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The only 4 tips you need for flying with babies and small kids

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4 tips for flying with small kids - babies and toddlers.

If you want a comprehensive list of every little thing to pack, game to play, or contingency to think about while traveling by plane with your baby or small children, this isn’t the post for you. A quick pinterest or google search will lead you to a bajillion of those. (Like this one about flying with an infant that I wrote a few years back.)

But if you’re interested in keeping it simple and just need some reassurance that flying with kids doesn’t have to signal the end of your sanity or put a halt on your travel life for the next 18 years, then this is the post for you.

Since becoming a mom four-and-a-half years ago, I’ve taken roughly 50 flights with little ones. (Yup, I stopped to do the math, because I’m a nerd like that.) Some of these I have done alone, while others I have done with my husband. (I prefer the latter, by the way.) I guess that makes me somewhat of a frequent flyer with kids, and probably explains why I get a lot of emails from friends and readers asking for tips.

In mulling it over, I’ve realized that most parents really only need four tips when it comes to preparing for airline travel with small children. So here they are:

The only 4 tips you need for flying with babies and small children:

1. Do your homework according to your parenting style.

You might think this goes contrary to the “only 4 tips thing”, but really, the goal is to think ahead so you can keep it simple. This doesn’t have to be term-paper research level thinking. I’m talking about normal, “I’m a mom so I know what my kids need” thinking. Ask yourself a few questions: How much can I carry by myself? (Your toddler may decide half way through she hates her little backpack.) Are you bringing a multitude of snacks? Have you put some favorite toys away a few weeks or months in advance so you can pull them out at flight time and have something new or novel to play with? Have you brought along some weird things like pipe cleaners, paperclips, large chunky beads, and stickers that you can get creative with? Have you packed an extra change of clothes for everyone? (Include yourself in this one if you can squeeze it in. Can anyone say inconvenient diaper explosion? My husband certainly can.) Every parent has a different level of comfort when it comes to being prepared. If you need to detail every possible thing and make a spread sheet and flow chart, by all means, make your lists and check them twice. If not, then don’t. As a parent, you need to go with your natural parenting style and what will make you feel more secure about the flight. This part is as much about you as it is about your kids.

2. Relax the rules.

I’m not talking about letting your kids swing from the overhead compartments or barreling down the aisles at breakneck speeds, I’m talking about things like snacks and screen time. What? You had a cracker ten minutes ago and you already want more? Ok, here’s a cracker! You just finished a movie and you want to watch another one before those credits are even over? Ok, no problem! Hey baby, I just fed you but now you’re crying and pulling at my shirt again? Ok, here’s the boob – go for it! If you go into your trip with the mentality that you’re now on “trip rules” instead of “normal rules” you can lighten up about snacks and juice and screen time and naps. Follow your kids’ lead and let them have some fun! (This is their vacation, too.) Both you and your kids and other passengers will enjoy the flight more without excessive arguing about why it’s unreasonable to have a fourth cookie before dinner. Just go for it. Detox them from Dora later. (I found that our kids intrinsically understand this concept – some things are allowed at home that aren’t allowed at grandma’s, some things are allowed when traveling that aren’t allowed at home, some things are allowed in the park that aren’t allowed in the grocery store, etc. Kids are smart – they’ll get it.)

3. Accept that your flight will be all about them.

You might not get to finish a chapter in your novel, watching a movie all the way through probably isn’t going to happen, and if you catch a tiny bit of sleep while one kid is draped over your shoulder and the other is draped over your lap, well then, more power to you! If you go into the flight knowing you can be relaxed mentally, but might not feel relaxed physically, then you’re doing yourself a huge favor. (Parenting little ones is hard physically demanding work — we all know that.) Again, expectations set the tone for almost everything. You may feel dog tired when you get off the plane, but hopefully you won’t be all tightly wound-up due to unmet personal expectations on top of your fatigue.

4. Bring lollipops.

Seriously. A more experienced mom clued me into lollipops when I was still a rookie as we took off on a 30-hour road trip with or toddlers, and this has become one of my favorite travel wild cards ever since. Stock your bag with lollipops (Trader Joes has all natural, sugar free ones!) and then take them out just before you reach the desperation point. These cellophane wrapped nuggets of child’s gold are like priceless treasure when distributed at just the right time. Plus, they are usually just enough to help switch gears. I can only think of one flight that I had to pull out lollipops more than once, and that was on a 34-hour stretch of international travel (with terribly long layovers) that I was doing alone with my then 1 and 3 year olds. (You do what you’ve gotta do!)

Good luck, parents of littles!

Flying with your kids is not as bad as you think – I promise you. You will have fun and it’s so worth the adjustments in order to make it smooth for all.

And lest you tell me that my kids are just really experienced flyers and/or exceptionally well-behaved, let me tell you that I have heard myself say things like this while flying: “Levi, we do not use a weed whacker on the plane! Please choose something more quiet to play.” Or “Judah, you can hold my left hand, Levi already has my right one. Honestly, both work just fine!”

My kids are wonderful, and they are wonderfully normal. In all of our flights I can only think of a handful of incidents that we would have wished away – a diarrhea and diaper incident (thanks to my husband for taking one of the team), a 14-hour flight where both kids decided to be in mommy-mode, wanting me all the time (rather than letting daddy share the load a little more evenly), and the one where I was traveling alone on another 14-hour flight with the kids and my newly potty trained son had to get up exactly one billion times to use the potty, including every time the fasten seatbelt sign went on and every time my 18-month-old finally fell asleep.

But really, three flights out of 50 that were memorable in a less-than-ideal way? That’s pretty good if you ask me! And that is why I can confidently say that overall, your kids will do great. And they’ll do even better if you can relax enough to let them.

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.

Adriel x

 

P.S. Just as a side note: In my experience, babies are super easy to travel with (and if you breastfeed, they are even easier). You just have a bit more stuff to wrangle. Older toddlers fly fairly easily as well (especially once they can be entertained with the help of an ipad or video). I personally think the hardest age to travel with little ones is the 12-24 month range. These babies typically don’t like to sit still (they have new walking and running skills they want to use!) and they are still too little to be entertained with apps and movies. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are impossible… it just means you have to be willing to be a little more active with them – walking up and down the isles, singing little songs, playing with them, etc.

If you really need more tips… you’re in luck. I have some:

Travel tips for flying with a baby - simple tips for making flights with an infant easier and more enjoyable!

When traveling with babies and small kids - good bags or not for other passengers?

12 Reasons you should travel with kids - yes, even internationally.

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply Greta 6 June 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Just came back from Hawaii and had my 20 mo old scream bloody murder because his ears wouldn’t pop for an hour. The God sent people sitting next to me as my son was midst ear piercing scream said “remember, in all likelihood you won’t see the other passengers again. And don’t you dare stop taking your kids on trips because of this…you are making memories.”

    • Reply Adriel 6 June 2014 at 4:53 pm

      Oh, what a wonderful passenger to encourage you like that!! (Next time, try a lollipop or juice with a straw on take off or landing? Or one of those all-natural fruit squeeze things? My kids used to live on those for flights during the baby years!) Poor little guy – those ear problems are literally the worst. 🙁 I’m so glad it didn’t ruin your holiday though. Memories indeed!!!

      • Reply Greta 6 June 2014 at 5:02 pm

        We tried everything. E.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g 🙁 We are well seasoned and experienced travelers too it was unfortunately just one of those times.
        Greta recently posted..A Heart’s Desire for Mother’s DayMy Profile

        • Reply Adriel 6 June 2014 at 5:30 pm

          Ah, I’m sure! You are a pro-mom!! Sometimes there is just nothing else to be done but try and comfort them and pray it will be over soon. In reality, they may only be super loud for 5-15 minutes, but when you’re in a small space like that it feels like an eternity!! So hard. I’m sorry it was such a hard flight for you guys. Hope that’s the exception, not the norm!!!

  • Reply Bronwyn Lea 6 June 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Oh girl! I have done way too many of these flying trips with littles (and also wrote a post with my tips in traveling with small kids – according to my parenting style, of course 🙂 but we have another coming up this summer which involves me flying 10 time zones, 9000 miles and 2 layovers by myself with 3 kids 6 and under. I’m freaking out all over again. Thanks for your “you can do it” vote of confidence.

    And now I’m going to go and re-read my own notes to self as a refresher… http://bronlea.com/2013/06/06/this-one-mamas-tips-on-flying-with-kids/
    Bronwyn Lea recently posted..Help, I have a transgender friendMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel 6 June 2014 at 5:35 pm

      YES! Of COURSE you can do it!!! You are a total pro traveler!!! Sounds like one of the flights I took to America and back to Australia. It was 10 flights in total and 8 layovers (averaging at least 4 hours long – one being NINE), plus one canceled flight and forced 24-hour layover thrown in for good measure (wow, that was a fun trip). My kids were ages 18 months and 3 at the time. It was seriously crazy!! AND YET, I felt so much grace for that flight. Looking back, despite all that was going on, I can totally see God’s hand in the kindness of strangers exactly when I needed it. And overall, it was worth it to take my kids home to America for a few weeks to visit my family. Your trip will be worth it too! (I’m assuming you’re off to South Africa?) YOU CAN DOOOOOOOOO IT!!! 🙂

      • Reply Bronwyn Lea 6 June 2014 at 5:47 pm

        Gosh darn it, look at you lovin’ a mama 🙂 actually, it’s Belgium this time for a family wedding. This trips itinerary involves a one hour layover in d.c. during which I need to collect our bags, clear passport control and customs, re check our bags and board. There absolutely cannot be any potty breaks…. That’s all I’m saying.

        • Reply Adriel 7 June 2014 at 11:16 pm

          Good gracious ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Did a travel agent book you that flight? An hour doesn’t seem enough time at all – I thought they were legally required to book 2hrs for a transfer that includes immigration. At MINIMUM you need to talk to the flight attendants and explain your situation and see if they can ask passengers to let you through and be the first off the plane. Some people are pushy and rude and get annoyed, but you never know! That could buy you a few spare minutes. Yikes!!! My other thought would be so see if they can arrange assistance for you when you deplane in DC. When I’ve traveled alone with kids and had a tight layover, I’ve asked for assistance (once). Had I not gotten it I don’t think we would have made it in time. (It wasn’t so that I could manage the kids/luggage, it was so that they could allow me through a couple of short-cuts.) You never know if you don’t try!!!! Good luck Bron! At least you have experience on your side. And a cool, calm head. 😉 Enjoy the wedding!
          Adriel recently posted..I’m going to write a book for you… and give it away for free.My Profile

  • Reply Lisa @bitesforbabies 8 June 2014 at 10:18 am

    Great tips! I might be able to add a few in here too-we travel to Italy every summer! First with my son when he was 4 months, 7 months, then the following year when he was 16 months, then again when my daughter was 6 months and he was about 2 1/2!! This year we are doing it ALL over again-he’s 3 and she’s 18 months! It’s going to be FUN!!! I think the best tips you gave were to realize that the trip will be ALL about them and ONLY them!!! In a way, it went by faster for me, believe it or not! Also, I have an extreme Type-A personality and he was very hard for me to give up the “rules” but once I did it made it a bit easier! You might get a kick out of reading about some of my stories!!! 😉
    http://www.bitesforbabies.com/blog/italy-here-we-come/
    http://www.bitesforbabies.com/blog/italy-here-we-come-part-2/

    • Reply Adriel 9 June 2014 at 11:30 am

      Thanks Lisa. You sound like a pro-mom-traveler. 🙂 Have so much fun in Italy!!!

  • Reply Rebecca Archer 3 July 2014 at 12:58 am

    I love your flying tips! I’m down with all of them but the lollipop one is genius. I’m usually so worried about their sugar intake that I have never considered it, but I found some good lollipops and I will stock up. I thought you might be able to offer me some extra tips though.
    Our family is moving to Beijing from NZ, and I am travelling alone, 19 weeks preggo, with a 17 month old and an almost 3 year old. We are pro-travellers, (33 flights and counting with the kids), but I’ve never done the two toddlers on my own before.
    What I was wondering is what carry-on luggage you take for a long haul mutliple flight session that you were doing with two toddlers by yourself – e.g stroller, ergo baby, small suitcase cabin bag/backpack, kids backpack…..

    • Reply Adriel 5 July 2014 at 11:17 am

      Yes, the lollipops were a game-changer for me. 😉

      When I’ve traveled alone with the boys at that age I took a backpack and a double umbrella stroller. If one wanted to walk, the backpack went in the empty stroller seat. I also took an Ergo in case of emergency 😉 but didn’t end up using it much. The Ergo is light/small enough that it didn’t take up much extra space and I just buckled it around my waist. (Fashion sense aside, because – who cares!) I did have multiple layovers though, and some were like 5+ hours long. Do you only have a direct fight Auckland to Beijing? If that’s the case then I would probably skip the stroller and take an Ergo and a small roller suitcase. (The 3yo would probably love getting to play with that while you wait to board.) And as an aside, there’s nothing cuter than a baby on your back and one in your tum – a mama sandwich. If you go with the roller suitcase option (which I like because it doesn’t feel heavy) then I’d suggest packing a small bag within it that you can take out and have at your feet on the plane with snacks and diapers. And maybe also take a very small toddler backpack for your 3yo with his toys in it. (VERY small! You might end up carrying it, too! But if that happens you can always hook it over the roller suitcase handle and will hardly notice it.)

      Good luck! I’m sure you’ll do great. All your experience counts for A LOT!!! x

  • Reply KidBucketList 23 July 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Stickers saved by sanity when my youngest was 18 months and wouldn’t sit still. Big foam stickers. I let her go to town on our seat, window, food tray …. Everything! I had checked that they were removable before hand 😉

    Whilst my son can sit for 24 hours and watch the entertainment, she won’t. Still doesn’t now she’s 6 so I need a bag full of craft. The flight really is about her (and lollipops don’t work!). It’s hard work I guess, but I think if it as “us” time and that reframing makes all our trips fun.
    KidBucketList recently posted..Boranup Forest – A Trip into the Woods of Margaret RiverMy Profile

  • Reply Jen | Green Baby Deals 3 May 2016 at 11:44 am

    I’ve been very, very lucky on the trips I’ve taken. I also think trying to plan the travel time around a more calming time of day for your children can be helpful, although most times it comes down to the cost of the flight. Thanks for the great tips!

    • Reply Adriel Booker 9 May 2016 at 10:21 am

      Thanks for chiming in! I hear a lot of people say to plan your travel around baby’s schedule like that, but it’s never been realistic for us and we’ve never struggled to see baby adapt to what we need to do—they’re so adaptable when they’re little! Glad you’ve found what works for you. 🙂

  • Reply Michael Tajos 26 September 2016 at 5:44 am

    As a father of a one year old traveling the week after her birthday on 16 hour Houston to Taipia flight with only mom your article and mainly the replies are very reassuring that they will survive the Journey. Thanks for a well written positive encouraging article. Any suggestions on solving the ear pain on a child who always refused bottle or pacifier. Going to purchase lollipops, have 12 days to see if she will accept

    • Reply Adriel Booker 11 October 2016 at 10:17 am

      Anything to get her jaws moving, so snacks should work, too. Have you tried those little fruit and veg pouches? Those could be good as they also require sucking.

      All the best with your trip!

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