Discover: 8 Ways to Help Kids Cope with Travel Anxiety

barleyandbirch 2016 kids travel

I can. not. believe. Memorial Day weekend (a.k.a. the beginning of summer) is this weekend! As a kid, this was also the beginning of travel season. I grew up taking lots of summer road trips and always felt totally at-home traveling on the road. As an adult, I routinely take long, unplanned road trips, hop on cross-country trains, and use city public transit systems. Amazingly though, I didn’t experience plane travel until I was 18 and, although I fly fairly often now, I’m secretly terrified of flying. The imprints-left-in-arm-rests kind of terrified. Although its never stopped me from making a trip somewhere I want to go, and doesn’t bother me until I’m physically on the plane, it has led to some pretty rough hours-long flights and a lot of in-depth research.

To experience this kind of anxiety as an adult has made me so aware of how fortunate I was to completely avoid this fear as a kid. I was also lucky to have grown up parented by a psychologist and elementary school principal…very kid-knowledgeable and creative people who knew exactly how to make travel seem fun and easy for for my sister and I. So I polled the experts for some tips on how to help banish (or at least temporarily ease) anxiety for little plane, train and automobile-ers. Here are a few of the best ideas:

  • Record a story in your own voice for your kids to listen to on a trip.  This is especially effective if a parent won’t be traveling with their kids. There’s really no replacement for hearing mom or dad read your favorite stories.
  • Mediation and Breathing Exercises. Back in January we posted a DIY for magic zen jars , which is actually a great example of a meditation technique that is a little more physical for kids who have a hard time getting into the exercises. For some more great ideas, the Chopra center has posted some wonderful kid-friendly starter meditations.
  • Send along travel buddies. I can tell you from experience, when I’m responsible for flying with kids, like magic my anxiety disappears! Assigning a much-loved stuffed animal, new homemade tiny traveler (see the adorable travel mice below) or a little lego man as a travel buddy can give a child something to take care of and a sense of responsibility. Adding a list of “to-do’s” (“pack for your travel buddy, make sure they’re fed twice, get a nap, etc…”) can quickly turn into that perfect distraction that keeps them busy the entire trip if they’re invested in being a good caretaker.
  • Play breaks. This one is kind of a no-brainer, and yet, when you’re on the road and just want to GET somewhere it can be so easy to forget. A 15-20 minute runaround and leg-stretch break can do wonders for antsy travelers and wear off a good deal of pent-up physical energy.
  • Light Meals. An anxious child is not only more likely to actually have a queasy stomach – they have a much greater chance of *thinking* they have one if its full of heavy foods. Keeping meals and snacks light can help you gauge what’s really going on with their tummies. Checkout the awesome upcycled snack shaker below…such a good way to slowly dispense snacks, create limits and avoid spills.
  • Novelties. A classic in my household. When we went on trips there were things we ONLY got once we were on the road. All we were thinking about headed into the car was the coming excitement of our “save for the trip” new books,  special road trip snacks and car surprises. This doesn’t have to be anything major – a special snack or type of activity can be just as exciting as a new book or toy. We had something called the “pick bag” that was filled with dime store trinkets. They probably wouldn’t have felt that special on a normal day, but when we got to pick one out every so often on a car ride…or every night during a trip – WOW. Like winning the lottery! There were also a couple restaurants (+ a mini-golf course) that we made a point of stopping at every year. These little stops became beloved traditions…but were also fabulous distractions at the time.
  • Practice with Play Trips. If your kids are traveling via a mode of transport you haven’t used before, the way it all happens can often be confusing, disorienting and sometimes upsetting. I mean, airports have started having clowns, violin players, mimes and food samples in TSA lines. Frankly, this circus terrifies and exhausts me, and would have at ANY age. Practicing the trip in the form of playing is a great way to teach kids the process. We’ve created a set of free fully customizable travel play printables, complete with: plane and train tickets, luggage claim receipts, flight wings, a metrocard, a passport book and postcards, which we’ll be posting tomorrow. Letting your kids play out their future travel scenario is a fun way to learn the process in a setting that feels safe and comfortable.
  • Distraction. Keeping kids entertained & busy with engaging games, reading, stories and activities is really one of the best things you can do to ensure a happy journey for you AND your kids. Although movies seem like an easy choice and are sometimes very effective, for longer trips they don’t do much in the way of mental stimulation. I don’t usually do round-ups, but in between real life and prepping for vacation life there is zero time to peruse the internet looking for fun, yet simple DIYs, so I put together a quick list of our very very favorite travel DIYs. If you want more, be sure to hit up our Hit the Road board on Pinterest!

barley & birch - travel roundup favorites (1)

Upper Left: Travel Scavenger Hunt Printable via Little Monster 

Upper Right: DIY Tell Me a Story Rocks via Crafting Connections

Lower Left: Wee Mouse Tin House via mmmcrafts

Lower Right: DIY Mason Jar Snack Shaker via Babble


Upper Left: Magnetic DIY Travel Tangram Puzzles via Delia Creates

Upper Right: DIY Travel Lap Tray via Pretty Prudent 

Lower Left: Paper Chain Countdown Printable via Alice and Lois

Lower Right: DIY Travel Lego Kit via Mama Papa Bubba


Upper Left: The Great Alphabet Race Printable via Handmade Charlotte

Upper Right: Kids Travel Binder Printables via Living Well Mom

Lower Left: Travel Size Paper City Paris Printable via Made by Joel 

Lower Right: Magnetic Shapes Travel Game DIY via Brit & Co

If you have any tips or tricks that have worked for you, be sure to add them in the comments below!


8 Ways to Help Your Kids Beat Travel Anxiety + 12 Travel DIYs and Free Printables