For a lot of us, summertime means taking much needed breaks from work and school and traveling to dreamy destinations! Most of us enjoy and look forward to these vacations. However, the thought of getting on an airplane with kids can be overwhelming to the point that some of us avoid it altogether. I often find myself thinking, “Maybe we will just travel once our kids are grown.” But if we always let fear and anxieties prevent us from traveling, we will miss out on so many memories that we could be creating with our kiddos. The key to eliminating these fears and anxieties? Being educated on how to make things go smoothly from the moment you step out the door until the moment you return home!
Living far away from family for my husband’s grad program, we’ve had several opportunities to take flights to visit family. Traveling with our young daughter on an airplane has had its rough moments, but I quickly learned (mostly from my own errors) things to do and things not to do when traveling with kids on an airplane! Here are my top tips!
It’s always a good idea to give yourself extra time when you have kids--especially when traveling. Plan to get to the airport extra early so that you won’t feel stressed about missing your flight. Being able to move through the airport calmly and without any worry makes travel much more enjoyable.
Check Your Luggage
If you’re heading on a vacation that will last more than a few days, check your luggage. It’s easier than trying to stuff all you can into your carry-on or backpack. This will also allow you to have your hands free to help your child(ren), and means one less thing you’ll have to anxiously to keep track of.
Dress Comfortably and in Layers
Even if you’re traveling to a warm climate, dress in comfortable layers when traveling. This will make it easy to adjust if you get too hot or cold. Have your child do the same.
It's also best to wear shoes that can easily slip on and off to make life simpler. This means you should probably avoid laces. (I’ve learned this firsthand). However, it’s also best to avoid sandals that may fall off easily. With kiddos, we may be in a rush and struggling to keep our shoes on is the last thing we want. Whatever you pick, just ensure it will be comfortable for travel.
Use a Backpack
Having a backpack-style diaper bag is super important when traveling with little ones. Backpack diaper bags often have more dividers and pockets, making it easier for you to keep your items organized and easy to find. Using a backpack also keeps your hands free to help your little ones when they need it.
Organize Your Carry-On
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to keep everything organized and divided in your carry-on. I personally love Ziploc bags because they are see-through which makes it easier to find what I’m looking for. This also simplifies the check-in process when you’re required to remove items from your backpack when passing through security.
Give Your Children Their Own Backpacks
On most airlines, each person will be allowed a personal item if they have purchased a seat. This means that most children older than 2 can have their own little bag. This can be so fun for kiddos, while also allowing you to keep your own backpack from being too full. Throw all of their essentials, games, and activities inside so that you don’t have to carry it for them.
Create Essentials Bags
Having a bag of essentials for each person that’s easy to access is essential, especially if you’re checking your luggage. This will ensure you have what you need for each child just in case. I love to use gallon size Ziplocs with each child’s name written on them. Here are some items you may want to include:
- Change of clothes
- Extra diapers
- Small pack of wipes
- Bottle and formula (if formula feeding)
- Favorite snack
- Comfort object (favorite stuffed animal/blanket)
- Change of clothes (plus underwear, socks, etc.)
- Spare shoes (yes, they may lose a shoe in the chaos of travel!)
For older kiddos and yourself/spouse:
- Medications (if needed)
- Change of clothes
- Extra phone charger
- For women: Hair ties, tampons/pads
Although it’s always best to be prepared for emergencies or on the off chance your luggage gets lost, try your best not to bring too much. If your backpack is overflowing, maybe you need to purge a bit and remove some things you don’t really need. Remember, the key is to make it easy to access all the items you will be needing throughout the day.
Use a Compact Stroller or Babywear
I’m a huge fan of compact strollers! In all honesty, they are probably my favorite piece of baby gear. They make life so much simpler for everyday life because of how easy they are to fold while taking up very little space. When traveling, compact strollers will be your saving grace! Not only will it help keep your child safe from running away from you, but it saves your back when your little one begs to be carried! (Again, I’ve learned this the hard way). Many compact strollers are small enough to fit into an overhead compartment and can even be pushed down the center aisle of the airplane! Whatever stroller you pick, make sure you check with your specific airline to ensure it will be allowed on the plane. If not, it will need to be checked at the gate. Even if you assume yours will be allowed, make sure you have a backup plan. Purchase a stroller bag that you can put your stroller in to keep it protected on the off chance they do have to check it at the gate.
If your baby is young enough, babywearing may be the best option. This is also a great way to encourage your newborn to sleep soundly and remain comforted throughout the flight. I personally loved my Solly wrap. It was super lightweight which kept me and my baby from getting too hot while also being stretchy and comfortable.
Consider Using Pull-Ups
If you have young toddlers that are recently potty trained or have occasional accidents, consider having them wear a pull-up on the airplane. This worked really well for our daughter when traveling. We would still encourage her to tell us when she needed to go (which she did), but it also kept us from having to clean up accidents in case we couldn’t access a bathroom at the exact moment she needed to go. Because let’s be honest, kids always need to go at the most inopportune times.
Keep All Essential Paperwork in a Folder
Something I learned from my mom is to keep a printout of the plane tickets and any other travel paperwork I would need in a folder. This makes it so much easier to find what I need when I get to security. Keep other travel paperwork handy in this folder as well, such as car rental agreements or hotel reservations. Although you may have access to these things on your phone, sometimes technology can fail us at the worst moment.
Educate Yourself on All Guidelines Before Travel
Every airline has different guidelines on baby gear, and what is or is not allowed. Some airlines require you to bring a birth certificate if you have a child that will be riding on your lap, and others will not. Most airlines will allow you to bring a stroller, diaper bag, and car seat for free with your child. However, it is best not to assume anything. To prevent moments of panic, read up on all guidelines beforehand.
If you are taking an international flight, read up on what paperwork is required both to enter and leave the country and triple check to make sure you have everything before leaving the house. You may need to be updated on vaccinations as well. Every country has different guidelines, so you will have to do a little research to make sure you have what you need. When going through customs, certain items won’t be allowed, so again, research before bringing anything along that might keep you held up!
Talk About Airport Safety
Airports can be so busy! And although it's rare, it’s important to prepare our kids just in case they somehow get separated from us. One of the best things you can do is teach your kids about how to get help from a trusted adult if they cannot find you. You may also want to place a small card with your phone number on it in your child’s pocket and explain to your child what it is. If they don’t have a pocket, you can also make a bracelet with number beads to place on their wrist. That way, if they get separated, your child can give the trusted adult your number so they can call you and have them meet you. This is important even if your child has your number memorized. Even adults can get flustered and forget phone numbers in an emergency. Explain to your child what a trusted airport worker looks like, and remind kiddos to not wander if they get lost.
Prepare Activities for Long Waits and the Plane Ride
Children can often get bored and sick of traveling! Especially if you have long layovers! Here are some of my favorite ways to keep kids occupied at the airport and on the airplane when waiting;
- Snacktime: Pull out the snacks you brought along, or wander the airport and let them choose something to eat! And don’t forget those water bottles! We all need to stay hydrated. (Just make sure they’re empty when going through security.)
- New toy and craft: Kids get excited over something new and exciting. It honestly doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s something they haven’t seen before. Pack a small toy and craft for each child and give it to them when they are excessively bored. I like to find something inexpensive that I won’t care about if it gets lost.
- Games: There are so many games that you can play with your kiddos on an airplane. Bring a deck of cards, or even just a pad and pencils. Some of my favorite games to play with my siblings were with a piece of paper. Here are some fun games to play on an airplane!
- Read: If your kiddos are a bit older, let them go to the bookstore with you beforehand and pick out a book they can read on the plane! This is a great way to keep them occupied and happy when they get bored.
- Technology: Technology can be one of the best ways to keep young and older kiddos happy! And you are NOT a bad parent for using technology to your advantage when you need it. My toddler (14 months) loves watching the movie Luca. When we travel, we make sure we have this downloaded on the iPad or on one of our phones. Young kids also love watching videos of themselves. So if all else fails, pull out the photo album on your phone and show them pictures and home videos! Older kiddos love video games as well. Just make sure all devices are fully charged (and will be allowed through security) before bringing them along!
- Talk: Traveling together gives you so many opportunities to talk with one another! Take this opportunity to engage with your children. In our family, we love to ask each other fun questions. It keeps kids of all ages occupied and distracted when they are starting to feel bored. Here are some great conversation starters: If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Why? What is something you’d love to learn how to do someday? If you could build your own dream house, what would it look like?
Although my family didn’t travel often when I was young, the vacations we did take left me with vivid memories I will cherish forever. So take those vacations when you get a chance. Bring your kids along and teach them about different places and cultures. The lessons you will all learn together and the memories you create will be priceless.
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