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Fall 2016

Calm in Calamity: Staying Sane During Family Trips

Traveling with kids can be difficult and stressful, so travel magazines and blogs give a variety of tips to help parents plan for the unexpected and control the uncontrollable. But catastrophes can always happen when traveling with kids, no matter how well planned the trip is. The trick is to know how to alleviate tension and diffuse the situation when those unavoidable catastrophes explode.

One blogger named Autumn said, “Honestly, I used to think people who packed up a bunch of kids and drove for fifteen hours and called that fun were completely, certifiably insane. There are times when fifteen minutes in the car with kids who won’t stop bugging each other is almost more than I can handle. However, I’ve realized that with the right preparation, a road trip with kids can be rather less miserable than expected—maybe even fun” (

Even messy moments are memorable! Image public domain.

My mom did just that. When I was in elementary school, my mom decided to take a month-long road trip back East with six kids. We planned to meet my two oldest brothers and dad two weeks later when they flew in. So we set out with my mom, driving eight-hour days on the first few stretches until stopping each night to grab food and set up camp. Of course, no matter how well-prepared my mom was, there were plenty of catastrophes.

“The rain was beating the top of the tent when I woke up,” she recalled. “Unsure of what had woken me, I quickly counted the kids to make sure they were all there. As I counted, I realized too late that the hole we had duct-taped earlier was torn apart and water was pouring in. I quickly woke my fifteen-year-old son, and we carried the other five kids to the van. With the car now full of five sleeping children, my son and I stumbled back to the tent and fell asleep exhausted on the wet air mattress.”

Our tent's flood was one of many memorable, unplanned mishaps we experienced on our trips that we continue to laugh about today. Here are some tips to try if you encounter problems while traveling with kids.

Keep Kids Well Fed
Always pack more food than you think you’ll need. It’s better to have too much food at the end of the trip than to have no food and a cranky child. If kids are cranky, they are normally hungry.

Play Games
Whether flying or driving, come up with games to play. Consider having a bubble gum blowing contest as you drive across the country. Create games that incorporate themes from where you’re traveling. My mom had us count taxis on one trip in New York, which kept us busy for hours!

Plan Breaks
Whether driving or sightseeing, make sure you plan fun breaks. Breaks will give you a moment to breathe and allow the kids to run around and play. Parks are great places to go for these breaks.

Visit Kid-Friendly Areas
For example, look for museums that have children sections or that hand out activity books with items for kids to find. If all else fails, there are always restaurants with playgrounds.

Consider Camping
Camping isn’t for everyone, but staying in tents is a great way to stop kids from fighting over what show to watch or from jumping on beds. Each child can have a specific job when setting up camp to keep him or her busy and productive. Exploring the camping area will also keep the kids active and happy. Besides, camping often saves money. Several camping areas even have convenient stores, swimming pools, and laundry services.

Make Memories
Most importantly, remember that the crazy, hectic moments will make some of the best memories. Smile and have fun. Your kids will remember the trip forever.

Though unplanned catastrophes can be stressful in the moment, they create the family trips we all love and look back on fondly. Don’t get so caught up in controlling every aspect of the trip that you forget to explore and have fun. Enjoy the moment by working on ways to help make disasters into memories.

—Sarah Barlow
Featured image public domain.