Over the last 5 years, I’ve logged quite a bit of air travel with my daughter (most of which I’ve done on my own), and I like to think I’ve gotten quite good at air travel with children.
And I never fly without a plan to keep my daughter (and myself) rested and healthy.
But since I’ve never flown halfway around the world with 2 (or more) kids in tow, I really can’t claim to be an expert on the whole “flying with kids” thing.
My mum can though.
I just did a quick calculation, and she did that horrendous 30+ hour journey from Canada to Singapore with my sister and me at least 10 times before I hit my teenage years.
And did I mention I was a nervous flyer, and that I used to stand in the aisle and SCREAM when we boarded every flight, and then refused to consume anything other than coke the entire time we were traveling?
It was a lot of fun for her.
And since I know there is at least one other woman out there who is looking for simple tips on how to make air travel with young kids easier (notice I didn’t say “easy”), I decided to ask my mum for some of her tricks.
But before I get to those, I wanted to tell you about a fun book I recently stumbled upon called Items May Have Shifted: How to Travel With Your Baby or Toddler by NJS Kaye. It’s a fun read (the author has a great sense of humor), but it is also JAM-PACKED with simple and practical tips to help you survive the process of traveling with kids. I’ve learned tricks even I didn’t know about after all my years of traveling with my daughter (i.e. how to create make-shift blackout blinds on the go) and I highly recommended it!
And now for my mum’s advice…
1. PAY ATTENTION TO FLIGHT SCHEDULES
For long-haul flights, it’s impossible to schedule around naps and bedtime, but you are much more likely to have a smooth journey if you start off with a well-rested child. So if you can manage it, book your travel for first thing in the morning, and put your child to bed earlier than normal the night before to make sure he’s well-rested.
If you can’t schedule an early flight, plan ahead to combat jet lag. If you’re flying from the U.S. or Canada to Europe, where they are several hours ahead, conventional wisdom is always to stay awake until the early local bedtime. So if you land in Europe at 3 in the afternoon, no matter how tired you and your kids might be – resist the urge to fall asleep! You’ll likely wake up at 11 pm (which will be the middle of the day back home) and that’s not going to be good for anyone.
Of course, this probably works best with older kids who can do a better job of keeping themselves awake. If you’re travelling internationally with a toddler and you must fly overnight, be prepared for a rocky first day or so when you arrive at your destination.
2. PACK PAJAMAS
My mum started doing this after our 3rd 30+ hour trek around the world, and it made a huge difference. She’d simply wait for me to show signs of being tired, then she’d change me into my favorite pair of jammies, tuck me in with a blanket and pillow, and let me watch whatever movie was on the big screen at the front of the plane (I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up at a time when personal DVD players existed) until I fell into a blissful sleep. I don’t know what it was, but those comfy Care Bear PJs really did the trick in helping me sleep, you know?
This is a must-do for late in the day and overnight flights – especially longer international trips. No one gets their best sleep in an airplane, but if you make your kids as comfortable as possible they’ll have a better chance of being well rested.
3. DON’T IGNORE ILLNESSES
The problem with kids is that they are always goobering and snotting all over everything, and when it comes to planning a trip, there’s always a high degree of probability your little one is going to get sick the day before you travel. And after suffering through one too many flights with a head cold in my childhood, I highly recommend having your child cleared for take-off by your doctor if she’s under the weather the day before you fly. And if you can afford it, buy travel insurance. The $15 you’ll spend on the insurance is better than the hundreds or thousands of dollars you could be out if your kid starts throwing up in the TSA line!
Consider giving them Vitamin C, probiotics or an antioxidant called NAC (or N-acetylcysteine) in the days leading up to the flight. These can all help boost their immune systems, which will help them remain healthy before, during and after travel. Remember to pack enough to bring with you on the trip too – everyone’s immune system is at risk for being compromised when sleep schedules and eating routines are off. (Not to mention being in cramped quarters with a lot strangers on that flight!)
3. STOCK UP ON MEDS
You never know when a your child is going to hurt herself, spike a fever, have an allergic reaction to something, develop diarrhea, or start projectile vomiting when you’re nowhere close to a medical clinic, so never (ever) board a plane without a miniature pharmacy in your carry on luggage.
I’m sure you have your favorites, but there are some meds I never travel without – especially when I’m flying with kids. Tylenol and Advil of course, but also throat lozenges and cough drops, Gravol, Benadryl and some bandaids.
4. TAKE LOTS OF SNACKS
When we were kids, there was no such thing as getting pizza, cookies, twizzlers, and ice cream sandwiches when we were 30,000+ feet in the air, so my mum always brought a ton of snacks with us. And since you can never predict weather delays and what food will be available on your flight, you will be doing yourself a huge favor if you pack a ton of snacks to take with you.
When flying with toddlers, you probably don’t want them eating a ton of junk while in flight anyway. While there are obviously lots of restrictions on liquids you can take on the plane, I’ve never had a problem bringing any type of solid food through security. Bring an empty water bottle or sippy cup along and fill it after you get through the screening process.
5. BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES
My mum used to buy my sister and me a brand new outfit before every trip, and one year she had the brilliant idea of getting me a wrinkle-resistant white track suit. She figured it was summery, comfortable, and wouldn’t make me look like a pile of rags when we (finally) reached our destination. The only problem is that she knocked a can of coke in my lap within the first hour of our trip, which left me looking like I’d crapped myself for the remaining 29 hours. The bottom line? Always bring a change of clothes.
6. PACK A LOT OF ACTIVITIES
While iPads and stickers and play doh might go a long way in giving you 20 minutes of peace and quiet to prepare dinner, you’re going to need a lot more than that to keep your kids entertained on a long flight, so do some research before you start packing. You can find 20 easy travel activities to keep kids happy on an airplane RIGHT HERE, and here are some of The Best Airplane Games for Kids I’ve found for travel:
Peaceable Kingdom Sticker Fun: These reusable stickers are good for hours of entertainment, and they have so many themes to choose from. I like the airplane theme when we travel, but you could just as easily go with “Mermaids”, “Funny Faces”, or “At the Zoo.”
Busy Books: There is probably a busy book for your child’s favorite movie or television show, and since they come with a figurine and a playmat along with a story, they are so much more than just a book!
Spot It!: Spot It! Is fun and provides a ton of learning opportunity. You can play with up to 8 people, so it’s great for a group (or a family seated in an airplane row.)
Melissa & Doug Sticker Pad Sets: In my experience, there is something universal about kids and stickers. They just love them! (And even as a grown-up I can still kinda see why.)
Magnetic Go Snakes n’ Ladders: This travel game is perfect for the plane because the magnetism means you won’t lose tiny pieces under your neighbor’s seat!
7. ELIMINATE FAVORITE TOYS PRE-TRAVEL
If your child spends hours playing with one particular toy (Let me guess? The iPad?!), try to limit the time you allow her to play with this toy (or completely eliminate it) for at least 3 days before your flight so it’s fresh and new.
And if you are flying with older kids, you can use this as a bartering tool when you’re struggling through the hell that is airport security (“Come on, kids! The sooner we get on the plane, the sooner you can watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on your DVD player!”).
8. MAKE A SURPRISE TRAVEL BAG
Once you’ve gathered a bunch of activities for your child to play with on the plane, stash it away in a special backpack he’s not allowed to peek into until you’re on your flight. I’ve been doing this with my daughter since she was about 2, and it’s a lot of fun for both of us. Oh, and I throw a few gift-wrapped dollar store toys in there as well. Works like a charm.
When I first started this trick, it also gave me an excuse to buy a new bag. (Any excuse will do sometimes, and flying with kids is a great one!) If you need something that’s good for travel and also stylish, I’m in love with this one from Nine West and this one from NNEE. Both have a long shoulder strap to keep your hands free, and tons of cargo room.
9. CHOOSE YOUR SEATS WISELY
While you can’t sit in an emergency exit row with small children, window seats are great for kids as they can decorate them with window clings and lean against them when they are ready to sleep, and aisle seats (especially those close to the bathrooms) are good if you have a kid that suffers from motion sickness as they can get in and out of their seat easily when they aren’t feeling well. Oh, and just a word of caution – seats behind the wing tend to experience more bumps and turbulence!
Before I was married or had kids I didn’t care too much about where my seat was when I flew. But now I always try and sit in the first third of the aircraft, partly because of the turbulence. But mainly it’s because the time spent waiting for everyone to retrieve their carry-on luggage and de-plane feels endless after a long flight – especially when flying with toddlers or young kids who are ready to explode. The closer we are to the front, the faster we’re off the plane!
Whether you’re flying with kids for 30 minutes or 30 hours, it isn’t easy, so if things don’t go as planned (spoiler alert: they won’t), take a few deep breaths, crack open those snacks, and remember that it’s only one day of your life, and whatever is on the other side is completely worth it.
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