Summer vacation season is officially here. Like most Arizona moms, I’m doing my best to make plans to escape the heat. Yes, a road trip around the west coast is an option, but most other destinations typically require a trip on an airplane.
Now, I know what you are thinking. “Flying with kids?!” <insert groaning noises here>
I have traveled extensively with my kids. Both of my kids (ages 4 and 2) have been to 5 of the 7 continents and completed several long-haul, overseas flights. Call me ambitious or crazy (maybe both), but my husband and I have made the decision to not let having kids prevent us from seeing the world. I’m here to tell you that airplane travel with young kids is possible and here are a few of my tips to survive.
- Don’t take along your giant, expensive car seat. For the first couple of years when traveling with my son, I lugged around my ginormous Britax car seat. Because it was our everyday car seat, I always worried about something happening to it. It was heavy and required a special cart to roll it from place to place. Yes, I considered renting car seats at my destination, but that is an expensive option for a dirty car seat the rental car company won’t install. Instead, one of my favorite travel tips is invest in an inexpensive, no-bells-and-whistles car seat you use only for travel. I have the Cosco Scenara car seat, which goes for $35 from Walmart. Cheaper than renting one and I know where it has been. All US car seats and boosters are required meet a federal minimum safety standards so it is a safe, approved car seat. Yes, it might lack extra padding and fancy strap systems, but it works for babies and toddlers from 5-40 pounds. Once your child is over 40 pounds, I highly recommend using the Bubble Bum booster seat for travel, which is an inflatable booster seat that packs up crazy small. Amazon currently has the Bubble Bum on sale for only $22, so again, another inexpensive and portable way to keep your kiddos safe.
- Hit up the Dollar Spot for a couple new, inexpensive toys. I always let my kids pack a few of their favorite small toys, but I also like to buy them a couple of new surprises for the trip. The excitement of a new toy always keeps them entertained for longer, and you can stash them away and bring them out as necessary. A few of my favorite small travel toys are matchbox cars, silly putty, crayons or color magic markers, stickers and small LEGO sets. There are also a ton of DIY airplane activity ideas available on Pinterest.
- Throw your usual screen time rules out the airplane window. When I’m traveling without kids, I get bored on airplanes. I understand why our little ones get a little antsy. Let’s be honest, there isn’t much to do up at 30,000 feet without disturbing your neighbors. Load up the tablets with new TV shows, movies and apps and let your kiddos settle in with a pair of headphones. My kids both have the Amazon Fire Kids edition tablet which has a 2 year no-questions-asked replacement guarantee for $99. LEGO, Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, Peekaboo Barn, Sparkabilities and Jumpy Fruits are a few of our favorite kid-friendly apps that work without WiFi.
- Bring LOTS of snacks. Packing snacks with kids is probably a no-brainer, but make sure to bring enough snacks for the trip there and the trip home. You never know if your flight will be delayed or if you will get stuck on the tarmac, so make sure you pack enough to avoid the hunger meltdown. It can also be difficult to get a full meal in your kids when traveling, so you can even consider packing simple meals like PB&J to keep their bellies happy.
- Don’t hesitate to bring out a well-timed lollipop (or two). I’m not suggesting you pump your kiddos full of sugar and then expect them to sit still, but we all know that meltdowns happen. Grab a bag of Dum Dums and stash it at the bottom of a carry on in case of an emergency. This always helps curb my kids meltdowns and keep them quiet for at least 20 minutes.
- Bring along a thin blanket or stuffed animal that can double as a pillow. If your little one has a favorite lovey, pack it in your carry-on. Anything that might help comfort your kid or help them sleep is a win in my book. If you don’t want to risk losing a favorite lovey, consider buying a new stuffed animal that can double as a pillow. My kids have used Hideaway Pets on past trips, or Pillow Pets Pillow Pets are another good option.
- Pack a change of clothes for YOU and your children in your carry-on. Whether it is a spill, diaper blowout or a case of motion sickness, you’ll be happy you have a back-up.
- Bring a travel-sized stroller. I use my BOB stroller almost daily, but it isn’t exactly the best for travel. A lot of the airlines, especially American, have changed their rules and only allow smaller strollers under 20 lbs to be gate-checked. Ditch the giant stroller and bring a smaller one. Need a double? Consider bringing two umbrella strollers instead.
- Utilize the airport travel carts. You know those Smart Cart stations at every US airport that charge $3-5 dollars per use? I’ve come to find out they are the most useful thing ever when traveling with kids and way too much baggage. Especially when everyone is tired, getting all the luggage from baggage claim to the car can be a challenge. You can check the curbs to see if anyone has ditched one and use it for free. They are also usually free when traveling internationally.
- Just go and hope for the best. There is a good chance you will have one of those moments where you start questioning your sanity and wondering if leaving home was really worth it. I’m here to tell you it is. You are showing your kids the world (check out last month’s post on 8 Life Lessons Kids Learn from Travel) and building memories your family will never forget. Try to have a short memory about the flight and enjoy the ride.
Do you have any tips for flying with kids?