Here are some ideas to keep your cool and have fun this holiday seaso

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency

Take a deep breath! However you are traveling this holiday season – planes, cars, buses, cruise ships, trains, it’s going to be crowded, and stressful. That’s not even adding kids and the prospect of seeing your least favorite relatives into the mix.

The good news is there are ways to de-stress the experience (not so much seeing the annoying relatives…)

Allow plenty of time — more time than you think you need. Fly on the day before the cruise; leave for the airport extra early. It will take you longer to park and get through security (even if you have TSA PreCheck or Clear). Allow extra time for your road trip too. Remember, there might be construction, bad weather or an accident. You don’t want to be worrying the entire way about missing the holiday dinner!

TSA precheck fast lane line before security at Reagan National Airport
TSA precheck fast lane line before security at Reagan National Airport

If you are driving, make sure the kids’ safety seats are installed properly. Seems a no- brainer but according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 60 percent are not installed correctly or correctly used. Certified technicians are available across the country to help.

Be prepared for delays with portable chargers, snacks, water bottles, blankets and pillows for the kids. Do you have a roadside assistance plan? A first- aid kit for the car? Jumper cables in case your battery dies? Yes, that happened to us with three tired kids when our car wouldn’t start at the airport after Thanksgiving with the family. AAA suggests stopping at least every couple of hours and avoiding traveling through major cities at peak travel times – that means leave early in the morning or after the morning commute.

I know it is an extra expense, but if you are flying with babies and toddlers, buy them a seat, the Federal Aviation Administration urges. The safest place for your child under the age of two on a U.S. airplane is in an approved child restraint system (CRS) or device, not in your lap, the FAA says. Your arms aren’t capable of holding your in-lap child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence, which is the number one cause of pediatric injuries on an airplane.

Besides safety, you – and your baby – will be a lot more comfortable during the flight. If you can, travel with carry-on bags or at least enough clothing in case your bags get lost. (Yes, that’s happened to me too.) Are you flying for the first time with a toddler or preschooler? Remind them they are going to have to put their “lovey” through the X- ray screener so it can get a picture taken. You’d be surprised how many young kids get upset at the prospect — and hold up the line in the process.

Another tip: If you have time, pack (empty) reusable water bottles for everyone, as well as sandwiches. You will save a lot of time — and money if you aren’t waiting to get mediocre airport food, especially when the kids are starving. A few treats for when the going gets rough will always be appreciated as will a new toy. (Just choose one without too many pieces. I’ve made the mistake of bringing tiny LEGOS.)

Even if you have booked seats together, a change of aircraft might mess up those plans. However, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a parent who purchases airline tickets for a family should receive a guarantee from the airline that it will seat the parent and child together without fees or a last-minute scramble at the gate or having to ask other passengers to give up their seat to allow the parent and child to sit together. You can check this DOT dashboard to see if your airline has made the commitment to give children 13 and younger adjacent seats to the accompanying adult. Many major airlines have.

If you are sending a child or teen on a flight solo to visit a divorced parent, make sure they know what to do if they miss the connecting flight or it’s canceled. Yes, the airlines charge a hefty premium for looking after your kids but there have been cases where they have been left to fend for themselves. That’s especially true for young teens who aren’t identified as unaccompanied minors. Make sure they know how to speak up and tell the flight attendants they are alone. Make sure they have the phone numbers for those who are supposed to meet them and a cash card for snacks. Whenever possible, send them on nonstop flights.

There is less chance of cancellations. It’s also smart to book refundable flights and hotels. They may cost more but you’ll experience fewer hassles in case of delays.

Whatever happens, don’t yell at the gate agents and flight attendants. They are doing their best. Another tip: While you are waiting in that long line to rebook, reach out to the airline on social media. You may well get a faster response.

It goes without saying if the weather is terrible, consider delaying your trip, AAA suggests. Airlines typically will allow you to change flights without charge. Avoid driving when you are tired and slow down when the weather is bad — allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front, AAA says. When possible, park facing east the night before. This will allow the sun to start melting the snow or ice first thing in the morning. Removing snow and ice from your vehicle is important. Driving with snow cascading from your car’s roof can limit visibility for others on the road, putting them in danger. It is even a traffic violation in some states.

AAA Mobile app logo on a smartphone screen
AAA Mobile app logo on a smartphone screen

Do you know what black ice is? Black ice forms when liquid on an otherwise clear roadway freezes as temperatures drop. Pavement covered in black ice may be a little darker and duller than the rest of the road surface. Be extra careful, especially on shaded areas, bridges and overpasses that freeze first and melt last, AAA says.

Wishing you less stress-free holiday travels.

(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The fourth edition of The Kid’s Guide to New York City and the third edition of The Kid’s Guide to Washington D.C. are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2023 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.