Travelling with children can be a wonderful experience, full of ‘Kodak moments’ and memory making. It can also be a challenge, especially if you have a particularly anxious child.
We backpacked for a year around Asia with our three children aged 6, 5 and 2, and we came up with a ton of hacks to help anxious children travel happily and smoothly.
Prepare Your Child Before You Travel
Talking to your child about what to expect from the trip is an essential part of avoiding meltdowns. Ensure that you communicate to your child the overall idea of the trip, for example let them know that you’ll be going on an aeroplane, staying at two different hotels near the beach and going on a boat trip.
Make sure that you also do micro-prep before each stage of the trip. One thing we found was prone to creating stress was airports- they are busy, rushed, noisy places and involve a lot of walking.
This can add up to sensory overload for an anxious child, so let them know the process (even better, write or draw it for them) so they know that they can expect check in, then security, then a bite to eat, then a walk to the gate before boarding.
Depending on the age of your child they may also want to know what your plan is if one of you needs medical attention, or they may have concerns about dangerous animals for example. Ask them if they have any worries that you can address before you start your trip and let them know they can ask at any time if something is bothering them.
Get Them Involved In Creating The Trip
Ask your child if there is something they’d particularly like to do on the trip. They might have preconceived ideas about your destination and what they would like to see or do- for example rent a surfboard or see local animals.
Engaging your child in the planning of your trip gives them an element of control that will help lessen anxiety around the trip. Having them look at a map of where you are going can also be useful to help them imagine and start to process the trip.
Get Sensory Aids
A lot of anxious children find that they are easily bothered by different sensations. They may get overwhelmed with noise, or be prone to tired meltdowns after physical activity.
We found that for smaller anxious children, strapping them into a stroller and providing them with headphones for airports was very helpful. This took out the sensory issues of noise and physical overstimulation; it also meant we had one less child who might wander off in the airport crowds!
Set Your Budget
Expectations are much more easily managed if you know how much money you have to spend and can communicate that to your child. Giving them some pocket money can help them focus on something and give them something to look forward to during the change and stress of a trip.
We travelled with a travel credit card and used the international money transfer app to ensure that we had sufficient access to funds no matter where we were in the world.
Pack Familiar Food
A change in diet can be stressful even for adults- packing familiar foods such as pre-packed snacks is essential for travelling with anxious children, and especially if you are travelling somewhere with very different cuisine.
Pack a lollipop for children to suck on the aeroplane to aid with ear pressure during takeoff and landing, and have familiar snacks with you for the duration of the trip. Snacks can also be a way of killing time- thread Cheerios on a string, pack small boxes of raisins or flakes of dried fruit for snacks that will take a while to eat!
Give Children a ‘Job’ While Travelling.
Give anxious children a way to engage with their surroundings can be very grounding and helpful in a new place. We found that having our kids either keep a journal (drawing or writing about what they did and saw each day), or take photographs, was a great way to both document the trip and give them something to focus on. Have them research what kind of nature is in each country to give them something to look out for.
Don’t Plan Too Much
Go slow, is the advice I would give any parent travelling with anxious children. Hopping from place to place can be overwhelming for kids and doesn’t give you the time to make the most of each place. Thoroughly research your intended destination to find somewhere that can provide a lot of what you are looking for in a trip rather than moving around a lot.
For example, we found that Bali and Thailand are great one-stop-shops for beautiful scenery, amazing beaches, sunshine, great food, friendly people and seeing amazing animals and nature (check our our blog posts from both of those countries!).
I hope that this guide to travelling with anxious children will help you plan a smooth and happy travel experience for your whole family.