My family and I do a lot of sightseeing in our hometown of New York City, where we tend to follow a simple plan of leaving home after breakfast, staying out all day, and coming home for dinner.
The part of the plan that always seems to need a little work is the staying out all day part. Minutes after leaving home, a child will declare that he or she is “really thirsty” (ever notice how a kid is never just plain thirsty?) or, upon reaching whatever attraction we had planned, someone snivels about how bored or tired they are before really giving the outing a chance.
Up until recently, I hadn’t really given much thought to how to make our family day trips more successful. But then something decidedly weird happened: New York Comic Con. If you’re unfamiliar with this event, imagine an intergalactic Ellis Island, where in lieu of immigrants, thousands of space aliens, comic book heroes and villains, and Earthlings with badges dangling from neck lanyards await processing into a great hall – in this case the Javits Center – where exhibitors await traffic to their booths.
It was during this outing that I discovered four easy tricks that eliminated a lot of the typical whininess I usually encounter during a family trip.
Pack a bag for each child. For this occasion, I packed each of my three kids a light but roomy recyclable tote bag with a bottle of water and a few snacks. Why I hadn’t thought of this prior to our many other outings I don’t know (perhaps I saw Comic Con prep as more of a military operation). The happy result was that the kids shoveled all the free swag – cool postcards, posters, stickers, and buttons – into their own bags (not mine). And when they got hot, they stuffed their sweatshirts into their own bags (not mine) and further, didn’t whine for snacks. Plus, we avoided having to wait in line to buy the expensive greasy food at the convention center. Next time we go anywhere for more than a few hours, those bags are coming with us.
Let a child lead the way. My teenage daughter has a better sense of direction than I do (actually most people do), so when she volunteered to lead us through the convention hall, I was all too happy to oblige. She systematically led us through the hall aisle by aisle, and we fell in behind her, as it was often crowded enough to require walking single file. At several points, she backtracked patiently when her brother and sister wanted to look at something. That she did anything patiently was itself extraordinary, and I attribute that in part to the fact that she enjoyed being the leader and having control of the pace. It’s a strategy I’ll keep in mind the next time we go anywhere as a family, whether it's crowded or not.
Give your kids the camera. When my six-year-old son claimed to be bored and tired, I discovered accidentally that handing him the digital camera invigorated him, and appropriately he began channeling Jimmy Olson, firing off photos of anyone and anything (inevitably we got many photographs of rear-ends). Had I known that keeping him occupied was that easy (like giving a kitten a ball of tin foil easy) I would have handed him the camera long ago. Of course, once he got hold of the camera, the other kids wanted to use it, too, which has got me wondering if I should equip each child with a camera on our next trip.
Encourage your kids to talk to strangers. It’s often said that travel makes us less inhibited because leaving our “real lives” behind makes us feel like different people. At least that's sometimes the case with me and my family. Comic Con was definitely a departure from real life, and the dynamic of the trade show was such that if you wanted to know if something on a table was free for the taking, you had to ask. And I made my kids do the asking rather than doing it for them. It was interesting to see how quickly they warmed to the task of talking to the exhibitors – all of them friendly – and soon the kids were scoring free books and candy, too, because they were asking so sweetly. I know this evolving skill will come in handy, especially the next time a waiter asks them what they want, at which point they'll need to speak up rather than having me or their mom to do it for them.
I never expected Comic Con to teach me anything about travel or parenting, but I know these tricks will help my family during future outings, and perhaps they’ll help you, too.
If you have your own tips about surviving family trips, feel free to share them with our readers in the comment section.