A girlfriend texted me in panic: “JANE! I’m flying from Canada to New Zealand tomorrow! QUICK! TOP TRAVEL TIPS WITH KIDS!”
Then she admonished me for not having a handy blog article about this for her to refer to. So Tash, this one is for you.
Just a little background, in case you’re wondering what qualifies me to give such advice. Before my oldest son was one year old, he had been on 19 flights (meaning, I had been on 19 flights with him). My second son is now nearly 10 months old, and he has already been on 8 flights.
Trust me. I know a thing or two about this.
Top Travel Tip #1: Stick to a Schedule
As a traveling adult, I usually recommend you set your watch to the local time at your destination and then try to go by that schedule.
When traveling with kids, though, that doesn’t work. They can’t understand time differences, and they need to listen to their body clocks.
Plan your carry-on gear and activities to go along with your home time zone. If you’re going to be on a plane at bedtime, take pyjamas, toothbrushes and toothpaste, bedtime story books, etc.
Have meals ready for your home time zone mealtimes (if kid-friendly meals aren’t offered on the flight, or if you have picky eaters, pack your own). Gather the kids together for meals at the time their body clocks expect them, and try to maintain something like your home mealtime routine. Get to the bathroom, wash hands, sit down, etc., for example.
If your kids nap, try and get them to settle for at least a rest when they would normally nap. It may or may not work (usually doesn’t), but they might agree to have some “quiet time”.
Yeah, you’re going to have to adjust to a new time zone when you get to your destination, but you can cross that bridge when you get to it.
Top Travel Tip #2: Rules go out the Window
No TV at home? FORGET IT!
Limited screen time? FORGET IT!
Sweets and snacks are verboten? FORGET IT!
Okay, you don’t have to go nuts, but you get the picture. Traveling with kids is HARD, and you’re going to need all the help you can get, even if that means letting them watch hours of cartoons and movies.
If your kid is getting antsy and wanting to watch more TV or eat some of the snacks being passed around by the flight attendants, let them! It makes traveling seem special.
And honestly? Whatever works.
Top Travel Tip #3: Snacks, Snacks, Snacks!
Do you know what your kid’s favorite snack is? PACK TONS OF IT.
In moments of boredom or desperation, a well-timed snack is always handy. You can try to keep it healthy, of course, or increase the sense of occasion by providing snacks you normally wouldn’t at home.
Top Travel Tip #4: Entertainment
My attitude when traveling with kids is that I will not rest until we reach our destination (if then…). For that reason, I arm myself with scads of entertainment options.
Books, coloring, games… you name it. Old favorites work, but nothing beats breaking out something new for keeping attention for longer than a few seconds.
Entertainment includes screen time. Take along some kid-friendly headphones, and take a look through the in-flight entertainment system. There are also games and puzzles we do together.
And don’t forget the iPad! We have a collection of “airplane games” as we call them. My son is only allowed to play these when we’re traveling, which makes them special.
Our games include Oceanhouse Media Dr Seuss books (you have to pay for these), and a few free games, including a Thomas and Friends game, and others.
Entertainment also means moving around. Yes, you don’t want to bother other travellers, but at the same time your kid has got to move.
Don’t let them run wild by any means, but taking walks up and down the aisles, exploring the galleys, and “exciting” bathroom trips are always options. Flight attendants are super nice, and often have games and things available for kids (especially Lufthansa!). The best way to keep your kid from crawling up the walls or kicking the back of the seat in front of her is to let her move as much as possible during flight.
No, not everyone is going to love it, but neither is everyone going to be happy if your kid is staying still in one place, screaming.
Top Travel Tip #5: Nurse & Baby Wearing
This only applies for nursing moms traveling with babies. My oldest boy nursed for 10 months, and my second is nearly 10 months and is still going strong.
Nothing beats nursing for comforting, calming, and otherwise keeping your baby in one place. Nursing during take off and landing can help avoid ear popping.
During flight, if you haven’t managed to snag a bulkhead row with a bassinet (I HIGHLY recommend you try to!), baby wearing can be a life saver. I always used a soft wrap (we had the Moby wrap) for flying, as I find them more comfortable to sit in than the structured carriers. The most comfortable carrier we found is the ErgoBaby.
Go With the Flow
The most important tip is to remember that your kids are not adults. Meaning, they cannot reason away the fatigue or understand the impact jet lag has on their bodies.
Be patient with them, and try to keep your sense of humor.
I do not think that parents need to hand out “goodie bags” to travellers sitting around them. You don’t have to feel guilty for traveling with your kids, or try to placate fellow travellers with treats.
The best way to keep your seat neighbors happy is to dedicate your energy to your kids. Keep them entertained, have patience, and show kindness and empathy when they are having a hard time.
And have a stiff drink, or a well-deserved cup of tea when you get to your destination.
Happy summer travels!