Who doesn’t love a vacation? Vacationing is literally my favorite pastime. Take me to a warm beach and I’m a different kind of calm. Although I love vacationing, traveling to and from paradise can be overwhelming. Life as a parent is stressful by nature. Traveling with babies and toddlers can be a disaster…if you don’t have a plan.
The key to successful traveling with your young child lies within anticipating and planning around what might happen while en route. It’s imperative that you consider their typical schedule when booking your flight. Children need naps. Heck, some adults are cranky sans the nap. It is really asking too much for a tired child to behave while trekking through the airport, standing in line for security checks, waiting for the adults in the party to be scanned, staying still while said adults put back on shoes, belts and collect belongs from the conveyor belt, go through customs, trek through the airport again to find the correct terminal and gate, sit there for an hour with parents who are hoping not to be delayed, stand in line to get on the plane, sit still while the adults maneuver getting their carry on luggage while ushering the kids out of the aisle before being trampled by folks rushing to the back of the plane and patiently wait for the plane to finally take off then sitting for about 4 hours to land, head to baggage claim and take a shuttle to the final destination.
Does sound like a lot? Good, because it is. Frankly, it’s a lot for everyone involved. This is especially true for a child under the age of 6.
1. If possible, book the flight around their naptime or bedtime (red-eye flights).
I don’t care if I was traveling by plane or car, trips were scheduled to minimize bedtime disruption. When I took my little ones from New York City to the Bahamas for the first time, we took a red-eye. They slept the entire time and my sanity was left intact. I struggled a little with getting them and those darn rolling backpacks through the airport but considering everything else that could’ve gone wrong, that was a drop in the bucket. Side note- Why do airports seem 1,000 times bigger when traveling with kids? You really do realize how tiny their little feet are when you’re attempting to rush and they just can’t keep up.
2. Book a window seat. Mother nature is entertaining.
Just trust me on this one. Throw the shades up on a sunny day and a crying baby will be so amazed by the view that they’ll likely stop in their tracks. I still get mesmerized by the view so I get it. If the little one isn’t as intrigued as I am, try engaging them by talking to them about what you’re seeing. “Oh Jordan, do you see that cloud? It looks like a doggie. Do you see one that looks like a fishie?” That game can last for a long while if you’re willing to be creative.
3. Book a seat near the front of the plane.
Location. Location. Location. If the child is facing forward while crying in their seat, the noise will travel forward, disturbing fewer people. Remember life before kids? Looking at “those parents” wondering how on earth can they not control their crying kids at the restaurant or market? Fast forward to now and you not only wish you take back every glare you bestowed upon those poor parents but you will give the stare of death if passengers dare glance at you and your inconsolable child? It’s easy to get frazzled and unfocused if you have an entire plane staring at you.
If passengers are annoyed, you won’t have to see them constantly looking back or shaking their heads in disbelief that a child is actually crying because his/her routine is thrown while stuck on a plane. Just focus on doing your best to comfort your child. Either they’ll likely join you in the “those parents” club one day too or they’ve forgotten how difficult traveling with small children can be for parents. At any rate, it’s better to have annoyed passengers throw tantrums literally behind your back where you don’t have to deal with them or feel the need to constantly apologize for something beyond your control.
4. Pack distractions.
I’ve already exhausted you by taking you through a trip through a child’s eye. Pack their carry on bag accordingly. Keep in mind that you will probably end up holding their carry-ons and yours. You might very well also end up carrying at least one child in addition to all of the bags if things don’t go according to plan. Be intentional about packing. Don’t just throw things into their bag.
Bring a variety of things to keep them engaged. Pack the favorite teddy and toys that foster the use of the imagination without relying on technology. You’ll have lots of time to play with them while in flight.
Preload your tablet or smartphone with their favorite movies. I never downloaded a movie on my iPad before I traveled with my daughters. I found 3 very long child-friendly movies that they’ve both enjoyed in the past, 2 just as long movies that they’d never seen and splitter earphones so they could listen simultaneously. That was one of the smartest moves of my entire life! #winning
Flying is no time to try new foods. I don’t recall ever feeling satiated upon finishing a meal on an airplane. Children are very cranky when they’re hungry. Do yourself a favor and pack their favorite foods. Feed them the perishable foods first, keeping in mind temperature and storage requirements. The absolute last thing you need is a child with an upset stomach 35,000 feet in the air.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that everything will be okay. You will get through the trip to and from your destination. You will create memories with your family. It will be worth it.
We’ve all been there and we’ve survived. You will too. Happy travels!