For parents with out-of-town family, holiday travel is inevitable. At the very least, the discussion of holiday travel is an unavoidable reality. For those of you staring down a real or potential holiday vacation, here are some things worth considering:
1. Packing for holiday travel with kids is unique. Depending on your destination or extended family traditions, you may be needing to pack for religious services, lounge time, hot weather, winter weather, and everything in between, not to mention props for extracurricular activities and gifts.
Clothes: If you’re visiting family, I would highly recommend having a candid discussion with the local “planner” in your family to determine what events are likely. From there, a written packing list is immensely helpful to allow you to visualize what you think you might need and then scale back in order to fit into your luggage allowance. You can also consider where you can pull double duty with your clothes (like the time my daughter wore leggings as tights under her Christmas dress, an extra layer under her ski suit, and as lounge pants for every other occasion). Are you going to have access to a washing machine? If so, plan on doing a mid-vacation load (surprisingly, this plan can be stress-free, even if you aren't hosted: we tool full advantage of a professional laundromat in England where we dropped our dirty clothes, toured for the day, and picked them up later that evening. It definitely cost less than an extra baggage fee).
Extracurricular activities: As for the “props” associated with vacation travel (skis, golf clubs, etc), if this is your first foray into holiday travel with kids, I would highly recommend that you consider renting or borrowing. Holidays with kids are strikingly different than holidays as non-parents, and you may be surprised at how little time you can devote to these extracurriculars.
Gifts: Give yourself a break and buy online to be delivered to the home where you’re celebrating the holidays. Or, better yet, if others are traveling too, they might appreciate not having to transport gifts. You can always print out a picture of the item and let the recipient open the wrapped picture. Looking for a simpler solution? Gift cards are always AMAZING gifts! Just be sure to pick a store that the person uses, and they can pick out exactly what they want, no gift receipt required.
To help relax my own mind in the fray of holiday chaos, “if I forgot something vital, I can always buy it!”
2. Plane or car or train, traveling with kids around the holidays is a great time to sit back and enjoy the crazy. I mean it. Holiday travel is an amazing time for decorations, novel entertainment (I have witnessed “airport carolers” firsthand), and people watching. It is also an incredibly common time of year for cancellations due to weather, heightened stress, and ample opportunity to panic. The best way I’ve found to deal with holiday travel is to treat it as a vacation from “the normal,” even if that vacation is a 5 hour lay-over in Cleveland walking your screaming toddler in a carrier in a feeble attempt to coerce nap-time (self sanity solution: noise canceling headphones and a comedy sketch playlist).
3. Finding balance is not impossible, but it does take time. If this is your first holiday traveling with kids, cut yourself some slack. When you’re walking through the terminal, move at the pace of your slowest member. If you have a lay over or extra time to kill, many airports and stations have children’s areas to explore. If not, kids find amusement in the smallest things: moving walkways can be a HUGE hit to a stir-crazy toddler. Colorful newsstands provide significant stimulation to a baby. Don’t work too hard to entertain your kids off of the plane (or however you’re traveling) as the real work begins when you’re confined to your seats. Instead, take advantage of all of the room, the people, and the previously considered “time wasters” that terminals provide.
While on the subject of balance, when you are confined to a limited space with your children, be prepared to have little to no time to yourself. This may be a particularly daunting prospect if you’re staring down cross-country or intercontinental travel. Try to prepare quiet and age appropriate games, toys, and snacks for them to enjoy. Children have an uncanny way of reflecting the mood of the crowd in the loudest and most extreme ways possible, so try to keep your cool and do your best. In my straw polling, people will put up with just about anything from children during holiday travel so long as the parents “look like” they’re doing something. Finally, in the pauses where your child(ren) is occupied or *gasp* sleeping, try to find ways of “recharging” your own batteries for the next challenge in whatever way you can.
Overall, holidays are meant to be a time of love, joy, and celebration. While it may seem like the vacation doesn’t begin until you reach your destination, travel has it’s unique brand of fun (after all, we’re constantly being told that the true celebration is in the “journey” of life). As stressful as it inevitably can be, holiday travel can also be a wonderful bonding experience and an opportunity to connect with your kids on a new level. One of my favorite memories of my little family is of 18 month old Jenna, my husband, and I pretending to be airplanes jogging alongside a moving walkway in the O’Hare Airport in the middle of a hellacious travel day. And I’ve seldom been as proud of my daughter as I was of her keeping it together at two in the morning on a turbulent plane flying home after the holidays. Try and enjoy what you can and laugh off the rest; it’ll make for a great story when you get home. Happy Holidays!