Traveling over the holidays (with little ones) probably tops many people’s “worst things to do ever” list. Busy airports, disrupted routines, and flight cancellations don’t make for a good time. However, if you want to spend Thanksgiving with your family who lives far away, traveling is a must.
Instead of dreading your holiday travel plans with the kids, try to make the most of it — because once you reach your destination, it’s all fun and games, and so worth the headache of getting there!
Here are five tips for surviving Thanksgiving travel with kids — whether you’re traveling by plane or by car.
Time it right
This tip is two-fold: First, time your travel around your kids’ nap times or bedtimes. You know your kids best. If they’ll sleep on the plane, try to find a flight during nap time (or even bedtime) for easy and stress-free traveling. If you know they won’t be able to sleep on the flight, make sure to squeeze nap time in before you leave so you don’t have cranky little ones.
Second, don’t leave on the busiest days of the year, which are the Wednesday and Saturday before Thanksgiving Day. If you can, leave either the Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday before Thanksgiving and come back the Monday or Tuesday after Thanksgiving. With more than 46 million Americans traveling over the holidays, you can avoid at least some of the chaos by traveling on non-peak days.
Allow yourself plenty of time
If you’re catching a flight, it’s normal to arrive two hours before take-off. However, if you’re flying the week of Thanksgiving, experts recommend arriving an extra 30-45 minutes earlier than you normally would, especially if you have kids in tow.
The same holds true for road trips — give yourself an extra hour of time for every five hours of travel; more if you have younger kids. If you leave early, you’ll significantly reduce your stress levels and be able to enjoy “getting there.”
Bring plenty of snacks and toys
Holiday travel is not the time to teach your kids to sit still and keep quiet. It’s just too hectic. Instead, purchase a few new toys for the kids to play with, including coloring books and a few crayons, books, travel games, or an Etch-a-Sketch.
Keep toys simple and choose ones without small pieces that will just get lost. Another option is to download movies on to your smartphone or tablet, and bring along a set of headphones. Your seat-mates will thank you.
Also be sure to load up your bag with plenty of delicious snacks. My husband and I have taken numerous road trips (some across the country!) plus flights with two toddlers, and snacks are our savior.
Some portable snack ideas that won’t cause a sticky mess include pretzels, Goldfish crackers, raisins, cereal bars, fruit snacks, string cheese, and apples — but always keep in mind that variety is key!
It stinks to have to pay a baggage fee, but checking luggage will save you the hassle of carting your suitcases through the airport while also trying to juggle kids, strollers, and carry-ons. You’ll most likely have to wait in line to check a carseat anyway (which is free on most airlines, yay!), so you won’t be adding any extra time to your trip by doing so.
However, if you’re taking a really short trip (like a long weekend) and are able to pack super light, you could always try to fit everything into one carry-on.
Other than snacks and toys for the kids, keeping your luggage to a minimum shouldn’t be too challenging so long as you’re able to wash your clothes at your destination. (And if your kids are still in diapers, you could just purchase some when you arrive to save room.)
Change your attitude
Another concern for most parents is that their whiny or rambunctious kids will bother other travelers, but most people will understand your struggle and have compassion if your kids act up. Just keep your chin up and you’ll be surprised at the kindness of strangers.
Enjoy this time with your children and try to make the most of it. Remind yourself why you’re traveling and how much of a good time you’ll have once you arrive. The less stressed out you are, the happier and more relaxed your kids will be.