Traveling with Kids: Airplane Edition

I can’t tell you how many blogs and websites I read when we first starting traveling with kids.   I wanted to know everyone’s tips and tricks to prepare for a better all around traveling experience.  What I learned along the way has come from trial and error and has constantly evolved from 1 kid to 2 and from infant stages to age 7.  So here goes:


1. Planning Ahead:

Each kid gets their own backpack.  I prefer these with the chest straps, my kids say they are the easiest to carry and they have a multitude of pocket options. But let’s be honest, up until now that my oldest can carry his, my husband and I have carried these everywhere and find them easy to deal with.



Inside each backpack:

  1. some new toys – small dolls, action figures, blind bags, coloring book with new crayons.  Take them out of their bulky packaging before packing, you’ll need the room.
  2. a few favorite toys – I try to let the kids pick this one.
  3. iPad or other electronic device*
  4. snacks – stick with easy to open, non-messy types. Protein if possible.
  5. good headphones
  6. For little kids – one change of clothes for those air plane spills
  7. empty water bottle with no-spill lid

*Ipad:  The day before we leave, I load up the iPad with some new apps (my oldest can pick one he is excited about)


I will use one new toy or one favorite toy to pull out while we are boarding and waiting to take-off.  And then consistently use another new toy or favorite any time a change of pace is needed during travel.   I try to space our iPad use as well, taking breaks from screens during snacks for toys and then back to screens when everyone settles back in or is getting ready for naps.

I never did learn the trick to getting my kids to sleep on planes, sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t.   I do know that bringing along a favorite lovey is about your best chance.  Also, don’t forget comfort when dressing your kids for travel.  Layers, extra socks or even jammies can be appropriate.


2. Once at the airport:

Get there early enough to deal with your gear, and check as much of it as possible, as early as possible (except your stroller).   Curb check can be a wonderful thing.

Your stroller with be your glorified work horse – kids, bags, napping station, drink holder and any extra crap that comes your way.    It’s not difficult to take through security, so don’t let that scare you.  You will have to go through the regular machine anyways with kids, it’s really not much more difficult. Check it at the gate and pick up upon exiting the plane.  The stroller is a wonderful travel companion.


Now you are waiting.   Don’t break open that backpack just yet.  During the time you are waiting for your flight, get your wiggles out.  Let them run around an empty gate, get some hot food for yourself or any last-minute treats.  Purchase a bottle of water and fill everyone’s bottles for easy access on the plane.

3.  Parents need good, multi-functional travel gear too.

It took me a few tries to work this out, but I finally realized that a really great comfortable backpack was important for me as well.  Being organized in your own bag means you stand a chance at enjoying this flight.  So when you finally get the kids set up with toys, snacks and ear phones, you can actually get to the magazine that you might be able to enjoy for 5 minutes.  Don’t underestimate your own needs.   If Mom or Dad go down, the whole ship goes down.

This is also where I pack a super secret stash of candy for extreme emergencies, like a toddler tantrum.

4.  Take off and Landing – dum dums.  The world’s smallest lollipops are the best trick for dealing with plugged ears.  Obviously, not for infants, but having bottles or pacifiers available during those times really helps.

5.  You don’t always have to sit together.  If you traveling with 2 parents and 2 kids, try sitting 2 and 2, a few aisles apart.   Seems like a bad idea to separate but each parent and kid gets some personal time away from the other.  Parents can switch seats half way through the flights to change the pace.   This happened to us by accident once when we weren’t able to get seats together and it ended up being a really great option.

6. Enjoy the journey.

Much easier said than done but kids do this naturally so I try not to fight it.  You will probably change diapers in that closet they call a bathroom, get Ginger ale spilled in your lap and wonder if it’s all worth it.  That is normal and I forgive my husband every time he’s mouthes the words “never again” to me across the aisle.

So let them explore the shuttle bus, check out all the different airplanes going by at the airport, and talk to well-meaning travelers that they meet along the way.  It’s new, and hopefully that novelty alone will bring some excitement.   Your job is to keep the mood consistent while getting to your destination.


Last minute advice:

  • Don’t look around you while on the flight, it doesn’t matter if the people behind you are sleeping blissfully or annoyed at your kids game of 100 questions.  I have seen parents of screaming twins and a toddler never look around once on a flight, while I stared in empathetic horror.  They knew it wasn’t going well, they didn’t need the validation from everyone around them.  Helpers and do-gooders will find you.
  • And then pat yourself on the back.  You are hopefully going on vacation somewhere awesome.

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