Holidays are hectic. While everyone dreams of bonding with the family over the long Christmas break, the truth is, what with all the shuttling back and forth to reunions, parties, and out-of-town getaways, we spend more time in the car and on the road than we'd like.
If the thought of sitting through hours of traffic or sitting still for a few hours' flight can prove to be tiresome for even the most steadfast of travelers, imagine the toll it can take on little children. The unpleasant experience may well extend to after the drive or flight, leaving kids restless and prone to tantrums which may test the patience of everyone on the trip.
Make travel fun and safe for the kids--and everyone, for that matter--by keeping in mind the basics of traveling with tots.
1) Keep them in the loop. Organize a holiday calendar for the whole family and discuss with the kids where you'll be going, how you're getting there, and how long it will take. This gives them a clear picture of what to expect. For the little ones, giving them reminders leading up to the trip often helps. Try to inject fun facts and trivia to hype them up, or help them make a map or some sort of visual aid. Famous landmarks en route to your destination are good indicators of time and space. ("After we pass the windmills, we'll get to lolo's farm in fifteen minutes!") Letting them know more about where they're going to makes it less daunting and something that they can actually look forward to.
2) An apple a day keeps the travel blues away. It pays to keep the kids in the pink of health in the days leading up to the trip. Healthy kids equals happy travelers. Make sure they get enough sleep, especially on the night before the trip, to avoid the stress of rushing in the morning making sure everyone's up and dressed and ready to go. If you're worried about your children's reaction to traveling by air or sea, check with your pediatrician days before and make sure you have the prescribed medicines on hand. Also be ready with medicine for common ailments that may plague your kids while on holiday, from tablets for headaches and stomach aches to syrups for coughs and colds and even eyedrops. If traveling to foreign locations, especially those with extreme climate, check with the embassies and with your doctor if certain vaccinations are in order. Schedule these a week or two before your departure.
3) Fun to go. Involve them in preparing, shopping, and packing for the ride. They get to choose what activities they can do while in transit, thus eliminating the "I'm bored!"s and "Are we there yet?"s. Make sure you're well stocked with enough activities to keep the kids happy and occupied. Purchase inexpensive activity pads and coloring books from bookstores or download templates from various websites. Better yet, make your own! Go through old coloring or activity books and tear out those last few pages they missed and compile to make your own travel activity book. Don't forget crayons, pencils, and pens. Bring erasers and sharpeners, too. If you travel often, invest in portable laptop surfaces (those small desk-like pieces with soft cushions underneath) so kids can color or write with ease. These double up as tables for eating on the road, too. For older kids, other travel essentials that keep the boredom blues at bay are handheld video games and iPods or MP3 players (but be sure to regulate the length of use to avoid damage to the eyes and ears). Also, make sure to bring the respective chargers as well.
4) More fun... and it's free! Whenever you can, nix the gadgets and go for old-fashioned fun. Engage the troops in classic road trip games such as "I Spy" or "20 Questions." Or channel the Von Trapp family and belt out Christmas carols plus other silly kids' songs. With a little clever adaptation, even these tunes can turn into games as well. Of course, these are more suitable for play if you're traveling by car or with a private tour. Do think twice before making a ruckus on public transportation.
5) Food to go. The only rumbling on road trips should be from your engine--not your kids' tummies. Be prepared with an assortment of snacks that kids can occasionally nibble on during the trip. This means choosing foods that require less preparation and as few utensils as possible and those that can eaten on the go. Your baon of choice must also be able to withstand the test of time and travel. Don't pack perishables that may go bad quickly. Think healthy and bring along fruit and vegetable sticks, though note that these may only be good for the first part of the trip, so eat them early. Some fruits tend to brown easily and picky kids might not be interested in them anymore. If packing cookies or crackers, go for the ones that don't break apart easily or leave crumbs. Say no to sticky sweets and chocolates that melt all over the place (you could do without a sugar rush anyway). Also, stay away from foods that pose choking hazards. Always keep a generous supply of liquids--water and juices--on hand, but bear in mind that too much water intake can also lead to frequent bathroom breaks. Finally, if taking public transportation, consult their policies on bringing food and drink on board.
6) Stop and go. Pit stops are not only for cars and buses to refuel. They're also a good opportunity to make sure your kids recharge as well. While dad is filling up the tank, take the kids for a stroll around the station, if only to flex their muscles and take in some air. Some stations have playgrounds where kids can release pent-up energy. Let them at it for a few minutes. Regularly ask them if they need to go to the bathroom instead of waiting for them to wail that they have to go, just as you've pulled out of the station or, even worse, exited the express way. These not only apply to when you're in transit but also for the duration of the trip. If on walking tours, check up on the kids and see if they need to stop and rest for a while. Remember, too, that babies and toddlers need nap time and so keep this in mind when planning activities for the family.
7) Clean as you go. Expect all sorts of mess when traveling with kids, from soiled clothes to crumbs on the upholstery. Keep tissues and wipes handy. Be ready with rinse-free hand sanitizers. Pack a set of extra clothes for emergencies (or unexpected layovers). Biodegradable grocery plastic bags are a good idea for keeping trash until ready to dispose (or for that sudden wave of motion sickness!). Showing kids that you value cleanliness is a good way of instilling the same discipline in them. Now is a good time as any to get them involved in keeping Mother Earth as clean and green as possible.
8) Assign a travel buddy. If traveling in groups, assign an older child or family member to look after the smaller ones. More than just making sure they have hands to hold, travel buddies make sure all kids are accounted for, entertained, well-fed and rested. This makes for special bonding time with their ates and kuyas or titos and titas while giving the usually harried mom some peace of mind. (Of course, it goes without saying that there still should be a designated adult who looks after the whole group.) This is also a good way of teaching older children responsibility.
9) Strangers and other dangers. Kids are a curious bunch, and more often than not will get into a sticky predicament one way or another. Minimize travel mishaps and other situations by regularly educating children on travel safety. This includes the basics such as never talking to or taking candy (or anything else for that matter) from strangers, proper use of seat belts when in the car or plane, and always seeking adult supervision when crossing streets. When on the road, teach kids to recognize and understand basic street and safety signs. While in the car, remind kids to keep their hands and fingers in the car, not on windows where they run the risk of getting stuck or injured. Travel companions must also be aware of basic life-saving techniques or at least know where the nearest medical stations are in case of emergencies.
10) Photographs and memories. Assign older kids to take care of documenting the trip by leaving them in charge of the camera or videocam. You may be surprised with their cinematographic skills. If you frequent a favorite destination--say, Tagaytay every Christmas or Cebu every summer--an interesting way of documenting your trips over time is to take a photo of your kids in the same spot every year. Kids always appreciate looking at photos of recent trips and don't mind watching the videos again and again. It's a great way for them to tell stories of their vacation, and it helps keep the trips fresh, giving them something to look forward to next year.