At this time of year, you may be starting to think about your summer vacation plans. And if you have children, they may want to have some input on the destination or activities. Traveling with family can sometimes be overwhelming and challenging. Being prepared is one way to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
Here are some of my suggestions for traveling with children so that everyone gets to enjoy themselves:
- If you are traveling by air, make sure you know which items you can bring on the plane as carry-on and what the airline will allow you to check in your baggage.
Don’t forget that you can only bring liquids, gels and aerosols in containers that are less than 100 ml/100 g. This includes water, deodorant, toothpaste, and snacks. If you are traveling with a child under two years of age, you will be able to bring baby food, milk, formula, juice, etc. but will only be allowed “reasonable” amounts. This can be subjective when one customs agent will allow, and another will not. If you have an older child like I do who needs some of these items or will need liquid medication onboard the plane, make sure that you have a letter from a healthcare professional stating that these items are required and keep all labels on the medication. If your child is over two and has their own seat on the plane, you can also bring an approved car seat onboard for them to be buckled in to. Some children sleep relatively easy when it feels like something they have done before. You will also need to pay attention to different items you can check for free for your children. Many of the airlines will allow you to gate check your stroller, so that small children can ride all the way to the plane. Be sure to check on the size of the stroller allowed, so that you don’t get turned away at check-in. You can also check a car seat or a booster seat so that you have one at your destination. Some airlines will even let you substitute a playpen for either the stroller or the car seat.
- If your children are traveling with only one parent or with grandparents make sure you have a signed letter from the other parent(s) saying that the children are permitted to travel abroad.
Every child will need their own passport to travel. This will be non-negotiable. Although a consent letter is not a legal requirement in Canada, it may be requested by immigration authorities when entering or leaving a foreign country or by Canadian officials when re-entering Canada. Some children have unique situations and every non-accompanying person who has custodial or guardianship rights should sign this letter. Plus, this applies for any children under the age of majority so even those teenagers traveling alone should have a letter with them. There have been instances where I have gone through customs without being asked for the letter but for the most part it has been a question asked by the customs agents that I was happy to have the right answer to.
- Provide your children with a few options on things they may want to do in destination.
Once you decide on where this year’s family vacation is going to be, do a little research on activities or excursions that may be on interest to your children. You know them best and should be able to come up with a few options. You can always ask your travel agent for advice on tours or events that may be available. I find that if everyone gets to be involved in the decision-making, then there is less resistance to the activities that may not seem quite as exciting. That hike… maybe it isn’t so bad if we get to go to the world’s largest ice cream parlour afterward! And you may be surprised, they may even pick activities that you will also enjoy.
- Talk to your children about what they should expect on vacation.
These days there are so many regulations and procedures that need to be followed that it can be quite confusing for adults, let alone children. Talk to your kids about mask wearing, eating on the plane, social distancing from other people in airports or train stations, using playground equipment and even about having to remove shoes and coats at security. The more that children know ahead of time, the more prepared they are and the more secure they feel. Children generally perform better with routines, so it is important to plan as much as possible for surprises.
- Have plenty of treats, snacks and special activities planned for travel days.
Don’t forget that you can bring food through security and onboard the airplane. Prepare snacks at home and bring them with you. Popcorn, sandwiches, crackers, and other snacks are great ideas that don’t take up a lot of space. If your children are picky eaters, bring the items that they will enjoy the most. It is also fun to bring special items that they normally don’t get to have, like licorice or chips. These can be used as rewards for good behaviour or just something special for a long day of traveling. Colouring and activity books, reading books or small toys are also great options to keep children occupied. Make sure that the electronics are charged and download any games or movies that they may want to watch.
The biggest takeaway is that a vacation is meant to be fun and relaxing for everyone. Everything may not go according to plan but stop and enjoy the family time and the fact that you are out of your house! Traveling is an important part of your child’s development teaching them about differences and similarities, culture awareness and languages. It also teaches them that you value their presence and enjoy spending time with them. Plus, anything you forget at home can usually be purchased in destination. Have a wonderful summer.
Text by Heidi Lawrie, B-Side Travel