Traveling with young children this holiday? We know it can be daunting but don’t worry! We’ve totally got your back…
The Prime Directive: Realize it is you against them, and you’re outnumbered. Like in any hostage situation, appeasement is your best option.
Remember, it’s just one day. It does not define your parenthood.
Forget about eating vegetables or avoiding materialism or any other things that parents love and children hate. The goal is to keep them gruntled at all costs.
Part One: Advance Planning
1. Do not fly at unreasonable times for your children.
My kids love early morning flights, since they never slept in past 5:30 am anyway. A late night flight for them would have resulted in certain melt down. It’s the opposite for other children. No amount of money you save in airfare will compensate for the years of therapy you will require from being locked in a tube for two hours with a screaming toddler.
2. Go to the dollar store and buy at least one toy per flight per child.
It doesn’t have to be a great toy. If you are morally opposed to dollar stores or really want to save the money for your vacation, lift up the living room sofa and find some toy that no one has seen in months and pack that.
Staple together pieces of paper into travel journals. Dig out those measuring spoons your child always wants and you never allow them to play with. The point is, you need a bribe. The promise of a surprise will get you through the airport and buckled into your seats better than anything else I know.
3. Plan one snack every 15 minutes in-flight.
This may seem excessive but I have never once had too many snacks. Also, it can’t be the same snack. You need variety over quantity.
4. Speaking of snacks, little mouths need to chew and swallow on take-off and landing to relieve ear pressure.
Nursing (or baby bottling) works easily for this, but once they are beyond that stage and not yet in the gum chewing stage, try lollipops, taffy, or gummy candy.
Obviously, be aware of choking hazards! This is not the time to try to level-up in the chewing department. You can also tell your child to “catch a bubble in their mouth” and get them to make a big open-wide mouth to relieve ear pressure.
5. The umbrella stroller is non-negotiable.
Go for lightweight, easy to operate, and inexpensive. I had a $9.99 umbrella stroller that lasted through two boys and many adventures. The benefit of a cheap one is that if it gets lost by the airline you don’t have to experience extreme feelings of rage and powerlessness. You can let it go.
It works as a car seat/luggage cart, a child containment device, and a high chair once you are at your final destination. It is one thing I could not travel without. Besides airline tickets and proper ID, of course.
6. If you have enough time, it is totally worth it to get TSA Pre-Check.
You won’t have to bag your liquids, remove your shoes or laptops. As long as you dress appropriately (more on that later) it saves a lot of monkeying around at security. You will have to pay $85, fill out some forms, and actually go to the airport on a day you aren’t flying to complete an in-person interview. It takes 2-3 weeks, but I’d allow a bit longer, because I’m inherently pessimistic.
7. Let your kids pack their own backpacks with anything they want.
Realize nothing they bring will hold their interest on the plane, but they will find it reassuring. In your backpack you need a change of clothes for each kid, an extra shirt for yourself (trust me on this), and all the diapers you generally use plus 3 in case of delays.
Bring children’s Tylenol, Benedryl, or any drug you might possibly need in the middle of the night.
8. If you have an early flight, let them go to the airport in jammies or dress them the night before and let them sleep in their clothes. No one has time for a clothing crisis the morning of a trip.
Part Two: Managing the airport
I was overwhelmed at how to get myself and two feral small children + car seats + luggage from the car into the airport. I will break it down Barney style for anyone else who feels this might be the most overwhelming part of the trip. After all, once you check the car seats life is golden.
1. If your child is under the age of 2, I suggest wearing them.
Baby on the front, backpack-style diaper bag on your back. I kept my wiggle-worm in the baby sling for the duration of the flight to keep him from crawling all over the airplane. He didn’t sleep but he was calmer and contained.
2. Car seats go on the umbrella stroller.
Walking child holds one handle, you hold the other and a pull a suitcase behind you. Trust that if you drop everything, someone will help. It’s not that far. Only to the check-in counter. Tape your address to the bottom of all car seats.
3. Once your bags are checked, you can put your youngest child in the stroller, and the eldest can stand on the back bar, put their hands on your arms and half-lean against you.
Or, you can continue wearing your baby and put the carry-ons in the stroller and your eldest can walk or ride on the back.
4. Assign your walking child a spot.
For my eldest, it was my left handle of the stroller. I told him, “this is your spot when you are walking. If you get out of the stroller, you must go to your spot so I don’t lose you.”
When we got to an escalator, I’d yell, “on feet!” and he would jump out of the stroller and go to his spot. That way I only had to look in one place for my kid when I got crazed. I think it’s good to plan on getting crazed when traveling with toddlers.
5. Tell your kids that this is going to be an amazing adventure and thank them for being good travelers.
You are all in this together. Let them know that you are sure they will love it and will be excellent at it. When other adults see that you are a kind person, good things happen.
I’ve gotten moved to the front of lines, allowed to sit in the cockpit of a 747, and given free snacks on the plane just because of our attitudes.
Part Three: Security
1. Tell your children that security is to check that no one is smuggling any hamsters in their luggage or pockets.
Say it loud enough for TSA to hear. This helps remind TSA that security is scary for children. Every time I did this, the agents went out of their way to smile and be reassuring.
2. Dress appropriately.
Take off your watch and belt ahead of time. Wear socks. Remember you may be asked to remove a hoodie so make sure to have a something on underneath that you don’t mind the whole airport seeing. Choose shoes that are quick and easy to slip in and out of. Check your children’s pockets before you enter the security line. Lord only knows what they have in there.
Part Four: Congratulations! You made it onto the plane!
1. Know who hates crying children more than you do? Your fellow passengers. Good will can carry you a long way.
When passengers see me and my children in their row I like to joke, “Right now you’re thinking you won the seating lottery!” I always reassure them that my kids are awesome.
Reducing tension makes children behave better. Don’t be afraid to sing songs in your child’s ear. Passengers would rather hear off-key singing than children screaming. Talk to your children. Say things like, “I know it’s really hard to be small,” or “you’ve had a hard day of travel,” or other things that are as much intended for the adults nearby as your actual kids.
2. The good news: the children are in a tube and can’t escape.
No one can kidnap them. You just have to survive the next hour or two. Don’t think of the connecting flight. Focus on this one. It may feel like eternity, but it’s really not.
You have bribes. You have snacks. Visit the bathroom and look in the mirror. Walk to the back of the plane and look out the window of the emergency exit. Sit both kids in the same seat and belt them in together. You won’t get to pee, nap, or read a book, but you will survive.