Tips for Traveling With Kids, Part 3: Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!

This is Part Three of a series on traveling with children. Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

One of my kids’ favorite things about traveling is that each child gets her or his own “snack box” to enjoy during the trip. Whether we are flying or driving, at the start of our journey I hand out the snacks.

The snacks are generally well-balanced and high in protein. In many of the workshops I’ve taken over the years on parenting non-neurotypical children or children who are easily dysregulated have emphasized that our kids need plenty of protein and hydration. And this makes perfect sense, if you consider the research on which foods promote brain health.

For example, a recent flight snack box I packed had hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, apple slices, blueberries, orange slices, and almonds. (Someone commented on my Instagram post of that snack box that eggs are stinky on planes. That has not been my experience, but use your best judgement on that 🙂 If you are flying, it’s important to remember the TSA rules about liquids in your carry-on. Avoid applesauce, for example, and go for apple slices (which are healthier anyway!) If you are driving, you can get away with fruit pouches. Other great snack box items include pepperoni, grapes, granola bars, and pretzels.

Each child also has her or his own water bottle. (When we are flying, we all carry empty water bottles through the TSA security check point, and once we’re through security, our next stop is the bathroom and drinking fountains.) Tip: rather than using nice, store-bought water bottles, reuse plastic drink containers you will not miss if they get left on the plane! I saved a bunch of Gatorade bottles after a recent school event and washed them out to use as water bottles. If one gets left behind, no biggie! (We have left water bottles on a plane once or twice!)

Healthy snacks are important, but the real treat for the kids is the other part of their snacks: candy bags! If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right! Food is a big part of making traveling fun! Because we don’t give the kids much candy on a regular basis, I pull out all the stops when we travel. Does this mean my kids are all jacked up on sugar when we’re up in the air? In theory, yes, but in my experience, it has never been a problem. Their candy bags include things like M&Ms, fruit snacks, jelly beans, lollipops, and sugar free gum. They love getting their candy bags! (Of course!)

Giving each child their own snacks at the start of the trip is a great way to empower them. They get to be in charge of their own food, and they get to decide when and how they will eat their snacks. For example, one of my kids starts eating as soon as we buckle our seatbelts, and he keeps going until all of the food is gone. Another child can go the entire trip and only consume a lollipop. That’s OK! They’re in charge of their snacks, and they love the autonomy and independence they enjoy.

In my next post, I’ll share more on traveling with kids. Meanwhile, what are some of your favorite travel snacks?

Tips for Traveling With Kids, Part 2: Pack Simply

This is the second in a series of posts on traveling with kids. Please click here for Part One!

Photo by Mohammed Gadi on Unsplash

If we are flying, I usually pack each child a separate duffle bag with their clothes. Each child usually gets three to five everyday outfits, one “church outfit,” a swimsuit, five pairs of underwear and socks, two pajamas, sneakers, flip flops/sandals, dress shoes, hair brush, hair accessories, and toothbrush. Then I put all of the duffle bags into one or two large suitcases, which I can check for free thanks to the credit card we use. If we are driving, I skip putting the duffles in a suitcase.

Remember in my last post, when I encouraged you to involve your kids in packing? I only sort-of meant that. When it comes to the essentials, I pack for the children who are twelve and under, while our teenager packs for herself (though I’m always happy to help). But here’s the thing: I pack for them when they are asleep or otherwise not around. I know what we’re doing, I know what needs to be with us, etc. Without any “help,” I make sure we have the essentials.

That said, kids love packing for themselves. You know how I’m always ringing the “empower your child and give her a sense of agency” bell? Well, freeing her up to pack her own bag is a great way to empower her. To that end, I invite/encourage each child to pack their carry-on bags, and I let them bring whatever they want (assuming it’s not going to get us kicked off the plane!)

For example, in preparation for our most recent cross country flight last week, my son packed his microscope and specimen slides, a Harry Potter book, and a large peanut butter jar full of coins. I did remind him that the large jar with coins would make his bag feel mighty heavy as we hiked through the airport, but he was undeterred. I let it go. My daughter brought several dolls, a pillow, and more clothes. My four-year-old packed his Bible. I did not overrule anything—I just reiterated that they would need to be responsible for their backpacks for the duration of the trip, because I have my own bag to carry.

Ever since they were around three years old, even a bit younger, my kids have carried their own carry-on bags. It’s so empowering for them, and while they might get tired of carrying them once the novelty wears off, it is so good for them to have this responsibility! And not for nothing, but there are few things on earth cuter than a three-year-old carrying his own backpack on board a plane. Strangers get the biggest kick out of my kids carrying their own load.

Are there times when we get toward the end of a trip and someone is whimpering or full-on wailing? Of course. These are kids. This is when I and the older kids pitch in and help the younger ones along. In the end, though, it’s a great chance for little ones to feel “big.” And that is always a good thing.

In the next post, I’ll share another tip for traveling with little ones! How about you? Do you have any travels coming up? I’d love to know where you’re off to! Please share in the comments below!

Tips for Traveling With Kids, Part I: Talk About the Trip In Advance

This is Part One of a five-part series on tips for traveling with kids! Be sure to subscribe so you won’t miss the other posts in this series!

Our family loves to travel. Ever since we first became foster parents, we have traveled several times each year. From road trips to cross-country flights, we cover a lot of earth with our children—including those who share our last name and those who are only with us for a season of their lives.

In fact, whenever we travel, if it is at all possible, we bring our foster children with us. While there have been a few times when we were not able to due to visitation schedules, we find that traveling together has provided wonderful opportunities for bonding and empowering our children. One of our little ones took her first steps at Chicago’s O’Hare airport during a layover, with a crowd of fellow travelers cheering her on. Another child has been invited into the cockpit of our plane several times. The grin on his face in the photos we have says it all! We have introduced two children in foster care to the Atlantic Ocean. And when we brought one of our foster sons to meet his distant relatives/adoptive parents, who lived on the opposite of the country, the whole family came along.

Whether flying cross-country or heading up to Mt. Rainier for a long weekend, we love including every child in our home.

Over the years, I have honed my strategy, and in the next few posts, I’ll share my tips for traveling with kids (and making it as fun as possible for everyone—including me!)

Tip 1: Talk about the trip in advance.

This is important for all kids, but especially for kids who come from trauma. Surprises are not fun for them. Unknowns are particularly hard. Talk about your plans. Show them where you’re going on a map. Use a calendar to count down the days til you travel. Let them be involved with packing (more on that in the next post).

Even with preparation, be prepared for some dysregulated behaviors. If your child is prone to anxiety, preparing for a big trip will almost certainly trigger those feelings. That’s natural, but by pressing on with patience and guiding your child through the stress, you can help build their confidence and equip them for new experiences. (High protein snacks and water help too!)

Whenever we are bringing a child on his or her first airplane trip, we have them watch this video from TSA on what to expect at security:

In my experience, kids get excited when they get to see “Stop, Screen, Go!” in real life.

Remember, kids mirror their adults’ emotions much of the time. If we are nervous and stressed out, our kids will often be nervous and stressed out. But if we are confident and upbeat, kids usually follow our lead. In all the times we have flown with our kids, we have never had one who was afraid or waylaid by anxious behaviors.

Preparing kids in advance is just the first step toward smooth sailing when traveling as a family. In the next post, I’ll share another tip!