Our 5 month old daughter’s first night away from our Washington, D.C. home wasn’t at her grandparents’ house in California or road tripping to see her other grandparents in the next state over. It was spent in Juarez, Mexico for the christening of our friend’s twin sons. Even though fellow parent friends thought we were crazy to take an international trip with a baby, my husband and I resolved to not let parenthood stop us from traveling.
These days our kids are 15 and almost 13. They have their own passports, frequent flier numbers, and navigate the TSA security line like pros. Years of traveling as a family helped fostered their independence and confidence as air travelers, but I remember what it was like to fly with them when they were younger.
Since I don’t believe that your love of travel has to be put on hold because you become a parent, I thought I’d share some of my air travel survival strategies and must-haves to help make future flights easier.
While I’m usually a fan of unplugging in favor of family time and ensuring that we balance our screen time, screen time limits go out the window when you’re flying. Make sure to pack kid-friendly headphones with volume control to protect young ears, digital copies of movies on your laptop or tablet, and make sure you have a combination of favorite apps as well as new ones for novelty that will keep interest level high. Since not all airplanes have outlets and you might not be able to count on them working even when they do, be sure to pack your charging cables for your devices along with an external battery pack to give you enough juice until you get to your destination. Some of my favorite products include Puro Kids Bluetooth Earphones, the YouTube Kids app, free for iOS and Android devices, Ventev’s Powercell 6000 Portable Battery, and ChargeSync Flat Tangle Free Cables (available in Lightning, MicroUSB, and USBc).
I always travel with my own snacks, whether traveling for work or with my family, because favorites can be comforting when you’re flying with kids. Pack non-perishable favorites and be sure to bring along your Hydaway bottles to refill at water bottle filling stations that can often be found by the drinking fountains. I’ve also been known to pack fresh fruit like blueberries in my Hydaway so I have a healthy snack stashed in the mesh pocket in my backpack for the flight!
Get a Child-Sized Backpack
There’s no reason why you have to be the airport Sherpa. With the right size luggage, kids can take charge of some of their own belongings that teach important lessons in responsibility. L.L. Bean’s Junior Original Book Pack ($29.95) is their classic durable backpack that is shrunken, making it perfect size for toddlers, preschoolers, and even early elementary ages. Tuck your business card with your cell phone number inside, their favorite lovey, and a snack and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how they take ownership of having their own luggage.
Splurge on New Art Supplies
Colored pencil rolls and triangular crayons add novelty to favorite art supplies but also make them easier to keep track of when you’re traveling. Depending on the age of your child, blank journals, coloring books, sticker books, Mad Libs, and a couple colorful stacks of Post-Its can be great fun for little hands. A couple stacks of 2×2” Post-Its are perfect for little hands and can be used to wallpaper the tray table, make a collage on the window, use them to make a flip book, or cover up the faces in the in-flight magazine and draw silly faces instead. If you feel like packing a glue stick, get it ready to turn the SkyMall Catalog and in-flight magazine into a torn paper collage!
Even the most careful parents can leave things behind when deplaning, but Mabel’s Labels can help ensure that you get lost belongings back. Our family has relied on their durable sticky labels in all sizes for years. I highly recommend the Starter Label pack ($34.95) that has everything you need to label clothing, shoes, belongings, and luggage with your child’s name and your cell phone number for your trip.
Exercise Patience and Flexibility
Traveling with kids always comes with a whole host of challenges that are easier to deal with when taking a deep breath and remembering to be patient and flexible.
Even though I used to be a classroom teacher, I’m a firm believer educational experiences need to happen outside the walls of a school. Teachers can create sparks by building background knowledge about places in a student’s mind through books, websites, and classroom discussions but there is nothing like being able to visit a place for yourself. Surviving your first flight with your child is the first step to being able to travel confidently as a family.