Family trip tips

Excited about your family vacation but dreading the actual “travel” part? No matter how you choose to get there, you can say goodbye to travel stress and keep everybody happy en route–here’s how.

Whether you’re getting there by plane, train or automobile, the key to reaching your destination in good spirits is planning ahead. Taking playtime to go is important – it helps to ensure kids are busy and content. Bring easy-to-pack toys, books on CD, a favourite stuffed animal or pocket books.

And keep little hands occupied – and tummies full – with regular snacks. Pack plenty of nutritious, hassle-free goodies, such as sliced fruit, crackers, single servings of applesauce and low-fat, low-sugar granola bars. Remember to pack water and juice boxes, too.

Here are some other hassle-free tips for all types of travel:

In the car

Seating solutions

Kids are safest in the rear seat of your car and proper installation of child restraints is essential. Make sure your child sits properly buckled into a seat appropriate for his age and weight according to the four stages of child safety in vehicles as follows:

Stage 1: Rear-facing infant seat (suitable for an infant up to at least one year of age and at least 20 pounds)

Stage 2: Forward-facing child seat (children up to at least 40 pounds)

Stage 3: Booster Seat (children up to 80 pounds; ensure the booster seat works with the vehicle’s seat belts)

Stage 4: Seat belt (children who are over 36 kg (80 pounds), around eight years of age, and have grown enough to use the seat belt)

For detailed information on safety standards, click through to Transport Canada’s guidelines (

Health hints

Motion sickness is the number 1 car complaint by kids. If your children aren’t old enough to tell you they’re carsick, look for signs. “They may suddenly get quiet, seem tired, look pale and have dark circles under their eyes,” says Dr. Mia Lang, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “Just before they throw up, some young children may drool a bit.” An open window, a smoke-free car, a window seat and frequent walk-around breaks can help. If you know your child gets carsick, give him Gravol 30 minutes before you leave, says Lang. (Ask your Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacist for an appropriate dose based on your child’s weight.)

Activity ideas

Treat the trip as an adventure, rather than just a means of reaching your destination. For example, stop to find parks and eat outside, sing lots of goofy songs, and make up stories about things you see along the way.

On the plane

Health hints

Takeoff and landing can be tough on little ears. “Landing is usually longer, so it can be the most painful type of sensation,” says Lang. To reduce pain, get infants and toddlers to swallow to unblock their ears by giving them a drink.

Seating solutions

Children younger than two can travel for free if they sit on your lap, which means you're responsible for restraining them during the flight. For older children, seat them closer to the window so they don't burst into the aisle. Also, try to book front-row seats because they have more legroom.

Activity ideas

It helps to bring things to keep them busy – colouring books and crayons, books and stickers. Taking a night flight means toddlers might sleep for most of the trip.

On the train

Health hints

Trains don't seem to provoke ill feelings in kids the way cars and planes do. Lang says it's likely because a train has large windows, space to move around and better ventilation.

Seating solutions

Trains can be quite comfortable for long trips. There's often a family seating area you can reserve with four seats and enough space for legs. Sleeper rooms may be available for overnight trips. 

Activity ideas 

The nice thing about trains is that you can get up and stretch your legs when you need to. Toddlers love being able to move around and explore their environments.