Summertime also means vacation time. Unfortunately, we can’t exactly take a vacation from being parents. And while we love our kids, they can also drive us crazy at times. Spending hours or days together in a confined or unfamiliar space seems like a recipe for disaster, but it doesn’t have to be.

Road trip tips

Road trips can be a great bonding experience for your family. They can also be challenging. By using some simple tips and games, you can achieve a great road trip experience. Games are an amazing tool to distract and occupy bored kids.

Slugbug is a classic road-trip game. In the original form, the first one who sees a VW Beetle car yells “slug-bug” and playfully hits the person of their choice. Everyone then returns to watching for another VW Beetle on the road. If you want to avoid playful hitting, you can offer a small reward instead. This could be a small treat like a marshmallow or a non-food item like the right to choose the next song to play.

For those with children who can read, the out-of-state license plate game can be a great way to keep them occupied. The goal of the game is to see how many different out-of-state license plates your family can find on your trip, and attempt to find a car from all 50 states. Unless you are going on a cross-country road-trip this is almost impossible to complete. That said, it will keep your kids distracted looking at license plates for a while.

An easier version of the previous game is the alphabet game. This is when everyone works together to find the next letter in the alphabet beginning with A and ending with Z. You can find letters on road signs, license plates, bumper stickers, and advertisements. Letters cannot be found inside the car. This is especially good for kids that have just started reading and can recognize letters more quickly than words.

You can also challenge your older children to create vacation haikus. A haiku is a short poem consisting of 3 lines. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven, and the third line has five. They do not need to rhyme. An example of a haiku would be:

Vacations are fun, (five syllables)

But it can be hard with kids, (seven syllables)

So let’s play some games! (five syllables)

Be sure to keep pacing in mind while planning your trips. A twelve-hour car ride is hard but doable. Managing three twelve-hour car rides in a row is probably not realistic for most kids. This is especially true when you take into account the increased stops kids need throughout the day for things like food, a bathroom, or a moment to run around. As much as possible, try to remain flexible with timelines and expectations.

Don’t forget, no road trip is complete without an awesome playlist. So before you go, spend a few minutes pulling together all the family favorites onto a phone or MP3 player. Singing loudly — and sometimes badly — together while cruising down the highway can be an amazing experience to cherish.

Flight tips

Flights are always tricky with kids. Flights can be cramped and long and scary, so it’s not surprising that kids often struggle to fly well. By speaking with them before the trip, and explaining what it will be like to go through security and be on the plane, you may be able to avoid some of the anxiety that flying can cause.

When traveling by plane, be sure to keep several copies of the important paperwork with you, packed in different places. This is especially important if traveling abroad. Copies of passports, birth certificates, and important medical records are all crucial things to have.

For small children, prepare them for security while waiting in line. Remove jackets and shoes if needed and place them in a bag, remember to empty pockets, and empty the contents of bottles and sippy cups. If possible let them watch the process while waiting and explain how it works. Help them frame the experience as exciting and cool instead of scary and hard.

Most planes have some form of an in-flight entertainment system. This can be an easy method to help your kids stay calm and avoid too much fidgeting. Other quality in-flight activities include things like books, puzzle books, and mad libs. Flights are also a good time to challenge older children to create haikus.

If flying with infants, try to keep them on their normal sleep schedule. This helps prevent mid-flight meltdowns and makes the experience more pleasant for everyone. Bring a couple of new toys and a couple of familiar and loved ones to keep your child entertained. To help with ear popping and discomfort, plan to either feed your baby or give them a pacifier to suck on. If they are still irritated you can gently massage their ears to help relieve discomfort.

Whether you are flying or driving, finding ways to keep as many of the normal routines as possible will help everything go more smoothly. While we should expect our children to behave well most of the time, keep in mind that even fun vacations are a kind of stress for your kids. New places, new foods, and new experiences can start to feel overwhelming. Additionally, kids often get less sleep and eat more sugar on vacation which also interferes with their moods. If they are really struggling, they probably need some downtime. Meaning time with fewer expectations and more of their normal routine.

Choose to focus only on the small, funny, enjoyable parts of your trip and you’ll end up with great memories to cherish.