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How to successfully travel with kids

Traveling has always been an essential part of who I am. I attended the Medical School for International Health in Israel and have had the privilege of visiting 35 countries.

Now that my wife and I have a son, travel looks a lot different. We’re more likely to visit relatives in other states or explore the Pacific Northwest. We may not go as far, but it can definitely be stressful. As anyone with kids knows, packing all the things children need and keeping them entertained in transit is no small feat. However, traveling is still worth it for us. Not only is our son spending time with loved ones, he’s learning about new places and gaining the patience and practice he needs to one day travel on his own.

Below are some tips for creating a smooth adventure. See which ones work for you.

  • Pack plenty of snacks, games, and toys. Healthy snacks, favorite stuffed animals, and small toys are essential entertainment when we go places around town—let alone travel hundreds of miles. Books, sticker pads, color-with-water pads, small cars, and sewing cards are a few classic take-along toys.
  • Loosen up on screen time. If you need to pull out the electronic babysitter for a long flight or car ride, give yourself some grace. Traveling can be a time to break some of the house rules.
  • Bring basic medicines. When flying, be sure to pack Tylenol, ibuprofen, and any other prescriptions children may need in a carry-on bag. Kids rarely get sick at convenient times, and when they do fall ill, it’s probably going to be when your luggage is lost, too.
  • Forego Benadryl. Yes, a typical side-effect of this allergy medication is sedation, which can make kids less squirmy. However, it can occasionally cause dry mouth, stomach aches, nausea, rashes, hyperactivity, and more. You don’t want to deal with an adverse reaction thousands of feet in the air. What’s more, it’s never a good idea to give medications to kids unless it’s absolutely necessary. Travel convenience doesn’t qualify.
  • Plan for ear comfort. Help children equalize ear pressure during takeoffs and landings by packing gum. Infants can suck on a bottle or breast.
  • Buy toddlers their own bags. Carrying their own toys gives toddlers and small kids a thrilling sense of responsibility.
  • Give the gift of downtime. Once you arrive at your destination, keep your schedule loose and leave room for adjustments based on how kids are feeling and acting. Throw in trips to different parks and playgrounds to help them burn off energy, and plan any sight-seeing around naps.
  • Let older kids plan what to do. Engage older kids by letting them make decisions. Ask them to choose where the family eats dinner or decide between several activities.

Wishing you safe and happy travels!

Dr. Jonas Aharoni is a pediatrician and internist at Vancouver Clinic–Ridgefield. He sees everyone from adults with extremely complex illnesses to children visiting for a well-child check.