A few months ago, my 4-year-old and I took a flight across the country, embarking on a 7-day extravaganza to Legoland and Disney World. It was a trip of a (young) lifetime — and believe it or not, I have no meltdowns or complaints to report, and I think that is because when it comes to traveling stress-free with young children, the first rule of the road is that attitude is everything — it is all about making everything fun and turning travel into an adventure.
One of the smartest things I did when traveling to both theme parks was to stay on property. Upon arrival at Legoland Hotel in Florida at 10:30 p.m. after a 12-hour journey, my tired son perked right up at the sight of thousands of Legos in a huge, cordoned-off area.
While I checked in, he built a water blaster. When we dragged our luggage upstairs, the elevator turned into a disco, so we danced; as we walked onto our floor, Lego statues talked to us! Even the carpet to our room was exciting, as it had a royal theme. When my son wanted to go back downstairs in our pajamas, I agreed — it was late, but, I reminded myself, travel is supposed to be fun, so we embraced the moment.
Here are some travel tips to help you have smooth sailing.
Before you go
Prior to any trip, involve your child in travel preparations. I pull out our globe so my son and I can discuss our destination, how we are getting there and what we want to see, do and experience. It’s a fabulous way to get him excited and also allows him to feel involved in making decisions. We also work together to pack his sturdy rolling backpack — it is another way to make him feel like he is helping with the planning.
Speaking of preparation, always board the plane with extra clothes for yourself and your kids (maybe at least two sets for your kids) in your own carry-on. I learned the importance of this last summer, when my little guy, who never has been sick on a plane, surprised me. We spent three hours in the plane’s bathroom. I brought extra clothes for myself thinking I wouldn’t need them — old yoga pants and a T-shirt with a hole in it. Well, I certainly needed them!
When it comes to packing, organization is key. I recommend the lightweight Duchamp travel backpack. It expands from a total of 4” to 12” wide, and sports several mesh pockets, a laptop compartment and a battery pocket with a built-in USB port for charging devices on the go.
Another backpack I recommend is the OGIO Alpha Convoy 525. There are plenty of pockets to stash away goodies and valuables, including a padded laptop compartment, and it is super comfortable on my shoulders. Other features of note: two convenient water-bottle pockets, the sturdy luggage travel sleeve and a lifetime warranty.
When I travel, I use a backpack to carry my essentials, but I also use the Parker Hybrid Backpack tote as a purse. It has an interior organizer section, plenty of pockets, padded hideaway backpack straps and attractive gold hardware. It is versatile and light and can convert into a backpack.
Tips and tricks for navigating the airport
A solid stroller is a must. I use the Jeep Ultra Lite Adventure Stroller because it folds up easily and has an over-sized canopy with a pop-out SPF-50 sun visor.
That said, don’t let your child loll in the stroller while walking in the airport. Instead, put your bags in it, hold hands with your little one and walk as much as possible. The more he moves, the more tired he will be on the plane.
Also, when bringing along sippy bottles, try using the ultra light Vapur water bottle that rolls, folds and flattens. It comes with a clip so you can attach it to a bag or backpack.
Plan in-flight activities
Have new toys for the airplane, as they will hold your kid's attention much longer than old favorites.
For the creative child, try Tiger Tribe activity sets. These pre-packed creative boxes are filled with quality markers, stickers, coloring pads, paper dolls and more. Your little artist can draw, color and create to his art's content.
For the child who likes to build, bring along the 31-piece Hand2mind GeoSmart Geosphere Magnetic Set. It’s lightweight, colorful and fun to create all sorts of structures. I like magnet games on the plane because if pieces get dropped they are easy to retrieve.
Another terrific option is Highlights Jumbo Book of Hidden Pictures. This book is filled with over 100 pages of images with hidden pictures. Spend time searching for the objects with your little one, and once done, use it as a coloring book.
The Alex Toys Little Hands Paper Bag Puppets set comes with five multi-colored bags, 260 stickers, paper shapes and a glue stick. Continue the creative process by doing puppet shows on the plane, pretending to be at all the places you will visit.
At your destination
The two best tricks I have up my sleeve for calm and confident travel with kids: 1. Be surprising and; 2. In every situation, make sure you have snacks.
On our theme park trip, my son was over-the-moon excited about going to Legoland, and when we left, I surprised him with our next destination, Disney World. Every part of the trip was exciting, from staying on property at the spectacular Grand Floridian to accessing Disney’s transportation system. My son loved the monorail, ferry boat and skyline experiences. Staying on property at Disney comes with an extra advantage of Fast Passes, meaning we were able to get into shorter lines for the rides. Time is always a huge consideration when traveling with preschoolers, as their patience is limited, so I always evaluate how to best manage it and accomplish my goals, too.
Perhaps the best way to keep a kid happy is to always have an abundance of snacks. While Disney has a plethora of fun foods everywhere, I made sure to keep my stroller stocked with everything from carrot sticks and tasty “Made Good” strawberry crispy squares to mouthwatering Michel et Augustine dark chocolate cookies, which are small and individually wrapped so you can give out delicious sweet treats that are not enormous.
My bottom-line best advice for turning traveling with a preschooler into a pleasure is this: The more prepared you are, the easier your travels will be. When your child is happy, calm and relaxed — chances are you will be, too.