With the holiday season right around the corner, you may have already started to plan your travel arrangements. And while traveling with children is always fun - it can be challenging if your child becomes bored and restless, especially when it comes to long car trips or flights. As a parent you are fully aware that being prepared for that ever dreaded question "Are we there yet?" is essential, regardless of the age of your children.
I have found that with my own middle schooler, the biggest challenge is finding a way to entertain him that doesn't include him getting sucked into an iPod, portable DVD player or handheld video game. By doing a little homework ahead of time, I can almost always ensure that getting to our travel destination is one of his favorite parts. I have learned over time that by turning our travel time into part of the vacation experience, he not only doesn't complain, but he learns something new (I do too!) and he is kept entertained the entire trip. Plus, as an added bonus, these simple tips always double as great bonding activities! Read on to learn my tried and true 6 simple, eco-friendly ways to travel with a middle schooler and find that getting there is part of the fun.
Tip #1: Get Schooled
Right before any trip, I stop by our local library to check out an assortment of books that all focus on the place we will be traveling to and the activities that we will be doing while we are there. I pack these books in my handbag and as we travel (either by car or airplane) I will pull a book out one-by-one throughout the day. Most recently we took a trip to Montana where I knew that we would be visiting Yellowstone National Park, be doing a lot of hiking and checking out the antique shops. I checked out books on popular hiking trails in the area we were going to visit – so we could choose a handful of hikes that we added to our list. We also picked up an interesting book that focused on the dangerous side of Yellowstone National Park, which he really enjoyed. And a book on how to get the best price while antique shopping, since this is a hobby that he is interested in. These books kept him entertained for almost all of our travel time and we both learned something new!
Tip #2: Map It
Before we leave on a family vacation, I always pick up a map of our travel destination. Not only is it a great way to teach your child how to use and read a map, it is very entertaining too. My son enjoys following the map as we travel, pointing out landmarks, and mile markers and has even helped us find impromptu hiking trails and historical sites as we are driving to our destination. He also enjoys marking the different areas that we visit during our trip, it serves as a type of memory book of our adventures and keeps him engaged in the trip.
Tip #3: Make It A Surprise
When you finally arrive at your travel destination it can be too easy to simply say – we’re beat, let’s veg out! Instead, surprise your middle schooler with a surprise activity as soon as you arrive. On our last trip, we spent the majority of our day traveling and when we arrived at our destination we could have easily called it a day, we were beat! However, instead, we headed to the mountains for a surprise zip-lining tour, which immediately perked us back up and was a great start to a wonderful vacation.
Tip #4: Keep It Simple
You don’t have to pack a ton of clothing, accessories and supplies for your children when you travel. Instead pack only the essentials and plan to do a load or two of laundry while away. It is much easier if everyone in your family only packs one bag that they can carry-on if you are flying or simply add to the car trunk for that long road trip. You will save the environment when you pack lighter and it is just easier if everyone can carry their own bag. Not to mention, you will have more leg room in the car and you won’t have to wait at baggage claim either!
Trip #5: Have a Backup!
I always assume that even with all of my planning, my son will get bored at some point during our vacation. Whether it is waiting for a table when we head out to dinner or the long-dreaded trip home after the vacation ends. Either way, I always make sure that I am prepared, I pack a couple of books that my son has been dying to read in my handbag. I never mention that I have the latest copy of his favorite comic book or graphic novel within my reach during our trip, until we hit a period of pure boredom! Not only does it give him a little surprise, it keeps him entertained doing something that he loves – reading, and mom and dad are always happier if the kids aren’t complaining! Right?
Tip #6: Make It Healthy!
One thing that is always tough on kids while traveling is changes in their eating and sleeping habits. When we travel, it can be difficult for kids to get to bed on time or get enough sleep in general. Also, our eating habits tend to change when we are traveling, we may eat out more than usual or be staying with family who have completely different eating habits than our own. This can make for grumpy kids with belly aches. I find that when it comes to my son, I try to keep his diet and sleeping habits as close to normal as possible. If we are staying with family, we will ask them to pick up his favorite healthy foods ahead of time or we will stop at the grocery store on our way to their home. If we are going to be eating out a lot while we travel, we try to pick restaurants with healthier fare, and make sure that he is eating enough fruits, vegetables and fiber and that he is consuming his regular amount of water – if not more, if we are being really active.
Intro Photo © Andrew Currie