In the four years since my son was born, we’ve taken him on over 30 flights – and learned a lot along the way. Even though traveling with kids can feel really complex, we’ve discovered that taking a laid-back approach plus some strategic preparation is the best recipe for success. Below are my ten most valuable tips for stress-free air travel with young kids – just in time for summer adventures!
Be realistic about your timeline.
This continues to change as our son gets older and we adjust to his schedule. When we traveled with him as a newborn, we’d try to book flights with either a really early take off or that aligned with nap-times. As he’s gotten older, we’ve learned he’s more susceptible to motion sickness if we leave the house too early, so we tend to aim for a mid-morning flight. Think about the best times of day for your kids to be on the go and aim for those. Of course when you’re traveling long distances it’s impossible to get a large enough chunk of time that works perfectly with their schedules, but I find that if our journey begins smooth it sets the stage for a better day overall.
Keep your gear limited, and check what you need to!
After living out of backpacks for eight months, we learned the true benefits of traveling light. When our son was a baby this meant the only gear we brought with us was our baby carrier and as he’s gotten older we stick to our YOYO+ BabyZen stroller (which fits in the overhead compartment on a plane making connecting flights a breeze). For the rest of the gear we’ve always aimed to borrow from friends and family at our destination or rent what we need. I’m also all for checking bags which I know is contrary to packing light, but especially when I’m traveling solo with my son, I believe that less is more when going through security, while waiting to board and on the actual plane!
Prepare for the worst.
Anyone who has traveled with their kids more than a few times knows that accidents are bound to happen. In my carry-on I always make sure to have a change of clothes for both myself and my son (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worn his vomit), plastic bags for dirty clothes and potential throw up, plenty of diapers and wipes if you’re at that point in your parenting journey, sanitizing wipes, etc. I also always make sure to have a fever reducer and thermometer on hand just in case as well as an anti-nausea medication! These items take up less space than you think and provide such peace of mind even if you never have to use them.
It’s rare that I find myself in a stressed out mood and my son doesn’t replicate those emotions. I know traveling with kids can be nerve wracking and anxiety ridden, but in all honesty the calmer you remain, the calmer your kids will be. Do your best to roll with the punches, laugh things off and know that traveling with kids is never ever perfect, but it’s always worth it!
Bring something new and exciting for the journey.
Depending on what your kids are into at the moment, have a small, surprise toy or activity for them. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but more so something that you know will keep their attention. For example my son is super into stickers right now so that would be a great treat to surprise him with or even a new small $5 car. Pay attention over the couple weeks leading up to your trip and pick up a little something you know will make them that much more excited about your journey and about staying in their seat!
Take care of yourself, too.
I can’t tell you how many flights I’ve boarded with my son where I had everything packed perfectly for him – but forgot to bring even headphones for myself! Of course your hands are going to be full, but make sure you take care of yourself when it comes to traveling too. For me this means having a good cup of coffee at the airport, bringing some healthy snacks, my headphones and maybe even a book if I’m lucky for my son to nap!
We’ve all heard or been subject to the horror stories of fellow travelers who give you the evil eye or have the audacity to say something to you about how you’re parenting your child on a flight, but I have to say the times I have been met with a smile, offered help or complimented far outweigh those negative experiences. I have a hard time accepting help in all areas of my life, but I know when it comes to travel with kids that it’s okay to let someone help you with your bags, allow you to cut ahead of them and so on. You know you would do the same for another parent!
Bend the rules.
When we’re at home we like to allow healthy amounts of screen time, but if I’m being totally honest when we’re on a flight those “healthy” boundaries go right out the window. It’s a lot to expect a two or three year old to sit through a six hour flight and I’m all for bending the rules to maintain some sanity. We load up our iPad with a handful of educational games, our son’s favorite shows and songs and always bring kids headphones
If you aren’t visiting friends and family, stay in a vacation rental.
When my husband and I are traveling solo I am all about the hotel experience. The comfy beds, bath robes and room service without kids is honestly one of my happiest places regardless of the location, but when traveling with our son I will always opt for an Airbnb over a hotel. There are a few reasons for this, but mostly, I find that the transition to a new place is far easier for kids when there’s a kitchen, more space to move about, potentially a washer and dryer, neighborhood accessibility like grocery stores, playgrounds and so on.
Opt for general ideas for your trip vs. set plans.
When traveling with kids I believe it’s important to have an idea of what you want to do without anything too concrete set in place. We do this by making a list of restaurants we want to check out, activities / sights we want to see and anything else we may have come to a particular city to do before we arrive. Sometimes this means restaurants that require reservations might be out of the equation and that’s okay. It’s so much better from our experience to wake up each day, feel out the mood of the household and pick what we want to do from our list.
I would love to know what has worked for you and your families in the comments below. I’m always so impressed by other parent’s travel hacks!
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