of the time they do because someone else left it in their hotel room.) If your child has a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, be sure to pack this, too.
Make sure you have a small selection of healthy snacks, mixed in with some treats. Every time I travel with my kids, there’s nothing worse than when the airplane food is not child-friendly or you’re driving that long, never-ending stretch with signs reading “last stop for food for the next 60 miles!”
Be prepared. I pack small bags of pretzels, almonds, raisins, and granola bars, and of course some candy. If I’m traveling by plane, my carry-on luggage consists of the little medicine bag, activities for them, as well as my laptop or favorite book and snacks. I like to use a rolling bag so I am comfortable and free to hold hands.
For even more travel tips, don’t miss our Family Travel section
8. Be mindful how you dress them for airplane travel.
It has to be comfortable clothing. Shoes have to be pretty easy to take off and then put back on at security checkpoints. I try to make sure they are wearing socks so they are not barefoot walking through security. I also like to put them in something that is weather appropriate. They can peel off a layer to a warm up if they become hot and then tie it around their waist. This way you’re not becoming the pack mule carrying everything, and they still have something in case the airplane or airports are chilly.
One of my twin girls is quite the diva and she likes to dress to impress. With her, it’s all about layering and accessorizing in a way that would make Madonna recruit a new stylist. The strategy I use so that we don’t hold up the security line is to put it all in her carry-on bag. This way she can transform into the diva as soon as we cross security check.
Get help with Planning for Family-Friendly Adventures Abroad.
Make sure it’s at least a little bit kid-friendly. Even the nicest and stuffiest hotels will usually have a scavenger hunt or a bath time kit available at the front desk. Call ahead and make sure you have a rollaway or a guaranteed connecting room if you need this. There is nothing worse then getting there and spending hours having to get situated.
10. Have fun, and relax.
Last but definitely not least, make sure your itinerary has lots of down time, not just for the kids, but for you as well. There’s nothing worse than a vacation with too much structure and super early mornings. The kids get enough of that with school. Most important, always remember your children are a whole lot louder to you and whinier to you than to anyone else. Enjoy your time together!
Check in next week for Joumana’s tips for traveling with kids … and your significant other.
By Joumana Kidd for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Joumana on the Web at www.joumanakidd.com.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Family Travel section
- Yosemite Rediscovered Through a Child’s Eyes
- Baby, Let’s Get Away: A Crib Sheet for Traveling With Tots
- Six Great Back-to-School Family Vacation Ideas
- China With Kids: Preparing Young Travelers for Long-Distance Vacations
- Tips for Finding Kid-Friendly Villas
- Family-Friendly Adventures in Orlando Beyond the Theme Parks
- Planning for Family-Friendly Adventures Abroad
- Kids Programs section