As a person who's sensitive to noise and to the idea that I might be bothering other people in any type of public situation, I had to develop some ways of keeping her quiet and happy on trips, both on planes and in restaurants. And for my sanity and that of my husband, I had to pick up tips for long car trips, too. Here are my top ten tips for keeping kids happy while traveling:
1) As much as is humanly possible, begin packing early (I have a permanent list I keep on my computer) and get everyone a full night's rest.
2) Tell the kids what the trip will be like. This helps a great deal for kids from ages three and up. "We'll be driving a long time, longer than when we go to Aunt Karen's, but we'll stop and have fun food and go to a playground." Set expectations.
3) Stock up on little activity books like the ones you see in spinners at Cracker Barrel. They keep nicely in any size handbag or seat-back pockets and work wonders while waiting for a seat or for food in restaurants.
4) Have a supply of small gifts -- stocking-stuffer types all the way up to a book or toy he's really wanted for awhile -- waiting in Mom's Untouchable Bag of Future Surprises for Good Girls and Boys. Dole them out as rewards for whine-free time at intervals of your choice.
5) Plan your McDonalds Playland stops -- know ahead of time which towns or highway rest stops have playgrounds available for running around. Even 20 minutes of this every three or four hours can work wonders for the driver's back as well as for kids' moods.
6) Bring lots of healthy finger foods as space (and FAA regulations) permit. I've found small snack packs of sliced apples, grapes and pretzels to help both my daughter's and my own mood greatly. Those little milk carton-sized containers of whole-grain Goldfish crackers, fruit, and baby carrots also work, of course.
7) Audio books can keep both parents and kids enraptured on long drives. Load up the iPod Touch or check out a few audio books on CD from your public library.
8) Classic road-trip games like the license plate game and "I Spy" still work wonders.
9) Singalongs, as corny as they may seem, can lift the spirits of everyone in the car, and it's OK to laugh when Dad sings off-key, right?
10) Laughter is the best antidote to boredom. Bring a book of knock-knock jokes, play a favorite (clean) comedy routine, or give the kids a book of Mad Libs for the whole family to work on together.
Sure, there's always the option of a big stack of new movies for the portable DVD player, but these suggestions keep kids' minds working and can keep the family happy together as the miles roll by.
P.S. See links to moms' other top-ten tips here.