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How to travel with kids this summer

Some summer travel tips for families

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Some of the tips for traveling with kids you already know: Bring snacks, devices, something to read, headphones, something soft to sleep with. Get some rest and eat well, expect to miss friends and build once-in-a-lifetime memories. Prepare for crankiness and later-than-usual bedtimes.

But enough about you. What about the kids?

We kid, we kid. But whether you’re a seasoned traveler or an irregular one, whether you’ve traveled many times with your teenage kiddos or are taking junior on her first flight, here’s what you need to know about traveling with children this summer.

In this article:

Before you go

Talk to your kids about what to expect…

…and try to make your family trip sound like fun, including the parts that might not be.

For example, even if you dislike air travel, it doesn’t mean your kids have to. Aspects of the travel experience that are over-familiar and tedious to you can be new and exciting for them.

Letting kids know what to expect from a family vacation will help nervous children be less anxious, since they know what’s coming, and it might make more travel-experienced (and perhaps jaded) kids embrace the tedium-reward aspect of travel. (“Yes, we will sit in a tin can for 12 hours, but after that we get to see lions!”)

Talk to yourself about what to expect…

…and try to accept it. Everything will take longer than it would if you were traveling alone, or just with your partner.

Some things will go wrong. Your kids might lose it at some point. You might lose it at some point.

Know this at the start, and it’ll be much less bothersome when it happens. And you can plan accordingly to mitigate the effects of any breakdowns, no matter how old the breaker-downer might be.

Give your kids some (travel) agency

If your offspring are old enough to express opinions beyond “no,” let them have some say on what your trip involves. Letting them choose between several options that you feel good about — different tours or museums; beach versus snorkeling — will make them feel good, and make it more likely they’re happy-ish with whatever you end up doing.

As a rule of thumb, the older the child, the more input they’re likely to want and to be able to usefully provide. (Not that your young kids’ proposal to visit the moon via rocketship isn’t worth considering.)

Take your meds

Meaning: Take medicine with you, whether it’s for you or your kids. This is particularly important if traveling internationally, where what’s available, when stores are open and whether you need a prescription can vary unexpectedly.

But really it’s true wherever you’re going. Depending on your kid(s)’ age(s), pack accordingly, but consider Benadryl, baby Tylenol, a baby thermometer, headache medicines, allergy medicines, medicine for upset stomachs and, of course, any prescriptions your kids need. (For those, try to use original packaging and/or bring the prescription, in case luggage is searched.)

Also, because this guide is about summer, stay hydrated, and don’t forget sunscreen, bug spray and something for heat rash. Even if you visit your parents (or other family members) who live a five-minute drive from a 24-hour emergency care center, is that a journey you want to make once you arrive and discover that your kid has a headache?

Of course, some pharmacy visits are unavoidable. Fortunately, eligible Haven Term policyholders enjoy access to Haven Life Plus, a bonus rider that includes no- and low-cost access to a suite of services, including CVS MinuteClinic. These are located throughout much of the country, and Haven Life Plus includes a 15% discount on a single CVS MinuteClinic service annually.

One other thing: If you’re traveling across time zones, jet lag is real, especially for kids who have limited experience with it. Eligible Haven Term policyholders can enjoy no-cost access to Timeshifter, a jetlag-fighting app backed by NASA-level science, and it can help you adjust your sleep schedules in advance of your trip, to help ease your transition to wherever you’re going.

One other other thing: Because we’re life insurance people, we’re often thinking about worst-case scenarios. (Goes with the territory!) Unfortunately, the reality is that something unforeseen might happen to you while you’re traveling. Make sure your estate plan is up to date before you go — this includes having a life insurance policy in place, and that you have a will or trust, along with a healthcare directive.

Maybe don’t take everything

Younger children need a remarkable amount of stuff just to function — cribs, strollers, high chairs…

Some of that you can bring, and some might be available at your destination. (Relatives who have a child a little older than yours will have a few things, as will well-equipped and/or family-friendly hotels.)

For anything that isn’t already there, consider renting from a company like Baby’s Away, which operates in cities across the US and has reasonable prices (especially when compared with an extra checked bag). As for diapers and wipes: If they can easily be purchased where you’re going, bring enough for a couple of days, then buy more on arrival (or, if it’s practical, order them to be shipped to where you’re staying).

On the way

Traveling by plane

Get there (somewhat) early

Getting through the airport will take longer than usual, so arrive early enough, but not so early that your kids are tired of the journey before it’s even begun. Some airports have play areas, some do not: find out ahead of time and plan accordingly.

What to bring

Whatever you are bringing, take enough of it to cover you in the event of travel delays. Note that formula, breast milk, toddler drinks, and baby/toddler food (including puree pouches) are not subject to the 3.4oz/100ml liquid limit for air travel.

That said, do bring snacks, water bottles (to refill in the airport once through security) and — crucially — things to entertain your children in-flight. New toys are always good, better if they’re wrapped (the unwrapping can be as engrossing as the toy itself).

If you’re OK with tablet use, load before you go. Airplane wifi quality and the rules governing what it can be used for vary. Also consider drawing materials, and good old-fashioned books made of paper.

Re: Strollers and car seats

Most airlines will allow you to check a stroller and/ or car seat for free. Many will also let you gate check your stroller, which will almost certainly be more convenient for you. Find out before you fly.

Where to sit
Aisle seats present toddlers with many opportunities to wreak havoc: tiny hands and feet connecting with passengers and food carts, for example. If possible, put them in window seats (entertaining view) or between you and your adult traveling companion, if you have one (damage control).

Traveling by car

What to bring and what to do

Some of the above (snacks, toys, being ready for delays) applies to your summer vacation road trip, but maybe not the tablet: Some kids get motion sick using them in cars, but perhaps more importantly, the car offers some non-screen fun for them or for you as a family.

Yoto offers a screen-free kind of books/stories on tape which can be listened to via the speaker or on headphones. You can also play your kids’ books through the car stereo, enabling you all to listen to and talk about them together. Car rides also offer the chance for games like spotting license plates and group activities like singing. Whatever you’ll need during the journey, make sure it’s in the main part of the car, not in the trunk.

Take breaks

If the trip is more than two or three hours, look at the map ahead of time and plan breaks (plan them more frequently if your kids are especially restless). If your children are young, don’t worry about making these breaks particularly amazing: A few minutes running around pretty much anywhere will feel great after hours in the car.

Once you’re there

Staying with relatives

If your children have specific needs around food or scheduling (such as nap time), discuss them in advance so you and your relatives can figure out how to best accommodate your child without making them the center of the visit. Also think of activities in the area that your kid(s) would enjoy that will get them out of the house to burn off energy and avoid going stir crazy (this will benefit you as much as them).

Staying in paid accommodations

Make contact with your hotel or vacation rental ahead of time to request whatever you might need, such as cribs or high chairs. That way, you’ll know what to bring (or rent) on your own. If you want a quiet hotel room so your child can nap, ask for it in advance. If you’ll be arriving early, see if you can get an early check-in, so your kids have somewhere more comfortable than the lobby to rest.

Making the most of it

If you enjoy traveling, it’s in your interest for your children to enjoy family travel, too — whether you’re exploring a treasured National Park or hitting a kid-friendly theme park.

For that to happen, be ready to deal with mishaps calmly, and try to make things as fun as possible for everyone. And remember — it’ll be easier next time.

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About Michael Davis

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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