Parenting Tips: Advice for Traveling with Young Children

Whew! We've made it back from our trip to California. Even though we're still unpacking, I'm thrilled that the trip was so fantastic -- our best yet. I've been thinking about what made it such a success, and here are some of the tidbits I thought I'd share: EXPECTATIONS. Have very few. The greater your expectations, when traveling with young kids, the greater your disappointment. Case in point: On one of our Disneyland days, I literally went on NOT ONE SINGLE RIDE, and I'm a huge Disney fan. My goals for the day were far more basic: Make sure the snack situation was in order for hungry-at-any-moment kids. Scope out an air-conditioned store in advance to hang out with a napping 2-year-old in a stroller. Strategize with Hubby so as to avoid the parade crowds, and get the kids on the rides they most wanted to do. My reward: Everyone had a great day, despite the huge crowds.

PLAN FOR ADULT FUN. We worked very hard to juggle the schedules of family and friends in order to arrange a Vegas trip -- without the kids. I don't even gamble; I didn't play ONE SINGLE GAME. (I'm starting to sound a bit boring, aren't I?) But we got to have lovely sit-down meals with the best of friends, enjoy an amazing show, and sleep in two days in a row. All of this made the other struggles of the trip easy to manage, because I knew we had a fun reward coming up. (Here's a photo for you DGM fans.)Good Friends in Vegas

MAKE TIME FOR THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE. We have close friends and lots of family in Cali. Simply arranging days to let the cousins and kid friends play together was one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip. Nothing fancy, just hanging out. Playing at the park, or in Grandma and Grandpa's backyard. The time together is already building a foundation of closeness among the kids that's priceless.

DON'T FREAK OUT ABOUT TRAVEL DAYS. Yes, traveling with kids is challenging. Yes, getting to the airport, dealing with TSA, snotty airline employees (and child-free passengers), delays, car seats and rental cars all add up be quite ridiculously impossible, at times. I know of which I speak: Last year, we were trapped in an airport for 11 (yes, eleven) hours with our kids, then ages 6, 4 and 1. The delay meant that we would have to do an unanticipated red-eye flight to the mainland; 5 1/2 hours, and we would arrive at our destination at 5am. And by then I was out of diapers, had one old bottle left, and no food. How did we handle it? I have no idea. I've blocked it, like any other traumatic experience!

Seriously, it's a day (or two) of hell, and you just get through it. If you need help, start asking airport or airline employees. Many of them will play dumb, but others will be able to help; last year we had to ask 4 or 5 different workers for someone to help us get from one terminal to the other with 2 sleeping kids and 12 bags. Eventually, a guy came with one of those cool electric carts to whisk us to our gate. We've had all sorts of problems with airplane seating; being assigned a "1-4" configuration with 3 little kids, and other inanities; we just start asking workers (and even other passengers) for advice and help, and eventually, things are usually worked out. DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. BE NICE AND APOLOGETIC TO FELLOW TRAVELERS, who often take pity and can make things easier. Look for little, unexpected moments of relief: the computer terminals now available in many airports offer endless interest to toddlers, even if they never get to navigate off the "pay now" page. Get some ice, a couple of cups, and let the little ones at it; I have no idea why, but they seem to LOVE ice in paper cups. Find an uncrowded area away from the action, and let the kids go crazy. Run races, play tag, change stinky diapers...make yourself at home. And when you finally get to your destination, it's a day of recovery, and then you're off and enjoying your vacation!

Lots of you ask whether it's worth the hassle to travel with young kids. I say GO FOR IT, as long as you manage your expectations, plan for some adult fun, pace yourself on travel days, and stay light on your feet in response to the kids' needs. And don't forget to take lots of photos and videos; in addition to being awesome reminders of these precious days with the little ones, you can keep the kids entertained all the way back home by reviewing them (over, and over, and over....)

Do you have other tips for making traveling with little kids more manageable? Do tell!