by Brenna Hicks

With a little preparation, you can make the journey more pleasant for the whole family

Unfortunately, traveling can leave kids cranky, bored or upset -- and parents frustrated. But you can steer clear of these bumps in the road with a little advance preparation.

With the following simple strategies, your next trip will be less stressful -- and more memorable.

1. Discuss your destination

To prepare your kids for the unfamiliar, tell them what they can expect. If your sister has three dogs and two cats, for instance, prepare your kids for a wild week: "Aunt Linda's house is a little loud with lots of people and animals, but that is what makes it fun!"

Children are better able to handle change when they're in the know.

Also, remember to stay positive. Even if you're dreading the traffic to your in-laws' home, avoid griping in front of your kids. Instead, discuss topics that will help create positive memories, like how excited you are to decorate the tree with grandma and grandpa.

2. Gradually change their schedule

If grandma's house is in another time zone, shift your kids' bedtime by 10 to 15 minutes in the week or two leading up to your vacation. This adjustment will prevent them from becoming exhausted on the trip. Also don't forget to plan for a week of readjustment when you return.

3. Pack activities

To keep your kids from chorusing "are we there yet," bring plenty of toys and games to keep them occupied. Ask your kids what they want to do in the backseat or on a flight, whether it's playing a handheld video game, reading books or drawing on a new sketchpad.

When they get bored, bring back travel games from your own childhood. Some favorites from my family: finding license plates from every state, searching for letters of the alphabet on road signs and punch-buggy contests.

4. Bring touches of homes

Children thrive on the familiar. When you're out of your normal routine, providing things they know helps to ease the discomfort of unknown situations and unfamiliar surroundings. Pack five small items that you use in your child's daily life, such a favorite spoon for breakfast, his toy train, a plastic fish for the bath, a favorite book and his own pillow. These touches provide consistent reinforcement throughout the day that home isn't that far away.


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Vacations & Travel "Smart Parenting Strategies for Family Travel"