The Best Advice for Traveling With Kids (From a Seriously Cool Mom)

Updated 11/07/17
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Australian fashion stylist Sheree Commerford is a creative force to be reckoned with. Not only is she the founder and director of Captain and the Gypsy Kid (her ode to “style inspired by small folk”), but she’s also a mom to two adorable children, Sugar and Captain. Our fascination with her beautiful family and her chic home is bordering on obsession—take a look for yourself. So we asked the effervescent and insanely hip Sydneysider for a few tips to keep in mind when traveling with kids. Scroll below to see what she had to say.

Captain and the Gypsy Kid

Straight off the bat, I want to put forward a disclaimer. As much advice and tools I can give and you can collect, the one thing we all know as parents is that things never go to plan. Sometimes (as in most times) the kids’ behavior and reaction will be out of your control. So at the end of the day, it’s you who you should be focusing on too. Your expectations and reactions will go a long way in making that family holiday great.

Planes and Airports

The best way to start the trip is with enthusiasm, positive thinking, and preparation. If they think that you are worried about them being upset, good chances are they will be. The more that you can prepare them for what to expect when traveling, the better. Let them know that they will be sitting in a seat for a long time, but make that exciting. Like they can watch as many movies as their little eyes can stay awake for, and there is a 24-hour snack bar. That there will be treats and rewards for excellent plane behavior.

Surprises to keep things exciting and give them incentive to not melt down.

1. Check out if the airline has a kids' club and if you need to put this in the booking. When the cabin crew makes them feel special, it really makes them excited about the plane journey. Qantas has an excellent one called the Joey Club. While you're there, book in your kids' meals that suit their dietary requirements. This goes a long way in making them comfortable.

2. It’s a personal decision if you want to try to work on keeping their sleep pattern in line with your new time zone. This works for some families, but not for us, as it can get quite complicated. A simple way to encourage sleep that might fall into your new time zone pattern is after dinnertime, the meal, and a movie, encourage bedtime. Put them in their pj’s, and make it a real point that it is legitimately time for bed.

3. The olden goldie of packing snacks. This is a must if your kids are like mine. This helps you maintain a healthier diet for the trip but also keeps them happy.

4. A good friend of mine gave me an excellent piece of advice once of buying small treasures that you wrap in multiple pieces of paper, and then give them little presents throughout the travel journey. It was when they were little and they loved unwrapping and unwrapping.

5. The truth is at some stage, this long flight will catch up with them and you, whether that be on the plane, when you’re going through customs, or sleep patterns when you arrive at your destination. The best thing you can do as a family is be okay with that. Be prepared for it, and plan your holiday schedule to have some room for recovery. Don’t jump straight off the plane and into a hectic schedule.

6. As far as disrupting passengers, there is only so much you can do, and the rest you just have to smile, say sorry, and let it run its course—as much as you want to cry and leave your kids in someone else’s seat. One of my pet peeves is when parents ignore their kids’ behavior when they intentionally disrupt other passengers, whether it be from boredom or frustration in their seats. You will be surprised how empathetic people can be, as well as helpful, when they know you’re doing your best.

7. For those traveling on your own with more than one child, it can get very stressful managing their needs and their behavior. A great way to alleviate that stress is to introduce yourself to the cabin crew in your area, and fingers crossed you get someone lovely who you can call on to watch them during nappy changes and breastfeeding.

8. If all else fails, abort, abort, abort. That is code for walk to the back of the plane, have a moment to yourself, and wait until they have settled down.

Captain and the Gypsy Kid

Air Sickness and Fear of Flying

So far I haven’t had to deal with a fear of flying but just minor moments with turbulence. Ear pain I do deal with on most flights. The occasional vomit here and there when they were a baby. For all of these things, there is one thing we must do and that is to stay calm. No matter how distressed and worried we are for them, this is the one thing that our little people need.

1. Again, preparation. For fear of flying, not knowing what is happening can be a huge catalyst. Spend time leading up to the flight explaining as many details as you can about what will happen. The noises, the smells, takeoff, and landing… This will take the fear of the unknown out of the equation.

2. Usually, it’s takeoff and landing that can bring on anxiety attacks. Have some devices of distraction up your sleeve. A game that maybe they chose to download and take on the trip, a toy, food… You will know what works for your child.

3. Herbal remedies can be fantastic. I never travel without Rescue Remedy. Whether it’s a placebo effect, I’m not too sure, but it does calm them down. You could even allocate them their own small spray in their travel backpacks so they feel in control. Ginger is always great for travel sickness, and the chewing can also help with ear popping to prevent earaches. Patchouli is an essential oil that has a calming and grounding effect, a great one for kids and adults. Also, there are those wristbands that help stop nausea by targeting acupressure points.

I haven’t tried it, but they say Sea-Band is a good one for the whole family.

4. Visual tools such as videos or books can be a great way to introduce flying and alleviate the stress of it for kids. Friends of mine loved the books Going on a Plane by Anne Civardi (ages 2+) and A Day at the Airport by Richard Scarry (ages 6+).

5. A pre-visit to the airport is also a good introduction to flying. This is recommended in particular for children with special needs who react strongly to a change of routine and busy environment. A small short-haul domestic flight is also a great way to test what works for your child.

6. One product I always have in my bag is Earplanes. They are special earplugs that help equalize cabin pressure for takeoff and landing. They work. Make sure you take multiple for world trips and return flights as they don’t last long. I also have sugar-free lollipops for them to suck on—helps pop their ears. When they were babies, I breastfed them for takeoff and landing and then a bottle as they got older. Short flights are more painful as the pressure in their eardrum hasn’t had enough time to adjust.

Change in Schedule

Like I mentioned before, the best way I have dealt with disruptions to sleeping patterns is to make room for recovery on the other side. The reality is that they will 100% have their sleep patterns altered for a short period. I find, for me, I feel better letting my kids’ body clocks naturally recover from time zone changes than using sleeping aids or circadian clock medications. Yet lack of sleep for us parents can be a form of torture and there is nothing more distressing than when yours and theirs are working at different times, so do what works for you.

Give yourself a couple of days when you arrive to find your groove again, and don’t put pressure on yourself to solve this. It’s natural. It’s short-lived, and it’s worth it in the end.

Captain and the Gypsy Kid

Accommodations

The reality is that the more rooms you decide to take, the more expensive the holiday gets. If your children are young, take advantage of the fact that most places will let you all bunk in together. I would look at this as a positive thing and part of the adventure. You might have to give up some sexy time, but you just have to get creative. As for movie night, we just choose something we can all watch together.

If you’re traveling with babies, that might be a tad trickier, but you would be surprised how they adapt, and there are always headphones. At the end of the day, you have to roll with it. Everybody has to compromise somewhere to get to a happy balance. Bedtimes become more fluid when we travel, and a new rhythm is usually found.

1. My favorite sites for finding toddler-friendly places to stay are Smith & Family, Kid & Co, and Airbnb—check the Suitable for Kids/Families filter.

2. We are also big fans of road-tripping, so think of anything that can be towed, slept in, and pitched. To be honest, a good dose of googling can get you to a multitude of unique family stays these days. There are a lot on offer.

Food

This all depends on where you’re traveling and how you’re traveling, so it’s a very broad answer. In general, we seek out healthier places to eat where we can. Not all the time, of course—part of the holiday is the naughty stuff—but when you’re on the road for a while, you need to feel normal. I hate sounding like a broken record, but just do your best. When there are healthy options, go for that; have a balance.

Encourage the kids to try local dishes and not get locked into mac and cheese, pizza, and chips. There are so many options now for family accommodation that you can find great places with kitchens versus hotels. Seeking out the local markets and shopping for fresh produce, it’s a great thing to do on a holiday. Research organic and local supermarkets to keep your budget down when it comes to road-tripping. We do a quick google search when we hit a new state and see what is available. A cooler in the car with fresh snacks purchased from the local grocer such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s in the USA.

Stopping at supermarkets like this for a meal (they have good healthy meal options) is a great way to keep your budget on track. Some other handy points for budget and health…

1. Seek out local food markets to explore and eat. Best way to embrace the culture.

2. Get the kids to share meals. When we travel, usually the portions are big enough for them to share.

3. The kids’ options on a menu in the average restaurant is usually unhealthy. Ask if they can do kid servings on something more suited in the main menu or again get the kids to split a main.

4. Most of all, relax and enjoy not cooking. That is what a holiday is all about.

Captain and the Gypsy Kid

Keeping Everyone Happy

This again depends on the age of your kids, but here are some general tips we have had success with:

1. Get them involved in planning the trip, which then gets them really invested when they are there. Let them have input into the things they want to see and explore. Have them make suggestions on all sorts of things.

2. Prep their devices ahead of time with audible books, podcasts, and any kind of visual material that relates to where they are traveling. Again, let them help choose.

3. Pack a journal. This can be digital if they are older, but the younger ones can draw if they can’t write yet. One each to record their trip however they want, in any medium (except paint).

4. If you have a Kindle, download books that the kids can read or that you can read to them. Saves so much space when traveling, and the family can share the one device.

5. Road-trip games are the best. Made-up ones, even better. For instance, when the kids were young and couldn’t grasp letters, we changed I Spy to something starting with a color. It made no sense, but it worked like a charm.

6. Music. It is the essential. Making travel playlists before you leave is great. Pick the vibe of the place you’re heading and curate it to the theme. Letting everyone have a turn at deejaying is pretty funny.

7. Give them jobs around the house or get them working for someone else to earn pocket money before you travel so they have their own travel fund.

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