Originally published in Wisconsin State Journal November 29, 2012.
Dear Dr. Johnson: What suggestions do you have for traveling with children this holiday season?
Dear Reader: Many of us choose to travel during the holiday season to spend time with family and friends. While the time spent at our destination can be enjoyable for us and our children, the travel to get there can pose hurdles when traveling with children.
There are ways to help make travel time more enjoyable for all. For car travel, one of the most important steps is to ensure your child is in an appropriate car seat or booster seat. However, children enjoy movement, and being limited in the car can create frustration and crying in younger children. Entertainment can help make the time spent in the car more enjoyable for everyone.
To help pass the time, bring along a mixture of favorite toys as well as new toys. Playing games such as 20 questions or finding letters of the alphabet on signs, singing songs, and listening to audio books are other ways to pass the time.
It also is important to take frequent pit stops to allow children to stretch their legs and burn off some energy. My son’s favorite game while traveling is playing tag at rest stops, with trees as “safe.” It gets all of us moving.
Take your child’s temperament into consideration when deciding when to travel. Some children travel better during the night or naptime when they can sleep for a large portion of the car ride. Other children have difficulty sleeping in the car so they travel best when they would be awake otherwise. Whatever time you decide to travel, make sure the driver is well-rested and alert.
For air travel, you have less control over pit stops, but many of the same entertainment recommendations apply. Have a bag packed with entertainment options that can fit under the seat in front of you for easy access. For those times when trips to the bathroom on the plane are restricted, I recommend pull-ups or diapers for any child who is recently potty-trained or who isn’t easily able to “hold-it.”
Changes in ear pressure can bother a child during takeoff and initial descent. To help with this, allow your child or infant to suck on something (pacifier, bottle, breastfeeding, drink with straw) or allow chewing gum for older children.
When planning your travel, direct flights are often best. Otherwise, avoid short layovers. It is much harder to run from one gate to the next with a child. You may also need extra time for diaper changes or a meal. A child also can benefit from some time moving around in the airport before boarding the next plane.
Whether traveling by land or air, it is a good idea to have spare clothes easily available for all travelers. When a baby spits up, it often lands on someone other than themselves. Diaper changes may occur in tight quarters so comfortable, easy on and off clothing is best.