Family travel is the ultimate dream—parents whisking their kids to tropical beaches, historical landmarks and beyond, creating special memories while simultaneously teaching their children about the world.
But it can also be the ultimate nightmare. With tired children, extra suitcases, strollers and snacks galore, keeping track of everything can be tough. Factor in long waits and potty breaks and you’re likely in for plenty of chaos. Here are some tips for combating the crazy while traveling by air with kids.
1. Arrive Early
When you’re traveling with kids, it’s always best to arrive at the airport early. You never know what is going to happen—whether it’s bathroom emergencies, sick kids, slow walkers or long security lines, it’s best to just give yourself some extra time so you can ensure that you have time to get situated and start the flight while you and the kids are calm and collected. There’s nothing worse than missing a flight: it’s the worst way to start a vacation and the most exhausting thing when you’re trying to get home at the end of one.
2. Be Prepared for Anything
Everything is unpredictable when it comes to kids so make sure you have everything you’ll need before take off. If you can fit it in a bag or someone has the arms to carry it, bring an extra blanket in case the inside of the plane is cold. On that note, bring all types of clothes so you’re prepared for any weather: hot, cold, or rainy days are much more tolerable when little ones have the right clothing.
You’ll also want to make sure you have wipes or hand sanitizer to stay germ-free, and Band-Aids in case of little boo-boos. Make sure that the most important necessities are in your carry-on so you have them with you no matter where your checked bags are.
Another great idea is to bring some extra plastic or zip-lock bags to store trash or soiled clothing.
2. Have Kids Carry Their Own Bags
If you’re traveling with a baby, you’re likely to fit everything you’ll need in your own bags. But that isn’t always possible when you’re traveling with older children. One way to eliminate the difficulty of lugging suitcases through the airport is to have kids carry their own bags. This will help you out while teaching them responsibility for their own things while traveling. Just make sure you double-check what they pack in advance so you don’t end up with any items that are too heavy or any unnecessary surprises.
4. Pack The Right Snacks
What children eat has an obvious effect on their behavior so, when you’re traveling by air, it’s important to monitor what they’re ingesting. Try to avoid sugar. Kids are likely to get hyped up on the plane and not want to sit still. With the sugar crash that comes later, it will be hard to get them to listen as you’re making your way to your final destination as well. If you must eat sugar, go for natural sugars like easy-to-eat raisins, grapes or cherry tomatoes. Make sure you avoid anything that is too sticky or that creates too many crumbs.
5. …And The Right Toys
While you want to keep kids entertained on the plane and in the airport, you have to make sure you have the right toys. Things with a lot of pieces or small parts can get lost easily so it’s easier if you bring things like coloring books and crayons or stickers and little notebooks, you can quickly slide them into a backpack or suitcase when it’s time to go. Another option is a tablet to keep kids distracted with games or movies.
Try something fun and buy new toys to give them if they start acting out. They’ll play longer with things that are new and different from what they’re used to purely out of excitement.
6. Plan Flights Accordingly
Times are incredibly important when you’re flying with kids. Examine how the times align with your child’s naps or bed times. Saving money can be tempting, but it won’t be worth it if you’re suffering from temper tantrums while you’re exhausted yourself after starting your journey in early morning hours.
7. Bring Extras
When you’re traveling, stuff often gets lost so make sure to bring extras. You never know how many diapers and wipes you’ll need so it’s best to be prepared, and you’ll definitely need extra bottles and sippy cups in case they get left behind. You’ll also want to pack some extra clothes for your kids in their carry-on bags so they’re reachable if someone spills some juice or has an accident.
8. Get Seats in the Back of the Plane
Chances are, you’re going to have to wait for your stroller when you get off anyway so you may as well sit in the back where you can take your time. You’ll be closer to the bathrooms (always a good idea!) and to the flight attendants in case you need anything mid-flight. While others get off the plane, look around on the floor and in seatback pockets for anything the kids may have forgotten.
9. Explore the Airport
Before your flight and during layovers, spend some time exploring the airport. The more walking around you do, the more energy the kids get out before they’re confined to their airplane seat. Wander the retail shops or grab some food from an airport restaurant. If you research the airport ahead of time using our airport guides, you can find some play areas or interactive entertainment spots that might interest your children before you arrive. If possible, leave one parent or family member at the gate with the luggage so you don’t have to carry bags around with you while you wander.
Another thing parents can do to make waiting fun is to create a scavenger hunt for kids to enjoy while they’re exploring. Sometimes something new and exciting can make the day extra special rather than just a day of waiting at the airport.