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How to have a stress-free trip with kids

Two weeks before a Maui trip, my daughter, Kate, who was 3 at the time, broke her arm. Once we knew she was okay, my next question was, "What about our vacation?" 

Kate's pre-trip mishap helped us prepare for the one travel constant: change. Traveling with kids requires agility, flexibility, and an ability to laugh through tears (theirs and yours). The following tips I've learned might help you on family flights and vacations this summer.

1. Put yourself first

Just as you should put on your oxygen mask before your child's, tend to your needs when traveling. Packing the kid chow is easy to remember, but unless you can survive on gummy bears and apple juice, bring grown-up fuel, too.

Carry extra clothes for the little travelers, but tuck in a change for yourself and anyone else who might be within spit-up distance during a flight. Allow only toys that won't annoy you (or others) and bring games you can play together. My son and I passed the time on a recent flight playing Dual! (free on Google Play and iTunes) on our smartphones. I even won a few times. 

2. Shop together

Allow little ones to pick out a few of their own travel snacks. You don't want to overdo the sugar or messy stuff, but this isn't the time to be too militant about recommended daily vegetable servings (no one wants broccoli on an airplane). 

3. Listen up

Give kids a break from movies and video games by plugging them into a podcast or audiobook. My niece, who travels frequently with her toddler between New Zealand and the U.S., recommends "Stories Podcast" and the science-focused "Brains On!"-both of which are free to download.   

4. Pick up free souvenirs

My parenting-magazine editor friend offers this creative tip: Swing by the hotel front desk, where youngsters can grab brochures and colorful maps. They can use the maps to help you navigate around the city and later can use the brochures to illustrate their travel journals. Bonus: You'll have a head start on what-I-did-on-my-vacation school projects. 

5. Get crafty

A friend recently kept her 5-year-old engaged on a cross-country flight by folding the in-flight magazine into a Christmas tree craft (Pinterest and have the how-tos as well as ideas for other TSA-friendly creations). You and your little crafter can add paint and glitter later. 

6. Pack headphones for all

Noise-canceling headphones create a spa-like environment where parents or kids can retreat to read, sleep, or watch a movie without the constant whoosh of the jet engine. Of course, that doesn't work for babies, but a peace offering of cheap foam earplugs for your seatmates is a good icebreaker. 

7. Keep it routine

For those long international flights, try to mimic the home schedule. When it's "bedtime," slip the kids into jammies, read a story (limit the screens at this time), and snuggle down. Hopefully, they'll awake refreshed and ready to dress and prepare their seatbacks and tray tables for landing.   

Writer Carolyn Graham, a frequent traveler and contributor to Westways, has two children. 

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