Parenting With Psychology

Helping you build a set of parenting tools so you feel like an amazing parent ready to overcome your daily challenges.

Subscribe to my Newsletter

How to Prepare Kids For Travel

ages 11 years - 18 years ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years check yourself travel Jun 27, 2024


Imagine this: You're planning a family trip, perhaps the first one in a long time or even the first ever for your little ones.  The excitement is palpable, but so is the apprehension.  How will the kids react to the new environments, the change in routine, the long hours of travel?  Here's where an often-overlooked aspect of travel preparation comes into play—behavioral rehearsal.  This technique, rooted in behavioral psychology, involves practicing behaviors or roles in advance of a situation to improve performance and comfort levels when the situation actually occurs.  It's a game-changer in managing children's behavior during trips, reducing stress for parents, and enhancing family dynamics.


The Magic of Behavioral Rehearsal

Behavioral rehearsal is not just about preparing; it's about empowering your children and giving them a sense of familiarity and control over upcoming events.  It’s very common for children to feel apprehensive or nervous about travel experiences, and this strategy does wonders for easing those concerns.  It builds the foundation for experiencing excitement on the day of travel rather than anxiety and worry, which can be displayed as challenging behavior.  This preparation can take many forms, each designed to make the actual travel experience smoother and more enjoyable for everyone involved.  We’ll run through four ways to use behavioral rehearsal to prepare for travel next.


  1. Playing Make-Believe 

Toys like airplanes, trains, and cars can be more than just fun; they can be educational and very useful in preparing kids for travel.  One of the simplest and most effective ways to use behavioral rehearsal is through play.  Set up a "travel day" at home, complete with packed bags, tickets, and a makeshift airplane or car.  Use your travel toys to simulate travel experiences, discussing what happens at an airport, on a plane, or during a road trip.  This tangible form of rehearsal can make abstract concepts more concrete for young minds.

Let your imagination soar.  Perhaps your couch turns into a bus and you practice loading and finding your seat.  Go through the motions of traveling, from leaving the house to arriving at your destination.  This playful rehearsal can help children understand the sequence of events and reduce anxiety about the unknown.  Try to include every aspect of the travel day that you can think of, from stepping over the gap between the jetway and the airplane to being told, “We’ll start looking for a good exit to pull off the highway” when you say you need to use the restroom soon.

Expand on the idea of playing make-believe by introducing role-playing different travel scenarios.  What happens if a flight is delayed?  How do we find our luggage?  Role-playing these situations can help children feel prepared for various outcomes and understand that while travel is fun, it also requires flexibility and patience.  It may help you better manage unexpected travel challenges, too!


  1. Reading and Writing Books

Children's books about traveling can be a huge asset to help introduce the concept of travel in an engaging and age-appropriate way.  These stories often highlight the excitement of discovery while also acknowledging and normalizing feelings of nervousness or fear about new experiences.  Plan a trip to your public library and chat with the librarian for suggestions.  Grab a few options that feature very similar modes of transportation or destinations to your upcoming trip.  A fun book I recommend for airplane travel is Going on an Airplane: A Toddler Prep Book by Amy Kathleen Pittman. 


For a more personalized approach, consider creating a book with your child about your upcoming trip.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; you can just cut printer paper into quarters and staple them together to make a little book.  Include details about where you'll go, how you’ll get there, what you'll see, and what you'll do.  As you read the book together, really immerse yourself in the story and act out as many parts of the trip as you can.  For example, you might give your child a high-five and say, that’s what we’ll do every 1/2 hour of the road trip to mark our progress and acknowledge your patience.  Creating your own travel preparation book not only serves as a rehearsal but also as a bonding activity and a keepsake.


  1. Reviewing Photos And Video 

Preparing for a trip is a great time to explore photos from previous trips to the same or similar destinations.  Maybe you even have photos taken from inside the car on a road trip or at the airport when traveling by plane.  If not, focusing on the destination gives you a chance to talk about how fun and interesting the trip will be, and an opportunity to initiate a discussion with your child about how any boredom during the trip will be completely worth it in exchange for the wonderful time you’ll have at the destination.

Technology can be a valuable tool in preparing for travel.  Explore YouTube together for videos of kids traveling, or watch a show or movie that involves a family traveling together.  You can even use apps and videos that simulate flight experiences or explore virtual tours of your destination.  This can help familiarize children with new places and travel procedures in an engaging way.  All of these tips focus on providing kids with a chance to get familiar with the travel process before you even step out the door for your trip.  By reviewing all the details in advance and rehearsing all the motions involved in the travel day, your kids will be teed up for a smooth travel experience.


  1. Answering All Their Questions 

Children are naturally curious, and their questions can range from insightful to amusing.  Take the time to answer these questions, no matter how trivial they may seem - yes, there’s a toilet on the airplane and it flushes just like ours, plus it’s surprisingly loud.  This open dialogue reinforces the rehearsal process by addressing concerns and building confidence.  The more you prepare in advance, the easier the travel day will be, so go into great detail on every aspect of the trip you can think of.


Exploring Cultural Customs

If your trip will take you to an area quite different from your own, you have the opportunity to add researching and discussing the customs of your destination to your behavioral rehearsal preparation work.  What foods are popular?  How do people greet each other?  Understanding these aspects can make the travel experience more immersive and meaningful, along with minimizing the adjustment when facing so many new things at once.  If traveling to a place where a different language is spoken, learn some basic phrases together as a family.  This not only prepares children for interaction but also instills a sense of respect and appreciation for different cultures.


More Ways to Improve Behavior

There are a number of other steps you can take to set your family up for success while traveling together, and I’ll plan a future post to cover more of those.  In the meantime, to further support your travel efforts, download my free resource, 5 Must-Have Tips for Better Behavior Today.  These practical tips can provide additional strategies for enhancing behavior not just during travel, but in everyday life.


A New Horizon in Family Preparation

Behavioral rehearsal isn't just a strategy; it's a comprehensive approach that encompasses various activities and preparations to ensure that travel experiences are positive and developmental for children.  By incorporating behavioral rehearsal into your travel preparations, you're not just setting the stage for a smoother trip; you're fostering an environment of understanding, patience, and cooperation.  This proactive approach can significantly decrease the stress often associated with family travel, allowing everyone to enjoy the journey and the destination.   

You may be wondering how this approach can be used in other aspects of your parenting practice, and that is an excellent question.  Behavioral rehearsal is a key psychology principle that can be applied to many aspects of your family life, from big events like getting ready for the first day of school to more commonplace occurrences like dining out at your favorite local family-friendly restaurant.  Just as with travel preparations, the key components are planning ahead, anticipating possible new experiences that could be surprising or challenging, and practicing responses to them in the comfort and safety of your home.  

Kids feel more confident and have better behavior when they know what to expect from a situation.  For example, “OK, now that we’ve gotten you settled into your new classroom, it’s time for Mommy to say goodbye.  Remember we practiced this part where you’ll give me a big hug, then wave goodbye, and I’ll greet you with another huge hug at pick-up time.”  What other situations can you think of where a little preparation and practice can help ease the experience for your child?


Take-Home Message

As you embark on this adventure of preparation, remember that the journey truly does begin at home.  By utilizing the concept of behavioral rehearsal, you're equipping your children with the tools they need to navigate new experiences with excitement rather than fear.  This preparation can transform travel from a potential source of stress into an opportunity for growth and bonding.  As you reflect on these strategies and their potential impact on your family's travel experiences, consider how you can integrate behavioral rehearsal into your daily parenting practice.  How can this newfound knowledge shape the way you prepare for not just travel, but other new experiences as a family?

Behavioral Rehearsal falls under the Check Yourself category of my 5 C’s parenting framework.  See Are You An Intentional Parent? to learn more about The 5 C’s.  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Thanks for joining me to fill your parenting toolbox with psychology-based tools to feel more confident and capable in your parenting.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!


P.S. Behavioral rehearsal is just one effective strategy for improving behavior in your children and making your day less stressful.  Grab your copy of my free resource, 5 Must-Have Tips for Better Behavior Today for more actionable strategies you can start using today!


Listen on Spotify Podcast

Watch on YouTube


Amazing parenting is not about always saying
and doing the right thing and raising perfect children.  It’s about becoming intentional in your parenting and proactive in learning skills to help you parent more effectively in a way that fits best for your unique parent-child dynamics.

Weekly tips delivered straight to your inbox can help you become an amazing parent today!

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.