Parental confession: I’ve never stepped foot on an airplane with my young children. I get butterflies in my stomach even thinking about it.
On the long list of things that are never the same once you become a parent, traveling with kids is one of the most intimidating challenges.
With summer travel season in full swing, members of the Danville and San Ramon Parent Council are sharing five of their hard-won lessons learned while traveling with their children.
They say it can be fun, and you can arrive (mostly) sane.
1. Don’t be afraid to start traveling early.
Michael McGinley of Danville encourages parents of infants to plunge into traveling with their kids early on.
He says, “In most cases, infants are good travel companions because they sleep a lot.”
Also factor in that children younger than 2 generally travel free.
2. Figure out what works for your family and don’t be afraid to bend the family rules.
Barb Besse of Alamo says that not everyone’s travel advice is going to work for your family.
For example, when she embarked on her first solo cross-country plane trip with her two children, she took the advice of friends and booked a red-eye flight, hoping that her children would sleep all the way to their destination. They did not.
“We were ‘that family,' ”Besse says. “It was torture for me and everyone around me, and we were exhausted for the first three days of our vacation.”
Now, Besse says, they travel in the daytime, and have found a seating strategy on airplanes that keeps the peace between her children.
She adds that she relaxes the family rules about screen time, and takes advantage of game apps and in-flight movies to pass the time.
“I know this will not win me Mother of the Year awards,” she says, “but if watching TV all the way across the country is what it takes to keep them happy and quiet, then that is what I will do.”
3. Be prepared (for anything).
Besse says she has each child pack a carry-on, leaving space for “surprise treats and activities.”
New small and inexpensive toys, activity books and treats are more exciting for a kid to discover while traveling, and will buy you time.
Be sure to pace them throughout the journey to keep the novelty factor working. A little wrapping paper also will pay off big time.
As a father to two sets of twin boys, McGinley says he has learned the power of the well-timed snack. He has found on journeys short and long, it helps “to keep little hands occupied and solicit cooperation when needed.”
McGinley and his wife also have learned to dress their kids in the same color to keep better track of them.
He cautions parents that “things never go as planned.”
To be able to respond to the inevitable hiccups that are part of traveling with children, he says to have a "Plan B," and always pack spare outfits.
4. Make the “getting there” part of the adventure.
Besse says she approaches the stops during their travels as opportunities to enjoy the adventure.
She advises seeking out kids' play areas in many airports, as well as chatting with new people you encounter along the way.
“There is always another family with similar-aged children somewhere in the airport, and when we have enough time, we go seek them out,” she says.
Erin Edward says she plays "I Spy" with her daughter along her journey, occupying time and helping her appreciate the sights as they go.
5. Have a sense of humor.
Sometimes we stress ourselves out.
If we are too concerned with doing everything just right, or if we are worried about what people will think about our children and our parenting, it’s tougher to roll with the punches that travel — with or without children — presents.
Besse shares as an example her experience on an extended summer layover last summer, when she let her kids get out some of their pent-up energy by running up and down an airport hallway.
When a woman made a comment about “controlling her children better,” Besse chose to react with humor and ask the woman if she would rather her kids run off their energy in the airport or aboard the airplane.
Then she smiled and moved away.
“When things go wrong, brush it off and move on,” Besse says. “When people groan or roll their eyes at you when you walk into the gate pushing a stroller, just smile and keep walking.”