I felt like I was starring in a Disney comedy, traveling from Saudi Arabia to Minnesota for Christmas without my husband and with my four kids, ages 7 and younger. A trip that usually took around 24 hours had been extended with a 24-hour layover in the JFK airport. Because I hadn't budgeted for a taxi or hotel, the kids and I were camping in the airport terminal. My 4-month old had blown through every outfit I'd brought in our carry-on luggage, so she was dressed in a men's Yankees t-shirt and a diaper when she threw up all over my shirt and hair. When a passing woman looked us over, opened her purse and pulled out a $20, I started laughing. What else could I do?
I've traveled all over the world with my six kids and recently realized that I've never looked back and never wished that I'd stayed home. Instead, as the kids and I remember the exciting and funny adventures we've shared, I feel grateful for every time we chose to brave the challenges of travel together.
If you have adventures planned this summer, whether it's a road trip to Grandma's or a world tour, use these life hacks to relieve stress and create fantastic moments together:
Pack by outfits. Roll up a pair of shorts, a shirt, underwear and socks all into a little bundle and tuck it into the child's suitcase. Your little princess or pirate can pull out a bundle and dress themselves, saving time and stress in the morning when you are all excited to get going!
Pack food. I often pack one suitcase of peanut butter, jelly, crackers, microwavable meals, and other things that I know my kids will eat and that will save us from stressing over paying for calamari for our 5 year old. When possible, I book hotel rooms with kitchenettes so we can heat up some mac and cheese. Food from home is comforting to little ones who can get stressed with all the excitement of traveling.
Bring anti-nausea medication! Dramamine comes in less drowsy if you don't want the kids unconscious for the trip. One thing is certain: you don't want them throwing up all over you. Trust me.
Bring some new things for them to play with in the plane or car. A couple of inexpensive new toys (or even ones that you strategically removed from use a few weeks ago to reserve for the trip) can go a long way for happy travels.
Non-messy snacks are also a must. Remember that overdosing your kids on food coloring and sugar won't make anyone happy. Include things like crackers, carrot sticks, and trail mix that will keep them munching without making them sick. Packing individual kids' snacks in zip lock bags lets them be in charge of their own snacks so you can sit back and relax.
Include audio books! If you have a long car ride, turning on Betsy-Tacy, Percy Jackson, or Harry Potter can keep the driver awake and the backseat delightfully quiet. Combine this with snacks and a coloring book, and the road trip will be over before you want it to be. The same goes for plane trips, although in this case you'll probably need one audiobook and set of headphones per child.
Movies are also awesome! In-car DVD players can be sanity savers, as can in-flight movies. Of course, having something that they haven't seen before is best.
Make it a game!
When I took my kids to the Louvre I really wanted to see the artwork, not spend money on entrance fees just to listen to kids whining about how boring it was. So I printed off homemade Museum Bingo cards with things like crazy hat, cow, something blue, and people from another country on them, and laminated the cards. I stuck lots of small candies in my purse as prizes and handed out Bingo cards and stickers at the museum entrance. To my amazement, the kids started out playing Bingo but ended up getting so engrossed in cool stuff in the museum that I had to drag them out in late afternoon because I was starving.
If you are sneaking in a few parent-friendly stops on your trip, turn them into games including I-Spy things to find as they walk through town, asking them to make up and tell you story about the people they see, or count the iguanas they see, awarding a point for each iguana to be cashed in for local coins that afternoon.
The whole family is happier if we only schedule one or two things per day. "Today we will climb the Great Wall!" is much more realistic than trying to climb the Great Wall, see the Imperial City, visit the zoo, go shopping and see an acrobatics show all in one day. Schedule one thing, and then let the kids dictate how you relax together.
I discovered the magic of imagination as a teen when my younger twin sisters were complaining about their legs being tired as we hiked. I saw a couple of sticks lying in the dirt and said, "Oh my goodness! Magic sticks!" I handed one to each of them and said that if they tapped their legs with the magic sticks, they would be able to run again. They tapped their legs and took off running up and down the hills. Since then I've made monster spray out of water bottles to keep bedrooms safe, bought magic ice cream that helps kids' eyes find cool things, and discovered that gummy bears cure boredom-induced headaches.
With a little planning and creativity, your family trip will be so awesome you'll wish school would never have to start in the fall.