Every parent dreams of that homerun holiday vacation. But when you have to travel to meet with friends and family, that time of reconnection and giving thanks can turn into a hectic blur of worry over safety, logistics, entertaining the kids – and, of course, getting there on time.
This Thanksgiving, 1.34 million Michiganders are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from home, according to the AAA Michigan travel forecast. Most – 88 percent – will be going by car, while 8 percent plan to fly. Another 3 percent will take a train or bus.
If you plan on joining the crowd, being prepared for your trip may be the best way to make sure the whole family remains sane – and to eliminate those scary what-if scenarios that only make traveling more stressful.
Where you're going, how you plan to get there and the ages of your children all play a part in how you should mentally and physically prepare for your trip.
Remember, if your plans involve packing everyone in the van to reach your destination, there's a good chance you won't be driving in the most ideal weather and road conditions. This is the Midwest, after all!
"Wherever you are going, take it slow," says Eileen Ogintz, the author of a successful family travel blog called Taking the Kids based out of Connecticut.
"Make sure your cell phone is charged and relatives know what time to expect you," she says. "They can call for help if they don't hear from you on time."
The next time you're at the pet store or grocery store, consider buying a jug of non-clumping kitty litter. Lighter than salt, it can be just as effective in getting your car out of a icy or muddy spot, according to AAA. Just place it under the wheels and it should provide enough traction.
Naps and pit stops
Sophia Sboukis of Clinton Township has done her fair share of traveling with her 2 1/2 year old daughter, now a "well-seasoned traveler."
"Try to stay on schedule," Sboukis say. "Keep naps the same and bedtime as close to the same as possible."
Stopping along the way also reduces stress, in her experience. "Everyone just wants to arrive there, but the extra 20 or 30 minutes will not change the big picture – but it can dramatically change the short-term and make everyone happier."
When there's a plane
The unknown variables of traveling will of course change if you're headed for the airport to catch a flight.
"Many families flying this time of year don't travel by air frequently or at all, and are flummoxed from the time they get to the airport," says Ogintz.
A main concern for parents is the possibility of not being able to sit by their kids. If this happens, Ogintz suggests a calm plan of action.
"Offer to swap your good seat" with the other flyer, she suggests. "And don't hesitate to ask the flight attendant for help."
Oftentimes, if the attendants are helpful, they may offer the other person a free drink for their cooperation in switching seats, she adds.
Other tips and tricks
Veteran family traveler Mona Shand of Brighton also has a few tips for air travel with the kids.
"Packing as much food as possible helps avoid the junk in airports," she says, "and keeps a sense of continuity, as well."
Shand always brings along some activities for the kids, like new coloring books, which are easy to pack and inexpensive, and new movies to distract them from the time.
You'll be very lucky if you don't hit a few speed bumps or patches of black ice on your way to your holiday destination, but don't let it ruin your trip.
"Lastly, lower your expectations," says Sboukis. "Little ones are not able to rationalize late planes or traffic. Keep a smile, look at the bright side, try to find diversions along the way – and enjoy the getting there as much as the being there."