The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 6, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Long trip requires preparation

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — For the first time, my little family is about to embark on a cross-country vacation. We've made quick road trips here and there, but this summer will mark our induction into the airplane-flying, beach-going, more-than-weekending club.

And we're terrified.

The kids are ready to board the plane right now, but we parents are feeling the jitters of the unknown. We've imagined everything from meltdowns to accidents and being kicked off the plane for unruly toddlerhood. We feel blind, excited and more than a little worried.

To prepare, I've  combed through hundreds of tips for traveling with small children. Here are some of the ways we'll be trying to enjoy Ñ and survive Ñ our vacation.

Carry-ons for kids: Give a backpack to each child who is big enough to carry it independently. Preschoolers and elementary-age kids will be able to carry their own individually portioned snacks, a change of clothes and a few toys and books.

This will save your own carry-on from being turned into a cooler or a toy box, and give the kids the ability to keep themselves entertained on flights. As a bonus on longer flights, wrap dollar store presents to be opened one-per-hour during flying time.

Bring your own food: Snacks will keep the kids from melting into hyper-tired puddles of goo by the end of either an airplane flight or a day at an amusement park. Stick to your usual healthy favorites: fresh fruit, nuts, sandwiches, cheese sticks and crackers.

Also much hyped is the idea of frequenting as few restaurants as possible, both to save money and sanity. Kids will be just as happy with lunch from grocery stores instead, and parks and beaches will be exponentially friendlier to loud, excited or tired kids than most sit-down venues.

Pack the night before: We obviously won't leave packing until the morning before the entire trip gets underway, but this tip is more about during the vacation itself. If you'll be heading to the zoo or the beach, pack all your gear the night before. Get cameras charged, clothing ready, bags filled and snacks stowed.

You'll be less likely to forget something vital such as sunscreen or tickets if you're not rushing around the hotel before breakfast with a bunch of little ones ready to start the day.

Respect schedules: If you have toddlers who usually nap in the middle of the day, be sure to allow those naps to happen on most of your vacation days. Not only will those naps keep the toddler or baby in question happier, but the rest of the family will usually appreciate some down time between activities.

Be flexible: It should go without saying that when traveling with kids, we need to be able to adjust our plans according to moods and energy levels. But sometimes we get too focused on our own vacation expectations and it can be hard to see the need for a different plan.

Go with the flow when possible, changing or erasing your agenda to make way for plenty of relaxation and silliness. Remember that it's meant to be a vacation for your kids, too. Help them remember it for all the right reasons.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog,