The holiday season is in full swing and, for many families, that means traveling by plane to see your loved ones.
Air travel can be exhausting and stressful for even the most seasoned travelers, let alone adding kids to the mix. Some parents are so petrified of traveling with little ones that they opt to stay at home. But don’t let these worries stop you and your kids from experiencing the joy of travel.
Flying with kids can be a smooth and even enjoyable experience, especially with a little preparation and advanced planning. Here are a few simple tips to make traveling with little gremlins easier:
GET TO THE AIRPORT EXTRA EARLY
Kids, especially little ones, always cause delays for you. This is one thing I learned the hard way. One year we actually missed our flight to Cancun over the Thanksgiving holiday because we got to the airport on-time (for a single person traveling offseason), but with the long lines and kid wrangling we missed the window to check our luggage. At this point in our life, we only had one kid in tow yet still missed our flight. So now, I try to get to the airport extra early so that I’m not as stressed.
TAKE A CARSEAT
If you have little ones, take a car seat. When I only had one child I always assumed it was more trouble than it’s worth so I never took one along. With the twins I felt I had no choice, although I did try not taking seats once – HUGE mistake.
This past summer, I took the two car seats and other than an airport fiasco, it was indeed a huge lifesaver and made the trip much more pleasurable for all. First off my kids weren’t constantly kicking the seat of the person in front of them, not to mention grabbing their hair and arms, etc. With them strapped in, I was able to actually enjoy a movie and a glass of wine.
BE STRATEGIC ABOUT TRAVEL TIMES
Try to book an early morning flight. These flights tend to be less crowded and have a higher likelihood of taking off and landing on time. Plus, you and your kids will probably be tired in the early morning and, thus, more likely to nap through the flight.
Avoid traveling during the afternoon and early evening, when weather-related delays (like thunderstorms) are more likely to form and the aviation system is at its fullest capacity (in the U.S., the combined number of arrivals and departures are the highest between 4 and 5pm).
Also, this may seem like a no-brainer but avoid red-eye flights. Overnight flights are more likely to disrupt body clocks and sleep patterns, which is a recipe for disaster for anyone with young children.
Lastly, try to fly non-stop to your destination. Rushing to make a connecting flight or, worse yet, missing your connection can cause a lot of stress and frustration. If you must take a connecting flight, err on the side of having a longer layover (such as 2 or 3 hours). This will give you ample time to collect your belongings, get off the plane, and make your way to the next gate without having to make a mad dash with kids in tow.
CHOOSE SEATS WISELY
For the peace of mind that you’ll all sit together as a family, try to fly an airline that allows you to book your seats ahead of time. If the airline doesn’t allow you to secure a seat at the time of booking, then check-in to your flight as early as possible to maximize your choice of seating assignments (most airlines permit online check-in beginning 24 hours before departure).
There is some debate as to whether the front of the plane or the back of the plane is best for families traveling with children. The closer you sit to the front of the plane, the easier the boarding and deplaning process will likely be, which is critical if you have a connecting flight. However, if you sit at the back of the plane, you will be closer to bathrooms, less likely to disturb other passengers, and possibly receive more help from flight attendants (but good luck with that).
DISTRACTION IS KEY
Stave off on-plane meltdowns by keeping your kids distracted and entertained. Even if you don’t normally let your kids have much screen time, trips are a good time make an exception
Consider packing an iPad (loaded with games, music, TV shows, and movies) and kid-sized headphones, as well as plenty of small toys, games, and coloring books. Try to avoid expensive toys or toys with multiple pieces that can get dropped or misplaced.
Instead of pulling everything out at once, help your child pace themselves. Take them out one at a time and only bring out a new distraction when your child is bored with the current activity and ready to move on.
TRAVEL LIKE A MINIMALIST
Be mindful of what you can reasonably fit in your carry-on and pack only the items you know that you cannot live without, such as snacks, toys, a change of clothing, wet wipes and diapers, and formula/breastmilk if you’re traveling with an infant.
Consider using a backpack as your carry-on because they leave both hands free to wrangle your kids. For everything else, like bulky jackets and gifts, pack it in your checked luggage so you don’t have to lug it on and off the plane. Many long-haul carriers offer in-flight bassinets at no extra cost and some airports even provide strollers free of charge, so those are two more things that you may not need to bring along.
Another way to simplify the travel experience is to leave behind what you can rent, buy, or borrow. Companies like Babierge (https://www.babierge.com/) and Baby’s Away (https://babysaway.com/) allow you to rent all the baby equipment that you need during your trip. You can rent cribs, car seats, strollers, high seats, and toys and these companies will deliver the gear to the airport or hotel at your destination.
PLAN FOR DISASTERS
If things don’t go as planned, don’t be too hard on yourself. Traveling with kids requires careful planning and can be challenging at times… But it can be an incredibly rewarding experience – you are enriching their lives by exposing them to a diversity of languages, sights, people, and cultures.
Even if your kid decides to throw a mid-flight tantrum, remember that you are doing your very best and remind yourself that most passengers are patient and understanding – after all, we were all upset kids ourselves at one point!
However when all else fails to bring along plenty of earplugs to hand out to passengers nearby and offer to buy them a drink to help smooth things over. You’d be surprised how these simple little gestures make even the grumpiest passengers go easier on you and your kids.
Where have you traveled with kids and how old were they? Let us know in the comments below how it went!
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* Guest Post by Kacy Andrews of Supermoms Anonymous