7 Tips for Easy Family Holiday Travel

We asked flight attendants, hotel managers, and frequent mom fliers how to survive holiday travel. You don't want to miss this advice!
By Janene Mascarella



“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” — said no holiday traveler ever! Standstill traffic and snaking lines leave us all short on patience. Add kids to the mix along with a mad dash to the gate, and it’s not-so-happy trails. If the grands are eagerly awaiting you on Thanksgiving, we’ve got the secrets to getting there (almost) stress-free. Consider them our holiday gift to you.

Problem: My kid’s always motion sick.

If your child gets queasy easily, try non-drug options first, says Nicole Gattas, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. Her advice: Don’t let her read or play video games in the car: “Look straight ahead and avoid turning your head side to side.” She also suggests sitting in the middle of the vehicle: “If you have a minivan with three rows, put the kid who gets carsick in the middle row. If you’re on a plane, sit about halfway back.”

If your doc suggests medicines, make sure to try them out before the trip, says Deborah Gilboa, M.D., a family physician in Pittsburgh. “Some kids have unexpected reactions to new medications.”

Problem: The waiting is torture!

Novelty kills boredom, says Francine Lederer, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. Bring a bunch of (small, inexpensive) new toys and books. In airports, have your child come up with a vacation itinerary, select and distribute snacks, or help change your toddler’s diaper.

Problem: My fellow fliers give my kids the evil eye.

“When you board, tell neighbors you’ll do anything you can to keep your child quiet,” says Meg Nesterov, who’s been to 14 countries with her daughter. If things go south, they may even help you. Another idea: “One of my clients brings a few $5 Starbucks cards,” says Sally Black. “If her kids act up, she offers them up. Most decline but act more understanding.”


Problem: I try to keep carry-ons light — often to a fault.

Don’t expect the airline to have everything you’ll need, says Corrine Whittle, a flight attendant from Westport, CT, and a mom of two. Parents often under-pack and expect flight attendants to come up with necessities, she says. She suggests giving each child a backpack filled with everything he’ll need: a new toy or book; plenty of munchies; a bottle of water (buy it at the gate area; you still can’t bring liquids through security); a small pillow or lovey; a small, light blanket; and a change of clothes. Last, Whittle advises bringing lollipops for takeoff and landing. “The swallowing helps ease the pressure in their ears,” she says.

Problem: We slip through the cracks at busy hotels.

Even though you made special requests when you booked the room (like a cot or crib), follow up with a call the day you arrive, says Robert Cohen, director of operations at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, MA. Chances are you’ll speak with a staffer who’ll be on duty when you arrive. Cohen, a hospitality industry veteran, says if you mention your kids’ ages, “most hoteliers will try to impress you by leaving milk and cookies or another surprise.” As welcoming as hotels try to be, though, keep your kids in your sight. “You may feel comfortable letting them wander, since it’s an enclosed environment, but it’s simply not safe,” Cohen warns.


Problem: We're traveling with (many) gifts.

Schlepping presents makes for heavy and expensive luggage. “Take advantage of free shipping offers and send gifts directly to your destination,” says Heidi Smith Luedtke, an Air Force wife who flies cross-country with kids at the holidays. Packing wrapped gifts has other pitfalls — the paper often rips in transit, and security will likely take it off anyway. “Pack flat wrapping paper, or buy it there,” she adds, “and have a wrapping marathon with your sister or mom.”

Problem: My child has a severe nut allergy.

Airlines can’t guarantee a nut-free cabin, says L.A.-based flight attendant and travel correspondent Bobby Laurie. At most, they may make an announcement on your behalf. What you can do: Wipe down your child’s seat area. Book a window seat for your child, the middle for you, creating a buffer. And consider the first flight of the day. The early wake-up may be worth it to know the plane’s just been cleaned.

Photo credit: ©GS/Gallery Stock

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