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Mama Drama: Preventing Travel Trauma

Dear Mama Drama:

We are traveling by plane and car this summer and need some ideas for keeping the kids entertained and having a smooth ride.

~ Traveling Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Traveling:

Planning ahead is a great idea as parents and kids can feel stressed and anxious when hunger and boredom set in on the road.

Have snacks handy. Kids generally need frequent snacks and a hungry traveler is usually a recipe for disaster. Pack easy to eat snacks like crackers, nuts (if you don’t have allergies), dried fruit, and popcorn. When driving you can add in fresh fruit, baby carrots, and sandwiches that can be stored in a cooler.

Stay hydrated, but skip the sugar. Keep kids sipping on water throughout your travels. Headaches and crankiness are often symptoms of dehydration. It’s easy when traveling to go for fruit juices and sodas. Keep them to a minimum to avoid sugar crashes and other negative side effects.

Go to the bathroom, often. The speaker at my niece’s graduation this spring quoted his father in sharing a bit of wisdom, “Never pass up a meal or chance to go to the bathroom.” Great advice for kids heading to college, but the bathroom part really caught my attention for traveling with children. Kids will often say they don’t need to go to the bathroom when the opportunity is present, but then need to go five minutes after you’ve left the rest stop or gas station. Have them go in and try at every chance, especially before boarding a plane or when you see that sign reading “Next rest stop 75 miles.” Make a game of it to see who can go the most times if you need to find a way to motivate them.

Keep their brains busy. While walking through the airport or driving down the highway, I Spy is an easy go to favorite that the whole family can enjoy. My sons also love playing “the truck game” during highway drives. They pick a brand or two of semi-trucks and keep count of them as they pass. Sometimes this gets competitive and others times is just for fun. One summer they made graphs and had the trucks compete to win. My husband’s favorite way to pass the time in airports is “celebrity look-a-like.” We scan the crowd for people who look like famous people. It’s tons of fun!

Bring books and magazines. As long as they don’t get nausea reading, like me, make sure you bring lots of reading material. Reading is a great way to pass the time, support literacy skills, and escape into a whole new adventure.

Keep their hands busy. Activity books are also a great way to keep kids occupied. Depending on their ages, pick up coloring books, drawing paper, crossword puzzles, mad libs, sudoko, and word searches. Another fun option is the art box with a clipboard on top and a place to store crayons and pencils underneath. String games such as cat’s cradle and books that teach them other fun tricks are engaging as well. Stress balls to squeeze and fidgets to stretch are also good ideas.

Find ways to move. At each stop when driving, encourage your kids to run, jump, and burn off some energy. In airports have them stretch, run in place, do jumping jacks, or practice standing yoga balance poses such as tree or eagle.

Take care of yourself. Now that you’ve done all this planning for the kids, make sure you plan ways to take care of yourself. Think ahead about ways to be relaxed and calm as you travel. Leave plenty of time to get where you’re going so you don’t feel rushed. Get up a few minutes early to stretch, meditate, or go for a short walk. Eat well and stay hydrated. Taking care of yourself will go a long way is setting an example for your children to follow.

Now you the rest of you seasoned family travelers share your tricks and tips for a smooth ride.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Your opinion: Should parents be required to buy a plane ticket for children under 2?

Holiday travel season is upon us and a polarizing debate has resurfaced: Should children 2 and younger be restrained in their own seat on an airplane?

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a forum on child passenger safety in Washington D.C. MSNBC.com travel writer Harriet Baskas wrote about the hotly-debated issue:

The NTSB has repeatedly pushed for a rule requiring all airline passengers — including infants — to be restrained in a separate seat. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) still allows children 2 years and younger to travel unrestrained on airplanes if seated on an adult’s lap. The NTSB submitted its latest safety recommendation to the FAA in August, citing plane crashes where young children held on a parent’s lap were injured or killed.

My friend Jennifer Miner of The Vacation Gals website is in favor of a rule requiring a seat for every passenger.

As parents, our number one concern is child safety. While there’s an added cost to buying an additional seat for your tot, the potential danger of not doing so far outweighs the pinch you’ll feel in your wallet.

I gave the dissenting view. From a financial standpoint it makes it that much tougher for parents to afford air travel if they have to pay for a seat. From my experience, the infant likely won’t want to stay in it anyway (and then there’s the whole other issue that the entire cabin will suffer if the fussing baby is restrained). And what about mothers who nurse during take-off and landing to offset the change in cabin pressure?

Of course I also see the safety side of it. But very rarely do you ever hear about an unrestrained infant dying in a plane crash, juxtaposed against the thousands of injury-free flights every year. And for those who are ardent supporters, I have two questions to ask you: 1) Have you ever flown with an infant on your lap and 2) Would having to fork over an extra $500 for a plane ticket for your infant deter you from flying?

Some people are encouraging the airlines to offer free travel for infants or some kind of discount. I don’t blame the airlines one bit for not jumping on this, which would result in a huge loss in revenue in an industry that is already fighting to survive.

Now that my kids are 4 and 6 we fly a lot less than we did when they flew free as infants. This summer I am taking them to Canada.

And with a $700 per person ticket, you’d better believe we’re driving.

Where do you stand on the issue? If it became a requirement to purchase a ticket for a children 2 or younger, would it impact the frequency of your air travel?

Photo: Southwest Airlines.

Travel Tips: Flying With Kids

Although I would never call myself a travel “expert,” with family on both coasts I can assure you that we’ve done our fair share of traveling with kids. With distances over thousands of miles, airplane has become our main mode of travel. It’s not cheap. It’s not easy. But it is fast. If you’re planning air travel with kids, saying that you have to be prepared is an understatement. You really need to be OVER-prepared.

Remember that air travel probably means getting a meal at the airport, maneuvering airplane bathroom stalls (these bathrooms are NOT made for two people even if one of them is little – I don’t know what these “mile high club” people are thinking), schleping through security and fenagling suitcases at baggage claim.

Drinks will be spilled, feelings will be hurt, tears will be shed, expectations will go unmet… all in the name of air travel. Not that traveling on wheels is easy. We’ve done that too and it can be just as much torture, uh, I mean fun. If you’ve traveled with kids, you know what I’m talking about. Which is why half of the battle is planning ahead to minimize the craziness. And keep this one thing in mind: you can pack the newest issue of your favorite magazine that you’ve been dying to read, just don’t expect you’ll get to read it.

Some of the tips below may seem like overkill, but if it’s been a while (or maybe never) since you’ve traveled with kids I think you’ll be glad you at least considered them.

  • If you’ve already purchased tickets, double-check