Single parenting is challenging. It’s especially challenging to travel with a kid in tow.
You have to be able to tend to your travel business and watch your kid, simultaneously. If you lose track of one thing or the other, it could lead to disaster. You need to keep your kid busy, so she doesn’t drive other travelers crazy. You have to keep her busy, so she doesn’t drive you crazy.
Hi, my name is Dan Erickson. I’ve been a single dad to my daughter, Annie, since she was 11 months old. Now she’s almost 11 years old. I’ve learned a few tricks about traveling with kids along the way.
We’ve flown to New York City, Kansas City, Tulsa, St Louis, and several other places. We’ve taken a train to Glacier National Park. I drove from Texas to Washington with Annie when she was a year old. We’ve driven all around the Northwest, including camping trips to the Oregon Coast and the Olympic Peninsula.
The First and Most Important Rule to Traveling With Kids: Always Keep Them In Sight
- Always know where your kids are: You need eyes in the back of your head. Well, not really, but you have to be aware of where you kid is at all times. This means that you have to keep them close to you in airports, stadiums, and large shopping centers. You also need to be able to tend to travel business and know your kid will stick right by your side.
- Set the ground rules before you go: The rules change as kids grow older, but the rules must be set. When my daughter was younger, she knew that she always needed to hold my hand in crowded places. Now that she’s older, she knows that she stays in front of me so I can keep her in my sight. She knows that we always communicate our needs before going off in a different direction.
- Have consequences when rules are broken: It’s easy to forget about discipline when we travel. If you want the rules to stick, you need to have consequences when rules are broken. I’ve taken away Annie’s TV privileges and other fun activities. I also offer rewards when she follows the rules.
- Have activities to keep your kids occupied: This is an absolute. Always carry things to keep your child busy. Books, toys, games, puzzles, iPads, whatever it takes to keep them from telling you how bored they are. Believe me, this will save your sanity.
- Always carry extra food and water: From the time Annie was a baby, I’ve carried a small backpack with extra food and water whenever we travel. I take healthy snacks like apples, carrots, nuts, and granola bars. I always carry two bottles of water. Whether we’re going to a concert in the local park, flying to visit friends, or going snowshoeing in the winter, I keep extra food and water with me.
- Make frequent stops for potty breaks: You don’t want an unhappy traveler. Frequently ask your kids if they need to take a restroom break. We often drive from Yakima to Seattle, about 250 miles. We have several places we stop along the way. It might take an extra 45 minutes, but frequent breaks makes traveling with kids more bearable.
- Use the family bathroom: As a single dad with a daughter, the family bathroom has been a godsend. When Annie was real little, I just brought her in the men’s room with me. As she got a little older, we opted for family bathrooms when we were in crowded places.
- Teach them along the way: I love to use travel as a learning experience for Annie. I take her places where we can learn about nature and history. Zoos, aquariums, museums, and National Parks are all high priorities for our trips.
- Let your kids become navigators: Now that Annie’s a little older, I’ve let her begin to help navigate. During our last few trips to Missouri, I gave her a map and let her tell me how to get to the next stop. I was surprised at how quickly she learned. Of course, I’ve been teaching her map-reading skills since she was very young. I think everybody should know how to read a map.
- Don’t stress out: You need to keep your cool on the road. It’s during times of stress that we lose ourselves. That’s dangerous when you need to keep track of a child. If you lose yourself, you’re more likely to lose track of your kid. If you start feeling stressed, practice deep breathing. If you need to, take a break. Pull over to the side of the road. Stop and eat. Get a hotel. Do whatever it takes to keep calm.
Traveling with your kids can be a pleasant experience, but you need to be prepared. Remember, the most important rule: always know where your kids are. Always make sure your kids know travel rules. Make sure they have something to do. Stick with the plan. Have fun.
Photo: Flickr/ Kerri Lee Smith