Preparing a Child for a First Long Trip

Have your little ones been screaming for a trip to Disney World and you’ve finally decided to indulge them? Are you going halfway across the country to visit Aunt Martha? Whatever your reasons, you’re getting ready to take a long trip away from home, which, when traveling with children, can be a scary thing. One thing to remember is that the idea of leaving home and getting on a strange bus, train, plane, etc., is probably a lot scarier for them than the thought of traveling with unruly kids is for you.

Children, no matter what their sense of imagination, are very attached to their everyday experiences. If they’ve gone to see Grandma every day for seven years, the day they can’t go is bound to be a trauma. The same principle applies to vacations. If they’ve never gone so far from home, the idea is bound to be frightening. Although you may have a problem if a child becomes literally ill just riding in the car, these fears are usually easily calmed if you follow a few steps.

(1) Don’t become frustrated. Patience is always the best policy when dealing with overexcited or scared children. Especially if you’re traveling with a baby, consider letting him or her get used to a few rather long car rides. When he or she seems comfortable with longer distances, it’s time to consider making vacation plans.

(2) Take along a few invaluable “comfort toys.” Many children have a toy or object they are unexplainably attached to, and going on a week-long vacation without said toy can be grating on both parents’ and children’s nerves. Make sure to ask the child what toy or item is most important and make sure to either pack it in an easily accessible place or have the toy’s owner carry it. Whenever children become anxious or feel alone or uncertain, it’s always good to have something to clutch onto besides their parent. As long as the toy is not a huge fifty-foot stuffed gorilla, you should have no problem making room.

(3) Engage the child in fun activities. Children have less time to be scared or bored if parents keep up the tempo and make them see that a trip can be a fun thing. Bring along plenty of paper, both for family activities like license plate bingo, hangman, and tic-tac-toe, and, in the case of a child old enough to write or draw, a place to jot down whatever may come to mind. A calm, relaxed child will endure his or her first long trip with ease if attention is called to the fun aspect (and not so much the daunting task of driving or flying).

(4) If mishaps *do* happen (think airsick bag, aches and pains, flu, etc.) always be prepared. Children are fond of stopping at the restrooms often, or so it seems, so if you have a map that shows these places, mark them off. If you’re traveling a well-known route such as Route 66 or I-95, consider looking up an interstate guide and filling a notebook with restroom, lodging, and dining stops. When the “Mommy/Daddy, I have to go” question comes up, you’ll know exactly where to stop. Don’t be frustrated if kids have to stop often; it’s a fact of life, and sometimes slowing down on a road trip helps you to notice more around you.

(5) Let the child make some decisions. A child who isn’t allowed to plan *any* of the family vacation may resent being dragged along for it. This doesn’t mean you should allow your little one to choose every single thing you do (pizza for dinner every night isn’t an option!) but giving the child the opportunity to make a decision allows him or her to feel important and helpful. For instance, if the rest of the family would equally like Chinese or fried chicken for dinner, ask the child what his preference is. If you know he’s been longing to try out a certain restaurant once you’ve arrived at your destination, let him have his wish.

(6) One of the biggest problems kids may encounter is sleeping away from home. If they’ve slept in the same bed for as long as they can remember, the transition will be difficult to say the least. Here is where that special “comfort toy” will be particularly handy. Don’t forget to sit with the child, explaining that it’s okay if he or she can’t sleep. If children feel forced to fall asleep it will probably keep them awake longer.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

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