Over the last 2 years, my kids have spent some 36+ hours on flights. Some flights have been great, some have been awful, but we’ve learned a little something from each trip. We have a couple more trips planned before the year is out (another 30+ hours of flying!), and I think we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. I want to share some of my favorite “flying with kids” tips from experience.
1. Buy What You Can When You Get There
For Junior, we pack enough diapers and wipes just for the trip, then buy our stock once we get there. Space is at a premium when you’re flying, especially when an airline charges for each checked bag, so you want to be smart about what you pack. Once we arrive at our destination, we find a Target or Walmart close by to pick up some essentials that are easier to purchase than pack. We also buy kids shampoo and soap (hotels don’t usually offer child-friendly shampoos), water bottles, juice boxes, and soda for the duration of the trip so we don’t have to purchase drinks while we’re out and about, sand toys (if we’re at the beach), any OTC Meds you may need (no one likes leaking bottles of Children’s acetaminophen in your checked bag) and sunscreen (exploding sunscreen can really mess up your suitcase, I say from experience!)
2. Bring Snacks…But Not All Snacks Are Created Equal
You want to think ahead about snacks when you’re flying with kids. Pack snacks that take a little while to eat so they will be occupied for a longer time. My kids love granola bars at home, but they finish them way too quickly, so they’re not my favorite plane options. My flight go-tos are: raisin boxes, dry cereal, popcorn, pretzels, trail mix, apple slices, and fruit snacks. The longer they spend eating, the less time they’ll have to be entertained.
3. Don’t Forget the Pressure Change
For little ears, the pressure change at takeoff and landing can really seem like the end of the world. And starting out a flight with a screaming kid sets a stressful tone for the entire trip. Have babies nurse or drink a bottle during takeoff and landing, give toddlers a lollipop to suck on, and give older kids some bubble gum to chew to avoid that painful popping. Because of Junior’s cochlear implants, his doctor recommends taking children’s pain reliever prior to flying, so ask your doctor about options if your child is overly sensitive to pressure change.
4. Plan Flight Times Based on Your Child’s Schedule
Last year we had two options for a 6 hour flight…7am departure or 7pm departure. Neither are particularly great when you’re dealing with kids, but we eventually went with the early morning flight, knowing that our kids probably wouldn’t sleep during the evening flight, which would affect their bedtime for at least a couple of days. The 7am was challenging since we had to get everyone up at 5, but we were able to check into the hotel at a reasonable time for everyone to rest and nap. Ideally, we shoot for a 10-11am flight, and while it’s not always the cheapest option, the convenience is often worth the upgrade. Try to schedule a flight when your child is usually in their best mood.
5. Carry On the Car Seat
If your toddler is anything like mine, getting him to sit still on an airplane is not a fun task. When he’s strapped in to just the airplane seat, he wants to get out and run, but when he’s safely secured in his car seat, he knows it’s travel time and he’s not allowed to “escape”. We purchased this handy cart to pull his car seat around the airport like a stroller and it’s been a godsend. (Affiliate link)
6. Create a Fun Bag
Every year when I was a kid, we would take a road trip to Arizona to visit family. I actually looked forward to being in the car for 8-plus hours, because my mom always packed a small plastic tub filled with books, travel games, and activities. For airplane rides, I keep an eye out on clearance racks and at the Dollar Store for fun books and toys. The biggest hit has been my DIY Travel Lego Tray, but the kids also enjoy little action figures, dry erase boards with markers, coloring books, stickers, and new apps on the iPad.
(Also see my Must Have DIY Travel Games)
7. Don’t Forget the Trip Back!
I always reserve a couple books and toys packed in my suitcase for the trip back, so the kids have some new activities to look forward to. The trip back is always kind of a letdown anyway, so having a few novel toys in reserve can help boost spirits.
8. Don’t Expect Perfection
Whether your kids are on their first flight or their hundredth, they’re still kids and they’re bound to get hungry, cranky, or tired at some point. Stay calm and don’t stress when someone starts crying or sulking, and eventually they will calm down.
Most of all, enjoy the trip, and remember that every moment traveling is an opportunity to create lifelong memories with your children.