Traveling with kids always provokes some anxiety, whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth time. Will you be the weary (and despised) parent who can’t get her kid to stop screaming? There are no guarantees, but here are 10 things you can do to stack the odds in your favor.
1. Free your hands. Between airline fees and fears about lost baggage, lots of traveling parents consider going the carry-on luggage route. Don’t do it. The concept of packing light doesn’t apply to kids. Pack only the most essential essentials in a small backpack or other lightweight easy-to-carry bag, then put everything else in a suitcase and check that sucker. You’ll be burdened enough as it is, especially if you’re keeping track of a stroller and a diaper bag. Do yourself a favor and lighten your load.
2. Carry on a change of clothing. For you and your kids. Even if your kids don’t routinely get motion sickness in a car, they can still get sick on a plane. Or, more likely, they’ll manage to spill one of their complimentary beverages all over both of you.
3. Bring toys and activities on board. Even if you have a DVD player or an iPod you’re planning to give your child, you still need to bring some non-electronic diversions to use during take-off and landing. One of my favorite tips for toddlers and preschoolers: gift wrap everything you bring. Even if it isn’t new, the gift wrap will make it seem more exciting, plus unwrapping things becomes an activity in itself.
4. Embrace the screen. An airplane isn’t the place to be worrying about screen time limits and melting brain cells. If you have a DVD player or — even better — an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad, use it. Load it up with music, movies, TV shows and games your kids will enjoy. I did a round-up a while ago of the best iPhone apps for kids – check it out.
5. Bring a pillow. Whether you’re traveling with a nursing newborn or a teenager (or anyone in between), having one or two of those squishy neck pillows in your bag will go a long way towards making sure everyone is comfortable.
6. Consider the ears. Sucking and chewing during takeoff and landing will help relieve pressure in the ears. Bring whatever is age-appropriate for your child – a pacifier, a sippy cup (empty – you’ll fill it on board after security), or some taffy or chewing gum. I also always bring Ear Planes, special ear plugs that help prevent painful pressure.
7. Pack snacks. This is a biggie. Hungry kids are cranky kids. Stuff your carry-on bag with granola bars, raisins, mini-sandwiches, whole fruit, and maybe some string cheese in a little insulated bag.
8. Don’t stress. Keep your sense of humor, no matter what. If the baby won’t stop screaming, snapping at your spouse, whose nose is buried in a book, might make you feel better momentarily, but it won’t really improve the situation. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that this flight will, in all likelihood, be shorter and less painful than labor and delivery, and stay positive.
9. Take turns. If at all possible, try not to travel alone with your kids when they are very young, especially on a long flight. This way, you can switch off with your partner and take a break. If you are alone, try to endear yourself to the flight attendants. I’ve had very good luck getting help from them on the rare occasions I’ve been on my own.
10. Be realistic. Don’t bring a gripping novel on a flight with a toddler. You won’t get to read it, and you’ll feel resentful. Set your expectations low – the flight will probably be hard work, but if you make it fun, you’ll be more likely to come down the jetway with a smile on your face.
What are YOUR best tips for airplane travel with kids? Share them in the comments below.
Sheri’s airplane must-haves
- Board books or cloth books
- Finger puppets
- Peek-a-boo blanket
- Toy bungees (so you don’t go searching down the aisle for the lost rattle)
- A muslin blanket or two (yes, to cover up, but also to layer between you and your baby to minimize sweating while the baby is asleep).
- Look ‘n’ Find books
- Mini Etch a Sketch or Magna Doodle
- Magnetic paper dolls, storyboards or puzzles
- Schleich figures
For early elementary
Most of the time, when parents ask me for travel tips, they usually waggle an eyebrow and say, “drugs, right?” I personally had a bad experience with Benadryl on a red-eye several years ago, and I haven’t used it since. If you do try it (with your pediatrician’s blessing, of course), my only advice is to wait until you’re actually on the plane before giving it to your kid.
Don’t try this at home
Speaking of traveling with kids. I’m taking my two older kids to Orlando for the weekend, which should be a piece of cake. At 8 and 6 years old, they’ll be very content to spend the flight reading and/or playing with their iPods. But I like a challenge. Shepherding two cooperative kids through an airport would be too easy. So for the return trip, I’ll add a wriggly 8-week-old puppy with very questionable bladder control, and confine him to a bag – it should be interesting. Wish me luck.