Strategies for Stress-Free Travel with Children
We’re asked all the time questions like “I’m about to travel with my baby! How do you do it?!”, “Is travel with children as bad as it seems?”, “What do we take to make sure our flight is smooth?”, and the like. And when you’ve traveled as much as we have with our little one, you’re sure to become a pro. So, here it is: here are our top strategies for stress-free air travel with children!
Time Your Flight(s)
We prefer early morning flights, and not just because those are the ones we normally can find seats on. Early morning flights mean a couple of things: a lower likelihood of a delay, more open seats to spread out because they’re less likely to oversell, and you’re not skipping over nap time. It’s all about risk aversion! Full flights with a delay and cramped quarters encroaching on nap time is a recipe for meltdown. Like pulling the bandage off quickly, flying first thing gets the tough part out of the way first.
Another option we like if it lines up right: the overnight/redeye flight. Get your kiddo in their jammies before boarding, read some stories on the taxiway, and with any luck, they’re knocked out before wheels up. That’s the theory, anyway. Big risk, though, if your child doesn’t want to sleep and you’re up all night. That’s the game of travel with children.
Put the jacket in the bag and layer up. While planes can get chilly, it’s best to let kiddo have a few layers instead of a shirt and a jacket. We normally go with a tee, a long sleeve, and a hoodie. The added benefit is that if (when?) something spills all over them, you just remove one layer and you don’t have to worry about a whole wardrobe change. Plus you can take that top layer off and use it as a pillow or blanket as needed. Another added benefit: no need to remove at security! That’s efficiency, right there.
If you’re able to choose seats (jealous, right here) we suggest you put the kid at the window or middle. You and your partner might have to debate on this one, but we normally debate it this way: kiddo being in the middle means we can each take turns picking up that toy that falls on the ground or holding her “big girl cup” of water that she just HAS to have.
The window seat, however, means your child is contained at least on one side and you can put your drinks on the aisle seat’s tray table: meaning 30″ buffer between toddler fingers and scalding coffee. But the person in the middle draws the short straw and has to pick up all the toys that fall.
We do agree on one thing: the aisle seat is right out. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Bring. The. Wipes.
Think you have enough wipes? You don’t. Bring an extra pack. One in the diaper bag. One in your carry-on. Hell, maybe one in your partner’s carry-on. Seriously, the flexibility of wipes on a plane can’t be overstated. Cleaning the disgusting tray table, wiping the spilled ginger ale off her hand after she tries to steal your ice cubes, washing off the toy that fell on the gross floor.
We might be jaded, though. Our first flight with Olivia resulted in a … diaper malfunction … at 30,000ft with the seatbelt sign on for two hours. Be ready. It’ll happen.
Our rule of thumb, depending on age, of course is one new “toy” for every two hours of flight. When she was an infant, a new stuffed animal or book or sticker sheet sufficed. At 9-24 months or so, the toy rule really came into play. Two years and on, a new app on the iPad has really seemed to do the trick. But the theme is this: something new that’ll keep attention for at least a short amount of time is a lifesaver!
The best trick we ever saw was a flight attendant on one of our trips to Europe gave Olivia a sleeve of the blue plastic cups. It was amazing! She played and played and played; so captivating!
High Pressure, Low Expectations
Travel with children can be a very high pressure situation. But in this case, we don’t mean it that way. Pressure changes can wreak havoc on even the most seasoned travelers, so it’s no wonder your kid might be in pain. Sucking and chewing are what help the most, so provide whatever it is to your child (in advance!) so that they can be ready before the pain hits. Breastfeeding, bottles, binkies, teething rings, fruit snacks, or whatever other age appropriate activity can make all the difference in the world. We always had the low expectation that take off and landing would be tough, so we were ready for it!
Travel with Children is Stressful: Keep Composure
This is the most important tip we can offer. Kids can smell fear. If you’re stressed, they’re going to be stressed. And let us be the first to say: there’s no reason to stress. None. Sure, it can be more difficult and there’s a lot going on. But we’ve seen parents lose it while their kids cry. But guess what? Children cry! We know it’s our instinct to make sure they don’t or to be embarrassed, but your responsibility is to comfort your kid, not to worry about strangers. They’re adults, they’ll deal.
It sounds callous, but it’s so very true. In Olivia’s more than 100,000 miles flown and countless meltdowns, no one has ever actually said anything negative. In fact, most are sympathetic and offer to help! Travel with children has a negative connotation with people bemoaning kids on planes, but that’s a played out trope we hope to end. Seriously. Don’t stress!
Re-Think Your Packing
In your carry-on, pack just enough. Don’t be a sherpa and bring everything for every scenario. I mean, don’t be unprepared, but be reasonable about it! When we see other parents lugging their lives down the aisle, we tend to think, “they forgot they had to carry that, didn’t they?”
Here’s our recommended carry-on packing guide:
- 2 small comfort items (blankie, lovie, binkie, whatever cutesie named thing your little one can’t possibly live without)
- Diapering materials (we tend to budget 1 diaper per hour of total travel time; generally overkill but better safe than sorry on that front)
- Fully charged phones/tablets (and easily accessible chargers)
- Arts and entertainment supplies (sticker sheet, crayons, and coloring book or two)
- Dog waste bag roll (these will come in handy more than you know – nasty diaper to dispose of, messy clothes to not get others dirty, etc)
- Water bottle to be filled post-security
- Change in clothes
- Snacks, snacks, and more snacks
Depending on your kids’ ages, we put together a list of specific products we love. You should check it out.
Bonus Trip for Enhancing Travel with Kids:
Get a credit card that allows you to get into clubs/lounges at the airport. They’re a great place to confine your kiddo while you get some food and drink to make sure that you have fun on your trip! Because, let’s be honest, travel should be FUN!