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Tips for Traveling with Preschoolers

Kids in Penant Park, Australia
    No matter what age your children are, it's a great time for taking them on travels near and far. The surprise for many parents is that the amount of preparation and effort put into a day trip with preschoolers to a lake or on a picnic isn’t much different than for a month-long trip to places farther from home. You just have to be prepared to take kid-sized steps and expect to restock on “essentials” as you go.
    Traveling with younger kids is really fun they are so wide-eyed and ready for adventure, with few, if any preconceptions. You already know what great ice-breakers kids are, they talk to anyone and see other small kids as potential playmates. Kids always seem to find playmates to share kites and balls and other toys in parks and beaches. After all, sand castles are built from Bali to British Columbia! Kids are also a great excuse for going to some of the best spots, like pony rides, carousels and petting zoos.
    More reasons why you shouldn’t put off travels with preschoolers? Pre-schoolers have a wonderful ability to conveniently drop off into naps during long train and plane rides – and the cost of taking them on those trains and planes is usually far cheaper than for teens. They’re also often a golden ticket to special favors and attention from strangers everywhere. Travelling in Europe? Don’t be surprised to find waiters greeting kids with a small plate of crackers and cheeses to keep them content while orders are taken and prepared (how smart is that?) In fact, all over the world, restaurants are used to indulging finicky little ones, easy to do since little kids’ tastes usually run to the plain and unadorned.
      Of course, it’s not all cooing waiters and napping babes, so go prepared if you want everyone to enjoy the trip.
      The first preparation is packing, and you’ll find that the "wants" and "needs" lists for the pre-kindergarten set may actually be only one list. The trick is to consider what’s needed for keeping little ones content and you’ll soon realize that a lot of “wants” like toys and treats, really are “needs” for a long trip. Get lightweight nylon drawstring bags to hold fun stuff for each kid, then pack them in your carry-on luggage. Or, if your kids are four or five, they can have their own small backpacks or rollerbags they can happily wheel around the airport.
    The number one thing to remember? A beloved "snuggly." Sometimes a toy is just a comfort item clutched when a child is in an unfamiliar place or trying to get to sleep. Sometimes it's animated in a child's imagination and confided to with whispered words in a corner. Whatever its role, don't separate a child from a beloved stuffed animal, doll, or other snuggly such as a blanket or pillow – the added bulk will more than pay its way.
    Many times the familiar warmth of a small cozy blanket helped my daughter drop off on a long plane trip, or made a strange bed seem inviting, and a stuffed animal was a faithful companion when everything around her was different and strange. For a wonderful story about the well-travelled "Pengos," read "Traveling with Stuffed Animals."
    Another essential is a stroller that's lightweight and easily collapsible. Airline crew will hang yours just inside the boarding door, and you can hook it on a coat rack or under chairs at restaurants, etc. In a pinch, many large hotels also offer "loaner" strollers (and umbrellas) as well, just ask the concierge.
    A few tips on toys: include some tried-and-true favorites; have some brand-new, inexpensive surprises; don’t pack noisy toys (not only will you get tired of the noise, the people traveling nearby may get demonstrably irate) and plan on picking up local treasures along the way.
    You’ll also want to take along at least a couple favorite books. Picture books for non-readers are great, but bring some you can share as well. Slightly older kids may like the suspense of hearing a chapter book read to them a little at a time. Besides, cuddling up together for a half-whispered story is a wonderful way to spend waiting time, or bedtime on a trip.
    Tip: Apps on tablets and smartphones will entertain toddlers, but keep in mind, one of the best things about family travel is "unplugging" from daily life. Parents can enjoy taking the time to read a book or even do the apps the kids are playing - share activities your family can do together.
    Don’t make kids go too far a stretch at once. Mix up sight seeing with play time and snack breaks. An exhausted preschooler (or parent) is no happy camper.
    For long stretches on planes, trains, waiting rooms stock up on snacks like baby carrots, crackers, dried fruit, cheese, that can satisfy little tummies quickly, then restock as you go. One flight from Los Angeles to Denver was delayed for over an hour before we boarded, and for another hour on the runway. The crew refused to given anyone drinks or snacks while we waited, but my daughter contentedly snacked on trail mix while we adults stewed.
 
    In the end it all comes down to flexibility. Pack for preschooler needs, expect to be spontaneous, let your little one introduce you to a few new friends and places and everyone will have a great time!
 
    Editor's note: Be sure to check the TSA web site to find out the latest rules for carry-ons.
kids books
     
Airport  
Airport
Byron Barton

"People come to the airport. They come to fly in big jet planes." This is a good introduction for a plane flight – waiting to go, getting the plane ready, boarding the plane, and all clear for takeoff.
(Picture book)

 

     
Lisa's Airplane Trip
Anne Gutman, Georg Hallensleben

Hilarious story of Lisa, the in-flight movie, the airplane lady, and a glass of orange juice ... This is just one of our favorites! (Picture book)

 

 
Lisa's Airplane Trip
     
Flight 1-2-3
 
Flight 1-2-3
Maria van Lieshout

At the airport, before getting on a flight to far away destinations, what do you see? "1 airport, 2 luggage carts, 3 check-in desks, ... 10 gates, 100 fastened seat belts, 2,000 miles, a million places to explore." This is a gem! (Picture book)

 

     
Backseat A-B-See
Maria van Lieshout

From the backseat of a car, what are all the signs you see? "B bike route, C children at play, D detour" ... from A to Z. Perfect to bring on a car trip.
(Picture book)

 

 
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