Calming Children's Travel Apprehension

How to deal with childhood fears when you’re on the road 

When I was about eight months pregnant with my second child, me and my husband became slightly delusional, and decided a little weekend getaway was in order—sort of a “one last trip as parents of an only child” sort of thing.

All went reasonably well until my daughter’s bedtime.

No sooner had we closed the door to her room and settled in for some serious couple time (and my nightly foot massage), we heard the squeak of her bedroom door.

“I’m scared,” she said, only four years old. “There’s a noise in my room.”

My husband, ever the jovial funster and unfamiliar with these new fears, tried a joke.

Wrong. A fountain of tears ensued.

I, ensconced in my roll of “I’m a perfect mommy and will be a perfect mommy when number two arrives,” went to investigate.

Finding a ticking clock, I pulled out the batteries, soothed my daughters’ furrowed brow, and retired again to my husband/masseuse, being ever so careful to wipe the smug look off my face.

Several door squeaks later, accompanying with it the discovery of a unstoppable dripping drainpipe and a crankily forfeited foot massage, my daughter crashed in our bed with me, while my husband took her single bed. 

We are not the first parents to have holiday plans sidelined by children’s’ fears, and have learned a few tricks along the way to help minimize the upheaval they can create.

Know your child, but expect the unexpected

This sounds obvious, but if you take a few minutes to cover off existing fears before you jet, you’re halfway there. 

For my eldest daughter, it was toilets in strange places. Recognizing this, I always ensured to accompany her to the bathroom, even if it was right next to her bedroom at the bed-and-breakfast.

Even for fears you don’t know

Photo: Bazule

If you can, try to get a sense of any new fears your children have before you head out—any little niggling thing that seems innocuous could become huge when away from familiar surroundings.

And this could be anything from dogs, to women with hats.

Just remember that fears begin to surface from around the age of four, when children become aware of a larger world around them.


My daughter, being such a good sleeper that she is, caught me off guard with her nighttime fear, but it’s nothing unnatural.

My friends had to return early from a planned holiday because their son, while fine during the day, became so anxious at night in unfamiliar surroundings, poor little guy, that it made life miserable for the whole family.

Pack the whole house

Well, not quite. But pack anything you feel might add to your child’s sense of familiarity, thus security.

The favourite stuffy and blankie are a no-brainer, but why not the Transformers pillowcase or the Hannah Montana alarm clock?

Even if they aren’t used to sleeping with a nightlight, it’s well worth packing anyway, turning strange rooms into cozy havens.

Nightlight for nightlife

I even caved and bought a Barbie nightlight for my youngest, who had never had a problem with pitch darkness before. This little light became a treat to look forward to every night when she grew nervous at night during our last trip.

The fact that we’ve been home now for almost a year and she still insists on the Barbie nightlight now, is a small price to pay for the peace of mind it brought us at the time.

Fight fears with flexibility

Photo: Scarleth White

As frustrating as it can be, you won’t ever be able to assuage all your child’s fears completely, any more than you can convince your five-year-old that there are no polar bears surrounding your trailer, and that the noise is only Daddy’s snoring.

The trick is to do your best to not let it ruin your trip.

Valuable lessons learnt

If you have to break your “kids never sleep with parents rule” just to gain some nighttime slumber, like we did on our last getaway, just take it in stride. 

If you have to buy tacky nightlights, so be it.

If you have to let your kids fall asleep in front of the T.V. watching awful cartoons, I won’t tell.

Because what happens on the road, stays on the road—it’s a holiday after all.

Main Photo: Noël Zia Lee

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Susan Pederson

Susan Pederson is a Calgary-based writer and editor who lives with her husband and two daughters. She has written for Avenue, Homemaker’s, CBC Radio, The Globe and Mail, and Today’s Parent, often with one of her kids dangling from an arm or leg, and from wherever she can steal an Internet connection while travelling.


kids mgmt

Excellent article, a great deal of valuable information.

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