7 Tips for Smooth Travel with Preschoolers

I’m not sure how this happened, but our family has planned two big trips involving air travel this month.  As I write this we are right between the two journeys. Since I’ve been contemplating travel with my 4 year old. I thought I’d share what I’ve learned (mostly from other parents!).  Please leave me your tips in the comment section!  My hope, as always, is to increase ease and connection on these trips – and to decrease meltdowns, frustrations, and unhealthy behaviors. Here are my 7 tips:

1. Manage Expectations (Yours and Hers)

In November I flew by myself for the first time in 5 years. I read the entire new Brene Brown Book, wrote in my journal and had revelations about my yoga practice while I gazed at the clouds.  It was awesome.  I don’t have to tell you that traveling with a baby, a preschooler or an older child (or all three!) is not the same scenario.  If I manage my expectations about what the flight will be like I’m much less likely to be frustrated, and much more likely to feel great about spending the time in the air doing things together with my little one.

It’s worth the pay off to manage your little one’s expectations as well. You can read books about airplane travel or even better “play” airport and airplane by acting out the travel experience before you go.  This gives our smallest children the chance to be prepared for the big travel day.  Include, waiting in line, keeping belts bucked when the light is on, waiting for luggage etc.

2. Pack in the Fun

Because of the great body of evidence that screen time is bad for our kids, we try to travel screen less. If you would like a great even-handed look at screen time and your child’d brain, check out Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers by Lucy Jo Palladino.  It’s profound.   So, what do you do with kids, if they aren’t attached to a movie or game?  It is a bit of a lost art, but there is actually a ton of things you can do.  You just need to pack for it.  Here are some things we always have in our carry-on these days:

New books from the library,

pictures or information about where you are going

Sticker books, these ones are great.

Activity books of any kind

silly putty, or small containers of play dough

snacks that require some processing (clementines, pistachios etc.)

I tend to be on the look out for this kind of a thing year round. I keep a “for travel” bag tucked away out of sight so we always have some good stuff in store when we travel. The sale area in target often has some great things.  I also love the Melissa and Doug on the go items.  If you live in the Triangle, the Red Hen in University Mall in Chapel Hill has a ton of great stuff.

My advice is to not open any of these until you are on the flight.  No need to do any of this in the airport! There is so much to do – including running, spinning and stretching since those little bodies will need to be still for so long in the air! Also, don’t forget to have enough so there will be some new things on the way home! The picture above is what I had in my carry on for one four year old to do during two two hour flights.

If you are flying for a long time, like over 6 hours, maybe a Mr. Rogers in there or two is not a bad idea.  But keep in mind that you can do lots of other things together!  Screen time does not have to be the default!

3. Games! Games! Games!

You can spend several hours just playing together!  Tic tac toe, I spy, and even rock paper scissors are great ways to connect while having this blessing of unplanned time to spend together.

One game that has gotten our family through many car trips is “I’m thinking of an Animal.” To play, one person thinks of an Animal, the other people playing have to ask yes or no questions of that player until someone guesses it right. Then that person has a turn.  Alternatively you can take turns being the person thinking of the animal.  My daughter never tires of this game.  We also play “I’m thinking of a thing.” Any thing! And “I’m thinking of a plant.” The variations are endless!

Another possibility is the memory game. Take four or 5 of any objects and put them on the tray table. Have your child investigate them.  Then have them close their eyes or turn around.  Take one object away.  They have to guess which one has been taken!  This is a great memory builder, and a great vocabulary builder!! And it’s fun. If it is too easy, try more objects.  For advanced players, instead of taking an object away you can switch the order of the objects and then the player has to put them back in order.

4. Pack Protein. Dump the sugar.

Give your child healthy snacks that give him the sustenance to make it through a long travel day. That means plenty of protein.  Nuts, cheeses, beef jerky, edamame are all great choices.  Try to avoid empty calories like crackers, and for sure do him the kindness of keeping all sugars our of his body for the trip!  You can’t give him fruit juice, flavored yogurt, white chocolate pretzels and then expect him to sit quietly for the flight!

5. Enter the Wonder Together

I flew a lot as a child. I remember spending hours just looking at the clouds.  Take a moment to explore this world with your child.  Talk about what you see in the airplane and also out the window.  Get curious together about everything!

6. Take Your Time

I always add an extra 30 minutes or so to what I think I need to get through the airport.  IT can be the difference between a delightful ramble to our gate with lots of conversation and curiosity and a meltdown on top of major frustration.  Kids are little, they just need more time to get places.  And we want them to take the time to investigate and be curious!

7. Plan for Delays

In your carry on, pack twice as much food and activities then you think you will need. Now a days, it’s a blessing if you get anywhere without delays!

Posted on: April 13th, 2018 2 Comments

2 Responses

  1. Charlotte Smith says:

    I watched with great pleasure how you engaged your little one while we traveled recently. It was reminiscent of how we traveled as a family with not even a cell phone available. There is no room for boredom or frustration when a parent plans ahead and relishes prime time with their child or children.

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