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Everybody knows that getting kids in the car and traveling is far from easy.
But flying with kids can be downright suicidal if you don’t have the right actions in place.
I have just got back to the States from a month long trip visiting my family in Hungary. I took my 3 kids (7, 5, 2) and flew solo both ways.
How is that for crazy?
I am still incredulous myself, but I have lived to tell about it.
Yes, flying overseas with kids solo is possible, but I don’t recommend it. However, sometimes you have no choice but to travel alone.
Even if you do take another adult with you, flying with kids has many challenges.
In this post, I will give you 8 tips on flying with kids without completely losing your mind. It will come in handy when you vacation this summer.
Tips For Flying With Kids Without Losing Your Mind
1. Bring The Right Toys
Of course, you know to bring toys for your kids, even for the 5 minute trip to the grocery store, let along when you fly somewhere for a few hours. But it is important to note that the wrong kind of toys will cause more headache than anything.
It is also the easiest to underestimate kids’ creativity and pack way more than they actually use.
Avoid this problem by knowing exactly what the right toys are to take on the airplane.
No matter how cool it seems, Lego’s and other toys with a ton of accessories are not my first choice. If I only travel with one, older child, they may be acceptable options because I can keep better track of them, but I don’t love them.
More often than not, kids are tired from long flights and won’t want to be involved in the same games as they would be at home. This also means, they will be creative in different way than in their normal environment.
I usually don’t show my kids what new toys and activities I pack in their bag, so they mostly have surprises.
Never underestimate the power of novelty.
Some of the best toys are:
- PlayDoh (no tools necessary)
- Scratch Art
- Notepad and Markers
- Simple Dollar Store craft kits
- Magnetic Play
- Books (ones that have a ton of pictures to look at, like Richard Scary’s What Do People Do All Day?)
- A couple of your child’s most favorite toys
Fun on The Fly’s Activity Bag is something I have yet to try, but it looks absolutly perfect.
2. Play Puppy
I admit I was a little squeamish about using a leash with my kids. Afterall, they aren’t dogs and I didn’t want them to feel like one. Plus, “are they really that helpful?”-I wondered.
When I traveled alone with the 3 of them, I quickly did the math and realized I don’t have enough hands to push a stroller and also hold 2 wild and curious children next to me.
Enter the leash.
I used an Anti Lost Wrist Link with my 5-year-old boy, who is very adventurous and forgets to tell me where he is going all the time. I couldn’t risk losing him.
I thought of this as a safety rope that kept him attached to me so I can check in for flights and navigate through the airport without getting a panic attack about where he was.
He did not like it, but he did not take it off. I found it extremely useful and safe. I think that’s a win.
This leash has a double strap to put on your child’s wrist so they have a hard time taking it off. The velcro straps are soft, so they are not itchy or uncomfortable at all.
The length of it is nice too, my son was able to wander away some while still staying close enough to my liking.
Had I not strapped the toddler in a stroller the entire time, I would have put him on one too. I did by him this backpack with a harness but did not use it much because he was content in the stroller.
It was not a waste though, the Skip Hop backpack is pretty spacious inside, has a cup holder on the side and the harness is detachable, so it’s getting daily use as his diaper bag now.
If you travel alone with a young child and not taking a stroller, some kind of harness is a must.
3. Snack Away
This is a no-brainer. And I still forgot to take them on our first flight. Thankfully it was overnight so the kids slept through most of it.
True, there’s always plain bread to be found on airplanes, but we were all much happier when I had the snacks.
The snacks I recommend are not too salty, not too sweet or too sticky, because taking those kinds of snacks will only cause you more trouble.
It’s also better to take snacks that are small, bite-sized because it takes longer for kids to eat and makes fewer crumbs.
Some of the best airplane snacks are:
- Cheerios or other low sugar dry cereal
- lightly salted (mini) crackers
- freeze-dried fruit
- Teddy Grahams
- fruit/veggie puree pouches (hands down Plum’s Mighty4)
- Veggie Straws
- Gold Fish
Now all you need is my favorite snack catcher that won’t let your toddler dump the food all over the place. I’ve used these for years and they are cheap but awesome.
4. Download Apps and Movies
I am a pretty serious opponent of screen time and hand-held devices in general for young kids, but there is absolutely no way on Earth that I would have survived a 30hr trip (from door to door) without electronics.
I took a deep breath and loaded an iPad up with kid-friendly content. Sure, many planes nowadays have individual screens for everybody to enjoy what they want, but when that isn’t the case or when the trip is very long and you need more variety, apps and games come in handy.
Some of the best apps we tried:
- Little Fox Music Box
- Sago Mini- Monsters
- Story Toys- On The Farm
- Story Toys- Zoo Animals
- Story Toys- Things That Go
- Sago Mini- Ocean Swimmer
- FunBrain Jr.
- Ever Run -Horse Game
- Kids Academy
- Chuggington- Trains Game
To find more apps, broken down by age group, visit this link.
As for movies, I always opt for Netflix and download several episodes of their favorite (mostly educational) shows and movies so they can watch in airplane mode too.
Some of our favorites are:
- Peppa Pig
- Luna Petunia
- Magic Schoolbus
- The Graffalo
- Llama Llama
- Super Why
- The Cat In The Hat
- A Turtle’s Tale
- The Graffalo’s Child
- Goldie and Bear
Alternatively, YouTube videos can be downloaded to watch offline. I did this with the help of a handy video (Ipad only):
Because my kids are bilingual, I turn on Hungarian cartoons for them, so we get more benefits from watching. That’s where YouTube is indispensable.
5. Bring Headphones
I definitely could not have survived without the LilGadgets Headphones. All 3 of my kids have one, and I tell you why they are the BEST:
First of all, they come in cool colors, so each has a different color. Easy to find which belongs to which kid.
They are very comfortable with padding and are adjustable to fit your child’s head.
They come with volume limit so they can not turn it up louder than 93db.
And my favorite feature, they come with SharePort, so you can connect all the kids headphones and they can listen to the same thing. How genius is that?
Now, I know that in many households there are more than one available tablets or phones, but in our family that is not the case. We let the kids share one iPad and while I do let them use my phone sometimes, I really like to have them share.
It teaches appreciation and promotes them working together if they want to use an electronic device. It’s never been a question, that is just how it is for them. But with these headphones, they can hear it without bothering others.
The same thing goes when they are listening to audiobooks, they have to agree on what to listen to and enjoy it together.
This brings me to my next point.
6. Download Audiobooks
There are several ways to get your hand on audiobooks. One option is to borrow them from a library app, like Overdrive, or download the Librivox app and search for titles there.
My favorite way to get audiobooks though, is Audible. (I am already a total Amazon snob, so no surpirses there).
If you have never checked out Audible before, I highly recommend getting some awesome books for your kids.
You can sign up for a membership ($14.95 monthly) which gives you 1 credit to buy any audiobook you’d like and offers the other books for a cheaper price.
The cool thing is, you can try one month free and cancel any time.
However, if you’re like me and don’t want to pay monthly fees, then just buy what you need or look for deals on this website.
Some of our favorites are:
- The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection
- The Harry Huggings Audio Collection
- Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
- Pippi Longstocking
- The Beverly Cleary Audio Collection
- Samantha- An American Girl
- The Wind In The Willows
7. Establish Ground (Sky?) Rules
I let my kids have tons of freedom with their electronics and food consumption on a super long flight because it is about survival. As long as nobody is screaming or harming anybody, I just let them be.
However, I warn them that after dinner/lunch is served we can watch one more movie and then we will try to sleep/rest. That way they aren’t trying to stay awake the whole time and know what to expect.
On a shorter flight, I tend to encourage them to entertain themselves a little bit with some toys and listening to stories. It’s good to take a break from the screen and often times they get sleepy and take a nap.
We also talk about using quiet voices and being considerate of others, like not kicking the seat in front of us. (all. the. kicking!!!)
8. Take Bathroom Breaks On Schedule
When the plane is still on the ground, or even before we ever board, I always make them go to the bathroom because I may not be able to take them when they think of it.
My kids usually protest that they don’t have to go but I stand my ground. This has saved me many times as they are almost always able to go and I wasn’t stuck in a sticky situation later.
With older toddlers and preschoolers who are already potty trained, I still pack a pull-up and make them wear it on an overnight flight.
Just in case.
I have had experience with not thinking about a backup and it wasn’t fun.
Babies are on their own schedule but there are some things you can do to save your sanity if an accident happens. Putting two diapers on is a solution, so there’s no leaking.
Another one is to pack at least 2-3 extra outfits and a ziplock bag to contain any soiled clothing.
On one trip, I had two in diapers and they all had some kind of a diarrhea virus all of a sudden, so I was very happy that I packed my bag with extra clothes.
9. Bring A Medicine Kit
I cannot stress enough how important a small medicine kit is. I have gotten on a flight before with “perfectly healthy” children and got off 12 hours later with a child who had a fever and an ear infection.
I don’t know what I would have done without my Tylenol!!
The air on airplanes also tends to be super dry, so lubricating/moisturizing is important too.
Must-have items to pack are:
Tylenol (adult, kid, infant)
Dramamine (adult and kid)
Chapstick (I love EOS Mint)
Saline Nasal Spray (like Little Remedies)
Anti Diarrheal Meds
Chewing Gum (for popping ears)
I throw away all the boxes and only take the bottles and the appropriate measuring cups. With pills, I just take a few, not the entire box. I pack it all in a quart size ziplock so it’s ready to go trough security.
In case you didn’t know, airports allow medicines and babyfood to be over the legal 3 fl. oz. limit.
10. Think About The Drinks
For young kids, it is a great idea to take no-spill waterbottles on board. (empty)
Who wants to deal with cleaning up sticky apple juice in such a small space?
I love and use the Playtex Sipsters and Munchkin’s Click-Lock Straw Cups.
Another reason why it’s smart to take a bottle is because while food is being served, you can make sure to store enough drink for you child for later.
Most airlines provide water if you ask, but kids can think of stuff at the most inconvenient times. (How about during landing, anyone?) By having your own cup and filling it with drink, chances are much less for a drink-emergency.
11. Pack Backups
There are few things worse than running out of necessities on an airplane. There is such a limited supply on board, it’s not likely that you can quickly put your hands on extra batteries, diapers or clothes.
My recomendation is the younger the child, the more backups to pack.
For a baby and toddler 2 and under, I make sure to have 3 changes of clothes and I calculate the diapers by the trip’s length in hours divided by 2 or 3. (for example on a 12hr trip I pack 4 diapers, a 6 hrs trip I pack 3, etc.)
For older kids (3 and up till 8), I still pack one change of clothes. I find pants to be more of a priority than shirts.
I always have a pair of socks for everyone on board, no matter the weather.
I also love a portable battery pack to carry with me. Quick, easy, and never have to worry about electronics dying. I don’t have a link to the one we actually use, but this one from RAVPower looks similar.
Many airplanes nowadays give out warm clothes to clean your hands with and you can definitely wash hands in the bathrooms too. But I find sanitizers/wet wipes to be lifesavers.
It’s all about not having to make a beeline for the bathroom before others.
12. Get On First, Get Off Last
Even if they don’t call passangers with kids for priority boarding, I always make my way to the front and ask for priority boarding.
Parents with kids need the empty plane to be able to comfortably find their seats and arrange their millions of necessities in the seats’ back pockets.
You should not feel (even more) stressed by the line behind you or impatient business men staring at you beause they wanna sit down already.
The opposite is true for getting off. Take your time packing up and let your kids play or sleep in their seats for as long as possible.
You have more room and less rush gathering everything if you aren’t holding up anybody.
With kids in tow, you have it harder than anybody else on that plane, so accept help, claim priority and set yourself up for success.
13. To Each Their Own… Backpack
I find it extremely helpful to give kids the responsibilty to carry their own backpack with their own stuff. It ensures that I can pack everyone their backups and all toys and snacks are already individualized, so I don’t have to worry about doign it on the plane.
With that said, I don’t reccomend a separate backpack for kids 5 and under on trips with changes of flights.
Having to navigate through the airport is tiring and overstimulating to most kids and the last thing they are going to wanna do is carry their backpack.
Carry a big enough backpack yourself, and put most of their necessities in there.
14. Wild At The Airport
I’ll be honest and say, I let my kids run pretty wild in the aiports’ waiting areas whenever possible. They climb on the seats, under the seats and run around.
Of course, I don’t let them get too roudy or obnoxious, but I let them be kids.
The reason for this is becuase they will need every ounce of their self control to sit still on the ride, so I want to give them an opportunity to let it all out beforehand.
We play on the escalators and when available, find an airport playground.
I figure, it would be much worse if they screamed on the plane.
15. Avoid Overpacking
So why am I telling you to bring all these things if I also tell you not to overpack?
It’s because based on where you travel and whom you travel with, you will have different needs and you will have to evaluate what to bring on a case by case basis.
What’s overpacking for you may not be overpacking for another.
For example, a mom who travels with a baby or toddler will bring more toys and clothes than a mom with older kids who can read a book or play on one single device and won’t dirty their outfits (well, hopefully).
On the other hand, it is annoying to have a bunch of extra items with you that you never use. There’s a fine balance when it comes to underpacking and overpacking.
Deciding exactly what you need is difficult so give yourself enough time to think it all through.There’s a fine balance when it comes to underpacking and overpacking.
The truth is, even when you prepare for everything, you can’t truly be prepared EVERYTHING.
There may be situations where you will have to rely on others’ generosity, or the flight attendant’s help and use the limited aircraft resources.
That is A Ok!!!
All you can do is try your best, make an educated guess, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
But one thing is for sure, these tips that were born out of years of flying experience will make flying with kids a whole lot easier for you.
Good luck and do let me know how it went!
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