Parenting Solutions: Traveling With Children

Creating memorable moments while traveling with children require planning, flexibility, patience, and a positive attitude.

As the mother of five children, I’ve learned that no matter how much preparation and planning go into traveling with kids, I should expect the unexpected. For instance, our 4-year-old son recently refused to take off his shoes at airport security because he thought we would leave him behind.

Then there was the time I told the kids not to get wet walking on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina just before our dinner reservation.

“The wave just came up and hit me,” my son, Paul — soaked — explained.

“Really!” was all I could say.

I’ve found that a parent’s positive attitude and willingness to make on-the-spot adjustments go a long way toward creating a wonderful trip. Here are some tips for successful travels with kids:

Filling suitcases

As travel day approaches, make a list of things to take. Laurel Smith, founder, a site that features car travel games and fun activities for kids, likes to have everything packed and loaded for a car trip the day before leaving.

“The vacation starts when you get in the car, not when you get there,” says Smith.

After parents help them pack their basics, children may want to put in their own items. Elizabeth Young, editor of, planned a family trip to Indonesia with her sons, ages 6 and 8.

To calm their fears, Young told them they could each take a stuffed animal. The boys chose chubby little penguins and named them the Pengo Brothers.

“These turned out to be the trip mascot that came and went with them on every trip,” says Young. “It was a sense of security and something from home.”

Laurel Smith allows her children to pack their own activity-filled carry bag, giving them a part in preparing for the trip.

Deciding what to do and see

Once you have decided on a destination, find out as much as you can from guide books and Internet searches. Note area attractions that will interest both children and parents.

Block out chunks of time for specific activities. Also leave time open for spontaneous fun and rest.

Cynthia Sumner, author of Family Vacations Made Simple (Barbour Books, 2004), cautions that some popular destinations require reservations a year in advance, especially when dates coincide with major holidays.

“Talk to people who have been there,” says Sumner. “That’s how you get the real scoop.” Ask the best way to get around and how to cluster activities to save time.

With research and planning you’ll find the itinerary and budget that work best for your family.

Getting there

Memories of travel time can turn into family stories.

“Don’t get in the car and drive, drive, drive,” says Young. Because car trips offer much more flexibility and control, Young builds in time to stop and revive.

Smith and her three children, ages 8, 11, and 13, bring playing cards, joke books, travel-size magnetic games, and songbooks. When they want a new activity, they each pull out a piece of aluminum foil, add a bit of imagination, and create people, objects, and animals.

There are many types of travel games and toys. Some popular ones with parents and kids are from Klutz (Kids Travel: A Backseat Survival KitRoad Trip TriviaBooks-in-a-Cup, which fit in a cup holder),; Brain Quest (Brain Quest for the Car),; International Playthings (Imaginetics magnetic toy boards— that let children create scenes),; and Milton Bradley Travel Editions (Connect Four, Battleship, Deluxe Yahtzee, and more),
Books, coloring books, and colored pencils also help kids pass the time while traveling.

Creating memories

In a perfect world, family vacations are worry-free, endless-fun excursions away from home. In reality, traveling with children requires patience and a sense of humor.

Remember that you’re creating lasting family memories for your children. “If you don’t do things your kids enjoy, you will not have a good time,” says Cynthia Sumner.

Laurel Smith buys her children their own disposable camera and allows them to shoot pictures of whatever they want.

Smith’s children also write about each day’s events in a travel journal. Even young children can draw vacation pictures and dictate a short narrative for a parent to write in the journal, she says.

Elizabeth Young’s two sons make scrapbooks of their travels, adding their own stories, brochures, airplane tickets, photos, and even paper kites that were flown.

Trips off the beaten path can add to your children’s excitement and memories.

When Elizabeth Young and her family traveled to Great Britain, they took a quick side trip to look for Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster. Her boys have vivid memories of this adventure (although the creature did not appear).

Great vacations don’t have to be far from home. Laurel Smith and four other moms went to Kentucky Lake with their children and rented a pontoon boat. With the help of Smith’s Boy Scout son, Justin, the trip turned into a pirate excursion, complete with map and buried treasure. The crew docked their boat and then followed clues through the woods to find a chest filled with gold coins.

Relax and enjoy yourself

“Parents have a tendency to want to see this and this and this,” says Elizabeth Young. “Try to resist that urge so you can relax.”

Cynthia Sumner took her children to Washington, D.C., and found it was easy to overdose on museums. And when she turned on an audio CD while driving though the historic Gettysburg battlefield, the kids protested: “We’ve had enough! Turn it off!’”

But the next evening, the family went on a Civil War ghost tour. They carried a lantern to illuminate their trail and listened to a guide tell tall tales.

“This turned out to be one of the most memorable events” of the trip, says Sumner.

Lynanne Lasota wrote “Savor­ing Holiday Memories Through Food Traditions” in Scouting’s November-December 2007 issue.

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