Tag Archives: sanity travel tips

14 Tips for Flying with Young Kids

The quickest advice: Don’t do it. Now go have a glass of wine.

Everyone hates to see a family with young kids get on the plane. And you know who hates it most of all? The parents. I would rather be getting an enema, washing my hair with hot tree sap, or eating a can of spray cheese topped with Lucky Charms and mayonnaise. If you know me, that’s about as low as it can get.

But we just got back from Tampa and we survived four flights with a three year old and a one year old. Everyone is remarkably intact. K-Pants threw up on the first flight during the bumpy descent, so that was awesome; but because I was prepared with a full extra change of clothes for him and Baby Woww (whom he also sprayed), things were alright.

How to Survive Flying with Young Children

1. The short answer: drugs.

I packed liquid melatonin, children’s Dramamine, adult Dramamine (don’t forget to take care of mama!), Ibuprofen, and nighttime Orajel (Baby Woww was teething). We’ve used Benadryl in the past, but I forgot to buy it in a small enough container to pass through security. I am NOT a doctor, so don’t consider this medical advice. But I will say that I experimented with each thing before taking it on the plane, to make sure nothing had the opposite effect on the kids. And I follow dosage instructions. If you’re going to give the kids something, make sure you do it 20-30 minutes before you want it to take effect.

2. Pack in advance. I’m admittedly neurotic, but I feel like packing one week before the trip is crucial. That way you can assess what you need to go to the store to get. I knew to go find the Orajel that was missing from the liquids/drugs bag, and I had time to search out extra headphones and phone chargers. It’s the worst feeling to realize at midnight the night before the trip that you need something critical. Plus, the night before your trip, you NEED to sleep.

3. Use technology to your advantage. We have an iPhone and a tablet that–thanks to you, readers!–were filled with kid-friendly games. We bought the Fisher Price iPhone Apptivity case, and it worked great for the kids to hold, and–bonus!–it made it easier for me to find my phone in the seat pocket or travel bags (it’s hard to lose a phone when it’s being hugged by a colorful baby rattle). If you have a toddler who doesn’t constantly press the home button on your phone, then don’t worry about a special case. The one year old always pushes the home button, and the case has a feature that makes it so the child can’t do it.

4. If you can separate the kids, do it. This was unexpected. I feel like when we travel together I can only survive if my husband is next to me as another enforcer and source of moral support. However, the biggest problems we had were generally due to the baby wanting something the preschooler had, or vice versa. So they mainly fought over things, and there’s no good place for time-out on a plane (although for something egregious, the back area near the restrooms will work). On our return trip my husband got upgraded to first class with the baby, and it was much less stressful for each of us. And I have to give my husband credit here, he let me choose where I wanted to sit and I chose coach with the three year old, because flying with kids aged 9-months to just under three years is the WORST.

5. Pack lots of snacks.

This is a no-brainer. Try to make them a real mix of savory and sugary, so that you don’t have sugar highs and sugar lows. Things wrapped in shiny wrappers always work well for us, so we had Luna bars and fiber fruit bars. K-Pants is obsessed with cough drops, so we brought a bunch of those. We also got popcorn and apple crunchy straws from Trader Joe’s. TJ’s is perfect for these kinds of snacks. I recommend trying out any new snacks on the kids before the flight so that you know what they’ll really go crazy for.

6. Pack little toys and games.

This is mainly for the preschool set. Though my friend Emily had finger puppets for her one year old, and felt cut-outs entertained both kids when I stuck them on the seat backs.

7. Bring books, especially audio books. We stopped at the library before the trip and got some paperback books about K-Pants’s favorite things (trucks, boats, trains). It was nice that the books were new. We also looked for audio books that I then downloaded onto an iPod, so that the toddler could listen during the flight. NOTE: we haven’t had any success with either of our babies wearing headphones. But now that K-Pants is three, he wears them fine. We practiced with the headphones the week before.

8. Label things. One of the hardest things when traveling is that everything is packed so neatly in bags that I don’t often use, so it takes me way longer than necessary to locate the medicine or the headphones. Meanwhile, someone is having a meltdown. I went overboard and labeled the zippers on my backpack with “Liquids” and “Technology” and it was awesome.

9. Bring lots of extra plastic bags.

You can never have enough. You’ll need a couple for trash as the kids eat snacks. You’ll need some for soiled clothes or diapers. I also packed all snacks and toys in bags that we could then reuse later. Just throw ’em in and I guarantee you’ll use ’em.

10. Bring your big stroller. We could have gotten by easily with a single stroller in Tampa, but the double allowed us to strap two tired kids in at the airport, or have one child in the stroller with a suitcase in the other side. Options are endless, and you can gate check that bad boy for free.

11. Don’t be afraid to buy media and food on board the flight. I was frazzled and exhausted on our second flight to Tampa. I’d been thrown up on the flight before, and my airport burrito had canned corn in it. I was in a MOOD. Eight dollars for a little tapas box on the plane was definitely overpriced, but it was just the gourmet pick-me-up I needed. And paying for DirectTV came in handy for kids movies, and sports and adult entertainment (not that kind!) when the kids were napping. Just put out of your mind how overpriced everything is: Your in-flight sanity is priceless.

12. Park at a long-term lot that drives you directly from your car to your terminal. You know flying is going to be nerve-wracking, so why start it out with a frustrating trip from the outer banks of economy parking, where you have to wheel all your gear to a bus stop and wait. We used Air Park at the Portland airport, and they come to your car and drop you off at the terminal for a little less than $10 per day. Worth it if you have to leave your car.

13. Practice before getting on the flight.

The kids don’t usually play games on the iPhone or tablet, and I didn’t want the plane to be the first time, because there’s always a little frustration in learning something new. So we talked about how exciting the flight would be, and practiced with the games and the headphones beforehand. We also practiced with wearing the carry-on backpack.

14. Pack a full set of extra clothes for each child. Comes in handy in soooo many ways: accidents, throw-up, spilling ginger ale…

Please add your tips so that others (including me!) can benefit.


Want more family travel advice and ideas? The Travel With Kids page has links to useful travel posts by other parent bloggers.


Sanity Travel Tips 3: Surviving the Road Trip

Today’s travel tips in the Sanity Travel Tips Series come from my good friend Evelyn who lives in North Carolina and has been road-tripping with her toddler since he was born; and also from Scott at Get Better Mary Elizabeth, who has a middle-school daughter and elementary-age twins, so he is a bona fide professional.

Evelyn’s Road Trip Survival Tips

  1. Have an endless supply of books or toys or whatever entertains your child within arm’s reach of the passenger (or driver if going solo), so that you can chuck a new toy at your little one as soon as they are tired of the toy they are playing with. Number of toys/books to take = number of hours of trip X 10, then add a few more for good measure. [Editor’s note: I like your style, and the imagery! Is the little tot good at dodging the incoming toys? Ever poked his eye out?]
  2. Have a similar endless supply of favorite snacks and sippy cups within arm’s reach. When tired of toys, chuck some food at your little one. [Aaaaaah! Flying food!]
  3. For extra-long trips, have someone sit in the back with the kiddo (this is especially helpful if he or she is still little enough to be rear-facing), for entertainment purposes.
  4. We ALWAYS travel at nap time so that he sleeps most of the way. [Amen!]
  5. [Note: You can also print Hannah’s list of games to play in tight spaces. It’s geared toward planes, but is great for road trips, too!]

And Scott Takes it to the Next Level

Scott says…For longer car trips, we bring a shopping bag filled with tiny little packages, wrapped in gift paper (by their OCD grandmother) one of which the little darlings get to open every hour. They can even be time-specific, like little boxes of cereal in the morning etc. Benefit – they can be used as leverage – “If you don’t stop x, you won’t get to open a gift.” Drawback – be sure that none of the little gifts is a noise-making anything. Somehow, their usually wise grandmother packed one of those whistles with the slide handles that makes funny descending, ascending and TOTALLY maddening sounds. [Editor’s note: I guess no vuvuzelas either.] Overall the gift bag was a huge hit for our last New York-to-Chicago-and-back-again road trip.

If you haven’t checked out Scott’s blog about his family’s battle for recovery from his wife’s stroke, it’s amazing and so well-written. His On Giving Thanks post should be required reading on or around Turkey Day.

Click here for some travel humor from one of my favorite guest posters, Marisa: How to Use the Items in Your Seatback Pocket to Entertain Someone Else’s Child.

Sanity Travel Tips 2: Games to Play in Tight Spaces

My dear friend Hannah—children’s author and mother of two boys with twin girls on the way—gets really practical in this guest post by giving us a list of games you can play in tight spaces that require no extra packing.

You may think these are simply games we all played as kids, but when you have a screaming child in your lap, you will be wishing you at least emailed yourself this list!

For the Two and Younger Crowd

●      Entertaining Games

  • Peek-a-boo [Editor’s note: This one is really great if you have a nice grandparent in front or back of your seat who wants to play also.]
  • Tear the Paper (Let the child rip Sky Mall into strips of paper. Use the strips to create chains, hats, animals, etc. Sure it makes a mess, but oh well!)
  • Singing Time with Hand Actions (Pat-a-cake, This Little Piggy, The Itsy-bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, etc.)
  • Where’s the Binky? (Alternate hiding his favorite small toy in different hands or other places he can see)
  • Tickle Monster
  • Find Your Nose, Tummy, Hair… Now, Find Mommy’s Nose…
  • Make This Face! Imitate This Sound!

●      Wind Down Games for Sleepy Time

  • Counting Fingers Hand Massage
  • Counting Toes Foot Massage
  • Sleepy Time Songs (use your favorite lullabies)
  • ‘I Paint Your Arms and Face with My Fingers’ Soothing Rub
  • Invent a Quiet Bedtime Story (Once upon a time there was a boy/girl named [child’s name], who went on a long sea voyage. The boat rocked back and forth…)
  • Give them their nod-off sippy-cup/bottle (Remember that descending on planes is harder on ears than ascending, so don’t run out of bottle/sippy-cup/suckers at the end of the flight… or expect a screaming fit.)

For the Three and Older Crowd

  • I Spy
  • 20 Questions
  • Origami (A page from Sky Mall can become a balloon, a flower, a swan…) [Editor’s Note: Check out the cool website Tiny Shiny if you—like me—need an origami brush-up.]
  • Who can find the letters A-Z first? 1-10? (Hunt through Sky Mall…)
  • The Magic Bag (Form a make-shift bag out of a torn page from Sky Mall. Have the child toss an imaginary rock into the paper bag. Flick the underside of the bag to imitate the rock landing there. Hours of entertainment…)
  • Interactive Songs/Rhymes (Down by the Bay, Going on a Bear Hunt, The Green Grass Grew All Around…)
  • Teach a Magic Trick (Can you make a penny disappear?)

I try to avoid using movies or iPhone games for as long as possible because once you turn on these devices children lose the power to self-entertain. It’s whine-whine-whine from there on out if you have to take your phone back or the portable movie player runs out of batteries. [We do love our Signing Time iPhone app with songs and ASL sign demos. The phone does get hurled at something when the Pants decides he’s done being calm, though, so I get your point.]


Want more kid-friendly travel tips? Try 14 Tips for Flying with Young Kids (this one’s great if you have two little people under age 4 with you).

Or visit the Travel With Kids page for more posts.