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Traveling with Children Over the Holiday Season

December 7, 2009
Times Observer

Each year, part of my family’s preparation for the December holidays includes planning for a trip to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Illinois and Wisconsin. Of the ten days away from Western New York, driving takes up the better part of four of the days. Though we are experienced travelers, I wouldn’t call us expert travelers. Like many aspects of parenting, traveling with children is something that benefits from some pre-planning, knowing that one also needs to be flexible! When traveling with children over the holidays, here are some things to consider:

Pack things that will keep your child well-occupied. Whether one is traveling for an hour or several hours, the trip goes better if the child is engaged and having fun. Pack a separate bag for each child (a backpack works well for this) including his or her favorite things. Let your child have input into what goes on the trip, but check before you leave home to ensure that the child has selected enough different things to hold his or her interest over the course of the trip. It may work well to have special toys or activities that are used only when traveling, so that they are new and interesting for the child. If your child has particular things that he or she cannot be separated from at home, like a blanket or stuffed animal, make sure that this object comes on the trip. Avoid having the child bring things with small pieces, or else bring lots of zip-close bags. To occupy the family as a whole, bring books to read aloud and music CDs. There are also lots of travel games (e.g., Twenty Questions, Travel Bingo) which can be fun for the family to play together.

Pack supplies to meet a variety of needs. A general rule of thumb is to bring two times as many bottles, diapers, changes of clothing, wipes, snacks, and drinks than you think you could possibly need. The wipes are a great help in cleaning up all kinds of spills. Bring small garbage bags to remove clutter from snacks, paper drink containers, and other types of packaging. If your child is 2-4 years old, consider bringing a child’s travel toilet, particularly if you are traveling by car. Bring sleeping bags, blankets, and small pillows to ease your child’s sleeping.

Stop along the way, to allow your child to do some fun things. The holiday season is usually very hectic. It can be hard to plan in time for your child to take a play break at a roadside rest stop, or a fast food play area. However, if you are feeling stressed by all the hustle and bustle of holiday travel, chances are that your child is feeling this way too. For car travel, it can help a lot if you plan time in the travel schedule for true rest breaks at a rest stop, and find child-oriented attractions along the way that can be visited briefly. In the airport, there are often small play areas for children, sculpture, or artwork displays to pass some of the waiting time.

Establish rules for the trip. This may be particularly useful when there are siblings. Siblings are notorious for poking, teasing, and bickering on trips. Establish clear guidelines for what is acceptable behavior during the trip, and what is not. Tell the children what the consequences will be for not following the rules. For example, the child may lose the opportunity to play with a particular toy if he/she breaks the rules. Have children repeat aloud the rules and possible consequences for breaking the rules so it is clear that they understand. Establishing rules ahead of time will usually lead to less reprimanding by the parent over the course of the trip.

See the travel as a family adventure! Travel can be viewed as a hassle or an adventure. If one sees the trip as an adventure, then delays due to traffic, cancelled flights, or car trouble will not lead to as much stress and worry. Expect your child to be overly tired at times, or excited because of the holidays. If you are able to stay calm and flexible, your child will be more easily soothed when upset or overly excited.

For more tips about traveling with children, the following websites have some great information:,,, and

Andrea Zevenbergen is an associate professor of psychology at SUNY Fredonia. She has been conducting research related to parent-child shared reading since 1990. She lives with her husband and son, who is now a fifth-grader, in Chautauqua County.

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