Tripping up: Tips for families who love to travel

Laura Snow, of Waverley, N.S., is a freelance writer and mom to two daughters, ages 12 and 14. She and her husband started taking their children on trips with them when they were infants. She says that by now they have experienced almost every travel challenge you could imagine.

“We have been stuck in traffic for three hours in New Jersey when the girls were nine and 11, got lost in Ontario using my car's outdated GPS when they were 10 and 12, have had car diaper explosions and delayed flights,” Snow says.

Her favourite story involves forgetting her youngest daughter’s blanket at the airport when the family was travelling to Florida to visit her grandmother. “We called and called but no one could find it,” Snow says. “[My daughter] wasn't going to sleep well without it so my grandmother and I went to Walmart, bought stuffing and material and hand sewed her a new one.”

They’ve been all over North America together; Snow says the biggest lesson they have learned is to approach travel challenges with a calm attitude.“Plans change often when you're travelling with kids,” she says. “It's best to learn to go with the flow.”

This approach has taught their children to be adaptable in unexpected situations. But, for many children, trips to unfamiliar places, using unfamiliar methods of transportation, trigger stress and anxiety.

Dr. Anna Campbell, a registered clinical psychologist at the IWK Health Centre, has some suggestions on how to prepare children. She says families should start by with having a conversation about the trip.

She suggests reviewing the different things that will happen while travelling can help reduce anxiety about unfamiliar events and situations. “Often, when kids are anxious, they may generate lots of possible, and often unlikely, negative scenarios,” she says. “Once parents are aware of the worries that are fueling the anxiety, they cantalk to their children about other possible outcomes, how they may cope with feared scenarios, and help them develop some calming statements.”

Gradually exposing the child to the source of their fear can help, too, such as visits to the airport to see planes taking off and landing or looking at photos and videos of their destination.