If you’re like many military families, going home for the holidays is much more complicated than going “over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house.” It’s more like going over the ocean or through five states. When you have kids, travel becomes an even bigger ordeal. Add in all the extra stress and traffic from the holiday season, and it can certainly give you a headache!
Even though traveling with kids during the holidays is bound to be a frustrating adventure, it doesn’t have to be miserable. The more you prepared, the better you will be able to handle common travel problems. Follow these steps to prepare your kids, and yourself, for holiday travel.
Before Your Trip
Young children get excited and distracted easily. Talk them through the trip details beforehand: “When we get to the airport, we will wait in a long line to check our bags. Then there’s another long line where we take off our shoes. Then we will go to the bathroom and fill our water bottles. Then we will take a long walk to the waiting area. That’s where we will eat a snack.” The more details they know ahead of time, the fewer questions you’ll have to answer when you are hurrying through crowds.
Older children can pack clothes and toiletries from a packing list, charge their electronics, and help look up flight information or driving routes on an app. Tell them the travel plans in advance, and let them choose where to eat along the way. If they aren’t excited about sharing a bedroom with cousins, make sure there is at least one activity during the trip that they have chosen.
Purchase cheap dollar gifts ahead of time, then wrap them in festive paper. These make great distractions to help kids handle traffic jams or flight delays. Hand them out for entertainment (or bribes!) as needed. You’ll also want to pack lots of snacks to distribute as the kids get hungry.
If You’re Flying
Expect delays: Many airlines are struggling with staffing issues and flights will be packed around the holidays. Expect long lines, cancellations and delays. If you have a layover, build a buffer into your schedule so you can get kids from one end of the airport to the other, plus stop for bathroom breaks, before your connecting flight starts boarding. Even for a short flight, try to be over prepared with extra snacks and entertainment.
Dress for the weather: It may be warm at your current duty station but snowing when you visit family. Make sure everyone has warm coats and layers of clothing. If you won’t need the coats until the final destination, pack them in a checked bag. It’s worth the baggage fee so you don’t have to lug everyone’s thick coats through the airport!
If you’re traveling solo: If you are visiting home with the kids but without your service member, then pace yourself for a challenging trip. Give each kid a backpack with their own snacks and entertainment, so they can have it handy in their seat. Get small carry-on bags with wheels, so each child can pull their own suitcase with their clothes. If you have an infant, use a baby sling to keep your hands free for other luggage, or push the stroller all the way up to the boarding line and ask them to gate check it for you. Then it will be available as soon as you deplane. If you have a long layover, take everyone for a walk and play games like I Spy or Airport Bingo so they can burn off some energy.
If You’re Driving
If possible, plan your trip to avoid peak driving times and major traffic backups. Consider leaving a day or two before schools begin winter break. If you have two drivers, leave in the evening or early morning hours and drive through the night. Watch the weather ahead of time so you know if storms will affect your route.
If your drive takes more than one day, make hotel reservations far in advance, before they become crowded with other holiday travelers. And don’t forget to ask for a military discount!
You can find more tips for entertaining kids during long road trips in my previous article.
For solo parents: Road trips are difficult when you’re the only adult in a car full of kids. Consider inviting a relative to fly out and visit before your trip so you can drive back together. Or ask local young military spouses if they need a ride to your home state. If you have to drive alone, pack all snacks and kid comfort items within your reach. Use baggies for snacks or toys so you can literally toss them to the back seat when the kids get fussy. You can always clean the car up later!
Traveling during the holidays is never easy, especially for military kids living far from family. But with the right planning and an adventurous attitude, your family can keep your holiday trips merry and bright!