Summer travel season has arrived, which means that many families are flying here and there to enjoy much-deserved time away from bosses, laundry, and walking the dog. Despite the excitement of the journey, many families find it stressful and challenging to travel with kids, but it really doesn’t need to be. Take a look at these 10 tips to make flying with kids a breeze.
Choose a flight time that fits your kids’ sleep routine. If you have kids that nap and you think they will sleep on the plane, then book a flight that takes off just before naptime. On the flip side, if you have kids that absolutely will not nap on the flight, avoid flying during the coveted nap window or risk having a tired, cranky kid with you the rest of the day.
Try to fly non-stop. Sure, it’s not always possible to get a direct flight to your destination, but if you can, do it, even if you have to change your final destination. My family and I went to Puerto Rico in March and honestly I almost chose another island because we had to fly from Washington, DC to Boston to San Juan. It ended my working out fine, but it was kind of a pain.
Give them each a backpack (but they have to carry their own). One of the time-honored travel traditions is the packing of the backpacks. My kids each have their own backpack to fill with coloring books, snacks and juice boxes. The smaller the kid, the smaller the backpack, which helps ensure they don’t overfill. They can pack what they want, but they know they need to carry it themselves.
Get to the airport early (and I mean early). Decide on a time to leave for the airport that would get you there with plenty of time to spare, and then back it up 30 minutes. We flew to Ft. Lauderdale two years ago and got to the airport with “plenty of time” only to be stymied by security and slow moving children. We got to the gate as they were boarding, but it was too late. They’d already given away our seats (I still can’t figure out how that happened) and it took 90 minutes to re-book us.
Just check your luggage already. Just because you can bring on board extra carry-on items because you’re traveling with kids doesn’t mean that you should. Seriously, who wants to schlep multiple suitcases, plus a stroller and backpacks through a major airport? Research your airline ahead of time to gauge checked bag fees, but then just check them and relax.
Have plenty of on-board entertainment. Bring on board whatever you think it will take to keep your kids entertained while confined on the airplane. I’m not a big fan of letting my kids stare mindlessly into my iPhone, but honestly, if it keeps them happy and quiet while on a four-hour flight, that’s fine with me. I try to pre-populate my phone with plenty of fun, educational apps.
Snacks, snacks, snacks. Along the lines of on-board entertainment, I make sure we have more than enough snacks to make it to our destination. I usually bring along cracker packets, granola bars, cookies and goldfish crackers. Not all the snacks are super-healthy, but I don’t care about the nutritional value of snacks when we fly. I just want to keep my kids quiet and full on the flights.
Plan for your kids to get sick (or spill their drink on their pants). For whatever reason, my daughter’s ears always hurt when we fly, so now we bring lollipops. I don’t know if sucking on the lollipop actually relieves the pain or keeps her occupied, but it works. We also keep the airsick bag close at hand. Oh, and an extra change of clothes is good to have. Not long ago, my husband flew alone with the kids and before the flight had even taken off my daughter spilled her apple juice all over her pants.
Potty up before you get on the plane. Even if your kids say they don’t need to go to the bathroom, take them anyway. It’s a lot easier to potty up in the airport than it is once you’re on the plane. Plus, it’s not like me and my three-year-old can fit inside an airline lavatory.
Assume there will be delays. I was on a non-stop flight recently from Denver to Washington, DC that landed in Chicago. Yes, Chicago. Fortunately, I was traveling alone, but had my kids been with me I knew I would have needed back-up entertainment. So plan to eat snacks (I got an ice cream cone), play airport games (I Spy is a good one) and listen to music. Don’t forget a charger for any electronics you may have, like smartphones and portable DVD players.
Erin Gifford is a mother of four who shares family travel advice and ideas on her blog, Kidventurous, which was recently chosen as the Best Family Travel blog by Parents magazine.