Discover: 8 Ways to Help Kids Cope with Travel Anxiety

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. This isn’t the case for a couple of favorite little munchkins of mine though, who have lost a lot of sleep due to travel anxiety and concerns when vacation time rolls around.

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 it’s 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 my sister and me. So I polled the experts for some tips on how to help banish (or at least temporarily ease) anxiety for the little plane, train, and automobile-ers. Whether they fear a flight or have worries due to lack of a regular routine, these travel tips are our tops for easing their concerns.

Tips to ease kids’ travel worries

1. Record a story in your own voice 

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.

2. Meditation 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.

3. Send along travel buddies

I can tell you from experience that when I’m responsible for flying with kids, like magic my anxiety disappears! Assigning a much-loved stuffed animal, a 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.

4. Take 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.

5. Eat 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 it’s full of heavy foods. Keeping meals and snacks light can help you gauge what’s really going on with their tummies. Check out the awesome upcycled snack shaker below…such a good way to slowly dispense snacks, create limits, and avoid spills.

6. Pack a Few Surprise 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 heading 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 of 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.

7. 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 free printable play plane tickets you can use for dramatic play. Complete with: plane and train tickets, luggage claim receipts, and flight wings!  Letting your kids play out their future travel scenarios is a fun way to learn the process in a setting that feels safe and comfortable.

8. Try 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.

Our Favorite Kids Travel DIY Ideas…

A group of four DIY kids travel games and activities
A group of four DIY kids travel games and activities
A group of four DIY kids travel games and activities

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

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.


Sign up for our 5-day "Adventures in Play" tour series - a high seas play journey delivered right to your inbox...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *