Traveling with your prehomeschoolers might sound terrifying, particulary if they’re crawlers or older! And I’ve honestly done enough of airplane and road trips to know the ups and downs of traveling with littles.
I’ve taken my prehomeschoolers from Michigan to California and Michigan to Oregon on multiple occasions. I’ve done road trips ranging from short 2 hour jaunts to an 18 hour drive with 3 little ones ages 4 and under.
Here are some things I’ve learned along my journeys:
For Air Travel
Prep the Night Before Your Flight
Make sure kids are bathed and in bed early if you have an early morning flight. Don’t count on littles sleeping during travel times. Any time we’ve done that, we’ve hugely regretted it.
Instead, put kids in clothing that can double as jammies and comfy travel attire so that you don’t have to bother with clothing changes in the morning. That way you can grab the kiddos last minute to maximize the amount of sleep they get.
Baby Gear When Flying
For baby gear, I recommend a baby carrier for babies 1 and under and a super lightweight stroller for 1-3 year olds. Do a “gate check” for your stroller so that it’s available at layovers.
And, instead of a diaper bag, bring a backpack. And use a foldable cooler bag/lunch bag for food so that you can shove it in your backpack when you’re done.
Meals on the Plane
Don’t plan on stopping for meals at layovers. Besides it being outrageously expensive to buy airport food, you’ll need that time for diaper changes and opportunities for littles to get some exercise.
It’s also nice to “eat up” flight time with a family meal!
When it comes to packing food, choose items that won’t be crushed. Cubed chicken breast, grapes, cucumber and cheese in a snack trap works great for kids.
For yourself, bring foods that you can eat with one hand and that are very filling in small amounts. Energy bars, trail mix, and veggie sticks are a few of my faves.
When it comes to beverages, I’m pretty sure flights are designed to dehydrate you (particularly if you’re nursing) and your kids!
So pack a sippy cup for your littles, but don’t forget to pack a good water bottle for yourself. Due to airport regulations, you’ll need to fill these when you get through security. But you will NOT want a cute little airplane cup sitting on your airplane tray if you have children with you – trust me on this.
If you’ll be wanting some coffee on the trip (rewarding yourself with coffee during a layover is a wonderful idea btw), bring your own empty coffee mug that’s more spill proof than the paper coffee cup versions.
Before your trip, check the airport map for where your layover will be and see where important items such as restrooms, play areas, or coffee shops are. You won’t have time to search when you arrive.
Use your layovers to get diaper or clothing changes done. Changing kids on the plane is a pain!
This is a wonderful time to let go of your germ phobia. Kids need to move; if that means the dirty floor of the airport, so be it. Bring a good supply of handcleaner and use it liberally!
For Road Trips
Again, make sure kids are bathed and in bed early if you have an early morning departure. Don’t count on littles sleeping a ton during the first part of the trip if you’re leaving early morning. Instead, put kids in clothing that can double as jammies and comfy travel attire so that you don’t have to bother with clothing changes in the morning. That way you can grab the kiddos last minute to maximize the amount of sleep they get at home before you leave.
Meals on Your Road Trip
Unlike air travel, you have a lot more room for food and can factor some fun picnics into your travel plans. Sandwiches, salads, boiled eggs, fruit and veggie sticks all travel well.
Stops on Your Road Trip
We’ve personally found that planning specific stops in advance isn’t very helpful. We like to be more flexible with the needs of the kids. If they’re doing well, we drive. If they’re getting antsy or working towards a screaming fest, we stop.
Instead of planning stops ahead, we use apps like Road Ninja or TripAdvisor to find fun spots to stop when the need to stop arises.
The best stops double up on a potty break and a place to get some exercise – parks are often perfect for this.
But even if you have to hit a gas station or rest stop, don’t just use it for the bathroom facilities. Do some laps around the building, have a skipping contest, and do some jumping jax.
Have some treats on hand for the kids when they return to the car because it might be hard to coax littles back to their seats after giving them a taste of freedom.
Andrea’s Top 10 Prehomeschool Activities for Either Airplane or Road Trips:
- A Board Book with Puppet: You’ll need something small and not messy for take-off and landings on a plane. A book with a puppet to add drama and interest is perfect!
- Feed the Puppy Cup: Activities that are edible are amazing, and this is a good fine motor skills activity. This one was a fave with all of my kids and works for babies too. I took this feed the ghost busy bag, and I drew a dog on the lid instead. We used Coacoa Puffs as dog food, and they got to drop them in and “feed the dog.”
- Make an Alien: I found these cones at a craft store. I picked up some pipecleaners, googly eyes and beads, and I cut the pipecleaners into various sized short pieces. The kids got to poke the pipecleanners into the foam. Super time-consuming, fun and good for developing motor skills.
- Letter Pretzel Cards: Another edible activity! Write large capital letters on 3X5 cards. Place them in a bag with a mix of stick and twist style pretzels. Have the kids bite their pretzels to cut the pieces down to size so that they can lay them on top of the letter and make the letters with their pretzels.
- M&M Color Match: Using a 3X5 card, color small circles that match the colors of M&M’s. Place card and candies in a ziplock. Have children match their candy to the colored dot on the card.
- Crayons and White Notepad: My kids aren’t coloring book fans, but they loved filling white notebook pages with their pictures or “stories.”
- Small Toys: Go to the dollar store and grab a bag of new little plastic animals, small cars, or little dolls. Yes, the littles may lose them, but, hey, they were a dollar!
- Fruit Loop Necklace: Let littles practice motor skills, colors and patterns while making and eating fruit loop necklaces.
- Educational DVD’s: Get a new DVD of Curious George or Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That Episodes. I’d also recommend a children’s “singing” movie like Bible Action Songs, Praise Baby or Karen Henly’s Play Songs for when kids get sleepy but aren’t comfortable enough to go to sleep.
- Snacks: LOTS OF SNACKS! Snacks your kids don’t normally get – whatever that might be for your family. Lolipops are good for sucking on takeoff and landing during a flight to help with the ear popping. Little boxes of raisins are fun. Those fruit squeeze bags are amazingly easy and convenient. Get creative. Variety is appreciated on a long trip!
I like to gift wrap the snacks and activities so that it adds to the fun factor and it adds another “activity” with the unwrapping. Just remember to bring an empty bag for wrapping paper.
For Mommy’s Sanity:
- Plan! Take the time to plan for the fun that you’re going to have on your trip. I like to plan one activity or snack for each half hour of travel and rotate an activity, snack or meal as we go along.
- Lower expectations! Traveling is hard on adults; it’s REALLY hard on littles. Just know you can get through this whatever happens. I’ve experienced the worst of trips due to the kids getting a stomach virus the day of travel, and, somehow, we made it through!
- Focus on your kids! Ignore the other people around you and just do your best to enjoy the time with your kids. Sometimes people are kind and helpful; sometimes they are not. But other passengers will survive a little fussing on the airplane. Until they create a special family friendly flight, they have to deal with it.
- Choose to make this a special family and learning time together! When you’re at home, how often do you have hours to sit with your child and snuggle them? Read to them? Play with them? This travel can be a special bonding time so have fun!