Looking for the best tips for traveling WELL with infants, toddlers, and older kids by plane? In this blog post, I’m sharing my experiences and top hacks for thriving on long flights and travel with children.
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You know how they say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert? While I haven’t clocked that many hours traveling with kids, I did live overseas, gave birth to two daughters in the U.K., moved back to the opposite end of the U.S. from my family, traveled nomadically for a year, and lived to tell a tale.
I’ve taken many flights with my infants, toddlers, and now elementary aged kids and to really be successful, you need a plan! I’m sharing our experience flying internationally (and be sure to check out my road trip tips without relying on electronics!
Tip 1: Attitude is everything
Traveling with small children is not relaxing. I don’t expect to have peaceful sips of my tonic water with lime reading the latest edition of Bon Appétit (lately, I have piles of this magazine subscription unread) during the flight. I can’t guarantee you that kind of experience, but a win for us is everyone feeling connected, loved, and arriving at our destination in one piece.
If you ‘expect’ that things are going to go awry, but force yourself to smile and laugh through the hiccups, then your experience will be so much better! Faking it IS making it while traveling with kids. Be extra kind to your partner as he or she is likely feeling stressed too.
Prepare older kids that while traveling is fun to be prepared for inconveniences. It’s a part of the experience!
Tip 2: Make Lists (and check them twice!)
Lists are life in my book! Lists help me feel in control and prepared. I can naturally be hard on myself and beat myself up for mistakes. Lists help me avoid unnecessary mistakes and relax the night before a big travel.
What types of lists do you need?
- Clothing Necessities for each season
- Toiletry Necessities (this usually is packed the morning of, so it’s nice to have those last minute items, like a toothbrush and makeup, ready to go in last minute)
- Kid Necessities: I’m not talking about diapers and wipes here, but the one ‘lovie’ or stuffy that makes them feel at home. Often for us, that is a blanket or one stuffed animal (they choose the days before, so they feel in control and know what to expect). They often go in the morning of (unless you are a smart parent and have duplicates!), but it’s important not to forget them. I’d also include white noise machine and toddler clocks for this list (unless traveling internationally).
- Home “Lock-up” List: Do you need to turn down the heat for winter or A/C up for summer? Make sure all windows and doors are locked? Set security settings? Give a key to a neighbor?
- Night Before Checklist- what can you do the night before?
- AM checklist- what has to be done RIGHT before leaving (some of these lists above will be included)
As you can see, careful planning of these lists weeks before your travel will help SO much!
With digital technology, keeping these lists on Asana or in your notes folder on your phone is smart as you can re-use the templates!
Tip 3: Go to bed early and Wake up early
While traveling, we discovered that our kids did much better with AM flights. If they got a good night of rest, they could easily be woken at 5am for a flight and were often excited to travel! If you have an infant, it’s much easier to slip in another morning nap versus an overtired (read: crying) infant at the end of the day.
Our toddlers showed slight anxiety about traveling. Waiting around for an afternoon flight always left them over-stimulated. In the morning, they didn’t have time to think about it and we were halfway across the ocean (or America) before lunch time. 🙂
We always packed water bottles and a bag of dry cereal in the car the night before. We also picked out clothes for them the night before (with their input) so there was no battle of the wills. With our infants, we just swooped them up at the last minute (so they got every minute of sleep) and put them in the car seat. I would nurse them, change their diaper and clothes after check-in (though one piece pajamas is a great travel outfit!). If you are traveling with a newborn, they may need to nurse earlier (unless you can give them a bottle while driving to the airport).
Tip 4: Make it fun and Have Surprises
With my older girls, they are super content to read, listen to podcasts, and do crafts, but it took us years to get to that point. Since we still have a 3 year old, it takes a bit more effort to keep her occupied.
Here are some things we bring for the flight (and don’t show them until we board):
- Shop the dollar store and wrap activity books and small plastic toys in wrapping paper
- Window Gel Clings- super fun for toddlers and can be tossed at the end of the trip. The dollar spot at Target often has them for $1!
- Post-it notes: I read this one recently on Instagram and it’s brilliant. Let your toddler decorate the post-it notes and then stick them all over the seat in front of them.
- Take and Toss Cups: The airline cups are way too easy to spill. No parent wants to be covered in juice (we ask for juice cut with water as this is a big treat for my girls!) all day. It’s also handy to have these at your destination (and if you lose one, it’s no big deal!)
- I also love snack traps for young toddlers who can’t quite handle sandwich bags filled with snacks. It takes them a bit longer to get the snacks, which is a time-killing activity itself. 😉
- Melissa & Doug Puffy Stickers – we love these stickers. Easy to pack and come in a lot of fun varieties.
- A small pack of wipes and 2 diapers: I like to keep wipes and a few diapers in the front seat pocket so they are easy to grab without digging through bags. Wipes are also super handy for everything during the flights.
A word on electronics: we rarely rely on electronics, but with toddlers, sometimes it is necessary when you are tired and weary from a long trip. Consider kids headphones (we have had these before):
We reserve electronics for the last part of the travel. So, if it’s a two flight day, then we use them during the second flight (no more than 2 hours). It is SO hard to begin with electronics and expect them to switch to crafts and books.
Tip 4: Nursing Moms
I don’t have a lot of experience with pumping and carrying breast milk, but I always nursed throughout flights. Only one of my three girls had trouble with ears at take off and landing, but if nursing helped them relax and also stay quiet, I was happy to throw out the feeding schedule. I felt most comfortable wearing a light cotton shirt or nursing tank to make it easier to feed discreetly (you do you, though! I also worked hard to avoid sitting next to guys on the airplane. They often avoided me and my litter of kids anyway). I had a light muslin blanket to cover the baby and it also worked as a swaddle during the flight.
I also wore my baby in my ergo baby carrier the moment we got to the airport. It is much easier to be handsfree to care for my toddlers and know my baby is protected. You can go through security while wearing a baby too! During take-off and landing, 50% of the time the flight attendants would ask me to ‘unhook’ her. I often would just carefully unhook the back and let the shoulder strap on one side lay loose while she was still nestled in carefully. This seemed to make the flight attendants happy.
Tip 5: Car Seats and Gear
Traveling light with infants and toddlers is not easy! Here are some of the few things to consider!
I always checked my car seat and stroller AT the gate. Checked baggage is often tossed around and can get lost! If you arrive at your destination without a car seat, you are in big trouble! Occasionally, you can get a free seat next to you and bring your car seat. If your toddler is most comfortable sitting in their seat while constrained, your flight experience might be smoother and hands free. The one pain is hooking in the car seat (especially if you are traveling without a partner) with your other children, but it can be done if you are wearing your infant. The car seat must be FAA approved (most are) and it goes in the window seat.
Do you need a travel cot? Pack n Plays, while handy, can be large and cumbersome. I discovered a Pea Pod with my third and LOVED It.
Super lightweight, packs in a suitcase, and great for an infant up to a 5 year old (I can even fit inside it!). I also love that it can be used at a beach or while camping. I would definitely purchase this again if I were starting over with an infant.
I know I mentioned my Ergo baby carrier earlier, but here are a few tips and tricks. Keep a small pack of wipes and a diaper in the front pocket. Then, while you are traveling, you are always ready for a diaper change. I was most comfortable traveling with an ergo for an infant or young toddler at my destinations too (easy naps!).
I also like to bring old iPhones that have a sound machine app installed on them (don’t forget the charger). My favorite is Simply Noise. You can use this white noise app during the plane ride as well as at your destination. I’d also consider a cheap roll of aluminium foil and tape to block out light from windows.
Tip 5: Snacks and Food
No one likes to be hangry, so I like to have a variety of fun and novel snacks for the kids (and adults too!). Eating too many carbs all day can be hard on your child’s digestive system (constipation is a common result of traveling for the kids) so get creative with snacks. I like the freeze dried fruit packs as well as regular dried fruits. Fruit snacks are a huge hit for kids. Gum is great for older kids. I also reserve lollipops for the end of the trip (wipes are helpful for younger kids). Snacks can be a fun activity. I bring Larabars for myself.
While there are SO many other things that work while traveling with kids, these are some of my tried and tested tips for traveling with kids. Tell me, what are your favorite hacks for flying with small children? Leave me a note in the comments!
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