No matter how experienced of a traveler you are, flying with kids is a whole other ballgame. When Daniel was all of 9 weeks old, we took him on his first flight to New York City for a family wedding. Dmitry and I were those newlyweds that thought we would take our kids with us everywhere. We imagined we will all magically adjust to this new life. Well…That is a topic for another post. Needless to say, I was looking forward to this first trip as a family of three. I was adamant to make sure having children would not stop us from enjoying life. Certainly, I was not going to miss a family wedding and a chance to dance (between all those awkward pumping sessions in the back room).
I spent weeks reading everything online trying to prepare; polled every friend and cousin with kids. We thought we really had it under control and for the most part we probably did. I do believe, however, you just have to go through it to really know what works for your family.
At that time I was still recovering from the delivery, figuring out how to breastfeed, how to be a mother, how to sleep when the baby rests, etc. By the way, I don’t think I ever actually figured out that last one. Another baby boy later, we feel like we finally have the traveling-with-kids groove down and we have learned a few rules along the way. I have summarized these for all of you below. While I wrote these with a flight in mind, you can easily repurpose them for a long car ride. I have also included a pretty nifty packing list we use every single time we travel with our littles.
Tip #1: Avoid Long Flights with Young Toddlers
Avoid very long trips with kiddos who are mobile until they are closer to 3 years old. Here is the truth. I cried on a plane twice in my life. Both of those times were when my babes were in that age when they become less easily distracted, incredibly stubborn, mobile, and still need their naps to avoid meltdowns. Typically, they do not have the focus for tablets to be of any help either (not that I advocate you give an iPad to your 1 year old anyways, but when desperate…)
Tip #2: Opt for Morning Trips
We have found that morning flights after a good night’s rest are the best. Statistically, you are much more likely to get where you are going without any delays and these flights tend to be less crowded. This may not apply to international trips where you are changing multiple time zones as much. On that next.
Tip #3: Fly Red-Eye Internationally
When changing multiple time zones, go ahead and book that red-eye flight. Hopefully your child will be tired enough to sleep through most of the trip. We also always have ours run around as much as possible at the airport before the trip and try to get on the plan last. Every minute you can shave off of your trip being stuck in a tiny space with restless munchkins is worth its weight in gold.
Tip #4: Pack Lots of Different Snacks
Once you feel like you have packed enough…pack some more! You are the best judge of what to take with, so let your imagination run wild on this one. Do keep in mind you probably want it to be somewhat mess-free and something they can eat with their hands. I encourage you to select some high value snacks your children do not get to indulge in very often.
Tip #5: Bring Entertainment
“Entertainment” will range widely depending on the age of your kiddos. Infants and babies are often happy enough to just observe everything happening around them and playing with snack packages and in-flight magazines. Older children may be happier having some new touch books, board books, coloring books, and toys. Tricky and noisy packaging can be a plus to help pass more time. Those who have enough focus will be happy with a tablet loaded with educational programing.
Tip #6: Wear Layers
Easy layers as airplane temperatures can vary widely during the flight. When I mean wear layers, I mean have your babies wear easy layers as well. I find that anything that zips up or has magnetic closures works great.
Tip #7: Prepare for Messy Accidents
Make sure to pack wipes, extra diapers (pull-ups are easier if your child can stand for them) and hand sanitizer with you. Use them on the plane liberally. Extra clothing is a must with your carry-on as well.
Tip #8: Take or Rent a Stroller
Consider a stroller that is lighter and can fold and unfold with one hand. If you are going on a beach vacation or plan to go over cobble stone roads, one with wider tires may be worthwhile. There is a slew of newer strollers on the market that try to marry the best of the features of the full-size stroller with those of the minimalistic umbrella ones. We found that both kids loved taking naps in their strollers on walks or beach, so the UVA / UVB protective covers and the lay-flat options were absolute musts for us. One last note on the strollers, many cities will have places where you can rent one so you don’t have to wrestle it through the airport.
Tip #9: Consider a Car Seat
Consider if you will be traveling by car during your trip. You are allowed to take the car seat on board an airplane if you have paid for a seat for your child. The car seat must be FAA approved though. You can also gate check a car seat. Gate-checking car seats is typically free, but check with your airline.
Tip #10: Create a Packing List
Create a packing list and hide a copy in your luggage so you can make certain you pack everything on the way back, too 🙂
Now that you learned some basic rules, hopefully you will be more relaxed for your flight and enjoy the trip. Flying with children can be fun as long as you do a little prep ahead.