by Lisa Gaché,
As an instructor of children’s etiquette, I do my best to travel as gracefully as humanly possible with my family. However, as a mother of two I know that traveling with children can oftentimes be emotionally and physically overwhelming, especially if traveling with a newborn or without the help of an accompanying spouse. As much as we would like to maintain our composure and control our children’s behavior, life happens, and all we can do is try to remain as poised as possible under the circumstances.
Parents, I have compiled a top 10 list of etiquette tips I hope will ensure that your next traveling experience with your children is smooth and successful. Bon voyage!
1. Make traveling fun. As with every other aspect of our lives, good manners and proper etiquette are an absolute necessity when it comes to traveling. The most important thing to remember is that traveling is fun! Inform your children well in advance of the adventure they are about to embark upon, however, that while traveling is fun, it also requires the family to work together as a team and follow a certain set of travel guidelines. Whether taking a road trip to visit grandparents or flying across the country to see the newest attraction at Disneyworld, set the tone from the beginning with your children that a great attitude and respect for each other, as well as fellow travelers, will make the journey together that much more pleasant.
2. Preparation is key. Traveling gracefully takes a certain amount of creativity and planning. Speak to your children long before you’ll be traveling and discuss with them where you will be going, the mode of transportation you will be using, how long it will take to get there, and how long you will be staying at your destination. You may even want to highlight a map to indicate the starting and ending points. When packing for the trip, take plenty of toys, games, DVDs, and coloring books for your children to occupy themselves. The day before traveling, make sure that all family members get a good night’s sleep. A family that awakens refreshed and energized has a greater chance of having a smooth traveling day.
3. Safety is paramount. Before any type of traveling, call a family meeting and go over the ground rules for acceptable behavior during the trip. Express to your children the importance of these rules, not only for more enjoyable traveling, but for their safety. Children need to know that they must not wander away from the family at any time. When we travel, we are often traveling in large, open, public spaces and it is very easy for little ones to get lost. Create a buddy system or a counting system so that children feel a sense of responsibility for themselves and other family members. This is wonderful for their self-esteem and confidence level.
4. Bring fuel for little bodies. You never know what kinds of delays you may face while traveling, so be sure to arm yourself with plenty of nutritious snacks and water. The last thing you want is to face a meltdown because your children are starving or thirsty. Food and drinks also act as wonderful distractions when you need to pass the time. If you are traveling by air, I suggest bringing a small amount of gum or candy to chew during takeoff and landing. This will protect your children’s ears from any discomfort they may feel due to a cold or a change in altitude.
5. Accidents will happen. It is inevitable that an accident will occur at some point and time during your travels. One of the small ways you can prepare yourself and maintain your composure is to have an extra set of clothing on hand per child and to have plenty of wipes and baggies! These two little items are fabulous for disinfecting hands, wiping messy bottoms, holding dirty clothes, or wiping mouths after travel sickness.
6. Plane pointers. Airplanes present a unique challenge in that an airplane is a confined space and everyone can be affected by one person’s behavior. As a result, it is especially important to be mindful of other passengers at all times. Begin by letting the airline know that you are traveling with children and ask any child-related questions or advice at that time. Try to avoid taking red-eye flights as children are extra cranky in the evening and fellow passengers may not appreciate a whining or crying child when they are trying to get some sleep. Request to pre-board the plane to settle your children in their seats and to handle any last-minute bathroom or drink requests. Explain to your child there is limited space on the airplane and that they are expected to stay in their assigned seat with their seatbelt fastened at all times. Parents should sit between children and other passengers for safety reasons and to act as a buffer. At the end of the flight, the most courteous parents will wait for all others to depart the plane before attempting to organize their children and all of their belongings.
7. Orient Express overtures. Trains are the most fun for traveling with children. There is spacious seating, lots of leg room, and loud noise so talking in a normal voice won’t disturb other passengers. There is usually a dining car where the family can spend most of their time and children can eat, play games, and do art projects. Children do not have to fear being at a high altitude and there is an abundance of beautiful scenery for them to view. As with any type of public transportation, children should apply the same rules of behavior and be conscious of their surroundings.
8. Road trip resources. The family road trip is probably the most common form of traveling. Make sure children know that arguing or shouting in the car can be dangerous and distracting to the driver. Children need to respect one another and their preferences regarding music, car temperature, window levels, and places to sit. They should be reminded to keep their arms and legs to themselves and take turns sitting in the less desirable spots. A great way to avoid the infamous question, “Are we there yet?” is to inform children ahead of time of the exact length of the trip. Advise them to use the bathroom beforehand and let them know you will be making additional stops for bathroom breaks along the way.
9. Hotel hints. Staying in a hotel is a privilege and should be treated as such. This experience shared with the family will help prepare children to be considerate of others as they get older and begin traveling with their peers. The most important thing for children to remember is that there are other guests in a hotel. They should be mindful of the noise level in their hotel room so as not to disturb their neighbors. Electronic devices should be played quietly and voices should be kept low. There should never be any running or talking loudly in the hallway. In the hotel, although there is maid service, children should pick up after themselves and keep their clothes neatly folded in drawers. They may also organize their towels and toiletries. Upon completion of their stay, children should be encouraged to help pack their belongings before checking out.
10. Be a model. Set an example for your children and apply “The Golden Rule” to treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you embody these words and show kindness, respect, and consideration toward your family, your travel representatives, and your fellow travelers, then your children will mimic your behavior. As a result, everyone is guaranteed to enjoy a positive traveling experience and will look forward to future trips together.