Today, I thought I would share with you some tips I have learned from traveling with our children. Our kids are currently 8, 5, and 3, but have all been traveling since infancy. Our oldest flew seven times in his first two years of life (there were many celebrations and we were two days drive from most family).
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1. Plan early.
- I would love to be on a direct flight every time we fly. The reality is that we fly out of a smaller airport and almost always need to take a connecting flight. I plan our trip early to ensure that we only have one connection. Purchasing tickets early is key. Not only does it save you money, but you have more options on flights and seats before the plane fills up. This is really important, so you can get seats together and don’t have that added stress at the airport.
2. Make flight arrangements within your children’s normal schedule.
- I make sure our kids are well rested. We have an almost two hour drive to the airport, so a 7am flight would be way too early for us if you factor in drive time and check-in/security time. We don’t fly very late into the evening either. Not only are the kids going to be tired and fussy on the flight, but we will be starting the trip off with tired kids.
3. Be prepared.
- Pack more than what you think you will need for the flight in your carry on. I don’t know how many times we have experienced delayed flights and been stuck in an airport. We even had an unplanned hotel stay once. I was fairly certain I had enough diapers, but knew I would be cutting it close, so I picked some up at the airline offices. I was grateful for the help, but this was not ideal: it was a long walk to get there, they had a very limited supply and I got a size bigger than what we needed. Luckily I was able to nurse all of our kids, so I never had to worry about formula, but I would not count on the airline having formula.
4. Prepare your kids for airport security.
- Airport security can be stressful for anyone…pockets emptied, shoes off, no liquids over 3oz, liquids in a sandwich baggie, electronics out, coats off, etc all while being rushed through. Explain the process to children beforehand and what they can do to be helpful. Children under can an leave their shoes on while going through security. Liquids for babies can be checked.
5. Limit what you bring to the gate.
- I know this goes against what I have written above. Yes, you need plenty of diapers, formula (if using), snacks, and sources of entertainment.
- What you don’t need is a small carry on suitcase for everyone. Most times you will be required to check carry on suitcases at the gate. Yes it might be good to have one with extra supplies if you get stranded or your luggage gets lost, but it is another item that has to go through security and make it to the gate.
- Those cute little pull behind character suitcases that kids love so much are not good for flying. We opt for backpacks and save the cute suitcases for road trips. The backpack goes on their back while navigating the airport and fits nicely under their seat on the plane. I can just imagine one of our kids knocking someone over or giving them a massive bruise while pulling one of those suitcases through a crowded airport.
- I know some people use car seats on the plane, but I never have. Our kids sat in my lap until they were two and by then they could sit up in a seat and use the buckle. There was no way I can lug a car seat through the airport while trying to wrangle three kids and all of our carry on items.
- I have checked car seats with the luggage on occasion, but I try to avoid this. You can request car seats with your rental car reservation if making one. See if family can borrow a car set if they will be picking you up.
- The final thing I wanted to talk about under this section is strollers. I have used a wide variety of strollers. I base it on our needs. What do we need to survive the airport? What do we need at our destination? I often opted for no stroller with our first child and instead used a Infantino carrier. As we had more kids (and more stuff), I had to use a stroller. Our youngest is three and I no longer use a stroller unless I need it for the destination. Just remember the stroller has to go through security and be gate checked. If the stroller will fit, it has to be foled down and put through the security scanner. If not, it will be manually inspected.
6. Eat and use restroom before boarding
- I always have snacks and drinks with me before we board the plane, but make sure your children have eaten if it is near mealtime. You don’t want a hungry, cranky child on your hands. Don’t forget you cannot take any liquids unless medically necessary (formula is allowed) through security, so buy your drinks on the other side.
- I always pack an empty spill proof cup in each’s child backpack to fill once we have made it through security.
- Using the restroom on the plane is not an easy feat. The restrooms are small, you may have to disrupt other passengers to get out of your seat, and you may not be on a smooth flight.
7. Make sure your kids are entertained & comfortable during the flight.
- I don’t believe kids need to be entertained every second of their lives, but during a flight I do. We are in a small space with many other people, who appreciate the fact that my kids are entertained. Entertaining your kids will be vary slightly depending on their age.
- Help alleviate discomfort from air pressure change at take off and landing with nursing, a bottle or a pacifier for babies. For toddlers and preschoolers try sippy cups or lollipops. For older kids, gum, lollipops, or hand candy are all good choices.
Please feel free to contact me with any further questions you may have. I have tried to remember every scenario, but I am sure there is something I am leaving out. As I mentioned above, I plan to write a series of posts that will address flying with kids at each different age.
Of note: We have never flown internationally with our kids or taken a flight over three hours.