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Traveling with a preschooler can be incredibly fun and overwhelmingly exhausting at the same time. While your vacation might not be the picture of relaxation you might have experienced before having children, it can be a whole new adventure where you get to see the world through the magical eyes of a preschooler. With a little preparation and creativity, you can avoid any pitfalls and make traveling with a preschooler a successful journey where everyone learns and has fun making memories together. Here are 15 tips for traveling with preschoolers.
1. Build the excitement
Get your child ready to travel by getting her excited before you even leave. Perhaps you can announce the trip in a fun way to make it a surprise. Present the trip as part of a gift. Get your child a small suitcase and put some clues about your trip inside. If you are going to Disney World, you can put a Mickey Mouse shirt, a map of the Magic Kingdom and a Princess Anna doll inside the suitcase. See if your daughter can guess where you are going and be ready for her to explode with excitement when she figures it out. If your child is excited about your trip, that makes it less likely that she will get nervous about leaving home.
2. Create a countdown
It is hard for children this age to have a good grasp of time, and they can get anxious wondering if your trip is going to start every day. Help your child understand when you are leaving for your adventure with a countdown. We love the idea of creating a special calendar devoted just for the trip. For example, if you are counting down to a trip to Disney World, decorate the countdown calendar with pictures and stickers of your child’s favorite Disney characters. Every day you and your child can go over how many days are left before you travel and cross off each day. This countdown will be a visual reminder to your preschooler that you are going on a trip, just not today.
3. Plan together
Preschoolers love when they can feel in control of something. Giving your child the opportunity to make some decisions about your upcoming trip will reduce the possibility of meltdowns while you are traveling. You might not let your four year old book her flight, but you can show her where you are picking your seats on the airplane and let her choose between sitting in the aisle seat or window. You can look at a list of activities available during your trip and let her choose a few. This works perfectly for a Disney trip because you can actually pick which rides you want to skip the long lines on and use a Fast Pass. Why not let your preschooler pick which attractions she wants to see the most? She will remember what she picked and be so proud as you skip to the front of the line once you are there.
4. Watch YouTube videos of what they are about to experience
If your preschooler has had a taste of YouTube, she probably asks to watch videos on there pretty frequently. It is addicting for everyone. And while we all try to be careful with monitoring the amount of screen time our little ones take in, when we do use screen time, it can be useful and educational. When getting ready to travel somewhere new, find some YouTube videos that show where you are about to go. Many destinations will have their own promotional videos and if not, amateur videos can always be found. This will prepare your child for the new experience by getting them excited and avoiding walking into a potentially scary situation. If your child thinks something looks scary on a YouTube video, you might want to avoid that on your trip and pick something else to do. If your child gets really excited watching a YouTube video, you can remind her that that exciting part of the trip is upcoming if she is getting antsy during your travels.
5. Read books about travel
Books are an amazing resource when preparing a preschooler for travel. Kids love to curl up with a parent and some good books and read the day away. Go to your local library or bookstore and get some books that relate to your upcoming trip. For example, if you are going to be taking your child’s first airplane ride, get a book about flying on an airplane. If you are traveling to Hawaii, grab a book about the islands. When you do begin your trip, you can always remind your child of what is happening by talking about what you read in the books beforehand. Scholastic books have books for just about any topic you can imagine, and they also have an amazing resource for traveling with kids called Smart Family Travel.
6. Bring a few of their favorite toys
Preschoolers are all about playing so make sure you don’t hit the road without some of your child’s favorite toys. A bored kid is a cranky kid, and no one wants a cranky kid while you’re trying to catch a flight or are on a long car ride. Let your child pack a little bag of travel appropriate toys to take with you and take them out to play as needed.
7. Designate a travel buddy
Traveling can leave a preschooler feeling a little insecure. Before your trip have your child pick a small stuffed toy who will become her travel buddy. Let her know that her travel buddy will see the world with her and go on every trip she will go on. This stuffed toy can provide some consistency and stability during a trip where things can feel a little out of control for a preschooler.
8. Be flexible about your plans
Of course you will have some sort of an itinerary set for any trip. However, remember when traveling with a preschooler that things will not always go as planned. Prepare yourself mentally to change plans or even cancel plans if need be. If your child is overstimulated and needs some quiet time, don’t force another sightseeing event or excursion; cancel or reschedule and go back to your hotel room for a nap. Don’t book expensive dining plans that cannot be cancelled or rescheduled. You never know what will happen when traveling with a preschooler and you need to be flexible from the start to avoid getting frustrated.
9. Do not rush through the experiences
When traveling with a preschooler, your focus should not be staying perfectly on schedule or experiencing as many things as possible. Don’t cram too much into one day. Leave room to allow your child to truly take in each experience. If you are at an aquarium, don’t rush from exhibit to exhibit. Let your preschooler’s curiosity and wonder be your guide and take things in as she sees fit.
10. Use their cues when it comes to sleep and meal times, not schedules
You cannot force a child to sleep or eat, especially when your schedule is out of sync while traveling. Traveling with small children requires loosening up on your set schedules and watching their cues instead. All the stimulation might tire some kids out faster or keep others engaged for longer. Stop looking at the clock for when to eat lunch. Eat when your kiddo is hungry. This definitely applies when traveling to a different time zone. It may be noon where you happen to be but your child’s body isn’t looking at the clock.
11. Pack snacks
When children are busy experiencing new activities, they might forget or refuse food, not realizing how hungry they really might be. Always have snacks to make sure that your child doesn’t crash in the middle of an activity. This also prevents tantrums, helps with disappointments, as well as keeps them occupied if there are lines for attractions.
12. Mind their potty schedule
For new and even veteran potty goers, when traveling it is important to remember to take them to the bathroom before any extended activity or car trip. Scout out bathrooms at every place you go, because chances are your children will be so fascinated by the new experiences they will forget about their potty needs until it’s too late.
13. Bring hand sanitizer with you everywhere and wash hands frequently
The biggest issue with bringing smaller children with you to travel is their incessant need to touch everything. Which, especially for touristy destinations, usually means lots of germs and sickness. Spare yourself the headache of having to deal with stomach bugs and colds on your trip and bring an alcohol based hand sanitizer with you and disinfect or wash their hands frequently. You can make your own hand sanitizer by using rubbing alcohol and essential oils and filling a spray bottle.
14. Travel often and early
This seems like redundant advice, but the more you travel with your children and the younger they are, the better travelers they will grow up to be. Airports, flights and car trips won’t be torturous because they will be just as excited as you to go on an adventure, as they have learned from experience that new places equal fun times. They will be more familiar with the process, therefore they will become more comfortable with being out of their element, which is beneficial in itself.
15. Travel to places your preschooler will love
Don’t take a trip just to visit art galleries if you know your child is going to be miserable doing so. Pick destinations that offer a little something for everyone. Young children need to burn energy through free play and exploration everyday so keep that in mind when picking where to travel. Anywhere in the world can be a wonderful adventure for a child with the right activities available.
If you are ready to plan a trip with your preschooler and aren’t sure where to go or how you will get there, how about you take that first exciting trip to Disney? Scholastic is hosting a Tiny Travelers Sweepstakes where Disney is giving away a free 4-day, 5-night trip to Disney World for 4. Click here to enter the Tiny Travelers Sweepstakes. The first 2,500 entrants will receive a free Scholastic book!
This is a sponsored conversation written by us on behalf of Disney. The opinions and text are all ours.