I should feign humility, but I’d really like to think that if I have any skills at all (besides making babies) it’s traveling with kids. After all, I have spent the last two years conducting some very intensive research on the topic and we have all lived to tell about it. May you find it helpful and if not, take heart, horrific travel experiences make for great stories; consider it your contribution to mankind.
Also, my experience is obviously geared around younger kids, so my advice will be too. I would like to think that by the time my kids are older they will pack and carry their own stuff, watch movies and eat junk food for the duration of the trip, and leave me the mess alone. Don’t you dare spoil it for me.
Some tips and tricks for traveling with (young) kiddos:
- Ha. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. For real now.
- Talk up the trip.
- Build excitement about the trip. Talk about riding in the car/plane and about all the things you will do and people you will see when you get there. Try and make travel days something to look forward to and not to dread.
- Wear them out before leaving.
- Let them play outside or run round before loading up. The last thing you want to do is try and travel with kids with pent up energy. When flying, after we get to the gate we try and let the kids run around, climb stairs etc. for a bit before boarding. Our airport in Korea has a play area for young kids; check to see if your airport has one.
- Travel days are SPECIAL.
- Things that would never fly on a normal day are totally ok on travel days. These are the days that there is no moderation, no balance, and no one is trying to win a parenting award. There are limitless snacks and too much TV, and that is OK. The only people judging you are your fellow kid-less passengers, and they too may one day know just how real the struggle is.
- “Healthy” (crush proof) snacks: Feel free to pack Cheetos and gummy bears, but eventually you may to want them to stop eating that, lest you want to clean up puke. I try to pack mostly things that if my kid ate their weight in it, I wouldn’t be too concerned. Find the balance between some special snacks and things that will make them be excited but not too sugary/sticky/etc. Ex. pretzels, applesauce pouches, dried fruit, trail mix, cheese sticks.
- Pack snacks in Nalgene bottles: Still want to take fragile snacks? Can’t live without Goldfish? Fill up an old water bottle with snacks to keep them from getting crushed and spilled in your bag.
- Ziplock bags: Great to have on hand to distribute snacks and/or collect trash. Each kid gets a baggie to hold their snacks and they can be refilled as needed.
- We also try and bring some device for the boys to watch movies. Make sure to charge devices the night before, maybe load a new movie or two, and bring headphones and a headphone splitter if they are sharing.
- Wrap up some new (or even old) toys.
- Go to your local dollar store or bargain bin and stock up on small/inexpensive toys and grab some cheap wrapping paper to wrap them. We try to space out letting the boys open them so they have something to look forward to. We have even wrapped up some old toys before, so this would be the perfect time to wrap that toy that you loathe, and pray it disappears into the airplane abyss.
- Clean crafts.
- Color magic
- Painters tape
- Magna Doodle
- Wikki Stix
- Tongue depressors with velcro dots on the ends for building
- Temporary tattoos
- All respectable children should have at least a half-sleeve by the time you arrive.
- Car toys.
- We have a special basket of toys that live in the car. What makes them special you ask? THEY LIVE IN THE CAR. They don’t come inside, so there is automatic anticipation to use them. #momhack
- Landmark incentives.
- Ex. You can have another snack/open another toy when we cross the big bridge! It gives them something to look forward to and keeps them from running through treats too quickly.
- Talk about what you see.
- When I can tell the kids are getting antsy (“I wanna get outtttt” on repeat) I sadly turn off our audio book and talk to the kids about the scenery. Judah has learned lots about back hoes (and I’ve realized I don’t know nearly enough names of construction equipment to be a proper boy mom) and water towers…and I have only almost driven off the road as Judah excitedly spots them and shrieks “NOTHER BACK HOE, MAMAAAA!!”.
- Maximize your stops.
- Sometimes your kids need a slow, no stress kinda trip with lots of stops, and thats ok, but otherwise, we try and make the trip as short as possible. We try to multitask at each stop, ex. I will nurse Z and Isaac can let the boys run around at a rest stop or Isaac will do diapers while I pump gas and grab food. Road trips are great all, but sometimes it good to just get to your destination.
- Consider bringing carseats.
- We brought carseats on the flight for the first time on our last trip from DFW to Seoul. It was a game changer for us as Isaac was sitting in a middle row of 3 with the boys so there was no way to barricade them both in, and I was one row in front with Zoey. Our boys are pretty good road-trippers, so putting them in their carseats made them seem much more calm and happy to stay in their seat than ever before. I don’t think it is right for everyone or for every trip, just consider your kids ages, temperament, and length of flight. Also, you have to make sure you carseat is FAA certified; it should say on it or have a sticker if it is.
- Get the bassinet seat.
- If you are flying, especially internationally with a baby (usually ~1 and under, but it is based on height and weight), a bassinet can be super helpful. At the very least hopefully you can get baby settled in it so you can eat hands free. Check with your airlines as some will reserve it for you ahead of time, and some have you request it on a first-come-first-served basis at check in. You also have to be sitting in the first row of the cabin to use the bassinet. I will say it is basically Murphy’s law that if your baby is fussy and you finally console them and get them to sleep in the bassinet, the the seatbelt sign will turn on and you will be asked to hold your baby. I have definitely gotten to the point of exhaustion where I just want to say, “LISTEN LADY, I assure you that if it gets bad enough, I will grab my baby, but for the love of ALL THINGS, pleaseeeeee don’t make me move them yet.”-the pleas of an exhausted mama.
- Cheap toys.
- We try and bring toys that we wouldn’t lose sleep over if they got left on the plane accidentally, as everything ends up getting spread out over the course of the flight. Again see: wrap up dollar store toys.
- If you have small children, bring water on as long as they will let you.
- Staying hydrated can make all the difference in how you feel at the end of an international flight, so bring water if you can. Usually with young kids, as long as you set it aside while going through security so they can scan it, they will allow it. At the very least bring an empty water bottle to fill up on the other side of security.
- Bring empty sippy cups.
- Instead of worrying with bringing milk or juice for our kids, we just pack them empty, and ask the flight attendants to fill them. They have always been happy to oblige.
- Cabin pressure.
- I feel like this is common knowledge, but when flying with babies-toddlers, just try to nurse/feed or have them sip something through a sippy cup during take off and landing to help their ears adjust to the change in pressure. Between 3 kids and more flights than I can count, we have never had an issue.
- Fly Tot.
- We also have this thing called the Fly Tot that we love for helping little ones stretch out and sleep. It is basically an inflatable footrest so that they can lay down. You should guess we are all too happy to through money at anything that might help my kiddos sleep. We have been really happy with it. See the Fly Tot here.
Things to consider:
- Baggage allowances- most airlines allow for an extra bag as the infant’s diaper bag, a collapsible stroller to be checked at the gate, and then extra allowance to check pack n’ plays, carseats, or larger strollers. Check ahead of time!
- Some airlines will allow you to select a special kids meal (hot dog, spaghetti, pizza, etc.), infant meal (water for making bottles, premixed formula), or even an older infant meal (baby food, juice).
- Early boarding- most airlines will let you board before they board the main cabin. This will allow you to get everyone settled and claim your overhead compartment space near your seat.
- Airports will often let you use express lines for security, immigration, or customs if you have your hands full. Don’t be afraid to ask. I’ll never forget after a particularly horrific day of travel we walked up to the immigration line and it was ENDLESS, and I promptly pushed our stroller to the DIPLOMAT/FLIGHT CREW/IMPORTANT PEOPLE line and Isaac’s like, “…babe…” I responded with, “Isaac our kids are screaming, exhausted, and covered in throw up (I told you…horrific). Leaving this airport ASAP would be public service.” *They didn’t turn us away, they must have seen that glimmer in my eye that told them I was fully prepared to fight someone.
- JUST ASK! There may be extra seats and often times the flight attendants will take pity on you and give you some extra room. Or you can go as far as asking them to move the people around you so that you have more room…I have totallyyyyy never done that. Survival of the shameless.
- Always bring a change clothes. If not, you are basically daring someone to throw up. Now I know. See: Why You Should Pack Clothes For Everyone.
- If all else fails, bring earplugs.
- You can’t win them all. If you have tried everything, sometimes your kids may just fuss. Crank up your favorite jams, pretend the kids aren’t yours, and try to tune it out. 🙂
And just for your reading pleasure, a few humorous moments:
When turn around to find your son making a call on the TSA telephone.“Sorry, mom, I’ve got to take this”.
Or when you are going through security and think your husband has the child, your husband thinks you have the child, and then you hear, “um, excuse me, is that your child over there?”. (See your child running through the airport about 20 yards away.) Nope…never seen him before…
When you are so over parenting on an airplane that you literally ask the grandma sitting next to you if she wants to hold your baby…and you get him back 5 hours later. ALL THE PRAISE HANDS.
When your kid refuses to sleep any during the 14hr flight, and finally passes out…while landing. Hello, unconscious Judah.
When you are headed off for an international trip and you see a well dressed family and wonder where the heck all their stuff is….(that is only half our luggage).
When your child makes a new friend because he unexpectedly refuses to get on the escalator and you only realize after he is out of reach. #goodparents
Well, I’m not sure if I have helped, or actually convinced you to not travel until your kids graduate. So, if you get brave, may we see you in the clear skies or the open road. ❤