When I entered motherhood I could hardly comprehend how people went to a restaurant with their baby, let alone globetrotting with their whole clan in tow. As I slowly uncovered the layers of life with a baby, I realized getting out of the usual environment can be a wonderful way to break up the monotony that sometimes accompanies maternity leave, being a stay at home parent, or just traditional family life.
Are you ready to tackle the hurdle of traveling with kids? If so, don’t fret! It’s certainly no easy feat and requires a lot of patience, planning, and an open mind. But it’s not impossible. To help parents better prepare for a long flight, here are some think to know, as well as some tips on how to get through air travel with kids…
Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail
No matter how many times in your life you’ve packed your bags the morning of and just managed to sneak into the gate to check in before your flight left, it’s a whole new ballpark when it comes to flying with little kids.
Plan and decide on a contingency plan (Plan B) for any possible situations. The big ones to be prepped for are hunger, tiredness, and boredom. Other potential situations include getting hurt, having a diaper explosion, and temper tantrums. Pack some Pull Ups just to make your life bit easier for a few hours and ensure your passports are up to date. Lastly, don’t forget some water (or gum if old enough) to ease your child feeling the air pressure in their ears on the take-off and descent.
Get Kids Excited Before Flight
Entering new ground (in this case, new heights) is always an intimidating concept – even for adults but moreso for kids. Talk to your kids about what an airplane is in detail, what your destination is all about, and the exciting things you’ll be doing once you’re there.
Letting them look forward to potential adventures to be had often reminds kids that there’s a golden treasure at the end of the awkwardness of sitting in a confined place for some period of time.
Explain Plane Procedures Before Hand
You may think to hold off on this one until your family is situated in the plane and buckled into your seats, but don’t underestimate the potential for your kids to not be calm or attentive during that.
You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you repeat to your children the basics of flight procedures on your way to the airport, and then give them a reminder or rundown of it all when the flight attendants do their part.
Have a Plan For Unexpected Weather Situations
While you can’t ever pinpoint exactly if flights will be grounded in case of a bad snowstorm or fog advisory, it doesn’t hurt to look up hotels around the airport that you can retreat to, just in case.
Ensure you’re very familiar with your flight company’s policy on flight cancellations and ask before you even book your tickets what you could expect in regards to rescheduling flights if an act of God prevents you from take-off.
Please Buy Travel Insurance
This one is dear to me since I worked for years in the travel insurance industry and have seen hundreds of unfortunate situations happen that, even if not preventable, could’ve been at least softened if someone had only bought travel insurance to cover the expense of their ticket or an unforeseen health problem that arose while on the trip.
Being treated for a even a minor thing like getting a couple of stitches may end up costing you hundreds of dollars out of pocket if you leave without an insurance policy. When you do buy one, make sure to ask questions and read the entire pamphlet you receive with it – not everything you may think is covered, either, but often there are extensions you can buy.
Don’t Rely On Plane Entertainment
We all know kids can get bored pretty quickly – even if exposed to novel situations like floating in the sky for a few hours. While it’s really impressive that planes have developed so much in the past decade – and can even offer wi-fi connections and a huge variety of movies for you to watch, always try to have a few different things ready to go in case your kid isn’t having any of that.
Coloring books, books in general, educational game pads for kids, and a child-friendly set of headphones (not earbuds) are all a must. Do be cautious of the noise any toy you bring may elicit since you’re surrounded so closely by others.
Bring A Blanket In Your Carry On
I remember the age where many bonuses on planes were free – from headphones, to snacks, to complimentary toys for kids or non-alcoholic drinks. In our modern world, most items will set you back a few dollar bills, so if room allows, prep to bring some from home.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to have a small blanket with you to cover up the kids while napping or when they feel cold. The air conditioning seems to always run higher than expected, and if it’s not that, the sheer drop in temperature from the elevation you’re at can cause your flight cabin to be on the chilly side.
Try a Minimalistic Travel Approach
I know I just said to pack extras, like a blanket, if room allows. But that advice only relates to pretty important things I know I always regret not having already while flying. Before your trip is about to begin, while you’re packing away and thinking how many changes of clothes you should really bring, remember that less is always more – especially with kids in tow.
The best thing you can do is head to a destination with a washing machine and dryer, so that you really don’t have to worry about running out of items or lugging a bunch of dirty or soiled clothes back with you.
Have a Plan For Getting Off The Plane
Get to know the airport you’ll be arriving at before you physically get there. Study its layout online, if possible, and even print-off a map to take with you. The worst is trying to navigate entryways, corridors, elevators, buggies, washrooms, food stops, parking and so on when you have kids and luggage with you.
I would even recommend having a checklist when you first land, to ensure everyone and everything is its place. Can you imagine having lost something only to realize hours into the future that’s the case? Don’t forget that traveling on a plane includes the travel to and from the airport, too. Know where to grab a cab and how long it usually takes to drive there. Even avoiding rush hour times when you head to your hotel will save you a lot of grief (and cranky comments from your kids). And please don’t forget to ask your cab or rental car company for a CARSEAT for your child (so common sense but so easy to forget in the chaos!).
Practice Short Haul Flights First
When it comes to flying for the first time with your kids, especially with little kids, there’s no need to be a hero. Test out the waters first and gage your entire family’s coping skills by jumping on some flights 1-3 hours in length.
I would recommend the 1 hour flight as the prime opportunity to introduce your kid to the skies, lessen their apprehensions over time and make the entire experience a bit more manageable. To some extent, it’ll give you a taste for what you should expect on longer treks in the future, which a good peace of mind to have.
Surprise Kids with a Special Treat on the Flight
You might want to start off entering the plan with giving your kids a treat bag of some sort while passengers are still being seated and during that initial half hour you don’t budge, but try to hold off if you can.
I find that a good treat bag filled with interesting items or small crafts to hold a child’s attention is the best thing to pull out during unexpected melt downs more than any other time. Distraction (or chocolate) is a wonderful way to lessen your child’s anxiety and calm them down.
We all want to be super mom or super dad and be able to handle the tickets, the bags, snacks, water bottles, car seats, strollers, a baby, a toddler, a teen and all else we have to juggle at the airport by ourselves. Just reading that back though, just like the actual experience of doing all of that, is exhausting, isn’t it?
When you’re flying with kids you’re given a chance to practice lowering your pride and accepting help from stranger. Flight crews are very well adept at knowing how to handle children on airplanes (to some extent) and will likely gladly hold your child for you, for the one minute you need to step away and go tend to business (aka go to the washroom).
Mimic Your Child’s Regular Schedule
Everyone always tells you how children thrive in set routines and I used to roll my eyes at this tidbit of advice spewing from everyone and their mother’s mouth, but it really does help. If you’re a parent or caretaker of kids of any sort (part time, full time, only some of the time) you can testify to what happens when a child’s schedule gets even slightly thrown off.
To prevent having to clean up the repercussions of a non-scheduled day (and one you may be exposed to time changes in), try to mimic the same activities you’d engage in at home while traveling. Easier said that done, but relying on familiar items like certain books, PJs, snacks, blankies, soothers and so on can help.
Get Familiar Airline’s Rules Regarding Seating
The biggest mistake I have seen parents make is assume they know what an airline’s regulations are when it comes to sitting with kids. Whether for safety or liability reasons, I’ve personally come across some interesting requirements some airlines have put into practice.
These include needing to have one adult accompany each child under the age of 2 and needing a baby under a certain age to be strapped into their carseat while on the flight. How are you going to transport that carseat from place to place? Look into it, mamas and daddies.
Get a Check Up Before Leaving
Some countries require you to have all of your vaccinations up to date as an entry requirement, but it’s a good practice to head to your doctor about 2 months in advance of your take-off to make sure you’re all good to go health wise.
We cannot be diligent enough about learning as much as we can about the potential risks of being exposed to a different country, people, plants, animals and food. Your medical professional should be able to advise you of health problems that may arise during travel (from stomach bugs, to traveller’s diarrhea or more serious issues) and how to face them.
Check For Travel Advisories
Every country has a responsibility to keep its citizens in the loop when it comes to travel advisories that come up around the world. As parents, we definitely need to take accountability when it comes to looking into the state of the country or countries we will be traveling to.
This kind of information is available online and if you’re in the United States, you can find it here. In Canada, head here and if anywhere else in the world, please search your own government site for the full and update list.
Register With Your National Embassy If Traveling Abroad
In Canada, you can register on the government travel site and in the United States, through the Smart Traveller Enrolment Program (STEP) if you plan to be in a different country for any duration of time. Your own country of original will have a similar program in place.
These types of programs were created in order to notify travellers of potential security warnings, cases of emergency situation abroad or even to let them know of personal emergencies back home. Your information is regarded with the utmost privacy and allows the government to know how many of its nationals are in a given place at any time – which can be life saving in times of distress.
Bring Your Medications or Items Only Available At Home
Going hand in hand with being as prepared as you can be, while still being conscious of not overpacking, put aside all medications, allergy aids, and even over the counter pain relievers when headed to an unknown destination. Remember – most travel insurance policies will not cover your medications to be refilled abroad in the off chance that you forgot them at home.
Don’t take for granted even common medications since it may be called something completely different in your visiting country. Looking for it after getting there while also tending to kids, is bound to give you the headache you’re trying to prevent.
Use an Umbrella Stroller
It might be super trendy and fit perfectly in those jaw-dropping pictures you want to take next to the coast of Amalfi, but you’re only asking for trouble if you bring your full stroller on a plane with you.
You’d have to drag that thing from airports, to cabs, to hotels and back – and while it sounds like a good workout on paper, you’ll be exhausted enough trying to ensure everyone is fed at appropriate times and doesn’t fade away after the tours you plan on taking.
Show Your Appreciation For The Flight Crew
At the end of the day, you will make it – so don’t worry about that. What is more important than focusing on your own survival throughout the wild traveling journey that can unravel when you bring kids on a plane is how you treat those who bear witness to it.
Be extra thankful for any helping hands, go the extra mile to extend your appreciation for the flight attendants, and make sure to nod your head in appreciation of the guests that sat around your family (especially if there was an awkward and loud time on the flight you weighed the benefit of pulling that emergency handle through).