Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Traveling with children, part 2

A big part of traveling, just in general, is eating in restaurants. As much as we tried to buy healthy snacks to keep in a cooler in the car, inevitably we'd have to eat out for a meal or two along the way.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, occasionally, in order to give the kids some much needed "run around" time after driving several hours in the car, a pit stop at a fast food restaurant with a play area can be just what the doctor ordered. And, if you don't want to feed your kids the food at these restaurants, most have coffee or tea that you can sip on while letting them burn off some steam. Also, most of the fast food joints that we've been to have sliced apples or a fruit cup available to provide a healthy snack.

Let's say you've been traveling all day and it's getting late and you aren't in the mood for a burger and fries but you also don't want to confine the kids to sitting still at a more formal restaurant after they've been cooped up in a car seat or airplane for several hours. We had this scenario one of the days on our trip so we decided to order pizza in to our hotel room. We had several local restaurant menus provided to us in our room and among them was for a pizza place. Thankfully they delivered and while we waited I was able to let the kids take a bath and play in the room before settling in to eat dinner and then go to bed.

Another thing to consider when traveling, especially with kids, is to stay in hotels that offer a continental breakfast. My kids are generally happy with a bowl of cereal or some fresh fruit and all of the hotels we stayed at offered something along those lines. It's a lot cheaper than eating out for every meal and it inspired us to get up a bit earlier and out the door to our next amazing destination.

Now, for those times that you do eat out at a "sit-down" restaurant, here are a few things I find useful to keep in the diaper bag, especially for little ones still in a high chair.

1. A sippy cup strap - This is the one we have and it works extremely well. Little E loves to drop stuff from restaurant high chairs and I don't want to have to be constantly having to run to the bathroom to wash off who-knows-what from the top of her sippy cup.

2.Secure-A-Toy straps - These serve the same purpose as the sippy cup strap but for toys. I keep a few toys in the diaper bag that are able to be secured to a high chair with one of these straps and I rotate them out frequently so she doesn't get bored with the toys too quickly.

3. Triangular crayons - Seriously ingenious. Not only do my kids get frustrated by roll-away crayons but I get tired of either picking them up myself or having the kids crawling around on the floor trying to find them. Triangular crayons solve both of those problems. The ones we bought say "extra jumbo" in the description but they are really not that much bigger than a standard size crayon. They are thicker though so more resistant to snapping and they are paper-less which is nice since K seems to enjoy pulling the paper off her crayons and leaving paper messes in her wake.

4. Disposable placemats - Most restaurants have a kids menu or an activity placemat for the kids to draw on but that only lasts so long. Also, they are thin paper that tear easily if they get wet and don't stay in place well enough to keep utensils and food off the table and on something a bit more sanitary. These stick-on placemats are neat because they have fun little scenes the kids can color while waiting for their food and there's even a blank one to use for things like tic-tac-toe or hangman, etc.

Hopefully these tips as well as the few from the other day will help make traveling with your own kids a bit more fun and easier on you all. I'm still working on getting all of the pictures we took on our vacation downloaded from the memory cards and edited for the web but here's one more to wet your whistle.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Traveling with children

We are so fortunate to have spent the most amazing vacation out in the Pacific Northwest and while I'm totally anxious to share photos from our trip, first I want to talk a little bit about traveling with children.

For this trip we had two 4-hour flights and several road trips that stretched between 1.5 and 5 hours. Here are a few of my findings to help make traveling with children easier.

Travel by air

At this age, Little E is still young enough to be considered an "Infant in lap" which is good and bad. Hey, she flies for free so that's obviously good. The bad part though is it's very cramped quarters holding a child in your lap the entire flight and for the child, they are bound to get antsy. Here are a few ways we helped fill the time and keep the kiddos busy and quiet on the plane.

1. Snacks! Snacks are a great thing to have on hand when flying (or driving for that matter) because they keep the kids busy, it keeps them happy (an empty tummy is a crabby kid), and it keeps them quiet since their mouths will be full of food. I brought fish crackers, grapes, cereal, blueberries, and fruit snacks. I tried to pick snacks that didn't require refrigeration and would be easy (read: not messy) to eat with their fingers.

2. Activity Books: I purchased two sticker activity books for K to do on the plane (one for the way there and one for the way home.) I think most kids love stickers and these books definitely kept her quiet and busy for at least an hour. The two I got are: School Zone's "Get Ready for School: Stickers"and Roger Priddy's "Preschool Sticker Activity Book" I definitely prefer the School Zone's book for a couple of reasons. A) It was more focused on teaching concepts than just decorating a page with stickers, B) the sticker pages were *much* easier to rip out than the Priddy book, and C) the stickers needed for each page are arranged together on one page with the page number for where you will use them printed underneath.

3. Electronics: Whether it's a tablet, a phone, or a handheld gaming system, sometimes these little devices can really keep the kids quiet for quite some time. K has a Mobigo by Vtech which is probably getting a bit too easy for her now but I got her a new Disney Fairies game and that kept her busy when the sticker books were finished.

4. If possible, plan your flights during nap time. I know E slept for some of the time on the way out to Portland and she slept for half of the flight back which was great. Honestly, both girls were absolutely amazing on the flights. They were calm, quiet and polite. A and I were incredibly proud of them.

Travel by car

Our girls are well versed at traveling via car since we have been going to and from OH since they've been born. There are several things we keep in our minivan at all times that have proved to be very helpful.
A) Wipes - you always need wipes to clean up spills, faces, sticky hands, etc.
B) Audio books - We have a ton of these Disney Read-Along Storybook and CD's in our car and they are fantastic to keep the girls busy and help with their reading skills as well.
C) A travel potty - We've had this Baby Bjorn potty in our car for years and it's the smartest thing in there. I can't tell you how many times this potty has saved us from some form of accident (no toilet at a park, a disgusting port-a-potty, back when she used to be afraid of automatic flushing toilets, etc.)
D) Scissors - All too often we purchase a toy that's been encased in so much plastic that it's never coming out, or a juice box that didn't come with a straw and needs to be cut open instead. A spare pair of scissors can be incredibly helpful in those types of situations.

In addition to more snacks (baby carrots, clementine oranges, nuts, granola bars, apples, and peaches) I purchased a few other things for the times we'd be in the car that I'd recommend to people taking this kind of road trip.

1. Melissa & Doug: On the Go Water Wow Coloring Book These cool books come with a paintbrush pen that you fill with water and "color" on four thick pages of white images that turn to color with the water. They are really neat in both senses of the word (cool and clean) and have little hidden pictures within them that you reveal when colored. I was a little afraid that with only four pages that they would tire of these quickly but they were a hit with both girls.

2. iPad Car Headrest Mount Holder with extra long charging cord. This is a simple, soft holder that you slip an iPad into and you slide the elastic strap around the headrest. The extra long charging cord was a big selling point for me and while it does work it charges so slowly that if you use it while watching a video on the iPad it doesn't actually charge the tablet but instead holds whatever battery power you already had. We have a portable DVD Player but since I knew K would want to play games on the iPad anyway, I decided to download a few of their favorite movies onto the iPad and just bring that. It worked out great but on a few occasions A and I noticed that K had her nose buried in the iPad instead of looking around at the amazing scenery. So, yes it occupied her and kept them busy during our longer driving stretches but I think we'll limit the usage on our next trip.

3. Jeep Cling Sunshades Our minivan has tinted back windows and integrated sunshades on the girls windows to help block out the bright sunlight. I knew that we wouldn't have that on our rental car so I grabbed a pack of two of these sunshades to put on their windows. They can be cut to size but since I was in a rental and not my own car, we didn't have any scissors to do that. (See? Another great reason to keep scissors in your glove box.) We were able to fold and tuck these around to keep the majority of the sun off of the girls and at $5 for two, they were cheap enough that when we were packing up to head home I just tossed them since I wouldn't need them anymore.

4. If possible, make frequent stops to get out and burn some pent-up energy. Maybe that means that sometimes you eat lunch at a fast food restaurant with a Play Area, or find a rest stop that has a clean grassy area to run around and pick clover. A short stop can give you at least an hour, maybe two of happy travelers.

General suggestions

Kids get excited about the small things. Buy a new travel toothbrush and toothpaste and don't let them use it until the vacation and they'll think that's super special and cool. Any products that come in the little travel sizes (shower gel, bandages, tissues) are very cool to young kids.

Let them use their own souvenir money. Since K will be starting kindergarten this fall I wanted to use souvenir money as a way for her to get some real-life experience with counting money. Every night when A comes home he dumps his loose change into a piggy bank on the dresser. Early on I told K that whatever change was in the piggy bank would be hers to use to purchase whatever she wanted on vacation. She ended up with a great amount for a kid her age - $36.00. She bought 3 stuffed animals and a bag of polished rocks with her money. Each time she bought something I had her count out the money and hand it to the cashier as well as give her a running tally on how much she had left. There were a few times later on in the trip where she wanted more things but I gently reminded her that she had already spent her money and while she was disappointed she couldn't have said toy, there were far fewer pleas than usual

Plan a few activities that are just for them. For this vacation I did a lot of research for "Family Fun" ideas in the cities where we'd be staying. Some of our favorite activities were things I planned for the kids but A and I had just as much fun as they did. For instance, we went to a drive-through wildlife safari because I figured the kids would get a kick out of having the animals be so much more up close and personal than in a traditional zoo. What I didn't expect is how much all of us would love it and spend way more time there than I had estimated and ended up not doing something else I had planned that day just so we could stay there longer. And that leads me to my final thought...

The best pieces of advice I can give you about traveling with children is to be flexible. Without a doubt something will not go according to plan. I forgot my all-time favorite baby carrier and while I was bummed about it, I ended up just buying a different one at Walmart and then leaving that one with the friends we were staying with who are having a baby this winter. Or when I entered the wrong address into Google Maps and we missed our tour but were lucky enough to get on the later one. Things will happen that will test your patience but if you're flexible and remember that you're on vacation to have fun and spend time together as a family, I find that almost anything that happens isn't enough to ruin our trip.