My daughter was 10 months old the first time she boarded a plane, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I had promised my parents I would take her to visit them in Houston for a week, and while I felt extremely brave when I booked our tickets (even though I knew I’d be flying solo since my husband couldn’t take the time off work), I was a nervous wreck in the days leading up to the trip. I have always been a nervous flyer, and I just didn’t know how I would cope if something horrible happened and my little one spent the entire journey screaming.
But I had promised my folks I’d make that trip, so even though I desperately wanted to cancel at the last minute, I put on my big girl panties and did it. And you know what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, and the 2 of us have since clocked a lot of air miles together. As it turns out, my daughter is a fabulous travel companion, and through a lot of trial and error, we’ve figured out how to make each journey as fun and stress-free as possible.
But before I share my best tips for flying with kids, 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 top 15 tips for flying with kids!
1. Make sure everyone gets a good night of sleep the night before.
Traveling with a tired and cranky child isn’t fun for anyone, but if you’re also feeling exhausted and short-tempered, you’re in for a looooooooong journey. Trust me on this one.
2. Check the status of your flight before you head to the airport.
Experience has proven to me that airlines aren’t always good about informing passengers about flight delays until they check in for their flight at the airport, but if you’ve ever tried to keep a toddler entertained for 6 hours in an airport lounge before a 5 hour flight, you probably already have a flight tracker app on your smartphone, right?
3. Get to the airport early.
While hanging out in the airport isn’t exactly exciting, it’s important to give yourself lots of time for long lines and other hiccups, especially when you have a little one in tow. The last thing you need is to feel rushed and overwhelmed before your journey even starts.
4. Pump your kids up!
I was absolutely terrified of flying when I was a kid, which made all of those round-the-world trips we did absolutely horrible for me, and while I’m still not overly comfortable on planes, I have gone out of my way to make traveling as exciting as possible for my daughter. She absolutely loves flying, which makes the flight delays and long journeys so much easier for me.
5. Run off as much steam as possible.
By the time we’ve made it through immigration and airport security, my daughter usually wants to get directly on the plane so she can get out all of her travel toys, but I make it a point to run her around the airport as much as I can and we always board last. I find the more energy we get out ahead of time, the longer she can sit still, which is especially important for long flights!
6. Pack new toys.
Whenever we travel, I put together a backpack filled with brand new toys for my daughter. I stock up on dollar store toys and things I find on sale in the weeks leading up to the big day, and usually get a couple of things she has been eyeing at her favorite toy store, and I find it goes a long way in keeping her excited and happy during the journey.
7. Bring lots of snacks.
My daughter is a very picky eater, so I always pack a lot of snacks when we travel, but in an effort to save space I recently made the mistake of packing JUST ENOUGH food to get us through (another) 3-hour flight to Houston. Naturally, mother nature did not cooperate with us and we were diverted to Austin shortly before we were supposed to land, and that 3-hour trip took us 10 hours. And guess what? We ran out of food long before we made it to our destination. Fortunately, that bag of new toys kept my daughter distracted enough not to notice, but from now on I will make sure to pack more food than we’ll need as an added safeguard.
8. Don’t forget the first aid kit.
On the same flight to Houston, my daughter burned her finger on the light over our seat 10 minutes before we departed from Austin because, unbeknownst to me, the light cover had been removed and there was nothing protecting the light bulb. Thankfully, the flight attendants were quick to help (and the airline compensated us with air miles), but it reminded me how easily kids can hurt themselves, and how important it is to be prepared with their favorite bandaids and age-appropriate first aid creams.
9. Pack extra clothes for everyone.
On our flight home from Las Vegas in January, my daughter started complaining she had a tummy ache and within an hour she was inconsolably crying because she was in so much pain. The good news is that it was a tummy bug and she felt better after she puked all over my husband and me, but in an attempt to save space in our carry on luggage, I had only packed a change of clothes for her and nothing for us. It wasn’t fun, but taught me the importance of making sure I have extra outfits for everyone!
10. Make sure electronic toys are fully charged.
While more and more planes offer in-seat charging stations, it’s a good idea to ensure iPads and portable DVD players are full of juice before take-off as they serves as great distractions when your kids start to reach their saturation point.
11. Bring games you can play together.
When my daughter was a toddler, she was happy to sit and play quietly on her own when we traveled, but now that she’s older, I find she is happiest when the 2 of us are doing something together. Of course, I can only play with playdoh and read the same books for so long before I want to poke my eyes out, so now I try to bring a couple of games we can play together as a special treat. It’s a great way to get in some one-on-one time!
12. Pack pajamas.
If your child is still napping or you are on an overnight flight, make sure his favorite pair of pajamas is in your carryon luggage. My mother did this on all of those long-haul flights we did between Singapore and Canada when I was a kid, and I found it much easier to fall asleep when I was comfortable.
13. Don’t forget the 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.
14. Keep smiling.
Even when you’ve had enough and don’t think you can handle another game of Crazy Eights, make sure to keep a smile on your face. The happier and more positive you are, the smoother the flight will be for everyone. Trust me on this one.
And don’t forget to…
Whether you’re traveling on an airplane with your 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, order yourself a glass of wine, and remind yourself that it’s just one day of your life, and that whatever is on the other end is worth it.
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