Natural remedies for travelling with young children

Travelling with young children; You’ve saved for this holiday. You NEED this holiday. You’re aching to get there, away, where everything will be good. But: children…

This is going be a hard trip. And a challenging holiday. Worth it? Sure. Relaxing? Not so much.

Don’t worry.

There are simple, natural and effective things you can do to make your trip – and your holiday – go smoothly.

First: remove the pain and discomfort

Other parents will deluge you with conflicting advice. Travel when they sleep! Never travel during nap time! Have a bag full of toys! Never overstimulate them, keep it simple!

In this blog, we break it down into one simple premise: remove pain and discomfort. Plan ahead to manage the multitude of pains and discomforts of travel with young kids. And then you’re in a much better position to truly enjoy your holiday.
What are the main sources of pain and discomfort when travelling with young kids?

Travel sickness. Disrupted sleep. Ear pain (especially on planes). Behaviour in public. Boredom. Overstimulation. Lack of routine.

We take these one at a time.

Travel sickness: natural remedies for young children

For babies, the main aim is to keep them hydrated. Some babies will want to feed constantly, others will be extra picky.
For toddlers and young children, try some of these natural strategies:

  • Keep them hydrated, and have light snacks on hand. A tummy that’s too full or too empty can make it worse.
  • Try essential oils. A few drops of lavender or peppermint oil on a hanky can help.
  • Try acupressure bands. These use pressure on a certain point on the wrist that’s found to reduce nausea. Explain to your child how it works, so they don’t keep taking it off.
  • Ginger: find some ginger chews, or even some ginger cookies with real ginger powder.
  • If car travelling, open the windows as often as possible, or take lots of breaks. Fresh air really helps.
  • For road travel (car, bus or train), encourage them to look at the window. Even better, get them to look at a fairly stationary object, like the horizon, or a far off hill. Looking down at a book or device makes it worse, as does looking at objects which fly by quickly.
  • Slow, deep breathing can help reduce nausea and refocus their attention to something they can control.

Aeroplane ear: helping little ones cope with ear pain when flying

Ear pain caused by the change in air pressure on take off and landing can be excruciating for little ones. In addition, if they have a cold (and keep in mind preschool age kids get around 9 to 12 colds a year!) the pain can be even worse due to congestion in the ear canal.

While you can’t make the pain go away entirely, there are some safe and natural remedies which can help reduce the pain:

1. Swallowing

Encourage your child to swallow regularly. For younger babies, try to give them a feed them on take off and landing; especially that long descent which seems to be harder on little ears.

For older babies and toddlers, offer plenty of diluted juice and water. For older children, let them suck on a lolly, or if old enough, let them chew gum.

2. Yawning

This simple trick can help the ears “pop” to equalise the air pressure. It has the added benefit of stimulating a relaxation response. The contagious nature of yawns means that often all you have to do is yawn next to your little one to set them yawning too.

3. Ear plugs

You can get ear plugs for children aged one and above. These are non-medicated and sit snug inside your child’s ears. The trick is to put them in an hour before take off or landing. They prevent the air pressure from building up in the ear. Just make sure they don’t fiddle around with them or try to take them out.

Have a practice run at home with the ear plugs, so they get used to the feeling.

4. To blow or not to blow

The trick of closing your mouth and holding your nose while blowing into your nose is a much loved strategy for many regular fliers. It’s called the “Valsalva manoeuvre” and it can help equalise the pressure in your ears.

However: if done too harshly, it can tear the ear drum. Be careful with suggesting this manoeuvre to young kids, and only recommend for older ones if they’re old enough to understand how to do it very gently.

The power of familiar smells

Smells can transform your child’s mood when travelling. A comforting, happy smell can reassure them when they’re unsettled or anxious.

Have you ever been away from home, and come across a familiar smell, such as cookies baking, or the perfume your mum wears?
It can have a profound emotional impact.

Bring items with familiar smells that they associate with you and happy times. Bring the same baby moisturiser for after their bath, or use the same baby shampoo or baby sunscreen that you use at home.

Sleep: the most important element of happy travel with kids

The importance of sleep cannot be overestimated when travelling with kids – both en route and once you’re there. Overtired kids = miserable holiday for the whole family.

Tips for sleep when en route

Don’t make the mistake of trying to make them tired so they sleep on the road or in the air. Well-rested children sleep better.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice whether you should time long trips around their sleep time, that is, to aim to travel at night. In the end, it depends on your child. Do they fall asleep easily at home? Or does the slightest change keep them up? You don’t want to be driving at night with an overtired and emotional toddler.

Tips for sleep when you arrive

You’ve finally arrived and you’re so ready to hit the sack. But they can’t. The light’s wrong. The blanket’s scratchy. There are weird noises outside. Their sibling is noisy/ annoying/ kicking/ giggling/ snoring/ smelly.

Finally asleep, they wake up in the middle of the night freaked out at being in new place. Everyone’s cranky.

Fortunately, there are tried and proven strategies you can use to boost their sleep quota:

  • Start well rested. In the days before your trip, prioritise calm evenings and a good night’s sleep
  • In the new place, follow the same bedtime routine as home. If you do a massage after their bath with natural baby massage oil,    then do the same in the new place.
  • Always bring favourite bedtime objects. Space is a premium when you’re packing, but do everything you can to fit in that essential blankey/bear/pillow. You’ll regret it at midnight otherwise.

Entertainment: or should that be “engagement”

Sure, your children shouldn’t expect you to keep them entertained the entire trip, but the truth is that your trip will go a lot more smoothly if they have enough things to pass the time.

For very young children, sometimes all they’ll need is their lovey or comfort toy. They’ll want easy, uncomplicated, familiar activities.

If you’re in the car, you can get travel lap trays with little pockets for snacks or toys, so you’re not contorting yourself into knots trying to pick desperately needed items off the car floor.

If you’re travelling by plane, offer younger kids just one toy at a time. You might have a whole bag full of toys at your disposal, but don’t hand them over all at once. They’ll feel both overwhelmed with the choice and underwhelmed with the novelty.

And don’t forget music. Give them ear phones for their own personal music selection, or if you’re in the car, music for a singalong can clear the whininess and create a positive energy. Yes, even Frozen if you have to. Let it go!!!

It’s all about the rhythms

When you’re away from home, routines get disrupted. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it can be fun to go out after dinner, or eat breakfast in bed. However, young kids especially need familiar rhythms to feel safe.

Plus, little kids (and often big kids) find it hard to cope with lots of excitement all at once. It either overstimulates them or drains them.

Think about your daily rhythms on holiday in terms of breathing out and breathing in. For every “up” and stimulating activity, follow with a “down” and relaxing activity. Depending on the personality of your child, this could mean structured followed by unstructured, or sociable followed by solitary.

Managing expectations: yours and theirs

So much pain can be avoided simply by shifting your expectations – and theirs, depending on their age.

Their expectations

  • Tell them what will change, what will be the same, especially the sleeping arrangements.
  • Explain what will happen while you’re there. Focus on the fun as well as the domestic (“we’ll be able to go to the beach, or we’ll meet your cousins who are the same age as you”)
  • If travelling in public (eg on a plane and at the airport), tell them what’s allowed and not. For example, “You can turn around in your seat but you can’t kick the seat in front.”

Your expectations

  • Keep it simple. What’s the main aim of this trip? Is it to spend time together as a family? Meet the rellies? See the XYZ? Then focus on that. Anything is a bonus and fully negotiable.

And the final “natural remedy” for travelling with kids? Empathy. It’s free and it’s powerful and it could make all the difference. Travel is stressful for you, and it’s at times scary and frustrating for them. Be gentle with yourself, and with your children.

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