You may have dreams of stockings hung by the chimney with care and beaming Hallmark-card moments of family time, but the reality may be different. Travelling with kids is never easy. Add in the hoopla over gifts, visiting relatives and too much sweets, your trip just got a lot harder.
There have been very few years where we spend Christmas at home. We usually travel to my parents or my parents-in-law because the rest of our respective families live close to them. Amidst all the excitement and disturbed schedules, I need to make sure my kids don’t behave like they were raised by wolves in front of the extended family. With all these points in mind, here is my survival guide for a stress free Christmas while visiting family.
Be Prepared For the Journey
For end of year travel with the kids, I am a big fan of the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
The Christmas/New Year’s holidays are among the busiest times of the year on the roads and at the airports. I don’t know how parents survived holiday travel without electronic entertainment. So here are some family travel tech tips to get you to your Christmas destination with your sanity intact.
Christmas Car Trips
If you are doing a road trip, I am a big fan of the Native Union charging cable. At four feet long, the cable easily reaches the back of the car without getting tangled. In addition, the Native Union charging cable is reinforced with fibre so it doesn’t break like so often happens with Apple cables.
Christmas Plane Trips
If you are flying, I highly recommend taking portable power. Sure, the flight may be only a few hours which means the kids electronics won’t run out of charge. But what if the flight is delayed?? Winter weather can be unpredictable. One Christmas, we were on a plane circling New York city for 4 hours.
Luckily, I’ve had my Mophie Powerstation forever. I keep the 1x in my handbag because it is pretty lightweight and the kids know it is off limits. With its two outlets and eight charges, the 8x Mophie Powerstation should last even the longest of flights and delays.
My nightmare Christmas trip home was the year New York was covered in fog and our plane got diverted to Boston for a few hours before we got to land in Newark. Did the kids notice? Yes, but they were busy with their toys thanks to my Mophie XL so all was calm.
Sure lots of planes have in-seat chargers now but not all of them work. Remember, be prepared.
Whether you are in the car or on a plane, good quality headphones will save your sanity. Of course, there is the concern with little ears and headphones. I’ve found the Puro Sound Labs headphones the best for both volume limits and noise cancellation. We have had cheaper head phones in the past but they always broke. Speaking of damage, the Puro headphones come with a great hardshell case.
As teens, my kids are now addicted to their Apple AirPods.
Keep all of your chargers and other gear in an electronic travel organiser case. It’s handy for packing up, too. When all the cousins get together and everyone has the same electronics, I know exactly what wires we brought because I know what pockets I had filled.
We always have a Christmas tree at home. When the kids were younger, they wanted their large size presents before we left on our trip, but now they are happy to wait for an extra surprise on their return. It’s a way to extend the holiday spirit for a few days!
Take Good Reading Material
Assuming you don’t want your children to stare at a screen for hours on end, physical books are always a good idea. I know some people allow their children to read on Kindles but I personally prefer the good old-fashioned heft of a paper book. And, frankly I don’t trust my kids not to be playing games on their electronics.
Besides, people will leave you alone if you are reading a book because it makes you look like you are busy doing something intelligent. They will ask someone else to run to the supermarket to get that one ingredient that’s missing – although you may want the break from the house, remember stores are full of last-minute shoppers who are missing that one ingredient.
My husband hides behind his computer for the same reason I retreat behind a book. Everyone assumes he is doing work because some office in some other time zone is open business. In reality, he is checking BBC Sport.
Cozy Up To The Drinks Cart
Self-medicating with a good holiday drink will keep you jolly and take the edge off when your misguided relatives insist on talking about Brexit or politics. If you have a teetotal family like mine, a good flask comes in handy (or a water bottle filled with vodka for particularly dysfunctional moments).
I definitely don’t advocate drinking and driving (unless you are just the passenger) which does advocate taking an airplane. And, frankly, holiday time at the airport will drive a saint to drink!
Of course, bringing on a liquor-induced calm is much harder to do the younger your child is. You might want to set up a sober schedule with one of the relatives you like.
In London, it’s perfectly acceptable to take your children to a pub in the United Kingdom! We could make it a family expedition to experience local culture.
Play Board Games
You will need to interact with your family at some point. How about engaging in some friendly competition with board games? It limits conversation, includes the kids and passes the time. That’s a win/win/win. We play some old favourites like Uno, Bananagrams, The London Game and Scrabble.
Of course, there is that old standby Monopoly if you want a game that everyone knows and loves and takes hours to play, forestalling genuine conversation for an extended period of time.
Practice the Art of Calm
Mindfulness is the big trend these days. It seems to have surpassed deep breathing in helping you to remain calm. I’m sure you’ve heard of adult colouring books which help you attain this joyous state of mindfulness.
I also color with my daughter. She takes one page and I take the other page. We have spent many happy hours colouring quietly together. Men aren’t the only ones who can spend time together without conversation.
BTW, colouring is a great way to pass the time on a plane especially colouring together!
My fellow blogger, Suzanne Fluhr, is a zentangle expert who does the most amazing artwork. Zentangle is the art of creating intricate patterns on paper to help you meditate and relax. Her website has a list of books for the beginner who wants to learn to zentangle. I would love to be able to create such amazing patterns but am thinking the Christmas holidays is not the time to start.
A nice walk outside always does wonders for everyone’s spirits. Being cooped up inside a house with too many family members for too long is never a good idea. If nature isn’t your thing, hop in the car and go to your nearest city/suburb and check out the Christmas lights.
If it’s cold, wrap up warm and take your sturdy boots. On the plus side of living in England, at the end of every hike there is always a village with a pub and a roaring fire!
Turn That Frown Upside Down
Studies have shown that smiling makes you feel better and makes everyone else around you feel better.
Take silly photos and have your children take silly photos. Not only will you have a good time but you will make good memories. In years to come, you won’t remember the petty annoyances but instead will remember you had a good time. After all, you have photos that prove your memories right.
In true VSCO girl fashion, my daughter loves her Fujifilm Instax Mini which takes cute Instagram like photos. She can print out the photos to put in her travel journal. She’s definitely part of the instant gratification generation so this camera works a treat.
I have discovered that I LOVE my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II which has become my regular everyday camera. It’s lightweight and takes great photos. I use it with the Olympus 14-150mm zoom lens which is perfect for most situations.
After all how will your friends know what a great time you are having if you don’t have photographic evidence showing them so?
Remind Yourself That It Is Not Your Home
When you find yourselves visiting family, you may find their ways as alien as little green men from Mars. For example, I don’t see the point in dressing up for dinner when I am not leaving the house. But why make an issue of it? Grab yourself a drink (see point above) and let it go.
If all else fails, remember the famous saying of the Suffi poets: This too shall pass.
What you don’t want is a memory of you screaming like a banshee while everyone looked on in horror when the stress of it all gets too much for you. Unfortunately, those memories tend to stick around for years.
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