Traveling with kids can be a challenge, for sure. Actually, just leaving the house with kids can be a challenge. Over the years I like to think we got pretty good at conquering these challenges. We learned to pick our battles and prepare for just about EVERYTHING. We developed a system, really I developed the system and Justin just went with it because when it came to managing the house and the kids I took the lead.
Step One – Make a plan.
First and foremost, I planned everything and I usually started planning early. I would start planning for an outing about three days prior for a local trip and about a month out for a road trip or plane ride. I would have three categories: emergency, food, entertainment. If we were packing for a long trip the categories would include, clothes, toiletries, and night time. The list was further divided into things that needed to be accessible and things that would go into suitcases. Next I would make a list of all the things I might need in each category, extra clothes and diapers or extra underwear under emergency, snacks and juice or milk as well meal planning under food, and each kid’s favorite toy, definitely a coloring book and big color crayons, under entertainment. Later we added Nintendo DS’s to the entertainment list, but I’m pretty sure those aren’t cool anymore (edit: Justin says they’re still cool). I would make the lists and check to make sure I had everything on hand. If I didn’t, I knew that a trip to the store was going to be put on the to do list in the next day or two.
Step two – Gather supplies.
If Justin was home I would send him with a list or I would go shopping when he got home from work. If he was away I knew it was going to be a little bit more of a trek to get to the store. A little more planning was required and to make it worth my while I would get a sitter. That way I could take a mini-mommy getaway and pick up some groceries or run other errands and treat myself to lunch or a mani/pedi. If I were really strapped for time I would load up everyone and take a trip to McDonalds… yup, I said it. With the new toys to entertain, some energy spent on a red and yellow playscape, and still full from the happy meal, the kids were calm long enough for me to quickly zip around the store to grab only what was needed and get out! Since this method usually cost about as much as getting a sitter and ended up being way more of a headache, whenever possible I just got a sitter.
Step three – Start packing.
Now that I had everything I needed it was time to get it packed up and ready to go. If we were leaving for a trip I planned at least two complete outfit changes per day that we were to be gone. I would make sure that the clothes were weather appropriate for the place we were going and that I included one pair of jammies for every two days. When the kids were babies I would pack everything into a diaper bag, but as they got older I bought them mini backpacks and packed each of them their own bag to wear. I would set the packs out by the front door with a pair of socks and shoes next to each of the bags. I usually set out their favorite shoes at the time, to avoid the infamous toddler tantrums all parents come to know and loathe. If the favorite footwear was impractical for the weather or season I just made sure to bring the appropriate attire with me in a separate bag for later. This method might seem a little extra but trust me it is worth it in the end. The time it saves alone vs the battle of wills that would be sure to ensue if we chose to fight it out over a pair of shoes.
Step four – The night before
The night before, while they were picking out their jammies and preparing for bath time, I would have the kids pick out their outfits for the next day. No matter what we were doing the next day we would always do this. Having the kids pick out their clothes made it so that they weren’t taking forever to pick them out in the morning and it eliminated the fight with the grumpy toddler that wasn’t a morning person. It just made life easier all around. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes the outfit of the day was, indeed, not the outfit I wanted. We learned that giving the kids the ability to choose their own clothes taught them independence and gave them the feeling that you get when something is truly your own choice, but we also have some great blackmail photos, too. The older they got the more wise they were about how they chose to leave the house, and any parent with toddlers doesn’t judge another parent if they see a toddler in an unusual get up. You see they, too, know the struggle and silently salute you. If they are “judgy” then they obviously have never had the “joy” of the infamous toddler tantrum and are probably childless.
Step five – The morning timeline.
Any morning that it was vital that we be out the door on time was always planned with at least a one hour buffer. Laid out my timeline as follows; one hour for me, one hour for breakfast, one hour to get three kids ready to go, and one hour buffer in case anything went wrong. Believe me something always went wrong.
I learned to avoid the mishaps beforehand by learning from each one, or at least all the ones that could be controlled. For instance I fed the kids breakfast and we brushed our teeth before getting dressed. That way at least we could start the day without breakfast or toothpaste on our shirts. For breakfast I always opted for something quick that would satisfy and not get them too wired. Definitely not sugary cereal, I would opt for usually a yogurt parfait (yogurt layered with berries and granola) that way they felt like it was a treat and there were no arguments about breakfast. We also had everyone getting ready with coats, shoes, and backpacks 10 minutes before we had to leave. With everything laid out the night before it was very easy to get everyone ready to go. Of course there were some days that were definitely easier than others but for the most part this method worked. Leaving myself the hour buffer made sure that if we were going to have a difficult morning then at least I wouldn’t be late (well, not too late). We never had to rush about with the extra time built into the schedule.
Packing individual bags was our way to ensure that no one had any reason to fight over anything because they all had their own stuff, but, of course, as siblings do, they always found something to fight about. Knowing this would always be the default, Justin and I very early on set a blanket rule. If you fought everyone was in trouble. We didn’t care who started it or what it was about. EVERYONE was at fault. This eliminated so many arguments, so many fights were avoided. This did three things: First – it taught the kids to work it out themselves without involving mom and dad. Second – it stopped the tattling. Third – it taught them to get along. Not much fun to try to get your sibling in trouble if it meant you got in trouble, too. It was much better to be nice and play together than it was to be in trouble. We set behavior expectations for our kids early on and for the most part the kids were model citizens when we were in public. We had them recite the “three rules” before we got out of the car whenever we went places:
1) No touching
2) No running away from Mom and Dad
3) No talking to strangers
The kids added a fourth after our trip to Dinseyland, 4) No touching the fire alarm. That’s a story for another time. These rules changed as they grew and our expectations of them did too, naturally. Of course, not all days were good days and we had our fair share of late or missed appointments because we just couldn’t pull it together. This was usually out of the ordinary for us, though.
The Wrap Up.
We applied this method to outings, appointments, and trips. Our timeline for starting the process just changed depending on how big the adventure was. For long trips we “listed” weeks in advance, shopped about 2 out weeks from leaving, and packed the week before. One suitcase a day, a separate suitcase for toiletries, and packing it all the night before along with the kids backpacks. This method just worked for us and we never forgot anything, actually we were usually over packed, but better safe than sorry.
Maybe some of you will think these methods are a little extra or maybe you think that we were too strict as parents, and sometimes I wondered the same. We can tell you, though, that we have raised some pretty extraordinary humans, so we must have done something right. Our kids are pretty much grown now. Our oldest son and daughter have moved out, starting their own lives, and our two youngest are ideal teenagers. Kind, respectful, and all around stellar young women. If you’re curious to see what Taylor and Amelia are up to check out their pages on this website or stay in the loop on our instagram or facebook page.
We hope that you other parents traveling with little ones might give this system a try. If you do, let us know how it works out for you. It does take a little more planning and time to get the whole operation to run smoothly, but I think it will reduce stress and the terrible toddler tantrums.
What are some ways that you have that made your trips run smoothly? Any expert level parent tips? Or maybe just a good example of what right (or wrong) looks like for getting the troop out the door?…Post in the comments below – we’re looking forward to your stories!