Handy Travel Hacks for Flying with Children
If you’re taking your tots on vacation, stay sane — and safe — with these tips from a veteran traveler
Traveling with children is a formula for stress. Crying babies on the plane, tired kids whining at the airport, jet lag — not to mention all that gear to lug around. But if you’re organized, you can minimize snags and maximize the fun. And much of the organizing is in the bag — inexpensive, resealable plastic bags, that is. (You’ll see.)
My husband and I are grandparents now but have logged tens of thousands of miles of worldwide travel with our children. Here are some things we learned along the way.
Related: Germ-Free Flying
Before you go
Picture your trip. Prepare your kids for travel with pictures of people you'll see and places you'll go. Consider buying a few inexpensive cameras the kids can use to keep them occupied and help them remember things they saw on the trip.
Involve kids in the preparations. One way is to help them make small gifts for people you'll be visiting.
Plan for play. Make activity packets with books, paper and crayons or washable markers packed in resealable plastic bags. Hit a local dollar store and fill a bag with small toys that do not make noise, like coloring or sticker books, games, a deck of cards or glow-in-the-dark sticks. Bring out just one at a time once you’re on the plane as surprises to entertain restless tots. Scholastic offers printable and online games.
Also make tickets, tokens or vouchers redeemable for a variety of small rewards or a little souvenir that children can earn for good behavior.
Schedule flights strategically. If your kids can sleep on the plane, consider a flight that coincides with their nap time, or even an overnight flight.
Book the right seats. Book your tickets well in advance so you can get the seating arrangements you prefer. If you're traveling with a baby, request bulkhead seats and one of the bassinets that attach to the wall.
Plan for emergencies. Wherever you go, have a plan for what to do if you in the unlikely event you and your child are separated. Show children a specific easy-to find location at airports, museums or markets where they can safely stand and wait for you to find them. Also talk to them about how to find a security person who can help them locate you.
Use your phone or camera to photograph each child in the clothes they are wearing that day for easier identification by others if they wander off.
Pack practically. Packing light is key, but it’s tricky when kids are involved. Avoid packing what you can easily buy at your destination, like extra diapers. Pack a bag for each person — don’t share. Finding what you need once you arrive at your destination will be easier if everyone has their own bag. Also, to streamline the process of kids getting dressed each day, consider packing and labeling each day’s outfit in a resealable plastic bag.
In your carry-on bag, pack a complete change of clothing for your child. Put some moist facecloth or wipes in a resealable bag for quick cleanups.
Make a list of everything in each suitcase, and put a copy in each suitcase so you can refer to it when packing to go home — it’s a good way to avoid leaving things behind.
Investigate whether it makes sense to rent larger items (like a car seat or stroller) once you’re there instead of bringing your own. If you’re renting a car, you can check whether the car rental company will provide a complimentary or low-cost car seat — but it may be safer to bring your own.
Pack some large and small plastic bags. Large black plastic trash bags can block out light in a bright room or provide a dry surface to sit on. Plastic grocery bags can hold shoes, laundry or other soiled items. Pack some compression bags to reduce the space your clothing takes up if you need to make room for souvenirs and gifts on the trip home.
Explain the airport security process to kids. Do this before you go to the airport so your children understand their treasured items will leave their possession and go through a security scanner. Warn older children that joking to security personnel about things like explosives could delay the trip — or worse.
Lighten your load. Put your jackets in your checked luggage once you are in the airport and pull them out when you arrive at your destination. This saves space and simplifies getting through security.
Add wheels. If you don’t check your stroller, it will have to go through the security scanner. However, the inconvenience may be worth it because it’s handy for transporting baby gear when dashing between flights. Then you can check it at the gate.
Keep baby’s ears comfortable. Nurse or give her a bottle during take-off and landing to help ease air pain. Or, if she uses a pacifier, encourage her to suck on it. A child age 4 or over can suck on a lollipop or piece of hard candy.
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