One mother, whose family has a serious case of wonderlust, shares 10 tips to put a stop to backseat whining when traveling with kids, including car games to play and having your child help plan the trip.
The author’s son cuddles a plush from Little Pim
en route to Mount Pilatus, Switzerland.
1. This may sound simple, but bring snacks and drinks. When you are in the car or plane for a long time, your child will get hungry…and then, cranky. We don’t advocate endless snacks as entertainment, but sustenance is good! If you are flying, remember your bottle will need to be filled after you go through security.
2. Read aloud to your tots or pop in an audio book as a diversion for children of any age, suggests Kyle McCarthy, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Best Family Destinations. She also recommends letting older babies and toddlers play with Colorforms, and classic backseat games such as auto-bingo are great on any trip with preschoolers (check out eeboo.com for a wide selection of durable, colorful card games for kids).
3. Bring a lollipop or, for kids who understand not to swallow it, some gum for takeoff and landing. When a child’s ears are clogged, he or she will become uncomfortable and cry. The chewing or sucking will often help ease kids’ discomfort and help their ears clear up.
4. Get the kids involved in the planning, suggests Connecticut mom of two Eileen Ogintz. Your children will take you to places you never would have found, and they will be much happier to go along with your picks when they have some say in the itinerary. You can also let them take a virtual tour of museums or sites before you visit so you can decide where to focus your time.
5. If you are on a long road trip, pull over from time to time. Rome wasn’t built in a day; you don’t need to cross the country in one, either. Taking time to use the bathroom, walk around, even spend 20 minutes at a playground will burn off energy and make a happier car ride for all.
6. McCarthy knows from experience with her own son that as kids get older, they crave electronic entertainment. Why not download some world music for a horizon-expanding playlist, she suggests, or a documentary film or cooking show so your kids will try something new? Her counter-intuitive advice? Never bring spare batteries! When the electronics lose power, you’ll get a chance to really find out what’s going on in your kids’ lives.
7. Check out the local delicacies, says Ogintz, author of Kid's Guide to NYC and founder of TakingTheKids.com. Check out localharvest.com to find a farmer’s market where you’ll be visiting, and allow the kids to talk with local growers and then plan a menu with the food you purchase—now that’s some worthwhile backseat chatter! (If you can, stay somewhere with a kitchen or a free breakfast; it will cut down on costs and keep you from rushing about in the morning.)
8. If you are on a plane, bring a secret stash of toys your child has not seen (these can be small and inexpensive) and swap them out at intervals; the new items will keep your child’s attention.
9. Does your child have a special lovey, toy, book, or blanket? Bring it along—now is not the time to break routine. This will also help your child sleep in the plane or car, and make her feel secure. (This also goes for the crib: If your child still sleeps in a crib, your vacation is not an opportunity to try out the “big girl” bed—it will usually end in disaster. Instead, bring a portable crib or make sure your hotel can provide one.)
10. If all else fails, suggests McCarthy: Serve chocolate.
For more ways to keep your child occupied during a long road trip or plane ride, check out these eight products to bring with you.
Samantha Feuss is a blogger (havesippywilltravel.com) and freelance journalist who writes frequently about parenting, travel, and toys. She lives in the NY metro area with her husband and son.
Why Traveling with your Kids is Important