ELLEN GELLER KAMARAS
Safe Travels, sound familiar?
I use this phrase every time I wish my friends, family, and colleagues a good trip.
Of all days to share travel tips with you, I am writing this article on December 1st, the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, and what was expected to be the busiest travel day for the U.S. airline industry. Over three million passengers were estimated to be flying today!
And that only includes travelers going on planes. What about those using cars, buses, and trains?
As I watched the news, I recognized that safe travels was at the top of everyone’s wish list and was the #1 priority.
Let’s talk about integrating safe travels into our planning for winter break and have a safe, healthy, and fun vacation for the entire family.
Before we dive into tips and tools, I want to emphasize the importance of academic breaks.
We all need time off to decompress including time to do nothing. That’s right, nothing. Nothing or “down” time means pausing to take a breath, relax, and smell the roses. In our fast-paced world, we are constantly busy. Unfortunately, doing nothing or taking a break in today’s hypermodern society, is often viewed as negative and is associated with nonproductivity. Studies, however, have shown that it is vital for our mental and physical health to take time to unplug, sit still, and do nothing. Doing nothing can also spur new insights and creativity. Our children are overmanaged and overscheduled much more than we were in the sixties, seventies, and eighties.
Be mindful about not cutting short their childhood years by continuously pressuring them to get the best grades and be accepted to the most prominent schools and/or excel in extra-curriculars.
Popular Safe Travel Procedures
Doing your research, making copies of important documents, notifying the flight attendant of any medical issues, being aware of your surroundings, keeping your valuables in a hotel safe, updating your family back home, and being wary of public Wi-Fi.
Traveling with small children can be particularly stressful and can trigger anxiety in both adults and small children.
Therefore, it’s crucial to plan, prepare, and manage expectations before setting off on your trip. Family meetings help strengthen the family bond, improve communication, and reduce the unease and that feeling of not being in control. They can be used as a vehicle to get everyone on the same page and manage everyone’s expectations, including the parents.
Engage Your Children
Carve out time for a family meeting (no phones allowed but do serve refreshments).
Ask your sons and daughters to assist in whatever planning remains to be done. They can do research and talk to friends and classmates. Allowing children to participate in the decision-making process gives them skin in the game and builds their confidence and self-esteem. It can also help to ensure an enjoyable vacation.
Inquire about concerns and expectations for the upcoming vacation. Address any concerns and anxieties that your children may have about traveling. Identify their triggers. Is it going through security, that sets them off? Or is it boarding the plane, take-off, or landing? Depending on the severity, you may want to talk to a professional about how to deal with these issues. Your children may be worried about unforeseen events and might have what-if questions for you. For example, what happens if I get separated from the family, or if the weather is bad? It’s important to reassure your children with remedies for these what-if scenarios before you head out.
Ask them what their favorite or positive distractions are that they would like to bring with them. They may like video games, coloring books, or crossword puzzles.
You might want to assign an older child to a younger sibling as a travel buddy. These tools will help your kids move away from negative thoughts to positive ones.
Find out what everyone’s expectations are about the trip. Parents and kids who have performed research can contribute brochures and information about the vacation destination. You can create a wish list by brainstorming, and please remember that Mom and Dad get a vote. Parents stay in control by setting realistic and affordable guidelines.
Information is power and access to the right information will reduce anxieties and facilitate safe travels. The night before your trip have another family meeting, presenting your children with a detailed overview of your travels. For example, on Sunday morning at 7:00am, Uncle David will drive us to JFK airport. We will check our luggage, go through security, board the plane, and the flight will take four hours. After we land and retrieve our luggage, a bus will pick up us up to take us to the hotel.
Teachable moments, those times when your children have an opportunity to learn something new, don’t only occur in a classroom. An airport, and a new destination can offer many teachable moments. Bring along some small notebooks, pencils, and crayons. A notebook can be used as a travel journal (younger children can draw in them). Some of your kids may enjoy writing about their trip and the journal will keep them busy on the flights and during the vacation. It will also provide them with material for their “what I did on winter break” essays.
Let your kids know if they will be in a different time zone when they arrive. You can also educate them about the history and culture of your vacation destination if you are visiting a new state or country. Or your older children can do that particular research and share it with the family. More information and preparation lowers anxiety and leads to learning and a successful vacation. Keep it short and simple for younger children.
Set guidelines in advance regarding cell phone use, taking pictures and videos, and limits on eating junk food and buying souvenirs and gifts. We don’t want our kids to miss beautiful views and other experiences by spending too much time taking pictures or on their phones. Encourage them to learn more about their surroundings while you are taking in the sights.
Prepare a Travel and Packing Checklist
To-do lists and checklists have helped me manage my personal and work life since I was taught to prepare one at my first job.
Have you ever forgotten your child’s antibiotic when you were already halfway to the airport? I have.
Review your checklist and tick off items as you complete them before you head off on your trip (see sidebar).
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Give each child their own carry-on or small backpack and pack their favorite snacks, if permitted, their “positive distractions,” special comfort objects (please don’t forget the blankie) and a few games and activities to keep them engaged on the plane, train, or in the car. Mom, please put some extra small toys, paper, pens and crayons, snacks, band-aids, and Tylenol (remember, if you are flying, liquid Tylenol must be placed in a small Zip lock) in your carry-on. Dad, please carry copies of important documents in yours.
Please be mindful when you book tours and excursions. Be sure to allot time for pure relaxation, e.g. sitting by the pool or playing a board game. We all need a break from the stress associated with school routines and responsibilities and our jobs. If you overdo the touring and wake up at dawn every morning, you may need another vacation when you come home!
Remember that vacation is a good thing and a blessing. Keep that positive mindset and enjoy! Safe travels!
Recommended Checklist Items
- Review baggage restrictions and other significant information, e.g. arrival times at airport, bus, or train, and transfer arrangements upon landing. If you are a visual person, print out a map of your destination or email yourself the links to maps and all other details.
- Arrange for cell phone use overseas.
- Buy foreign currency in advance if needed.
- Notify your credit card company that you will be traveling abroad.
- Consider bringing hard copies of travel documents (including passport #’s, flights, hotels, and tour reservations) in the event your phone or laptop crashes, gets lost, or you don’t have Wi-Fi.
- Check in for your flights online the day before to avoid long waits at the airport. Consider applying for TSA pre-check (shorter security lines, no removal of shoes, belts, laptops).
- Are all medications and medical devices packed in your respective carry-ons? What if your luggage doesn’t make it to your destination upon landing? Pack anything you might need soon after you arrive in your carry-on luggage.
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (www.lifecoachellen.com).