This topic is on my mind since I just took a cross-country trip with my kids. This was the first time I have flown by myself with the kids, and thankfully things went smoothly! But, traveling with kids can be very stressful, so here are some strategies to help keep you sane!
Flying with infants (0-2):
- Check your stuff! Although you may have to pay to check your suitcase, most airlines will check baby gear for free - including car seats and strollers. The less stuff you are hauling through the airport, the better! A simple umbrella stroller can be used in the airport, if needed, but a carrier like a Bjorn is also very convenient. (Also, you don't need to purchase one of those expensive car seat covers to protect the car seats in transit - just buy some heavy duty garbage bags, they work great!)
- Ship necessities ahead of time. Particularly if you have an extended stay, it makes sense to ship your bulk items (like diapers, baby food, or formula) to your destination to save space in your luggage.
- Pacifier clip. If your baby uses a pacifier, you won't want it to accidentally fall on the floor of the airport or airplane. This clip is awesome (and cute)!
- Pack smart. Make sure to be prepared with anything you may not find at an airport or on the plane. You should have a change of clothes for the baby (and a fresh shirt for yourself), plenty of wipes and diapers, a disposable changing pad, infant pain reliever, and some toys and books. You can always buy snacks and water/juice/milk while traveling if needed.
Flying with older kids (2+):
- Be safe. Airports are busy places, and kids can get lost. If your kids are too young to understand rules (such as "Stay with mommy"), consider one of those backpack harnesses. Whatever you may feel about these products, my view is that whatever keeps your kids safe (and you a bit more sane) is worth looking into! If your kids are older, and capable of sticking with you and following directions, you still need to ensure their safety. Consider writing your cell phone number on your child's hand or arm (in Sharpie so it doesn't easily wash off), and maybe even your flight number.
- Screens. Throw away your rules on limiting screen time! Your child's brain will not rot after a day of watching movies or playing games on the iPad, and it will make your trip so much more relaxing. Plus, new regulations allow you to use electronic devices from gate to gate, which makes take-off and landing so much easier. Be sure to have a variety of your child's favorite movies and games to keep their attention. (On our recent flight, my kids and the little girl right behind us were all watching "Frozen" at the same time!) You will need some child-friendly headphones, and also a splitter if you have multiple kids and one screen (we use this one). A kid-friendly case for your device is also a good idea (we have this one and it has been virtually indestructible)!
- Food and drink. If money is not an issue for your family, you don't have to worry about packing meals, drinks, etc. You can just purchase these at the airport or on the plane. But, if you're like me, you will want to pack everything ahead of time. I recommend bringing an empty spill-proof water bottle (like this) to fill with water at the airport (most airports now have filtered water for this very purpose!). Bring plenty of snacks, preferably non-refrigerated and individually packaged - such as fruit snacks, boxes of raisins, applesauce pouches, granola bars, and small apples. If you have foods that can be crushed (such as cookies, chips, and crackers), put those in a plastic container first.
- Potty breaks. Try to plan out trips to the bathroom as best as you can, but also know that potty breaks will come frequently and at the worst times - be prepared! Have a plan for how you will handle airplane potty trips if you are alone with multiple kids. In my case, I was traveling alone with my two 4-year-olds, so I would leave one in our seats (entertained with the iPad) while I took the other one to the bathroom (where we would both squeeze in). Assume that potty breaks will have to occur "NOW!" at the most inopportune times. My kids announced they needed to go right when we were supposed to board the plane, and also right when there was bad turbulence and the seatbelt sign went on. The 4-year-old girl behind us announced her own potty emergency right when the plane landed and everyone was standing in the aisle waiting to de-plane. In general, people will understand that kids have to go when they have to go! And, if they don't understand - oh well! It's better to deal with some bystander grumbling than to deal with wet pants!
Things to remember:
- The trip will go smoother if you are well-prepared, but you can't be prepared for everything, so expect the unexpected!
- Traveling gets much easier as your kids get older - they understand directions, can sit still for longer periods, and can (mostly) control their impulses. I have flown at least once a year with my kids since infancy, and this last trip was infinitely easier now that they are 4 1/2!
- Just get through this one day...and enjoy that glass of wine tonight!