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Parenting Guide: Family Fun

Now that school is out, many families are looking into summer vacation options. Living in Central Florida offers an abundance of choices for staycations, as well as easy access to cruising ports. Road trips and air travel allow families to explore areas outside of their everyday lives. Whatever the selection, traveling as a family has many advantages and can help create precious lifelong memories for all.

Jaclyn Rhoads—an independent travel agent at Heart of the Magic Travel and mom of three kids, (ages 9, 6 and 3)—recognizes the positive impact travel can have on young children. “Travel not only helps create core memories for families but provides a sense of independence and so many learning opportunities.” She recalls, “My mom planned so many trips for us when we were younger, living in Massachusetts, and many were just in nearby states. Sometimes I thought visiting a factory or historical site was boring, but she helped history come alive for us and when I encountered a certain location in my studies, I could recollect being there and what I learned during our travels. It’s something I am excited to help our children experience.”

Many families who were hesitant to travel over the past two years due to the pandemic are feeling more confident to take vacations, particularly trips requiring air travel due to vaccine accessibility and the fact that many COVID restrictions have been lifted. This past spring, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it would no longer enforce the use of face masks on public transportation and at transportation hubs, and just last month the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ended its requirement that air passengers traveling from a foreign country to the U.S. show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test before their flight.

Of her clients’ desire to travel, Rhoads notes, “There was hesitation in early 2022, but I’m seeing my guests wanting to try new things and go even further to other countries with families. There are more international family-friendly, all-inclusive resorts and they are filled. I have families going on cruises to Europe with elementary kids. I have more Florida families heading to Disneyland to see what California offers and many families coming here to Orlando with extended family members to experience all of our wonderful adventures.”

First-Time Flyers

Traveling on a plane for the first time can be an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking experience for young children. Experts suggest speaking to your children ahead of the travel day in order to best prepare them for what to expect and lessen any fears.

Many airlines allow for children under 2 to travel on the lap of an accompanying adult for free. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges parents to secure their child in a government-approved child safety restraint system (CRS) during a flight versus lap sitting. It is important to note that not all car seats are approved for use on an airplane. The CRS must be government approved and printed with a certification that reads, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” Otherwise, you may be asked to check the CRS as baggage. Aside from safety, Rhoads sees additional advantages to traveling with a CRS. “A car seat can help them feel more secure and also boosts them higher up to see out the window. An attached cup holder helps as well,” she says.

For air travel, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends packing a bag of toys and snacks to keep your child occupied during the flight. This will not only distract your child but help keep them quiet, to the delight of your fellow passengers. In order to decrease ear pain during descent, the AAP suggests encouraging your infant to nurse or suck on a bottle. For older children, chewing gum or drinking liquids with a straw may help.

Rhoads was well-prepared for a recent trip her family took: “We just had our first airplane ride for our youngest two, and we were ready with snacks, including gummies and chewy candy to help with ear pressure. We brought their empty water bottles through security rather than depending on airline cups.” Rhoads says that when it comes to keeping kids occupied on a plane, “headphones are a must as well as a tablet and external battery.” She adds that the key things to have on a flight with a small child are “a small pillow or blanket, favorite toy, spare clothing and patience.”

For those local families wanting to get away without having to fly or take a long road trip, Rhoads recommends cruising. “I love cruises for Florida families. We always joke that the vacation begins when Dad closes the trunk because at the port, they take out the luggage for us. Entertainment, food and your hotel are all steps away and there’s something for everyone. There’s no need to fly, rent a car or have car seats lugged around when Floridians cruise.”

No matter your destination or style of travel, it is essential to remember these important pieces of advice when traveling with small children: Create a sensible budget, set realistic goals, allow some wiggle room for things like weather and traffic, and most of all, have fun. As Rhoads says, “We get 18 summers with our kids and we lost two of them in some aspects. Take the trip! Make the memories!”