Anxiety Tips for Traveling with Children

There is nothing like a countdown to an upcoming vacation, whether you’re heading out for the ever-thrilling family reunion or seeking refuge from the day-to-day grind. You’ve made the reservations, submitted time off, and the only thing left is to pack—the worst part!

When you have little ones, preparing for an upcoming trip is like an Olympic event except you haven’t been training your whole life and nobody told you the rules of the game. I’m still trying to find a way to pack throughout the upcoming week without my little guys rummaging through it, only to exclaim, “I don’t like that bathing suit. I want my blue one!” when the blue one last fit him two summers ago.

If you experience anxiety, vacations can trigger a lot of common fears.

  • What if I’m not prepared?
  • What if my kid screams the whole time?
  • What if we get sick?

Plus, if you are looking to cure seasonal depressive swings, there can be a lot of pressure on this trip to really reset you.

Consider some of our tips to keep your focus on the vacation.

Plan and pack ahead.

Start by creating a list for each child of what they will need—remember to include yourself, too! If you organize your thoughts first, you will feel more prepared when you get to the actual packing. This will also help you identify what you might need to purchase ahead of time, minimizing that last minute running around. For example, in the dead of winter, I can’t remember what sunscreen we have tucked in the back of our closet! Or which closet!

Start with the clothes you aren’t wearing right now, like shorts, sun hats, bathing suits, tank tops, sandals, etc. If you’re lucky, everybody will still be wearing the same size from the previous summer. If not, you still have time to go shopping for new!

Juggling so many bags!

With my family, I am often choosing between a lot of little bags, or a few very heavy bags.

For long road trips, pack in accordance with what you will need at various times. For example, a container for snacks in the car and hotel; a bag only for what you’ll need for the mid-road trip hotel stays; the giant bag for everybody’s clothes once you’ve reached your destination.

When flying, if your little one can carry their own backpack or pull their own wheelie suitcase behind them, this can be a great way for them to pack their toys with all sort of things to keep entertained, freeing up your own carry on for that book you definitely won’t have time to read. If you can’t convince them to help (or they’re too little), check as much of your luggage as you can so you have less to lug around through an airport.

Bonus tip: Purchasing a lap seat for your child under two is a great way to save money, but you also lose out on extra space! If you can, purchase that extra ticket to give yourself, and your bags, extra space. This will help reduce any feelings of claustrophobia and minimize constantly bumping into the lucky passengers next to you.

Kids and their stuff in tow.

It can be overwhelming with all the bags, strollers, car seats, and your littles ones in a crowded airport, rest area, lobby, etc. Baby-wearing will save your sanity! From newborn to toddler, there’s a contraption to make your life easier.

If a carrier is brand new or not often used, practice before the trip—it will help you and baby. It’s best to feel confident they’re secure and correctly strapped in ahead of time. This will also give baby a chance to get familiar with the new carrier in their own environment.

If you plan to use a car seat on the plane, lugging it through the airport is exhausting. (Not to mention when the whole family must make a bathroom stop! Those stalls are NOT big enough!) Consider renting a luggage cart or purchasing a “car seat cart” made specifically for this. Keep the stroller to use throughout the airport. You can check it at the gate, and it will be ready and waiting in the jet bridge when you land.

Rent the extra gear.

Portable cribs, highchairs, car seats, bouncers, swings, strollers—OH MY! I don’t know about you, but when my kids were babies, our living room had a swing, a little seat, a bouncer, a mat with dangling noise makers, etc., and this is how we keep busy throughout the day. So, the idea of spending our vacation days in a place without all these things would inevitably stress me out.

I quickly learned that you can rent these things! Often, rental properties or homes will have these items available if needed. Car rental companies also offer car seat rental.

Preparing for meltdowns.

If you are prepared to experience meltdowns, you will feel less anxiety when they occur.

One of my favorite skills is called coping ahead. I imagine myself in the middle of the airport, toddler rolling on the floor, crying. And instead of picturing myself sweating while whisper-grunting at them to get up, I imagine myself crouched by his side, quietly speaking with him, using my calm patient parenting voice. People will stare at you. Ignore the stares. Instead, keep your eyes and focus on your little one. They are experiencing some sort of emotion, and they need you. You have calmed their little souls millions of times before; I promise you will have the answer at that moment, too.

Tag team with your supports. Tap in your partner when you are too overwhelmed.

It’s also a perfectly acceptable option to bribe your flight attendants. You may find they will visit more often, bring extra snacks, or even just entertain your child with a five-minute conversation!

Must. Keep. Routine.

Running anxious, I have a strong belief that if we don’t keep the exact same routine, every tantrum will happen and nobody will enjoy our vacation. This is both true and false. Do whatever you can to keep your routine similar, because this will truly keep everybody a bit happier.

Keep nap, sleep and wake times similar. Bring portable noise machines or blankets to block out light to mimic whatever they have in their own rooms during sleep times.

Keep feeding times as similar as possible, too. If you are on a road trip, accept that you may have to stop frequently and plan your stops around feedings.

For plane rides, try to nurse or bottle feed during take-off and landings. This will help their little ears, while also helping distract you if you’re an anxious flyer.

It’s okay to break the rules. Toddlers can understand some context of how their environment dictates rules and norms. We can scream at home; we can’t scream at church. If you explain to them, “we get extra screen time because we’re on the airplane!” they will understand this is an exception.

Give them gentle reminders when returning from vacation, such as “We got to do a lot of stuff we don’t usually get to do at home! Now that we are heading home, we’ll go back to our normal rules.” It might take them a little bit to readjust, but it will be worth a little extra screen time for your sanity or candy to keep their mouths a little quieter in the car or on that plane.

Above all else, remember that they will remember all the best parts of this trip. They will remember that you took them on a plane, let them stay up late, let them swim before breakfast, played in the sand with them, watched someone fishing on a pier, etc. Allow your brain to make these memories louder than the meltdowns and stressors.

Road trip bonus tip!

For those of you adventuring on a road trip, or for any long car trips, consider these tried-and-true tips!

  • Keep snacks handy, even baby-friendly choices like puffs.
  • Stock up on some new toys (post-holiday sales are great!) and save them for a big reveal in the car.
  • Plan feedings around stops.
  • Be prepared to stop often; you won’t be able to control how long the road trip will take. Keeping baby (and everyone else in the car) happy is the most important part!
  • Plan for one longer stop so your little one gets a longer break from the car seat.
  • Play kid songs to soothe an unhappy baby.
  • Bring painter’s tape with you. You can tape blankets up to cover windows in the car, hotels, or your vacation spot.

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