With summer on its way, I’m sure my husband and I aren’t the only ones gearing up toward long plane trips with young children. This year our sons are 2 and 3 years old. We’ve traveled with them internationally one or more times a year since they each were born. Between flights and layovers, our trips have sometimes been 24-26 hours. Not easy, but we’re dedicated (especially when vacation is on the other end!).
It definitely gets easier each year as our kids grow, but we also have learned many tips and tricks along the way. Here are some strategies that have always really helped us; I hope they help some of you as well!
1. Always arrange a longer layover than you expect to need. If you’re flying internationally, book flights with at least a 3 hour layover. Even if you’re traveling with in the U.S., if you have to transfer through a mega airport, leave more time than you would if you were traveling alone. Moving through large airports with children can be time consuming, and you’ll often have to stand in long security lines when transferring to your new gate.
2. If you can, sit toward the back of the plane. Often times there are other families sitting in the back as well, which allows the children to play together and fosters an understanding environment. If your kids do get fussy, being at the back minimizes the disruption for the rest of the flight. Also, you’ll be closer to the bathroom, which is convenient for changing diapers and washing hands!
3. Always have at least one previously unseen toy (or book, art supplies, etc.) to pull out in a pinch. I usually bring two or three new things that our kids can interact with an engage in. Your child will get tired and restless. Pulling out a surprise can distract them and keep them occupied.
4. Pack more snacks than you think you’ll need. There are countless happenings that could cause unexpected delays (weather, security lines, missed flights, delays from other airports, etc.). Try for mess free snacks already in individual serving sizes.
5. Pack light! You’ll need as many free hands as possible to take care of the kids. One simple tip is to roll your clothes instead of folding them. This allows you to pack a lot more in one suitcase than you otherwise could.
6. If you have to transfer somewhere, do some research on your airport options. Some airports have family areas or kids rooms that make transfer time pass much more quickly!
7. Do you have an iPad? If so, download kid friendly apps (even educational ones)! Your plane might have individual passenger screens with games, but they might not. Even though it’s not ideal to have your kids playing with electronics for hours on end, when you’re travelling and other options are limited, apps can be helpful.
8. If your flight departs in the evening, dress your kids in their pajamas from the beginning. This will save a lot of hassle on the plane.
9. Arrange transportation from the airport to your hotel or other accommodations in advance. When you arrive, you will be exhausted and your little ones will be exhausted. You’ll already have a lot of things to focus on (finding your luggage, going through customs if you’re in a foreign country, etc.), and knowing that you already have a secure way to get to your final destination will make the final leg of your journey a little more peaceful.
10. If your destination involves a time change of 3 or more hours, don’t plan anything for the morning immediately after your arrive. Between your exhaustion from the trip and the time difference, you and your little ones will needs some solid hours of sleep before you bounce back. Forcing yourself to get up and function without a good rest will be a strain on everyone.
11. Depending on the ages of your young children, line up any apparatus they need in advance (car seats, cribs, strollers, etc.). This way you won’t find yourself stuck in an airport with the taxi driver telling you he can’t take you to your hotel because you don’t have car seats. Either make sure these needs are being met on the other end, or plan your packing accordingly and bring what you need along with you.
Have a safe trip and enjoy your vacation! If you know of any other tips you think could help families flying with young children, please let me know!