USAA Tips: Surviving holiday travel with kids

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Angela Caban

Does anyone remember the first time they traveled with their kids alone? I do, because my first experience traveling alone with the kids was rough. We were right in the middle of a 15-month deployment and I thought it would be a breeze traveling to South Carolina from New Jersey with a six-year-old and five-month-old.

It was, to date, the longest trip of my life, but an experience we had to go through to get to the good stuff – the memories created. As a military spouse traveling alone with her two kids, even with a few bumps in the road, we made it work, and learned a few things along the way.

If you’re planning travel with or without your spouse this holiday season, here are 6 tips I picked up along the way that may help you survive the chaos of travel…

Luggage. If your kids are old enough to walk, they are old enough to carry a backpack. Not only does this free up mommy’s hands, but it allows the kids to pick what they want to take with them as they get older. Have kids pack their own bags with toys they will use along the way. Remember that tiny items get lost on planes and in cars. Look for self-contained items that are light and easy to carry and that won’t cost an arm and a leg to replace. Some examples might include a portable etch-a-sketch, magnetic games, coloring books and crayons. Reserve mom’s bag for the necessary provisions: snacks, wipes, hand sanitizer, water, DVD player, etc.

Plane layovers. Try to find layovers no shorter than one hour; otherwise, you’ll end up like me, sprinting for your life with your children dragging behind you. Take advantage of the USO lounges located inside airports. If your layover is long enough, they are worth the trek. USO lounges provide food, snacks, toys, a sleeping room, toiletries, TVs, computers, and cell phones. It’s a perfect place to recharge your batteries.

Car tricks. If you live in an area where traffic can add hours to your plans, considering leaving later in the evening after rush hour ends. While it may seem like leaving later will make it harder, we have found that mom is less frustrated by bad drivers (of course, mom is a perfect driver) and we arrive at our destination in less time. Why torture yourself? Also, while traveling by car, take advantage of the license plate game or other games that encourage the kids to see the world around them. Turn off the DVD player for parts of the drive that are particularly beautiful and reserve the movies for the stretches of road that leave much to be desired.

Accommodations. We always try to find accommodations with a continental breakfast. While the hotel may cost a bit more, we have found that the money we save by having breakfast at the hotel more than makes up for the difference. We also look for rooms that have a microwave, at a minimum, but kitchenettes are better.

Down time. Who says you can’t take a nap in the middle of the day? We tend to get up early, have some fun, and then head back to the hotel for a mid-afternoon snooze. This allows the kids some time to rest or just relax, and allows mom a chance to recharge her own batteries. When traveling by car, I tend to take a crock pot and an ice chest with me. It’s easy to swing by a grocery store and pick up a roast as well as a few other staples. I pop the roast in the crock pot and let it cook while we are off having fun. By the time we return for lunch, the roast is ready. Add a little salad or another side dish and you are good to go! Plus, you’ll save yourself a ton of money!

Courage. If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that it is not worth sweating the small stuff. If the kids melt down, take a breather at the hotel. If they need a break from the car, take one. If you forget something, it’s not the end of the world. If at any point during the trip you feel as though you may implode, take a step back and find the humor in the situation. It’s always there if you look hard enough.