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Traveling with Kids: 5 Tips to Make it Easier and (Almost) Stress-Free

Life in Italy

Gone are the days when I can just pack a small carry-on, drink my coffee, and read a book while I wait for my next flight snuggled up against my husband.

I used to watch traveling families and smile as I offered a hand if someone looked like he or she was struggling. Honestly, I don’t think anyone ever accepted my help. Maybe my overly friendly smile freaked them out or something. Regardless, I didn’t have long to live like this, and now I’m constantly looking around the airport for kind strangers like I tried to be.

I had a whirlwind romance and was married to the love of my life only a year after we met. We were pregnant two months after that and celebrated our first anniversary with a 1-month-old baby. By her first birthday, our oldest had been on nine airplane rides, and it has not slowed down since. As a couple, we have traveled to 22 countries and 16 of those have been with two kids in tow.

Now, don’t go thinking it’s because we are insanely rich (I mean come on, we all know how government employees are paid!) or just plain insane. It really can be affordable and nearly stress-free. Promise!

If you are wishing you could travel more with your family without breaking the bank or needing a vacation after your family “vacation,” I have five small suggestions to help you get there.

1) Credit Cards.

No. This is not a point about “just use your credit card and pretend you have more money than you actually do.” This is about having and using the right credit cards. Specifically, the AMEX Platinum. For all active duty military members, no matter the rank, the annual fee is waived. Two things to note: You have to send a copy of your orders, and the balance must be paid in full at the end of each month. So, don’t be irresponsible.

The benefits are worth it. With the AMEX Platinum comes the Priority Pass, which allows you access into every VIP club in any airport around the globe. Also, with the card and a Delta boarding pass, you can have access to the Delta Skyclub. This is fantastic for anyone with kids under 12 because the Priority Pass allows the card holder and one adult guest and kids under 12 to enter the club for free. Basically, this means you can feed your family for free and lubricate your nerves with a glass of wine or three without spending another dime! Yes, you read that right. Get the card, you won’t regret it.

As far as other credit cards go, it is worth getting the ones that allow you to build points for travel. The more you travel, the more you can travel for free or nearly free. I can’t even count the number of hotel rooms and discounted flights we have benefited from because we use our credit cards for everything and then reward ourselves with the accumulated points. Just remember what I said before, don’t be irresponsible and only buy what you can pay for then, not later.

Four bags: everything we lived on for five months in our latest overseas PCS before HHG arrived.

2) Pack Light.

Don’t fall into the “I need every single thing in my closet in case I end up in some crazy, awesome local rave and need these shoes that I bought on a whim two years ago.” Seriously, you do not need them. If you end up at that crazy, awesome local rave then it’s because you’re one helluva American partier, and you can be there in your flip-flops and jean shorts.

So I say again, pack lightly. You can assume you will never need more than five (versatile) outfits, two workout outfits (if you’re into that sort of thing) and pajamas.

Don’t be a baby about it, it’s okay to wear the same outfit twice and pair the same shoes with every outfit. We are not celebrities to anyone other than our kids, and they sure as heck don’t care.

Be ready to get your hands dirty and wash out your clothes in the sink at night if need be. It is way better than having way too much stuff and lugging it through the airport while fumbling to hold hands and dig snacks out of the bag.

If you are thinking, “Don’t worry, Emily, I will just check my bags — stop being so dramatic,” then you are kidding yourself.

When you arrive to your destination location, you don’t want the bags to take up the entire room where you then stub your toe as you sneak to bathroom in the middle of the night. You also can take the easiest option of renting an AirBNB with a washer.

Whichever your biggest pair of shoes is (usually hiking boots or tennis shoes), wear them on the plane. No need to waste that space in a bag. Things you do want in your bag to take some of the edge off: Children’s Tylenol or Ibuprofen, Neosporin and band-aids, Children’s Mucinex, and a small thermometer. If you’re into essential oils, you should probably grab your lavender and thieves and call it good.

As a rule of thumb, one adult and two kids worth of trip supplies can fit in a carry-on size bag. If you are thinking that there is no way on earth that is going to happen, then pick a medium size bag for three of you, but nothing more than that!

3) Save the technology.

Glacier sighting and trekking in El Calafate, Argentina.

Carry a backpack. Fill that backpack with the essential snack foods that will tide over the kiddos in a pinch. Grab some coloring pads, a few dinosaur figurines (or whatever your kids are into) and a few packs of stickers.

Entertain the small kids with all things unrelated to technology until the last possible minute. If you don’t start with the iPads or tablets, then when you’re ready to pull your hair out, there it is: The one thing that will keep your kids entertained and quiet for the remainder of the flight.

If you START with the technology, then the kids will become bored rather easily, and it will not have the same effect when you need it the most.

In the beginning of your travel day, you, as the parent, will have more patience and energy then when you’re nearing the end of the day. It is easier to grab snacks from the bag and break up petty disagreements and smile at the silliness on hour four than on hour 14.

I know this from experience. Just last week I flew across two continents alone with my two girls. It was not until the last two hours of the third flight and hour 20 of our 24 hours of travel that the kids even looked at a screen. And it was magical. They forgot how tired and how annoyed they were that breakfast option was “not what we like, Mom.”

Take it from me, let them use their imaginations, and save the screens for later.

Hiking Machu Picchu in October … may or may not have had to carry kids on our backs.

4) Remember this flight is only one day of your life.

Try not to anticipate how stressful that day is going to be and instead just remind yourself, it is only one day of your life. So stop worrying about what kind of healthy foods your kids are ingesting, and let them have the cookies! I say, take a load off and just enjoy the day.

The kids want juice every time the flight attendant passes by? Let them. The kids want to ask for every snack from the snack cart? Let them.

And any time you are worrying about how you are affecting everyone around you, it’s only one day of their lives, too. That doesn’t mean that I am encouraging you to let your kids stand on the seats, pull people’s hair and scream. It just means that you do not need to let your anxieties about the tiff that the kids are having over sharing a toy work you into a tizzy because guess what? They are kids. As my mother always told me, “This too shall pass.”

5) Have realistic expectations.

I was just talking to my dear friend last night, and she has the exact same perspective on traveling with her kids. The truth is that all you need is realistic expectations. When you travel with your kids, it is not like traveling with just your spouse where you cram in every sightseeing spot imaginable so as not to waste a minute. In reality, plan only one thing a day that you definitely want to accomplish. Anything else is just bonus material! With that expectation, you will enjoy your vacation so much more. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. Research your location and pick your list of must dos and plan accordingly!

Exploring the Galapagos Islands. Hiking and snorkeling galore!

Now take my advice and enjoy your trip!

2 Responses to Traveling with Kids: 5 Tips to Make it Easier and (Almost) Stress-Free

  1. Avatar
    Court Berlak August 15, 2017 at 7:24 am #

    I my last flight, I stoped into a Delta Sky Club with my AMEX Priority Pass and they wanted to charge me for both of my boys (under age 6), because they did not have a Priority Pass with their names on them!!!! This was after 20 hours of travel and I was beyond furious!!!

  2. Avatar
    K August 17, 2017 at 6:56 am #

    No worries! If that ever happens again, charge it and then call Priority Pass the next day. They have done the same to us and removed the charges easily. Some of the employees don’t know their own policies.

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