With the holiday quickly approaching, many of us are feeling the excitement that comes with the season, but also the anxiety that comes with the sometimes lengthy travel time. And let’s be honest, when you’re navigating the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it should be about the destination and not the journey.
This year in particular is expected to be quite busy on the roadways and runways. That means more travelers will be taking to the skies or packing up their cars to visit relatives, resulting in lengthy security lines, congested highway traffic and lots of unhappy travelers.
Traveling during this time of year is hard enough when you’re on your own, but those folks heading to holiday destinations with their families can be in for a particularly stressful experience. Mom and Dad will be happy to hear that there are a few simple tips we industry insiders follow that will get you to your gate on time while helping to keep the kids happy and well-behaved.
These tips should lead to less stress, so you can focus on creating some fond memories with your loved ones instead.
Do more travel research than you think you should. Then plan accordingly
There’s really no telling what kind of last-minute surprises a traveling family might face as they set off for their holiday destinations. The best way to avoid any unexpected chaos is to consider the right details in making your travel game plan. A perfect example is the airport. Just because you know how you’re getting there, what time your flight is and what gate you’re departing from doesn’t mean you’re prepared for what’s to come. What about delays? What if you need to head off a potentially difficult moment from a tired and hungry little traveler? A little time spent on research before you leave the house will set you up for success.
To stay ahead of flight delays, minimize wait times at security checkpoints and map out your holiday airport experience, be sure to check out your airport’s website and try using apps like FlightView. By doing this, you not only are plugged into updates on departure times and weather, you can also get information on security wait times and airport amenities by terminal. This planning is ideal for those traveling with families because you can look up the layout of your terminal and mark off points of interest that will keep everyone happy. This can mean anything from changing tables for babies to snacks/gifts for the kids to coffee shops for the parents (an extra boost of caffeine for the trip never hurts!). By creating a plan of attack, even a rookie family traveler can move through any airport like a seasoned pro.
Additionally, be sure to check the TSA website for any updates prior to your trip as some of the latest regulation changes may be beneficial to those traveling with kids. For example, this year TSA passed a new regulation allowing kids 12 and under to walk through security with their shoes on.
Check in early for your flight to check out of stressful travel
When you’re already busy packing for the kids and making sure you didn’t forget anything, it’s understandable that this step can easily slip a parent’s mind. However, for families who want to streamline their transit times, early online check-in is an absolute must. Most airlines open online check-in 24 hours before flight departures, and you should take advantage of it. Checking in early is your first line of defense against hectic holiday airports—it can place you in a better boarding group, prevent you from having to gate check your carry-on bags, and save you the time you’d spend waiting to check in at the airport. More importantly, early online check-in often allows you to upgrade your seat assignment or get seats together as airlines will open additional seats at this time. And since it’s typically hard for larger families to get seats together at the time of booking, the early check-in option can be a family’s best friend.
Still, given how busy airports can be during the holidays, we all need to get to the airport at least an hour early for domestic flights, and at least two hours early for international flights, particularly when traveling with children. This extra time will help you keep your cool while on the go, but it will also give families who weren’t able to get seats together another chance at the gate, so no family members get stuck sitting alone.
Keep the kids happy and watch the time fly
Travel can be a tough experience for younger children, especially if they’ve never flown or been on the road for more than a couple of hours at a time. To make travel easier for the whole family, keeping the little wanderers happy for the entire length of the trip is key, but many of us find that task difficult to do. A few simple additions to your travel bag can help.
First off, be sure to keep the kids fed and hydrated. We all know that hunger results in grumpiness from young and old alike. As you pack, be sure to toss in a good variety of healthy – not too sugary – snacks so the kids have something to munch on during the trip without the risk of high and low energy periods from sweets. This also saves you a little money because you won’t have to purchase snacks while on the go. Also remember to fill up your water bottle or pick up something to drink once you pass through security. Once you board the plane you typically have to wait up to an hour before beverages are served, and thirsty children are not always the most patient.
Next up, keep the kids entertained in order to have a peaceful trip for all. Most parents have a plan for this part, and just miss on the length or variety of the distraction options. If you have a tablet device make sure to download some games and movies as they can provide hours of entertainment for children. Fun apps like Balloon Animals by IDEO and Toca Tea Party from Toca Boca are unique ways to keep the kids silently busy and happy. If you want to enjoy some fun alongside the children, YouTube videos of the destination you are traveling to not only keep kids’ attention, but also can be an educational tool that help them get excited about wherever you’re traveling to. For those traveling without portable electronics, bring a child’s favorite toys, a deck of cards, coloring books and crayons, or even colored Post-Its to stick either on the window or the seat in front of them. It may sound surprising, but a few Post-Its can be turned into a really fun game that goes a long way.
Lastly, make their travel experience a treat, not a chore. If you see your child starting to get antsy or fidgety on the flight, feel free to walk them up and down the aisle – as long as the pilot gives you the OK – in order to stretch. Also, make it an adventure – show them the whole layout of the plane and have them meet the flight attendants. If you’re hitting the road, plan some stops along the way to see some interesting landmarks, even if it’s just a photo with a city or state sign. This will give the whole family a little break to recharge, or expel some energy if the kids are getting restless.
Traveling with the family in tow is no easy task, but if you follow these tips you can prepare properly, possibly avoid the pre-holiday headache altogether and squeeze even more enjoyment out of the time you spend with loved ones.
Clem Bason is the president of the Hotwire Group. Every month he provides FoxNews.com readers travel information, tips and advice to help them plan a fun, affordable trip.