No-Stress Holiday Travel with Kids

Before You Go

Make it a family affair. Don't wait until the last minute to get your kids psyched for your holiday journey. If you involve them in the planning process, they're likely to be more invested in the trip. Give them little tasks so they'll feel like they're contributing: Have your oldest child help you look on the Internet to find a movie theater near Aunt Judy's house, or let your toddler pick out the books he wants to take along for the car ride.

Clue kids in. Once you've nailed down the details, tell everyone exactly what you've got planned. Kids feel more secure when they know what to expect each day. Warn little ones about potentially scary situations, like the security check at airports. "Explain that the security machine will take a picture of her teddy but that it will be waiting for her safely on the other side," says Ogintz. If it's her first flight, prepare her by reading simple picture books, such as Going on a Plane, by Anne Civardi.

Time your travel. If you can, pad your schedule with a few extra vacation days so you've got some wiggle room in case of bad weather, illness, or airline delays. This will also allow you to avoid the peak travel days just before (and after) Christmas and New Year's. "If you're flying, try to book nonstop so you don't end up stuck in a random city because of a snowstorm," says Ogintz. For road trips, log on to Google Maps (maps.google.com) to find the best route and to avoid road closures.

Check on childproofing. Yes, Grandma's house is a loving, warm place to gather for the holidays, but it might not be the safest one for little kids. Talk to her about storing medications, cleaning products, and other hazards out of reach. If you're staying at a hotel, call in advance to ask whether the staff will childproof the room for you. Or take along a travel childproofing kit or a roll of duct tape to cover outlets, fasten back window curtains and cords, and secure bathroom cabinets.

Pack in plastic. Keep your suitcases organized by separating clothing in clear zip-top bags and labeling them with names and contents, such as Henry's underwear and Katie's dresses. This makes it easier to quickly find what you need, and you can store dirty clothing in them on the way back. If you expect to be bringing back more than you started with, stash an extra nylon duffle in your suitcase so you'll be able to haul your loot home.

Bring snacks. Have a supply of good travel foods (Cheerios, string cheese, bananas) with you at all times. If your child doesn't like the food on the plane or at a party, snacks are a great way to head off a tantrum from a hungry toddler. Water is the best on-the-go beverage because kids only drink as much as they need, which will cut down on emergency bathroom breaks, says Vicki Lansky, author of Trouble-Free Travel with Children.

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