A Navy SEAL's 12 Travel Tips All Parents Needs to Survive This Holiday Season

My wife and I took our three children to Dallas for Thanksgiving this year which inspired this article. As American Airlines Advantage members – I travel every week for speaking engagements – somehow one of our seats ended up being in first class – my wife’s ironically. She was the one who booked the reservations. Hmmm. Nice try!

The rest of the seats were in a row towards the back of the plane with the rest of the families with babies and toddlers. So we took five seats in the back and waited for the lucky sole who would unknowingly be offered the golden ticket to first class.

As fate would have it, he was a young man literally on his way to U.S. Army boot camp! What a killer way to begin your military career! He was so shocked he almost said no, but we insisted.

“It’s either first class or you get to deal with whiny toddlers and screaming babies,” I reminded him.

He quickly gathered his things and raced for the front of the plane.

The remainder of the trip inspired me to share this invaluable tool kit that all parents need to survive and thrive this holiday season.

  1. Prepare Accordingly: In the SEAL Teams, preparation is everything. The best laid plans come into conflict which is why preparedness is more important than planning. As we say during combat dive training, “Plan your dive and dive your plan.” But be ready to adjust when the environment and data mandate it. Don’t leave things to the last minute – which means you should have made your plans months ago
  2. Avoid Traveling on the Worst Days: Why do most families actually choose the busiest days during the holidays or make the three hour drive to Aunt Kathy’s house or fly out of already busy airports?! Leave early to get there and leave even earlier to come back.
  3. Pack the Right Gear: Another one of our mantras in the SEAL Teams is take care of your gear and your gear will take care of you. Especially when it comes to sippy cups, iPads loaded with kid movies, baby wipes, snacks, toys they can (and will) fight over and valium (for Mom and Dad!).
  4. Get the “Lap Child” a Freaking Seat: I don’t know what we were thinking! For the three hour flight from San Diego to Dallas, we opted not to get Ryder (our strong, energetic, bruiser of a 21-month-old son) a seat. For three hours, he raised and lowered the window shade, raised and lowered the tray table, played pica boo with the people behind us and knocked over my cocktail twice (devastating because the flight attendants aren’t waiting on you hand and foot in the back of the plane). Suck it up and get the toddler a seat!
  5. Avoid Family Drama: I’m from Texas so we engage in the passive aggressive avoidance of talking about anything of any real deep meaning – that’s how we roll in the south! Whereas my wife’s family violently executes when it comes to family drama. They put things on the table, involve as many people as possible and then move on. My family prefers to let unresolved issues built over years and years. Whichever you prefer, try to avoid tears, shouting and storming away from the table this year.
  6. Self-Medicate: I know, I know. Some might consider this bad advice. But it is crucial for survival. A moderate amount of wine or alcohol will ease the pain. Just don’t over-do it because others will judge you and you might launch yourself from drama-avoidance into drama-instigation.
  7. Be Present: I don’t remember how many times my wife told me to “be present” while we were touring the 12 Days of Christmas display at the Dallas Arboretum. We are all busy. Make time to be a spouse and more importantly make time to be a parent. Make memories!
  8. Try Not to Break the Kids’ Routines: If you have young kids that still take naps, make them take the naps! Everyone will be miserable if you don’t!
  9. Offer to Take Another Family’s Picture: It’s the right thing to do and of course then you get to ask them to take one of you without feeling like you’re imposing. But don’t do it for every family you walk by or you’ll never get anywhere!
  10. Overestimate Time for Troop Mobilization: In my experience, it always takes twice as long to get the troops mobilized to go somewhere than you plan for. When my three-year-old daughter decides she wants to change her outfit several times or our 21-month-old demands to put his own shoes on (which of course he has no idea how to do), you will be late to wherever you are going!
  11. Leave Extra Room in Your Bags: I always used to carry an extra empty backpack on combat missions so we could take valuable intel off target. During holiday travel, chances are you’re going to be coming home with more than you left with – especially melt-down-avoidance last minute toys at the airport…yes, I give in that easily. Some tough SEAL I am.
  12. Leave Yourself A Day or Two to Decompress: I hate coming home on a Sunday when I have work the next day. Not to mention it’s usually the busiest travel day. Give yourself a day or two to decompress and recalibrate before its “back to reality.”

These are just a few tips to get you started. So go forth onto your holiday battlefield – good luck!