Summer is on its way in and I’m beginning to think about our travel plans. Let’s just say I’m always thinking about travel especially when we have a trip coming up. It usually stems from being overly excited or my love for planning. There’s always some kind of planning going on in my head.
Travel for Life
My husband is from Ireland, so I knew that our life together would entail international travel. That’s great because I love to travel. I knew that traveling with kids would be something we’d have to figure out how to do. It made me nervous to think about traveling with little ones on a long-haul flight. At the same time, it excited me. It would force me to show my kids more than what lies outside of our front door. We would be traveling beyond borders. By one year old my twins were international travelers. The other two girls, by nine months!
When the twins came along, they were my firsts, and the fear of traveling with babies multiplied. Everything with twins multiplies! When they were one, we had a 16-hour flight to get on. We didn’t know much about flying with babies. We did a few short flights before “the big one” which helped prepare us. Now I have many flights under my belt during multiple stages of motherhood with four kids. So, I thought maybe I might have a few pieces of advice to offer.
Krista, Your Travel Pro
I’d like to think of myself as a pro, but really, I don’t know if I am. The truth is, you can never be fully prepared for anything. I just want you to get out there and travel with your family as I have. Of course, there are others who have been to hundreds more places than me, but for those of you that want to travel and don’t, I hope I can convince you to book that flight you’ve always wanted to go on. Or, maybe you’ve booked that flight, but are thinking, “now what?”
You might not be new to traveling with kids, but you want new ideas. You want to prepare better. Well, this is for you. You never know what you might encounter when you’re thousands of feet in the air for hours at a time. I’ll tell you about what has worked for me or how I manage. At the end of this, if you have something to share, I’d love to know.
Let’s Go Travel with Kids!
I tend to think about an upcoming trip well in advance. Sometimes I start packing a month in advance, but I might start picking up things we need even before that. But let’s back up to booking my flights. There are some definite pieces of an itinerary that makes a flight work for me.
- The flight departure times. If I can help it, I try not to book a flight too early in the morning. We don’t move that fast in the morning and a 6 AM flight means everyone is getting up in the middle of the night. I also look at the arrival time. It can make a difference depending on where I’m headed. Sometimes you want to arrive at your destination by a certain time. That can override departure time.
- Layovers. I’m not a fan of running through airports with small children, or really ever! Airports can be so unpredictable with their setup. If I’m flying internationally with my family, I never book a layover of less than 2 hours. 3 tends to be our sweet spot, especially in airports like London, Heathrow.
Carry-Ons and Packing Hacks
What do you pack to be prepared for anything and keep the boredom at bay? You might call me paranoid, but these are the things I always make sure I have in my carry-on:
- An extra change of clothes for me. This is essential if you’re traveling with babies. We always bring several outfit changes for the baby, but we often forget about ourselves. When I heard about friends who had to sit through a long flight with vomit on their shirt because they didn’t bring a change of clothes for themselves, I thought, “No way. I’m not doing that.” Although, I have had to sit on a long flight with a diaper leakage on my shirt. I had already changed once.
- Baby or kids’ pain or fever medicine and a thermometer. So far, none of my kids have been sick on the plane, but I know kids who have. I have been sick on an airplane before I had kids. Since then I’d always traveled with medicine for myself. This is what made me think to bring medicine for the kids. I’ve also handed over my children’s medicine to another mother in need.
- Children’s Benadryl. No, this is not so I can make my children drowsy and sleep. I’ve always thought it was a good idea to bring in case the kids have an allergic reaction to anything while traveling. This is where I think I’m paranoid, but I’ve been on a plane where peanut butter was not allowed because of a severely allergic passenger.
- Diaper Bags. Did you know that you can bring a baby bag in addition to your own carry-on bag? When my girls were babies you’d often see me with two bags strapped to me while pushing a baby in the stroller.
- Strollers and Car Seat Bags. Most airlines let you bring a car seat or stroller for free. If we didn’t need it until after we landed we were always sure to put it in a bag. Duffle bags work great if you can fit them in. It’s better than spending money on a special bag just for car seats or strollers. It’s essentially a free piece of luggage so stuff in those jackets, boots, extra diapers, and all of your other bulky items that you don’t have room for in your suitcase.
- The liquidy stuff. Make sure you have those liquids packed away in plastic Ziploc bags. Do the same with baby food, yogurts, applesauce, etc. In the past, security has asked me to taste the food. My advice is to always have it in an easy to reach spot so you can get it out and ready for security quickly. Every airport seems to have different protocols in place.
- Packing Cubes. Zippered packing cubes are the best! It is the best way to organize the kids’ clothes. Not everyone can have their own piece of luggage in our family because it would be too many pieces and we can’t fit it all in the car. Instead, I usually use two cubes for each child. One for outfits and one for undergarments. This is another reason why duffle bags come in handy. You can squish in a lot more, but suitcases work also. I label the cubes with each child’s name. Then they know exactly where to find their clothes. As we get further into our trip, I use them to separate the dirty and clean clothes.
Just Another Normal Day
After I book my flights, I pay attention to the time of day in which we’re traveling. When I think about what I can do to keep the kids occupied, I think about what we would usually be doing during those hours. I try to stick to a normal day. You might think, “how is that possible?” Well, it will look a little different from a normal day in our homes. I try to look at it in terms of when the kids eat, play, and sleep. All of those things take up time. If you think of it as a normal day, then the thought of a long flight might not seem so daunting. The number of hours you’ll be spending on the plane will hopefully stop flashing so brightly in your mind.
Hoping for Sleep
If you’re on a flight long enough you go through all of the normal cycles in a day. Sleep, eat, and play! My kids will usually sleep for a good amount of time if we’re on an overnight flight. If it’s a daytime flight, then they may sleep for only a few hours. I guess it depends a lot on what your children do throughout the day. My older girls don’t always fall asleep on daytime long-haul flights, but the little ones always do. It might take some patience, but they always sleep.
There will be those times when you’re flying through time zones and a neighboring passenger won’t close their window shade. All you want is for your little one to sleep. I’ve had to stand rocking my heavy 18-month-old in the galley because there was too much light coming in at our seats. The poor thing was so tired. That’s why bassinets are great, but you have to call the airline as soon as you book your ticket if you want one. The other tricky thing is that they’re only at the bulkhead. Always call and ask. We’ve managed to reserve the bulkhead for the bassinet even when the seats appeared to be already booked.
Chicken or Beef?
Doesn’t it always seem as though the only choices for airline food are chicken or beef? Food was often a concern when my girls were out of the baby stage. Yup, out of it and no longer needing those little jars of food or milk. They were so picky as toddlers and still are. I was worried they would starve on an eleven-hour flight. On that particular flight where they announced no peanut butter, I was worried. That was all my kids ate!
Some flights have special food for babies or children. You often have to call to find out. They’ll get served first if you order an entree for kids. Though few airlines seem to do this anymore. If you don’t want your children to wait until the flight attendants have served everyone before you, then choose one of the special meals. They usually get served first as well.
Snack Bags for the Win
Unfortunately, my kids will hardly touch airplane food. So we always pack snack bags with food I know they will eat. Even if they do eat the meals on the plane, it’s never enough when it’s a long flight. You can probably guess that the lunch section in the grocery store is your best bet for food on the airplane. Dry food is easy to find, but anything that can go bad or expire is where it can get tricky. I like to bring the kids to the store with me so they can help choose a variety of snacks. We do the same thing on our way back home too. Always have some baby munchies like crackers if you’re traveling with a baby. For some reason, crackers or other baby munchy faves are a good way to calm a fussy baby.
Sleeping and Eating are Done, Now What?
What do you do when they’re not eating or sleeping? It can be different depending on the age group of your children. Besides a trip to the grocery store, we always check out the nearest dollar store, craft stores, and stores like Walmart and Target for airplane friendly activities. Books, coloring books, and travel games are a given to pack. Then there are toys. I always try to bring some of the smaller toys that they like to play quietly with at home. I’ve also made trays for lego play and felt games. I’m always trying to come up with new ways to entertain my little ones.
Many moms like to surprise their kids with a new toy on the plane. I have done that, but it seems to last just as long as any other toy might, so I don’t usually do that. I tend to spend more on coloring crafts because that’s what my kids will sit and do for a good chunk of time. Toddlers, of course, are more worrisome. Their moods and wants can be so unpredictable. I find that the toddler age group is when you need the biggest bag of tricks.
Flying with toddlers is when the party store and the dollar store are the best places around. Know that we are not buying for quality, but for pure entertainment. You can choose a variety of toys for a low price and then throw them all away after your trip. Some moms I know wrap each little toy individually and spread out the timing of when they give it to their child on the plane. On one flight, when my daughter was 2, I bought little duckies, cars, and balls with different textures. She loved it. I didn’t show her all of the toys at the same time. We would play with an activity or toy for as long as she wanted. I switched to something completely different when she got tired of the toy or activity.
What About the Big Kids?
Luckily the big kids don’t need as many things to entertain them. Some might be perfectly fine with the movies and games provided. My girls have stayed awake the whole time on a long flight having a movie marathon. They were exhausted after the flight, of course. But kids bounce back better than adults with no sleep. My older girls are usually fine with drawing materials, journals, and books. We’ll also hit up the craft stores and dollar sections for some simple crafts. Pre-packaged crafts are the best way to go. I often find the latest seasonal all-in-one packaged crafts in the front of the store.
Where would be we if we didn’t have electronics? Even toddlers and babies love them. My electronics rule (that I tell myself) for the little ones is to bring out screens only as a last resort, or the last thing you do. I find that kids will always want the screen. If I give it to them first, nothing else matters. It’s hard to take it away. A lot of airlines have plugs for charging but they don’t always work. So what happens when the battery dies on that long-haul flight? I’d rather avoid temper tantrums for myself and the rest of the plane’s sake. So, I try to “save the best for last.”
I encourage the older ones to do other things as well. Ten hours of screen time is too much even if you’re bored out of your mind. That may be what you need to get through your flight but I’d rather my kids have other choices. Sometimes that doesn’t happen when you’re asleep and they just keep watching the telly in front of them.
We don’t even own a video game console at home, but that doesn’t matter. We have phones and tablets and laptops. They will always find something to play on it. It’s best to plan ahead and download a few games, movies or tv shows that your kids enjoy. I don’t think the wifi works like the wifi at home. Their favorite YouTube shows or streaming Netflix may not play. I don’t like to rely on what the airplane has to offer. It isn’t usually what I’m hoping for. You can however, download movies and shows from some of your favorite apps like Netflix or Disney Plus.
Traveling with kids might take some planning, but I think it is worth it. It’s worth it for the memories you’ll make and the lessons your kids can learn when traveling to new places. We’ve run through airports, missed flights, delayed because of sickness (before covid was a thing), and we’re still traveling. I guess we’re motivated by the want to visit our family, but we also want to explore the world. What motivates you to travel? Let the world be your playground. Pack your family bags and go explore together!
Believe it or not, my family does much better on airplanes than in the car. If airplanes aren’t your thing, you can read this blog post about road trips. And I get it! It is not always desirable or feasible for everyone to get out of town. You can read this blog post about being a tourist in your own town. No one can travel all of the time, so you may as well have some fun in the city you live in!