This one mamas tips on flying with kids

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On our last big trip abroad, The Daddy of the family flew back 2 weeks before me – which meant that the final trip home was just me and my two littles aged 1 and 3. This was no joke of a trip: from door to door it was more than 40 hours: 1 hr check in, 2 hr flight, 3 hr international layover (and baggage change and passport control), 16 hour flight, 2 hr international layover (and baggage change and security/passport control), then RUN to make final connection for a 5 hour final flight…. but we missed it… so add another 2 hour delay, 3 hours flight, 2 hour layover, 3 hour flight. With the 1-year old on my lap. And THEN we got home.

And yet, apart from an all-three-of-us disappointment-meltdown when we missed our connection – the kids did not cry on this trip. They were happy, go-with-the-flow dream kids. They even did some sleeping! On the 16 hour flight, a number of the air hostesses complimented my kids on how well they were doing, and suggested jokingly “you should run seminars on traveling with kids!”. I was flattered and encouraged – but for what it’s worth – I also know that the smoothness of the trip did not happen because of my perfectly adjusted, never-whining kids. Ha! The trip went smoothly for two reasons: Firstly – because I had been stressing about it for months before and had asked every praying person I knew to pray for our trip. I fully believe God answered their prayers. But secondly – the trip went smoothly because I had been stressing about it for months before and had planned planned planned and planned some more.

I hope that by writing some of that planning planning planning down, perhaps some of you who may have to travel with littles in the future can save yourselves the months of stressing, and just do the smooth-travel part 🙂

So without further ado, here are some of the globe-trotting tips we put into practice:

littleboy-airport“Let’s pretend“:
In the weeks before the trip, the 3-year old and I played “let’s go on an airplane” trip. We pretended to stand in a long line, we played hopping games to pass the time, we pretended to go through security (climb under a table after removing your backpack), we carried our own backpacks, we got “on board” (the couch) and buckled our pretend buckles. We listened for the “ping” of the fasten seatbelts sign. We talked about how long a trip it would be and we practiced getting out her bear and blanket and taking naps. And waking up. and taking more naps. And having a snack. and taking more naps. (Lather rinse repeat). This may not sound like a fun game for us grownups, but believe me – my preschooler was ALL OVER IT.

“A big kid gets their own suitcase“:
I let my daugher pick out a $7 backpack with rolling wheels at Walmart (forgive me), which she called her “suitcase” for the trip. Together – we packed her bear and blanket, her headphones (more on that later), and her water bottle. She felt very grown-up, and she also had all her security items on her. The rolling backpack also turned out to be a total hit with the 15 month old, who rolled it around every departure lounge we stopped in!

“Mommy’s yummy take-off (and landing) snacks”:
My kids are too little to chew gum or know how to ‘pop’ their ears for pressure changes, so I packed little snacks specifically for take-off and landing so that they would chew/sip throughout the ascent and descent. Think mini bags of goldfish, fruit snacks, raisins, animal crackers etc. Little things with not too much sugar or salt. We had eight ascents and descents on our trip, so I tried to pack a variety. I also asked for a bottle of milk on the plane for my youngest to drink during take-off.

“Mommy’s amazing bag of tricks”
This was, for sure, the piece de resistance of my planning. I put together about 20 small, novel things in one gallon-sized ziploc bag. Each item was wrapped in tissue paper (unwrapping it is a novel activity in itself), and a few were produced on each leg of the trip. I wrote what the item was on the outside of the wrapping – my kids couldn’t read it anyway, and it helped me decide what ‘trick’ to dish out next. My bag of tricks included:
2 small dinosaurs for imaginative play
a little slinky
a truck
a travel sized aquadoodle – a brilliant toy for kids which uses a pen filled with WATER (no mess!) to draw!
a ‘slinky pop tube‘ – this $1-bin toy was definitely my best buy – it made fun sounds, fun shapes, could be used as a microphone or telephone system, a telescope etc…
sticker books
two small new reading books (on trucks and princesses respectively)
a new pack of crayons and coloring book
a mini etch-a-sketch
a cheap wind-up squirrel that spun on the tray table
a hand puppet (this was particularly helpful before take-off when we had about 45 mins to wait as people boarded around us. I sat on the floor under my daughter’s quilt (more about that later too) and played peek-a-boo with a polar bear puppet the whole time.
A squishy ball.
Party-favor sized bubbles (these were marvelous at the airport. I felt like the pied piper as I blew bubbles in the Atlanta airport departure lounge and had about 15 kids joining mine to chase and pop the bubbles)
a small tub of play-doh (in a small zip loc bag)
A $1 pack of “gel stickers” in the shape of airplanes. The kids had great fun sticking them on the airplane windows and “flying” them around.
An “I spy” book- fabulous for take-off and landing too!
There were a couple more things I can’t remember… but I promise, it all fit in a gallon-sized bag! I borrowed a few items, had a few items at home which I hid about a month before the time so they would be “new” again for the trip, and then bought a few. I did not spend more than $25…. dollar store items mostly.

Other nice-to-haves:
* I had one “emergency melt-down” little bag for my 3-year old – for the “extreme situation” when she could not handle the waiting anymore. It was a little silk purse and contained 5 shiny stickers, two chocolate coins, a ring for her finger, and a special ‘color-me-wonder’ painting book with dora-the-explorer. I pulled it out when we missed our flight and I had to stand in the re-booking line for an hour as my kids nearly lost it. Thanks to the emergency melt-down bag, there was no melt-down in that emergency 🙂
* we decided some time ago to invest in kids headphones: they are small and have volume control and fit over their ears (the airline ear buds don’t work for kids – they are too big to fit in their little ears). We use these headphones at home or in the car sometimes with our portable dvd player, and decided to take one pair on the plane. it was a great call – on the long haul of the flight, the 3-yr old could watch in-flight movies with comfortable headphones that she already knew how to control the volume on. I highly recommend it!

Hands-free kit:
What to check? What to carry-on? My rule of thumb was all about having free hands. So I chose NOT to take our car seats, but to borrow/rent at destination – because I didn’t have a free hand to deal with getting a car seat on and off the plane. I chose not to take a stroller for the same reason: I cannot push a stroller and handle our bags simultaneously. So all I took with me on the plane was:
– a back-pack style diaper bag containing 4 changes of clothes for the little, 2 for the big. For some reason, poop blow-outs are almost guaranteed when you fly – so go prepared. I bought compression bags at target and squished the clothes in there to save space.

– diapers, wipes, butt paste, tissues, kids ibuprofen, kids benadryl (I tried drugging them on the way there – it didn’t really work)

– 2 bottles for baby’s milk, assorted snacks, sippy cups.

-my Ergo baby carrier (so I could carry the baby in the front, with the backpack on the back)

-One carry-on suitcase with wheels which contained:

  •  a change of clothes for me,
  •  my amazing bag of tricks,
  • a small ziploc bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and travel size moisturizer for me,
  • my camera, my cell phone, another small folder with itinerary, passports and pens,
  • and then the other half of the suitcase was filled with my daughter’s quilt. She sleeps with it every night, and it doubles as a tent/puppet show veil, comfort blanket, tug-o-war tool etc. we debated whether it was worth packing such a bulky item – but it was totally worth it.

– the preschooler’s toy rolling suitcase (which was her job to carry).

EVERYTHING else went in one large rolling suitcase which I put in checked baggage, and could attach to my small-carry on suitcase during layovers (so I only had one thing to pull instead of two).

Yep – so go ahead and picture it – tired woman with a backpack on back, a toddler on front, two suitcases being towed in one hand, a tired three-year old held by the other hand who in turn is dragging a bright pink rolling suitcase… RUNNING down the Atlanta concourse trying to make that plane…. and as tears ran down my cheeks my sweet kid was shouting “you can do it mommy! good running! we’ll make it!” Talk about overwhelming…

And yet we made it – and we did more than survive! We had fun 🙂 With a bit of preparation and a lot-of-prayer, this scared-and-usually-unprepared mama traveled 35,000kms with 2 kids 3 and under… with almost no tears. And friends, if I can do it – you SURELY can!

I hope your travels, even with little ones, will be smooth and tear-free this summer.

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19 thoughts on “This one mamas tips on flying with kids”

  1. Amazing. I’m pinning this so I can use it the next time we fly! 🙂 So far all our trips have been under 2.5 hours (besides Hawaii last summer, which was a bit rough with a 12 month old.) Thank you for all the fantastic ideas!

    1. Thanks! I had scoured the internet for tips before we flew and it is fun to be passing on my favorite ideas. I think 10-18 months is the absolute hardest age to fly with kids! Flying with newborns was easy (although I had been so terrified… But she nursed and slept all the way), and once they got closer to 2 they can be entertained by a screen or a book for much longer stretches. But oh, those hours go by SO SLOWLY with a toddler…. Good luck with your trip:-)

  2. OK Bronwyn, I’m convinced that I want to travel with you as the travel planner. I like chocolate. Liz likes scones.

  3. So helpful! We fly for the first time w/baby in early October (Caleb will be almost 7 months old) and possibly another trip in August (@ 5 months – hoping we can gracefully bow out)…Both are trips with extended family that cannot be avoided and all I can picture is me being the one with the screaming kid in the back of the plane while poor passengers shoot daggers our way! Deep breath! 🙂 This post is super helpful in thinking things through! Thanks, Bronwyn!

    1. Kate: you are a supermama! You can totally do it! I didn’t mention my thoughts on traveling with newborns in the article, but this is what I would add about traveling with really LITTLE littles:

      * take a pillow (a boppy or a flat pillow). If you have an infant on your lap for the flight, it really helps to have something soft to lay baby down on and protect them from the hard edges of buckles and arm rests, and it also gives your arms a break from HOLDING them up the whole time. When I flew with 2 month old Teg to Australia I took a boppy and she slept/nursed in it the whole time and I didn’t have to worry about her rolling off my lap if I took a nap. Also, it was a helpful thing to sometimes set her down in in the airport.

      *there’s some bad magic with airplanes and baby poop. In my experience, babies never just poop on a plane. They always BLOW OUT. Always. Like up to the neck. Anyway – pack as many diapers as you think they would usually go through in that length of time, and then DOUBLE it, and add another one. And I would pack at LEAST 2 complete outfits extra for baby. Also, now I travel with babies in old onesies. Not so cute and picture perfect, but that way, if the blow out is too bad, I just ditch the onesie in the trash. I don’t feel bad about throwing ancient, threadbare, poop-soaked onesies in the garbage. Sorry.

      * Pack an extra shirt for you. If it’s a longer flight, you might need an extra pair of pants and an extra shirt. for spit up. And nursing leaking. I traveled all the way back from Sydney with bright yellow baby poop stains on my jeans and sad, bad milk rings on my shirt because I didn’t heed someone else’s advice on this. Not. pretty.

      * Nursing on the plane is the best for dealing with air pressure changes. Seriously, like, the best. And if your baby takes a paci, all the better. Sucking is the way to go. However, know also that the baby doesn’t need to nurse continually from takeoff all the way to 30,000ft. Intermittent nursing is ok, and if they’re asleep when the plane starts its descent- I say let em keep sleeping. If their ears start to bug them they will wake up and you can nurse them then.

      Hooray for traveling with Caleb. What adventures you all will have! Love to you, my friend.

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  5. This is fantastic. I have to add one “not to pack” item that I clearly didn’t think about before I threw it in… a bouncy ball… and yes, I had to retrieve it several rows back on more than one occasion 🙂

  6. Great advice Bronwyn and my kiddos are (almost) grown. One thing I always traveled with was a bag of colored pipe cleaners. They were made into jewelry, crazy shapes, games, animals, just about anything. When it was time to put them away we could fold them flat again until the next use and they take up very little room. There is probably something more modern now, but it was my MOPS tip at the time.

  7. Hi. Just found this post. I live in Guatemala, but we travel with my little one often to visit family in California. And she’s just entering the 12 months on the go, won’t sit still or sleep like she used stage. THESE are some great tips. Jusr curious…did you grow up in South Afirca??? Thanks again for these tips!

    1. I did! So glad you found this helpful 🙂 we have another round-the-world trip coming up soon (this time with THREE little ones!), So I needed a refresher course this week in what to pack…

  8. Found your site from Adriel’s where I was researching how to handle our flight from Malaysia to San Francisco (22 hours flight time via Singapore and Hong Kong).

    Brilliant suggestion on playing airport ahead of time. What a good idea.

    I had some super-duper bungee cords (I show a pic on my site) so that we could strap everything onto the stroller *after* checking in the bags. Getting to check-in, yeah, that was a little tough with stroller and the luggage cart. But when we could put the 10 mo and 2 yo into the stroller and strap our bags against the stroller, that made things somewhat more doable.

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