I realize that many of you will be traveling with young children this 4th of July weekend. For some of you, this might be the first time attempting to travel across country on an airplane with your kids. Hey, even if you are only traveling with one, it’s still a lot of work! If packing everything you might need isn’t a deterrent enough, the thought of getting through security and rushing through a crowded airport might be.
I feel fortunate that I’ve been traveling with my kids since they were infants several times per year. It is true what they say that it does get easier to manage as they have gotten older; specially because I now have two free hands to push the stroller and hold our bags. By now, they know the security drills: shoes off, sweaters off, nothing in their hands and pockets, everything goes in the xray machine and not bug mommy while she gets the laptop, liquids, and every item in the separate buckets. Most importantly, they now know to hold still and wait for the TSA agent to guide them through the metal detector and step aside until mommy has gone through. And finally, they realize the importance to sit on the bench afterward and wait for me as I gather all our belongings and put their shoes back on. Sounds simple, but it has taken quite a few trips to get this process down pat.
If you are not a seasoned traveler with your kids here are my top 10 suggestions that will make your trip easier:
- Inform your kids what they will need to do and be responsible for before you get there. There is no reason to drill your kids about what they need to do at the security point on the way to the airport, it will be long forgotten by then. Before you step into the security line, take a couple steps back and show them what other people are doing (taking their shoes off, putting their belongings through the metal detector or xray machine…etc) and explain what they will be doing when you get there. As you stand in front of the TSA agent, tell your child what he/she needs to do and where they need to wait for you. Talk to them the entire time if you can. Airports are loud, busy, and it can overwhelm young kids.
- Consolidate carry-on belongings as much as you can. I know each kid wants their own stuff, but there is no sense in over-packing your carry on. Remember that God only gave you two hands, and they will be very busy guiding your child (or children) through all the business of the airport. I tell my kids that if they are not able to carry it, they can’t bring it -although I carry much of it myself.-
- Check-in car seats. Seriously, it’s free! Airlines will not charge you to check-in car seats when you are traveling with kids. I can’t tell you how many times I see parents lugging big car seats around the airports along with everything else in tow. Relax, they will get there. An airline is more likely to loose your checked black suitcase (look-alike to everyone else) than a car seat. And, if you plan on putting the infant on a seat inside the airplane, know that you can only do that if you have actually purchased a seat and not an “infant on lap” ticket.
- Bring a stroller for the airport. My kids are 3 1/2 and 5. Yes, they are old enough to walk but their little legs don’t walk as fast nor can I expect them to walk from the C terminal in Houston Int’l Airport to B. It’s a LONG walk. I rather push them in the double than carry a 3 year old on my hip (which I’ve seen people do). I will tell you that a double stroller is much bulkier to lug around, but then if one kid wants to walk I have a free seat to be our personal butler and carry our stuff. Don’t worry, you get the stroller checked at the gate (free) and it will be waiting for you upon landing right outside the plane. Now, that’s service!
- Reward and encourage your kids for good behavior. Airports are new, exciting, and lots of things are happening all around your kids. It’s like taking your kids to a theme park without the rides. When they behave, listen, and follow instruction; make sure you reward them accordingly. In the New Orleans airport we have a stand where they sell gummy candy by the pound. They get to pick 5 pcs each as a reward once we make it through security. Bribery? sure. It works though.
- Bring a change of clothes. Everyone gets an extra set of underwear and shorts (or leggins in winter), even myself. They don’t take up a lot of room in the carry on. Worse case scenario, we all have a clean change of underwear in case we have to sleep at an airport hotel because we did not make your last flight connection (it’s happened). If you have infants, bring the necessary amount of diapers to get through 24hrs of travel time. Trust me on this. It’s not easy to find a Walgreens at midnight in a strange town on the way to your airport hotel.
- Mandatory bathroom stop BEFORE getting on the plane and BEFORE landing. I don’t care if they went to the bathroom when they left the house; 10-15 minutes before we begin to board EVERYONE must make a bathroom stop. I remind them that there is no getting up in the airplane for a while so if they want to get on the plane, they must go now. NOTHING is worse than your child peeing on themselves because you can’t get up to go to the bathroom when the plane is taking off or getting ready to land. There is a 2 person limit in the stall, so I nicely ask the flight attendant to keep an eye on one of them while I assist the other (if needed). In the past, I’ve had to help my 2 year old and had a flight attendant hold my infant (happily) while I was in the bathroom. It was totally ok. They were not going anywhere with my child.
- Bring A LOT of things to do in the plane. From coloring books, to play-dough, barbies, mini tea sets, snacks, movies and a fully charged phone. Don’t expect your young kids to play more than 10 minutes with one item (sometimes if you are lucky, much longer). Have a rotation going, play paper tick tack toe, hangman… anything you can to pass the time. Unfortunately, YOU are the entertainment, not the passengers around you. I let my kids read through all the in-flight magazines and papers they find in the pockets; hey, it passes the time.
- Bring your own headsets. If you are bringing a laptop or Ipad for your kids to watch movies, cabin pressure makes it difficult to hear (even at full blast). If you only have one laptop or one Ipad, consider getting a headset splitter for under $5. Two kids, two headsets, one laptop.
- Bring your own pillow if you are traveling after 7pm or on a long flight. Let’s face it, the seats are uncomfortable, everyone feels cramped, and arm rests sometimes make it impossible to really lay out. Your pillows and blankets are clean and they are comforting to young kids to have their own. See, this is why I love having a stroller with me! -Lots to carry.
Remember, traveling with young kids is not going like going on a honeymoon; specially if you are traveling alone with them! You might feel like you need a drink (or two) at times… and it’s ok. We’ve all been there! Like anything else with young kids, air travel is a lot of work. The good news is that the more you do it, the easier it gets!
Have a fantastic weekend!