Caring For Our Kids

Summer travel tips

Photo: heather poole / flickr

With summer in full swing, many families make plans to head out of town either for a long weekend or a few weeks to find some sun and relax. Traveling with children can be stressful and requires extra planning and patience, so whether you go by car or by plane, here are some tips to help make the journey hopefully as pleasant as your final destination.


When planning your summer getaway, keep your child’s schedule in mind and try to plan around it. For younger ones, a flight before a nap often is best (but not immediately before). As tempting as the red-eye may seem, remember that evening flights do not work for every child. The excitement of the trip and the stimulation of all that is going on can make it hard for them to settle down. As a mom who has survived several of these, there is nothing worse than an overtired child in a confined space for an extended period of time. If a red-eye is your only option, it never hurts to pack a few Starbucks gift cards in your bag. This little gesture to the people around you will go a long way and be much appreciated.

Another important tip for planning is to allow extra time. It always takes longer than you think to get children and their gear from one place to another. Allowing plenty of time will help keep everyone calm and reduce the PT, or pretrip tension. If driving, remember to factor in bathroom stops and time for everyone to stretch their legs and let off a little steam. Finding a park or even an empty parking lot where little ones can get their “wiggles” out will help a lot.

It always takes longer than you think to get children and their gear from place to place.


Whether traveling with a 2-year-old or a 14-year-old, parents are always concerned about how to keep them entertained. For younger children, I have found it helps to pack a surprise something new for when they get on the plane or in the car. This can be something small and easy to pack like a toy, sticker book, or doodle pad. For older children, most games are available in a travel version; Bingo and Go Fish are some of our family’s favorites. A Child’s Delight on Lombard Street is a great place to find entertaining items for all ages that are easy to pack.

If after a few hundred games of tic-tac-toe you need a little break, a movie or video game is a tried-and-true winner. Thanks to the iPad and other portable devices, this is a simple and easy way to keep kids entertained for long time periods, but make sure to download a few before you go.


Packing plenty of snacks is a good travel tip for both children and parents. Delays, traffic, and waiting in line can all be aggravating parts of traveling that are only exacerbated by low blood sugar. Food along the highways, in the airports, and on the plane is often high in fat and sugar, so plan ahead and pack high-energy snacks like fruit, nuts, and cheese. I also like to pack a few little treats that can be used in an emergency as a bribe. Some of our favorites are lollipops and Tic Tacs. Both are easy to pack and will keep younger children happily quiet for at least a few minutes.

Summer vacations create lifelong memories for children, so after all the stress of planning and getting to your destination, don’t forget the most important thing is to have fun. Summer is a great time for a more relaxed schedule that can allow us plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors and each other. Wherever your travels take you, I hope it is relaxing, safe, and full of fun.

A version of this column first appeared in the July 2011 issue of the Marina Times.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]