Fresh off of a plane trip with kids, I wanted to list my top ten suggestions for traveling with kids. Now, I am sure there are plenty more "world-travelers" who have suggestions for overnight and international flights, but I have flown dozens of US flights with a variety of baby/toddler ages....
10. Write a list for each piece of luggage/carry-on. Be organized!! Make sure you'll have enough space for everything you need and eliminate what you DON'T need. Always put essentials for your children in the carry-on (what happens when you arrive and your luggage is lost along with their favorite sleeping toy?). Plus, when you have the written "memory" of your list it helps you remember where to access things along the journey.
9. Ditch the diaper bag/purse in favor of a backpack. I like hands (and shoulder)-free travel. I need to be able to push a stroller comfortably and supervise my "walking" children. My backpack also has several easily accessible pockets for items that I need frequently (boarding passes, wallet, cell phone, sanitizing wipes, etc.) I keep the large pocket for diapers, wipes, and a change of clothing; I keep the food in the next size pocket. I usually pack a purse that can lay flat in my suitcase so when I arrive I can switch the essentials to a smaller bag.
8. Bring your car seats--if you are renting a car. Did you know it can cost up to $20 per day to rent each car seat? Within 2 days I could have BOUGHT 3 new car seats.... so with Southwest, it was free to check them. I had a friend who bought craigslist car seats at Disney world rather than pay to have them checked. So think before you book the flights too--how much are you going to have to pay for checked luggage and if car seat-checking is free. OR you can bring them aboard (if they are FAA approved)--- kind of a hassle to bring them through the airport but they do make some expensive car seat to stroller option:
7. I like big strollers, I cannot lie. This is the first trip I've taken with just the umbrella stroller; I honestly miss the car seat/stroller combo one. I love the storage of big strollers (probably because I hate carrying things), the cup holders, and the tray. Even if you just have a toddler, not an infant, he/she will not be able to tolerate the gate-to-luggage walk. Besides, you can always lock an ornery toddler in place while you talk to ticketing agents or order food. Ems gave me a tip of tying a strap to the stroller for the older child to hold onto while you navigate the airport; all of my children loved having an assigned place to be and felt safer knowing they were attached to me even if they couldn't hold my hand.
6. Give yourself extra time. Even if it means getting up at 3:30 AM (which it did for me this time), it's much less stressful for the whole family to get to the airport with time to spare. Everything does take longer with children, so prepare for luggage checking time, potty breaks, and security. Also, if you have a spouse to help-- just walk the kids around the airport in shifts so that they stretch their legs. I actually had my kids doing jumping jacks in the corner in anticipation of the 2 hours of seat-captivity!
5. Wipes & sanitizer: you cannot have enough. I am a laid-back mom of three, except on a plane. Do you know how many germs exist on that tray table? It rarely gets washed; one study revealed that MRSA, TB, and the norovirus are often present on the latches for the overhead bins and the tray tables.... YUCK! You do not want to begin or end a vacation with vomit. As soon as we board the plane and sit down we use hand sanitizing wipes to clean down everything, especially the trays, seatbelts, and arm rests.
4. Emergency medications. I am now the mom of an allergy kid, so I do not travel anywhere without chewable children's Benadryl. Honestly, I think most moms should carry it-- you never know when you will find out your kid has an allergy. Plus, Tylenol can be a useful carry on item. I also carry a small pack of band-aids for real or made-up Boo-Boos.
3. Toys/Activities. Really, really think about your kids. What really entertains them? My 3 year old likes the doodle pad so that's what she got in her backpack (I did mini-backpacks for each kid with their own snacks/toys). My eldest colors for hours, so obviously I packed a ziplock baggie of crayons and a coloring book for her. Each got their "lovey" toy to snuggle with and care for. James, huh. Well, he doesn't play with much of anything besides balls-- so I packed a little hockey figurine for him to play with, and it worked. In my bag I had some stickers, extra paper, and books. I avoided noisy toys for the sake of the other passengers. I had my kindle but I did not have to use it! Don't overdo the toys-- my kids love to look out the window and order juice from the flight attendant. With a baby--bring any chew toys they like or something that you can repetitively open and close. You might go crazy, but they'll love it (think hard-cover glasses case or wallet).
2. Meals. I usually pack PBJ's or bagels for the airport for two reasons: cost and healthfulness. So many options in the airport are fast food (which I am not opposed too, but when you reach #1 on my list, you'll see why I want some nutrition in my kids) and the food is notoriously high-priced. I once bought a small tuna salad sandwich with nothing on it for $9.50 in Chicago-- it didn't even come with a drink. Feeding a family of five is much more cost-effective if I pack my own. Plus, I packed empty sippy cups and the nice ladies at Dunkin Donuts filled them up with ice water for free! As for babies-- get those squeezy packets of food, bring your bottles or nursing cover :) and any other finger-foods they can eat!
1. SNACKS!! Honestly, my kids don't get snack-spoiled (ie eat junky snacks daily) so on a plane, I let them have all the stuff they REALLY want. I let the girls chew gum for take off and landing and I also let them have lollipops too. I also pack goldfish, candy, fruit snacks, fruit roll-ups, apples, Teddy Grahams, etc. They literally eat the entire flight. I don't give them ANY of this fun food until we are ON THE PLANE!!! Do not waste your precious rewards in the airport.
Besides the initial hassle of packing up, I prefer airplane travel to car travel any day. Which is easier: hearing your baby in the back seat hungry waiting for the 3rd rest stop or holding your baby and nursing him/her peacefully? I have been blessed with babies who do not freak out with flying, but even if your baby does scream on planes, you have some options:
Easy Rule #13014- With planning, any trip can be manageable and fun for the family. And if your kid cries the whole flight--you'll never have to see the other passengers again.