Through trial and error, we’ve learned some lessons about flying and traveling with small children.
Last year I shared a travel experience which included a public temper tantrum. Thankfully, not all trips include meltdowns. Travel is getting easier because the kids are older and because we’ve learned some lessons.
In October we went to Maine for our nephew’s wedding. We took a direct flight to Boston, then rented a car. Instead of flying, we drove 2 hours to Maine, taking in the beautiful New England fall colors.
Here’s the best part; we reached a new milestone with no tears, on either flight! Sure, there were moments requiring patience and each of us had cranky moments, especially with emergency bathroom trips. But overall, even travel days were characterized by joy.
I call that success.
While not every trip will go this smoothly, there are some things we can do to promote a positive outcome.
25 DOs and DON’Ts for Travel With Small Children
1. DO Consider Alternate Routes
If you cannot find a direct flight, consider driving a leg of the trip. For us, a layover and a second flight is just too much. Meltdowns ensue. Flying to Boston and driving 2 hours means more room to sit and sleep without being right on top of each other. And it saved some money on plane tickets.
2. DON’T Expect A Nap
While travel is surely tiring, it is also exciting, especially for children. We have learned the hard way that traveling over nap time does NOT guarantee a nap. If a nap happens, be thankful, no matter how short it may be. But be careful about expecting anything. And don’t get your undies in a bunch if you have to spend the day with little miss no nap.
3. DO Have a Backup Plan
What soothes your child best? Is there something you can count on to be a bargaining chip? Perhaps it’s a tablet, DVD Player, sucker, snack, toy, or book. I recommend at least one secret last-resort solution.
4. DON’T Over Pack
‘Being prepared’ is a good idea. But over-packing means carrying children along with heavy carry-on bags and luggage. Nobody wants to be a pack mule and suffer from the consequences of a stiff neck and sore back. Pack wisely with small and light weight items.
5. DO Use Curb-Side Check In
See #4. Do not lug car seats through the airport.
6. DON’T Waste Car Seat Bag Space
Checking car Seat bags is free. Free! Take advantage of the extra bag. Fill empty space in the car seat bag with lightweight bulky items like diapers and blankets.
7. DO Get TSA Pre-Check
If someone traveling with you has TSA Pre-Check, have them book all tickets. Then everyone has the best chance of enjoying this coveted perk.
8. DON’T Fear TSA
In our experience, security personnel have taken time to welcome kids and help us. Greet security with a smile and thank them. You want and need their help. They’re not out to get you.
9. DO Explain What Comes Next
Help transitions and ease your children’s fears by explaining what to expect ahead of time. Consider the steps you’ll have to take while you travel, like security, checking bags, boarding, or the unexpected hold up, like sitting on the runway. Focus on how each step brings them closer to the ‘fun’ of taking off and arriving at your destination.
10. DON’T Forget Compromise
A full travel day will not go as planned. When kids get squirrley, happily make an unplanned stop, take an impromptu walk, switch seats, buy a snack, or improvise. Park a smile on your face and let. it. go.
11. DO Plan For Emergencies
An extra change of clothes, diapers, pull-ups and wipes are necessary. Hand sanitizer, band aids and tissues cover most unexpected events. Be sure to carry on necessary medications (we need an inhaler, Benedryl & Epi-Pen).
12. DON’T Worry About Others
Do your best to keep children reasonably quiet and from kicking seats. But worrying about others adds stress and won’t help anyone have a good flight. Focus on the kids and thank others for their patience if necessary afterwards.
13. DO Bring No-Spill Cups
Don’t risk airline cups. A wet kid (or parent) just isn’t worth it. A no-spill squirt bottle or sippy cup will be a life saver on the flight and in the car. Bring empty and fill after security.
14. DON’T Forget Snacks
A hungry child or parent is not at their best. Avoid being one big hangry family by packing healthy snacks. For a food allergy family, this is necessity – it can be difficult to find a safe snack. Never, ever travel without snacks. We pack carrots, celery, cheese sticks, apples, goldfish, pumpkin seeds, and freeze-dried corn or soybeans.
15. DO Board Early
With little ones, getting situated with your carry-on is nearby is worth sitting on the plane for a little bit.
16. DON’T Overestimate Your Child’s Bladder
Limit beverages and take extra bathroom trips. Go while the seat belt sign is off – there is no guarantee it will stay off.
17. DO Put Kids First
Duh. A travel day with kids is not about you. It just isn’t. Read until hoarse, hold your sleeping child with numb arms, listen to that song over and over. If they’re happy, go with it. If they have a good trip, so will you.
18. DON’T Reject the Pacifier
Our daughter is 2, and isn’t allowed to have a pacifier during the day…but on a plane? Why, have it the whole flight! It soothed her ears, kept her quiet, and helped her nap. Not into pacifiers? Bring a favorite comfort item.
19. DO Use the Play Area
Use hand sanitizer and set kids loose in the play area. They can climb, play and run while you sip coffee.
20. DON’T Forget The Camera
Pictures of kids squealing with giddy delight as we ‘Blasted Off” are priceless. Digital photos are a great tool for distraction.
21. DO Pray
Enlist others to pray for transitions, patience, health and for your actions, attitudes and words to honor God.
22. DON’T Show Fear
Turbulence? FUN! They recognize our concern and magnify it. Keep it positive, no matter how bumpy.
23. DO Laugh
There is no place for frustration about how things have gone or are going. LET IT GO and laugh it off.
24. DON’T Forget A Noise Machine
Whether staying in a hotel or with family, there will be strange noises. Minimize the effect and promote sleep by packing their noise machine. We packed this one – compact and loud, with a night-light.
25. DO Celebrate Small Victories
No tears on a flight? Make a big deal of good behavior. Great listening? Celebrate it. Child use the airplane bathroom? Congratulate them. Giving credit for small victories helps them feel accomplished.
How to Travel with Children, Shivani Vora , New York Times