How to Travel With Children on Long Trips

Traveling with children is not always easy, especially on long-haul flights, or any long trip by train or car. However, with a little preparation your traveling time can possibly become as smooth as a baby’s bottom.


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    Have your children's appropriate legal documents. Passports are now required for all children, including infants and toddlers, for international U.S. travel. Make sure to order them 4-6 weeks in advance to allow for their applications to be processed. Double check everything, as the last thing you want is to cancel a trip because your child's passport application was denied for lack of information. If you don't need a passport to travel, still remember to take a copy of your children's birth certificates. The cut-off age for lap children is two years old. Some airlines don’t ask for a birth certificate and some do. So to be on the safe side, keep a copy of your children’s birth certificates in your purse/bag. Of course, if you have a passport, you will not need to bring birth certificates as the passport will provide complete authentication.
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    Bring a backpack of toys and activities. Kids like being in charge, so give them something to be in charge of. A backpack is perfect because it stays put, unlike a bag which can slip off their shoulder and you end up with one more thing to carry; just don't make it too heavy for them. Not only is this useful in-flight/on-board entertainment but it'll serve a dual purpose of amusing the kids once you reach your destination. Put in all your favorite ideas, including these suggestions:
    • Books. There’s never enough time in the day to read to the kids, so take advantage of the opportunity of the long plane, train or car ride for some one-on-one time. Pack your kids' favorite books for you to read or easy-reader books for them to read by themselves. There’s no reason to plug their brains into electronics for the whole journey. Expand their imagination through the endless possibilities in a good book!
    • Coloring Books. Coloring books can be a great distraction and can help get out a little scribbling energy. A favorite coloring tool is Crayola’s "Color Wonder" markers and paper. They’re great because the markers only write on Color Wonder paper, which means your little ones leave no evidence behind! Also try dollar stores for coloring books you won't mind them half-completing and being discarded for the sake of extra space.
    • Comfort Toys for Small Children. Throw in a favorite blanket or bear for small children. It may help them snuggle down for quiet time or just help get through a bumpy patch of air or a tedious part of the drive. You can never have enough props for entertaining that last 20-30 minutes of a flight when everyone is impatient to get off! Favorite games to play with a blanket or cuddle friend are "peek-a-boo" and "pat-a-cake".
    • DVDs and Personal DVD Players. A laptop with a DVD drive works just as well as a personal DVD player. Bring along a set of earphones (or a splitter so you can have two sets of earphones), so your child's viewing of his/her favorite movie or TV show doesn’t interfere with the comfort of others. Although, if you are taking a plane flight, you can save on space and rely on the in-flight entertainment. Best suited to car travel.
    • Electronic Games. Hand held games are extremely popular for older kids and can keep them quiet for hours. Bring along a set of earphones so your child’s favorite game doesn’t interfere with the comfort of others. A long plane or car trip might be a good time to invest in a new game for a special surprise!
    • Sticker Books. Reusable sticker books are great for early elementary age kids. You can find them in your child’s favorite TV/movie character or interest. And because they’re reusable you can create new scenes, stories or just mix them up for fun!
    • Boards. Pegboards are fun for all ages of children: young children can just fit them into the slots, middle-aged children may make patterns, and older children can make designs. Geoboards are great for children over 3 years old. Children can make shapes or designs with the rubber bands. Felt or flannel boards are great for making scenes with felt figures. Magnetic boards also serve this purpose, they just use magnetic figures instead of felt ones. Try activity boards for young children, these can be purchased at the store, as well as dressing boards. These are great because all of the pieces are attached, so you won't loose anything. They are easy to store, and have long playing value for toddlers and young preschoolers.
    • Pretend play. Children love acting like adults and can learn adult ways from pretend play. Pack according to age: plastic keys made for babies for infants and toddlers, real ones for preschoolers. Also consider:
    • a wallet with play money and cards
    • a camera
    • a map
    • a compass
    • a doll with a blanket and a bottle or other simple item
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    Bring your car seat on the plane. One way to rein in a fidgety toddler is to take their car seat on the plane. Young kids behave much better in a familiar car seat, which keeps everyone happy. They can rest and fall asleep more easily in their car seat because it reminds them of riding in the car. Check with your airline first that this is permissible before lugging it down to the airport. Car seats also make for greater entertainment for younger children and make you not have to carry so many toys. Attach an unbreakable mirror to the soft side of the car seat, and a play steering wheel and keys to the side with the hard arms (though these may be soft at times, depending on the car seat). Suction toys are popular for the car seat tray, if the car seat has one.
    • Attach up to 4 entertainment items on the car seat, then bring along some string or ribbon to attach small toys to the car seat. Also, many toy companies make toys that are attachable to the car seat. Changing the toys every so often is well worth it, for infants and toddlers.
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    Divide and conquer. Don't lose the kids, especially if you have more than one to keep an eye on. Decide ahead of time who is in charge of which child. This will eliminate the heart-sinking question “Where is so-and-so?? with the answer of “I thought you were watching him?" Miscommunication and lost children are not a good way to start a vacation!
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    Take precautions to guard against ear problems:
    • For babies: bring something they can suck on to help regulate their ears during the course of the flight, especially during ascent and descent. Airline flights can be quickly spoiled by a little one with an earache! Some ideas to try: Bottles of juice and/or water, pacifier, jello jigglers with extra Knox gelatin (this is messy but the kids love it!), or any Gerber baby type snacks. They dissolve quickly in the mouth eliminating a choking hazard (read safety precaution on the label before buying). Try such snacks as "Gerber stars" (lots of flavors), fruit snacks (these start dissolving almost instantly) and baby cereal bars. As of August 2006, such snacks and gel products may be prohibited under tight new security regulations. Check with the airline or government transport security sites for prohibited items.
    • For toddlers and older children: toddlers and older kids don’t always understand how to regulate their ears by just swallowing, so a little help is sometimes required. Try Starbursts because they take a long time to chew and a lot of saliva begins flowing, which to keeps the child swallowing. Some other ideas are fruit snacks, gum and hard candy (for older children). Again, check with your airline or government transport security site to see what is and what isn't permitted to be carried on board.
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    Take items for mess clean ups. Keep a bag of wipes, hand sanitizer and disposable bags for dirty diapers nearby. Baby wipes can clean up almost anything—even something spilled on carpet. Hand sanitizer is a must for traveling with kids and those disposable bags are good for containing messy stuff besides diapers! And don't forget to bring your favorite brand of stain remover wipes or pens for those times when the baby wipes just aren't enough. As of August 2006, very strict security regulations are in place which may impact on which of these items you can take on a plane.
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    Be flexible with your seating arrangements. If you’re traveling with a group, or a large number of family members, it might be fun to let your children choose which adult they want to sit by. If they don’t see Uncle Bob very often and want to sit by him (and Uncle Bob is okay with the idea), then relinquish parental control for a few hours. It’s a great time to talk and tell stories with people you don’t get to see every day. And the parents have a small rest!
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    Take snacks. Snacks, snacks and more snacks! Snacking keeps children busy and entertained. So pack your kids favorites for your long journey. The healthier the better - try carrot sticks, celery pieces, permitted nuts, gummy bears etc.


  • Make plenty of rest stops. Also, buying a toy at a dollar store may help keep your kids quiet for awhile.
  • BONUS TIP: Don’t put kid's snacks in their special backpacks or bags. While it’s great for them to be in charge of their games or coloring books, you may not want them in charge of snack time. Take your own a big carry-on bag with all the goodies you need for your kids for the flight or trip. Then you have control over who gets what snacks, when.
  • Travel Surprise. Put a small surprise or two in your kids' travel backpacks - it is like Christmas Day: A new book to read, page of stickers, small toy to play with, activity book with puzzles and mazes or (if they’re really lucky) a new movie to watch.
  • In shops at the airport, they have fun activity cards especially made for these long flights. All you need is a pen, and the cards help them to learn about the plane and their surroundings.
  • Potty trained - almost: Put a pull-up underneath their underwear. Avoid doing extra laundry and still give kids the feel of staying dry. Do this during the long trip. At your destination, small messes should be easier to deal with.
  • Check with your airline for any requirements as to where you can place the car seat on the plane. It may be the window seat, which will provide one more source of entertainment—the great outdoors!
  • If using a car to travel make sure to plan for frequent bathroom stops and restaurants.
  • If your child has a favorite toy which helps them sleep, bring it.
  • Make sure that the snacks you have are interesting shapes, that way you can keep them busy by asking them questions about the food!
  • Emergency Toys- Keep a couple inexpensive toys in your own bag on reserve and only bring it out in a situation where current toys and distractions are no longer working. It also helps to put the backpack toys away for a few days before the trip so they are more "new" to the child.
  • Sit an adult in between two kids who can be in control of the DVD player. This eliminates power struggles amongst the kids. It sounds like a scary place to be but it sure beats having to control upset children! Always bring the movies and TV shows you KNOW the kids will watch and stay occupied with.
  • If you take TV show DVDs, make sure to bring at least 2 seasons.


  • Take only *copies* (not originals) of your child's birth certificate--you don't want to take the chance of losing your original legal documents.
  • Check airline or government transport security sites for changes to carry-on luggage. Don't get caught out by losing things to airport security because they have decided to ban them: Be aware in advance. See How to Know What You Can and Can't Carry on Board an Aircraft for information on how to check.
  • Be careful about how much your child eats on a long trip, especially if they are flying. Children can get nausea much more easily than adults can, and a full stomach doesn't make it any better. Also try to avoid giving kids snacks right off the bat. If they have a couple of hours to get used to the motion of the car/plane/train, they are less likely to become sick.
  • Make sure a child seat is properly fitted in your car. If you aren't sure, contact your local police station to have them check it or to refer you to someone who can check it for you. Better safe than sorry.
  • Be careful about driving at night: you may be too tired and driving may become unsafe. Only drive if you have gotten a good nights sleep the night before and slept in. You should also only drive if you are in good enough condition. If it is not practical to do all of these, drive at naptime or during early evening sleeping.

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Categories: Family Vacations