I love Thanksgiving—the constant snacking, no pressure to buy gifts, the kick-off to the holiday season, all of it. What I don’t love, especially when my kids were young, are the Thanksgiving travel hassles. Traveling with young kids can be difficult under the best of circumstances; add the holiday rush and I’m sweating just thinking about it. But there are ways to ease the stress and challenges, and we’ve gathered up some of the best Thanksgiving travel tips for families with young kids.
8 Thanksgiving travel tips when traveling with kids
1. Get to the airport early – but not too early
Melanie Lieberman, senior features editor at travel site The Points Guy, told TODAY that she recommends arriving at the airport three hours before your flight. But when we’ve got young kids with you, you don’t want to spend more time than necessary at the airport. You can cut down on the airport wait by enrolling in TSA PreCheck or Clear, two programs that allow travelers to bypass long lines and skip certain security measures, such as removing your shoes.
2. Leave a few days before Thanksgiving
Better yet, if you’re able to leave a week early, do it. The day before Thanksgiving is well-known as the busiest travel day of the year, but the entire week of Thanksgiving can be pretty busy. If you’re able to leave a week early, you can likely snag some deals on airfare. If you’re not flying, driving on a weekday will save some time on the road.
3. Reconsider how you pre-board
People often suggest pre-boarding with young kids, but travel expert and mom Samantha Brown has a different—and genius—idea. In this viral Instagram post, she recommends having one parent use the pre-board option to get all the extra travel gear (stroller, bags, carry-ons, etc.) onto the plane while the other parent walks around with the kids in the gate area until the very last zone boards.
“If you use the pre-board, your child is sitting in the plane for a good 45 minutes more than the flight time and this is a really stressful time for kids,” Samantha Brown recommends. “Use the pre-board only to board stuff, leave the kids last.”
4. Get creative with travel activities
Thanksgiving travel can be loooong—the more distractions you have, the better. Don’t feel guilty about more screen-time than your kids would usually have in a day. The struggle is real and there’s no judgment here. When screens aren’t enough to keep your kids entertained, check out these screen-free activities that are great for family road trips and airplane flights.
5. Take the scenic route
If you can spare a few extra hours on the road, consider an alternate route. Taking less-traveled roads might be a longer route, but you can avoid the stress of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the expressway.
6. Don’t forget the duct tape – yes, duct tape!
If Thanksgiving travel includes a hotel or a few nights at Grandma’s house where things might not be childproofed, Samantha Brown has some more travel advice. Her solution? Duct tape! You can use it to tape up dangling cords on window shades, tape over electrical outlets, and cover up sharp corners on furniture. What a genius idea.
7. Get your family involved in travel prep
Repeat after me: delegate it and forget it. Your partner is capable of helping with travel prep. Your kids can pack for themselves (or some things for themselves anyway). You don’t have to do it alone, mama.
8. Don’t feel guilty about prioritizing your child’s sleep schedule
Not everyone understands just how important it is for some kids (and parents) to stick to a sleep schedule. But your baby’s needs don’t change just because it’s Thanksgiving. Folks might give you a hard time for being late to Thanksgiving dinner, or you might catch flack for leaving early. You might get passive-aggressive comments that make you feel guilty for inconveniencing others. Do not feel guilty. Your child won’t always need rigid sleep routines. Grandparents will (likely) get over it. As they say, this too shall pass. In the meantime, do what you need to do to take care of your child’s (and your) health and wellbeing.
Thanksgiving travel with kids can be stressful under the best of circumstances. When you look back, however, they might be some of the best childhood memories for you and your kids. If not, at least, they’re will be a funny story. So embrace the chaos, pack your patience—and some good earplugs—you got this.