Tips for travelling with four kids

Guest blog by Michelle R, American expat, former teacher and the mother to four wonderful children

Living abroad, travel is an integral component of our family life.  We must travel to see our family and friends, we need to travel for work and we like to travel to explore new places and to take advantage of living in a new part of the world.  In theory, travel is great and fun, but with four young children in tow…sometimes travel is challenging and more times than not, it is not all that relaxing.  But always, upon arrival at our destination–it is very well worth the trouble!  So if you are a family with a young children and you are feeling apprehensive about your next trip–read on for some tips on how to make the voyage more manageable!

Advance Planning.
Make plans in advance and think through all the logistics carefully.  You are now at a stage in life where being too spontaneous might not work out so well.   When making your plans, you really need to think through all of the trip from the moment you are leaving the house until the moment you will arrive at your destination.  Always ask yourself “What can go wrong?” and “How will we handle it?”  Assume things will so make sure that you plan for as much as you can.  Book a car or taxi in advance or know the train schedule and where you need to be at what time.  Make sure you have a hotel lined up and that you have pre-ordered a carseat or a crib/cot if you will want one.  Planes can get delayed, rerouted or cancelled and car trips can sometimes have unintended problems–traffic, bathroom breaks, malfunctioning GPS systems…so keep all of it in mind and at least if you have thought through it before, when it happens, it won’t shock you!

Snacks and Activities.
Of course you already know that you should pack the basic supplies (diapers, wet wipes, formula, etc), snacks and activities to distract and entertain your children while in transit.  My advice here is to think carefully about each item you are bringing and do not overpack!  So often I spend all this energy making lists and packing books and videos and toys and in the end we don’t really use that much.  You need to have a few things but not too much.  You also have to be smart about what you bring–don’t bring things that siblings are going to fight over or that are going to be noisy and irritating to others around you.  If you have one iPad and four children–you need to make a plan for usage and discuss it in advance with your kids so you are not all arguing about it on a flight.  Snacks cannot be messy or sticky or hard for kids to access on their own.  Always have wet wipes handy!

I usually limit my packing to four small Ziploc bags with snacks for each kid and four large Ziploc bags with activities/toys for each kid depending on his/her age.

For example, my nine year old has her journal, some loose sheets of paper and a pack of colored pencils, a good book, and her DS.  My eight year old has a few fun magazines that he likes like LegoWorld and Animal adventure, a comic book, a portable magnetic game that he can play alone or with one of us, and his DS.  My five year old has a coloring book (I like the Color Wonder books so there is no stress about ink or crayon going anywhere it shouldn’t), a small box of legos, silly putty and 2 or 3 picture books that he likes to look at or that we can read to him.  My 2 year old has four matchbox cars, a magnetic puzzle book and one of those interactive books with zippers to open and doors to look under etc.

Having each child have his own snack bag also helps because they are not always hungry at the same time and then they can be more in control of when they want to eat something.  I always pack a variety of things — not in huge quantities.  For example, crackers, dried apricots, fruit squeeze snacks, cookies and sometimes one or two special treats – like a lollipop or a piece of chocolate.

Special time
Try to do something special with each child for at least 10-15 min during the trip.  I know this might sound hard, but it usually works out especially if you are conscious of trying to do it and even more so if you have a child or two who will watch a movie for a part of the trip!  I must admit here that at the moment, all my children are good television watchers…this is usually not the case when a child is under 2.5.  For the children under 2.5, you just have to hope they fall asleep for periods of time!

Sense of humor
Need I say more?  Having a sense of humor is important for all aspects of parenting, not only when you are on the road!

Being flexible with your normal rules and routines is critical to making sure that your travel progresses smoothly and that you do successfully end up where you want to be!  Rules and routines are very important for so many reasons, but when you are in transit, it will be a whole lot easier if you can bend and stretch them and adapt them to the reality of the road….trust me, once the adventure is over, you can get everything back on track again with just a tiny bit of extra effort!

So while many people think that it would be a hassle to travel with four young children, the reality is that it is really not so bad and proof positive of that assertion – at least for me- is that as soon as one trip is ending, I am almost always working on plans for the next trip which is fast approaching!

If you liked this post, you may also like “Flying with Kids”.

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