Summer Hull's Tips for Family Travel
How to Keep the Kids Happy (and You Sane)
As the founder of MommyPoints.com, a website dedicated to helping travelers discover the best ways to maximize travel rewards programs, Summer Hull has traveled the United States courtesy of the best travel deals.
Along for the ride has been Hull’s young daughter -- in fact, at just 3 years old, this young traveling companion has logged dozens of “mostly” successful flights alongside her mom. How does Summer Hull ensure a great trip for the whole family -- and what’s the best way to keep kids from driving each other (and you) crazy while on the road or in the air?
Here are excerpts from TravelChannel.com’s conversation with Summer about the travel tips she’s found most useful in her own family adventures.
Q. Any tips for flying with a baby for the first time?
A. I have a bunch of tips outlined for the first trip with a baby here.The highlights are to allow yourself extra time, try to get someone to drop you off at the terminal, check everything you can to lighten your load, but don't check anything you might need on the plane or during delays. If you’re traveling with someone, have them board ahead of you so they can to install the infant carrier, but don't bring the baby on until the last minute. Have a bottle ready or plan to nurse on takeoff and landing in order to help the baby's ears. If all else fails, hand out earplugs and buy drinks for your neighbors!
Q. Passing through TSA is never fun -- especially with kids in tow. Any advice?
A. There are some standard TSA rules that apply to families pretty much no matter which US airport you are at (such as, children 12 and under can keep their shoes on), but I have found that the enforcement of some other policies really varies from airport to airport. My best advice if you are hoping to bring through juice, formula, pumped breast milk, etc., is to allow extra time and be ready to encounter a variety of answers and searches when you go through security. It is generally easiest if you are transporting liquid that can be opened (so it can be tested), but you can usually bring sealed, necessary liquids through for infants and young children. Sometimes you do have to go through some additional pat-downs and searches to do so. Also, you will need to take children out of their strollers and carriers to go through security -- it can stink, especially when you have a comfortably sleeping baby, so be prepared!
Q. Are there any tech diversions for the kids you’d recommend?
A. For older kids I am a huge fan of technology on planes, just don't bring it out until you are already at 10,000 feet -- it can cause some tears to use it during boarding and then take it away when electronics are prohibited). We use a portable DVD player with cartoons and/or an iPad with our daughter. She is about 3, and some popular apps for her that don't require internet connectivity are Minnie's Bow-tique, Starfall and Road Rally. Of course, each kid will have his or her favorites -- just make sure to get some that can function without the internet during the flight.
Q. What's one thing you can't leave home without when traveling with kids?
A. These days, it's snacks and the iPad! Basically, make sure to bring something for your kids to eat and drink, and something that you know is guaranteed to keep them occupied.
Q. How can kids stay entertained during long hours on the road or in the air?
A. In addition to DVDs and an iPad, we bring small plastic figurines to play with, coloring books and light paperback books. It helps to have a new inexpensive toy that they have never seen before -- it can be exciting and used as an incentive for extra good behavior! In case of emergency, I also have a sucker or M&Ms readily available.
Q. Any advice for keeping a bedtime for kids when traveling?
A. The younger the child is the more important it is to try to keep to a normal bedtime, but the reality of travel means that the kiddo is going to be off their regular routine somewhat no matter what you do. My advice is not to stress too much about sticking to the exact schedule you have at home, but definitely keep it in mind in an effort to try to avoid having "overtired" children. If you are changing time zones, you will need to adjust accordingly -- don’t expect the children to reset their body clocks overnight.
Q. How do you deal with a not-so-friendly seatmate on a flight?
A. While most travelers are at least outwardly tolerant of children on planes, some can be downright rude. The best way to deal with a not-so-friendly seatmate is simply to do everything you can to keep your child calm and under control. If other passengers see you trying to do this, then most of them won't give you any grief. Most of the problems come into play when there is an upset or unruly child and there doesn't seem to be a parent trying to make the situation any better.
Q. How can parents ensure that kids skip the junk food while traveling?
A. During travel time, we do anything to keep our child happy -- so as not to annoy other passengers. This includes giving her some special snacks that we don't normally give at home. However, during the trip as a whole we do try to make sure that our daughter eats some well-balanced meals. This isn't too hard if you have the ability to make a trip to a local grocery store. If you have a mini-fridge available at your hotel, then that makes it even easier. But even if you don't have access to a fridge, you can still buy some fruit and other dry goods for snacks.
Q. Are there any hotels you’d recommend for healthy food options?
A. Hyatt Hotels now have a revamped healthy "For Kids, By Kids" menu that ditches the chicken fingers and fries in favor of fruits, veggies and healthier meats. When the kid's menu doesn’t have healthy options we order healthy food for ourselves and make our daughter a plate from our meals.
Q. Any good luggage that helps you lug all the necessities of traveling with kids?
A. Even at a very early age, we had our daughter help carry her own bag on a trip. She uses a TrendyKid's Travel Buddies penguin backpack and carryon. It does seem to scuff easily, but it is very cute and holds her goodies for the flight. Otherwise, we use our regular luggage and just add her stuff. I prefer Briggs & Riley luggage -- it holds up extremely well. But for less frequent travelers any bag that rolls well through the airport is a good choice.
Q. What’s the best car rental option when traveling with kids?
A. If you have a long car trip ahead of you, getting a vehicle that has a built-in DVD player can be a lifesaver. Otherwise, just be sure to rent a vehicle that is large enough for your family and all their gear. If you are going to rent a car seat then confirm ahead of time they have the type you need. We like to travel with our own because we know its history -- that is also a good option that saves money and ensures peace of mind.
Q. Any must-bring snacks for the road?
A. Our "secret weapon" snacks are jelly beans or M&Ms -- you can dish them out one or two at a time as rewards (or bribes). However, if you need some snacks in case hunger strikes when there isn't any food available, we usually have goldfish, granola bars or pureed fruit squeeze pouches available.
Q. If all else fails, what's your No. 1 tip for holiday family travel?
A. Something is bound to go wrong on your journey, so just do your best to keep calm and try to see the humor in the situation -- because when traveling with kids there usually is something comical going on! In the end, know that you will eventually get where you are going (and back home again) and that all the bumps in the road are temporary. Of course, a well-timed drink can sometimes take the edge off as well!