Holiday Travel and Children

The approaching holiday season can bring many positive feelings and exciting events. It can be a time to celebrate with friends and family, a time to relax and reflect, and a time take a break from work or regular routines. However, this time of year can also usher in feelings of stress and anxiety related to the pressure of coordinating family events, work commitments, and holiday travel. Traveling during the holidays in the DC metro area often feels especially tense and chaotic. It seems that regardless of when you plan to travel, if you are within a few days of a major holiday, you should plan for the worst. Whether you are flying across the country or driving across the city, you can count on the fact that there will be crowds and delays.

Planning for and coping with holiday travel (and the accompanying stressful conditions) is frustrating but feasible for most people. However, it can be much more difficult when traveling with younger children. As mature as many children can be, they are not small adults. Thus, it is important to remember that they generally have shorter attention-spans, lower frustration tolerance, move more slowly, and may process information at a different pace than adults. They are also more vulnerable to the impact of fatigue and hunger. Additionally, it is important to consider their view of the travel experience, and to use that information to guide our plans and preparation. They may look forward to the car, bus, train, or plane trip (and may find it more exciting than reaching the destination). For these children, it can be helpful to provide them with information, games, or a special job related to the travel itself. As much as we may want to speed through the trip, they might be a happier, more relaxed, and more cooperative traveling companion if we take some time to cater to their interests. For smaller children, books on vehicles, a small toy version of the transport method (such as a stuffed plane or toy bus), or games such as travel bingo or I Spy might be helpful. For children who like to be the “co-pilot,” they may enjoy a paper or digital map (such as those available through National Geographic), or the Trip Tiks distributed by AAA. They might also like reading about vehicles or travel in the days before the trip, or researching information about the route or destination.

For children for whom travel is more challenging, we may want to find ways to make things more comfortable, calm, and interesting. Letting them know the plan and a rough agenda for the trip can be helpful. Having a visual representation of this, such as a schedule with pictures, may provide them with reminders of what is coming next, and allow them to feel more in control. Additionally, having something familiar from home (such as a stuffed animal, pillow, or familiar book) can help children feel relaxed. Many children also benefit from breaks or the opportunity for interaction and play. On car trips, this might mean pulling into a rest area to walk, play a game, or run around. On planes, trains, and buses, it could be a “stretch break” near your seat followed by a seated game together. Although this may length the overall travel time, it can also potentially prevent irritability, agitation, and boredom. Having a special treat or favorite snack on hand is also essential. This is not an exhaustive list, and does not account for the adjustments that we should make for children with special traveling needs (such as: those with anxiety, fears, or phobias; those with learning, sensory, or development differences; or those with disabilities). More tips on travel with children can be found here: http://psychcentral.com/lib/holiday-travel-with-young-kids/2/