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Traveling With Tykes – Sanity for yourself and your fellow passengers

Fatherhood Friday at Dad BlogsThis year marked a milestone for our family. It was the first time we packed up and headed on a proper family vacation. Well, I wouldn’t say “proper”, proper to me would be driving a few days to the Black Hills complete with endless “are we there yet” banter. Instead, we planned a trip to Florida and Florida is several thousand miles away from where we live, so driving was out of the question. This meant we needed to book some plane tickets, and I’m not sure about you but traveling in a confined space with a three year old who is forced to not only sit still for hours but be “restrained” for a good portion is not my idea of a relaxing time. Want to find out how we made our trip as relaxing as possible? Read on…

Spend Money to Lower Travel Anxiety

I resigned myself to *not* fall for the trap of searching for the cheapest plane tickets possible. There would be no “oh wow for $500 all four of us can fly round trip if we make three connections”, instead I set a simple goal: Direct flight or at most one connection with three hours or less time between them.

I am not rich, but I’m not poor either so I had a bit of flexibility in the amount of money I would spend on tickets. In checking the major airlines flying out of my home town I couldn’t find anything for less than $2500 for all four of us to fly round trip to Florida. I think there was only one direct flight option, which cost way more. I did my research and found a travel site offered by Microsoft called “Bing Travel” . The thing I liked about Bing over the other travel websites is their use of a “price predictor” that tells you whether to buy now or wait a specified amount of time before purchasing tickets. I imagine Bing aggregates ticket prices and based on historical data (among other factors) it takes an educated guess as to how good a deal you are getting. We had planned this trip months in advance so I could wait quite a while before purchasing my tickets.

Bing Travel

As I didn’t want to spend over $2000 for my tickets, I started to search other airports for deals on direct fares. We live within driving distance of Minneapolis, about seven hours with stops. I told Bing to search for direct flights from Minneapolis to our destination in Florida. As luck may have it Bing came back with a direct fare, taxes and surcharges included for *all four of us* to fly for just over $1000. I didn’t even need to look at the “buying indicator” to realize how much of a deal this was! Ok, granted I had to drive eight hours with the kids but we dealt with that by once again spending a bit more money. We picked a half way point between us and Minneapolis and booked a hotel. It allowed us the flexibility of leaving on our trip after my work day which saved me a day of vacation. I made sure to get a room with two seperate areas inside, these are sometimes called “two room suites” but really they just amount to a door being placed on the bedroom, apart from the TV room that contains a pullout sofa. It makes for a much more relaxing sleep, and you need your reset in order to get up and drive the next morning.

Bring Distractions

My kids absolutely love Leap Frog’s Leapster 2 game system. The best thing about this system is they are actually learning while they play. During the game-play they are asked spelling, or math questions. Sometimes they are asked to try and draw alphabet characters with the stylus. It’s amazing how quickly kids will pickup these skills when taught in this format. The best thing though? It keeps them distracted for good portions of the flight. This provides for a very nice stress free environment not only for you, but for your fellow passengers. Let’s face it, they are your kids, you are used to tolerating their shenanigans but for other people they are literally “trapped” with your kid in a confined area. If you kid is screaming, or squirming or making a ruckus it adds tension for those around you. Distractions allow your child to be calm and focus on something other than the chair in front of them (which is torture for a small mind that’s going a thousand miles an hour).

Portable DVD players are another good distraction so long as your child is old enough to wear (and tollerate) headphones. Don’t be one of those people who bring a portable system on the plan only to use it’s built in speakers. Nobody else wants to hear “Hakuna Matata” at high decibel.

As good as electronic devices are at keeping your kid focused, at some point in time their attention span starts to atrophy. Your next round of ammunition lies in both reading to your child and providing them with healthy *low sugar* NON-CAFFINATED snacks. You simply can’t give a kid sugar or caffine and then expect them to sit still. Their little bodies need to burn that energy off as fast as they can ingest it. So bring along things like granola bars and fruit. Also bring along a good stash of books and read to them, I find it causes their “electronic device” reset button to be triggered meaning they’ll be good to start playing and focus on Leapster 2s and DVDs once again.

These distractions helped us throughout our entire trip, from the long drive to the Crocodile Safari, to the insanity of the airport at 6am. We didn’t think there was a hope in heck of catching our return flight because of weather problems which had cancelled several flights and threw the airport into a state of panic. As we waited in line for an hour and a half, the kids were able to go sit within eye sight and play their Leapster 2s. That helped make an anxious time just that much more tolerable (i.e. you don’t want to deal with a kid asking you to be “up” every 5 minutes when you have a full range of luggage and car seats to lug through a line!)

All of this advice is from a real-life parent and field tested on an vacation I took with my family. On each leg of our trip my fellow passengers said to me and my wife “my goodness, your children are so well behaved, I didn’t even know they were there”. That is a huge compliment, as we all have been on a flight with a hyper, out of control child whose parent is completely oblivious to the fact that the child’s behaviour is unacceptable, disrupting (and totally preventable).

Until next time…

Parental Unit

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