Traveling with kids? Eight tips for reducing travel stress

If you’ve ever vacationed with kids, you know what puts the “crazy” in the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. “Are-we-there-yets,” airborne temper tantrums, lost pacifiers, and head-long races down airport terminals (while dragging luggage and a screaming baby) are enough to drive anyone insane.

By the time you’ve traveled to your destination and back again, you may find yourself thinking that vacationing with children is no vacation at all.

If your fast-approaching summer plans are sending you into panic mode, take a deep breath: According to writer Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, summer travel doesn’t have to be complicated.

“No parent wants the fun of vacation to be spoiled by the process of getting there,” says Cortes, who is a featured blogger at Modern Mom as well as co-author of “A Simple Guide to Pregnancy Baby’s First Year.”

A willingness to think ahead

“The good news is, with the right information and a willingness to think ahead, you can put most of your energy toward playing in the pool instead of kid-wrangling on the road,” said Cortes, a mother of two who has a master’s degree in education.

“I’m an American who married an Italian, so my family flies fairly frequently — and we love going to the beach in the summer,” Cortes said. “Over time, I’ve learned a lot of travel-disaster lessons in the School of Hard Knocks — and I’ve also developed some crisis-averting strategies that have turned out to be real lifesavers.”

Whether you’ll be traveling to the seashore, the mountains, grandma’s house or anywhere in between, these eight survival tips should help make your family trip the wonderful adventure it should be:

1. Plan ahead. And plan some more

In other words, make a list and check it twice. Write down everything you’ll need while you’re away from home, and do so as far in advance as possible (then put the list in your suitcase so you can use it as a guideline when you’re repacking to come home).

Give yourself plenty of time to consider your travel schedule and think through all possible scenarios (e.g., Will there be nap times and mealtimes? If so, how many?) and what you’ll need to handle these situations.

2. Travel light(ish)

Yes, this is definitely easier said than done — but it’s not impossible. Cortes advises packing everything you can a day or two before your departure, perhaps while the kids are asleep so that you can focus. Use the list you made earlier and don’t second-guess yourself.

And remember, there are probably plenty of stores at your destination if you forget something.

“I’ve found that one suitcase works for both of my kids,” she continues. “I recommend consolidating as much of your luggage as possible.”

3. Organize your Mary Poppins purse

All moms have mastered the art of traveling with a seemingly bottomless bag. The trick is to do so without contracting “I’m lost in my handbag” syndrome.

First, find a bag with plenty of separate pockets and compartments so that you’ll be able to store documents, snacks, baby gear, disposable moist towels, etc. as opposed to simply throwing them into your bag and hoping for the best. Make sure the things you’ll need most often and/or quickly (such as travel documents, pacifiers, bottles and snacks) are most easily accessible.

4. Give yourself plenty of time

You may be thinking, “Duh! Every amateur knows that!,” but the advice bears repeating. It always takes longer to get out of the house than you think it will.

Traffic jams tend to pop up at the most inconvenient times. Airport lines can be mind-numbingly long. Road construction can force you to take a confusing detour. And you never know when a tantrum or dirty diaper will erupt.

“Leave a half-hour or more earlier than you think you need to,” she said. “Otherwise, you may find yourself in the middle of a meltdown.”

5. Ace airport security

When possible, use the “green circle” lanes, where you will be allowed extra time and assistance to get through the lines. Know the latest TSA regulations and pack your carry-ons accordingly.

The following tips are based on November 2012 guidelines:

— Gels, aerosols, and liquids should fit into one quart-sized clear zipper storage bag per passenger. Maximum container size is 3.4 ounces.

— Liquids like medicine, baby formula/food, breast milk, or juice do not have to be in clear plastic bags, and can be higher than the 3.4-ounce regulation amount. You do have to notify the TSA officer that you are carrying these extra-fluid items.

Have family members wear easy-to-slip-on-and-off shoes, jackets and belts (children under 12 can leave their shoes on). Be sure your little ones aren’t wearing anything metal that could set off beepers.

6. Fill their bellies

What’s worse than a tired baby? A hungry one. Make sure you have plenty of snacks (e.g., infant formula and finger foods) for your little ones to enjoy for the duration of your travel.

If you’re flying, have a baby bottle ready for take-off and landing. Swallowing will help your baby’s ears adjust to pressure changes. For older children, a low-sugar lollipop works great.

7. Make time fly with entertainment

Whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile, chances are you’ll have a lot of downtime to fill. Buy a new toy for the trip, and bring books, an iPad, pacifiers — whatever it takes to keep your children from reaching octave levels that break the sound barrier.

“Having a few ‘new’ things will keep kids occupied longer,” Cortes said. “Be wary of bringing anything that makes too much noise (think of the other passengers and yourself).”

8. Map out your road trip

Just because you may be traveling America’s roads in the trusty family vehicle, that doesn’t mean you should neglect planning. Traveling by car with pint-sized passengers can be just as stressful as flying the friendly skies.

Be sure to have plenty of snacks and toys on hand to keep your children occupied. “Look at your route ahead of time and plan stops at locations that will allow little ones to burn off energy, like a park,” Cortes said.

About the author

Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes wrote “A Simple Guide to Pregnancy Baby’s First Year” with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith.

While she’s a modern-day princess, she comes from modest means and met her Italian Prince Charming (he’s Adriano Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, prince of the Holy Roman Empire) while on scholarship at Pepperdine University. She has worked as a digital strategy consultant.

Cortes and her husband have two children — 3 years old, and 20 months old — who are the latest additions to a 1,000-year lineage that includes kings of Sicily and Spain, Catherine of Aragon, a pope, and a saint.

“Consider her ‘Dear Abby’ with a tiara and a baby sling,’ states her publicity material. Learn more at