For my husband and me, traveling is a passion.
My daughter was 2 months old the first time she flew with me. Seven years and thousands of miles later, she is a pro, but it hasn’t always been easy.
Traveling is stressful — for adults and kids. Mix the two and anxiety levels can go off the charts. We’ve learned a lot along the way, which has helped make traveling easier and keep our sanity in check when the world is on the verge of meltdown.
If you’ve contemplated traveling with kids, you likely know the basics: If flying, purchase your airplane seat together, plan for more potty breaks, leave earlier than normal, and always bring a change of clothes on the flight.
But have you thought of these?
If Your Seats Aren’t Together …
…Don’t worry if you can’t correct it during the online check-in process. The planes may have been switched or the flight might be oversold. Whatever you do, don’t pay more to sit together. You can work with a person over the phone in advance, at the ticket counter or simply ask another passenger to change seats with you. You may want to consider buying a Starbucks gift card in advance to thank someone for switching with you, especially if you’re another traveler to move toward the back of the plane.
Get over the Germ Phobia
Kids touch everything. They eat crackers wherever they find them and pick up broken old things from the parking lot. I used to find myself repeatedly scolding my kids for touching everything, which wore me out and drove me crazy.
But instead of being crazy germ mom, I just carry a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and have them clean their hands throughout the day. I also suggest moms carry hand wipes to clean tray tables and arm rests.
Plan for Those Inevitable Delays
Pack extra snacks in case your flight is delayed. Single-serving bags are easy and convenient to pack.
Think Goldfish crackers, animal Crackers, cheese sticks, granola bars and fresh fruit. Avoid packets of nuts, since you may not be allowed to open them if someone on your flight has an allergy.
Several airports have inside playgrounds these days. You can find all the amenities an airport offers at the information center. Better yet, download an app like GateGuru that helps you navigate around the airport. The app also lists and rates all the stores, restaurants, services and amenities.
Prepare Kids for Going through Security
If your kids have a special animal, blanket, or toy they cling to, getting through security will be a lot easier if you let them know they will need to part with it for a few minutes at the airport. I learned this the hard way. When my 2-year-old daughter’s doll had to go through the “tunnel,” you would have thought the world was ending.
Skipping the minor details when you travel with kids can become a massive disaster.
Now, when we go through security, we make it an adventure for the dolls. The girls share stories with me about what their dolls saw in the tunnel and where they went. They’ve been as far as Neverland, Wonderland, and the White House.
The Scream Solution
I have been on planes with screaming babies and I hate every second of those flights. But kids cry. The first time I flew with my oldest daughter as an infant I was terrified she would cry the entire three hours. To keep the hating at bay, I purchased $10 worth of earplugs — not for me, but for the other passengers. If she became the Tasmanian Devil on the flight I had planned to give them to the flight attendant to distribute to everyone. I’m proud to say after five years and a few hundred thousand miles later, I retired the quart-sized bag filled with UNUSED earplugs. Having these in my backpack always provided a sense of relief, since I knew I could at least try to fix the unfixable.
The Devil is in the Details
Skipping the minor details when you travel with kids can become a massive disaster. Pack tons of snacks, games, coloring books, toys and gum or fruit snacks for cabin pressure issues.
You can’t forget the movies, apps and ear phones for the iPad. Movies and apps on my iPad have become essential necessities in keeping everyone sane on the plane. Word to the wise: Make sure the movies are actually downloaded before you head to the airport. I deeply regret the day I purchased “Frozen,” but the girls weren’t able to watch the movie since it was only in the cloud and not the actual device.
Carry Their Own Packs
If your kids are old enough, make them carry their own backpack with all the things they want to have on the airplane. We started having our girls carry theirs when they were 5 and 6. Not only does it lighten the load for you, it gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility during the “journey.” It’s also a simple item to stuff under the chair for easy access. If it gets too heavy for them, it’s not difficult to strap it to your carry-on.
Boarding the Plane is a Workout
You have two options. Either board early or board last. If you have a few carry-ons that need to go in the overhead compartment, board early. If not, then go last so your kids can run around a bit more before being confined to their seats.
A lot of airlines have eliminated free early boarding for families. Frequent fliers, first-class and business travelers are typically in the first groups to board. Airlines do still allow early boarding for “people who need a little extra time,” but they just don’t say “families” anymore. It’s typically allowed during the first group who boards. Use it if you need it.
The Most Important Rule!!
Just do it. Don’t let traveling with your kids scare you. Don’t let the fear of it make you not travel. The stress can be painful and often embarrassing, turning you from a nice, well-groomed woman to a crazy lady with hair flying all around. But, and it’s a big BUT, it can be done. It should be done. You and your kids will both grow from the experience and grow closer because of it.
Elaine N. Schoch is based in Denver and shares adventures, travel advice and tips on CarpeTravel.com.