I’m so familiar with that look. The look people give me when I tell them we are flying with small children. Their eyes widen, the look of sympathy enters, and a typical comment like, “Oh man, good luck,” follows.
But, here’s the thing: we’ve traveled with our 3 kids a ton since they’ve been born and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I swear, this is not a post about how laid-back I am and how my kids have their sh*t together so much that flying all over creation is no big deal. Because, barf. I’m not and they sure as hell don’t.
This is a post about how flying with small children, even though it’s hard, is 100 percent worth it. The anxiety we may feel about boarding a plane with our little people shouldn’t stop us from seeing the people and places we want to see. Seeing the world (or just your BFF from college) with your tiny little offspring is a gift not to be missed.
Why it’s worth flying with small children
- Just because you have small kids, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on far away adventures. My extended family lives in San Diego and planned an amazing vacation to Oahu this past spring. While the flight was long for all of them, our travel took twice as long from New Hampshire. While it took more than 16 hours to get to Hawaii, the trip was incredible and I’m so glad we didn’t miss it. From fun in the sun to quality family time, it’s not hard to see that traveling makes us happier. Just read this post about the 11 ways traveling makes us happier and you’ll believe me. Don’t sacrifice your happiness just because of your anxiety about flying with your small kids.
- Speaking of anxiety, most of it is needless. Yes, there can be some tough moments (or even a tough flight) but, for the most part, small children do quite well on flights. The teeniest ones are happy breastfeeding or in a wrap, while the toddlers just need an iPad. The trickiest age is from 13 months to 20 months, in my experience. When they’re basically adorable cave people with no people skills. That’s when you wander the aisle and do whatever it takes, cocktails at 8 a.m. included.
- My point is: the traveling to the destination makes up such a small portion of the trip itself. Even though you’re trapped on an airplane with small children, it won’t last forever. I swear. You are way more patient and creative under pressure than you think. Trust me.
How to survive flying with small children
- Put your game face on. Now is the time to suit up. Toughen up because you may be peed on, silently judged by others, or forced to sing in public. Just do what you have to do and get on with it. On our second six-hour flight home from Hawaii, our girls had simultaneous meltdowns. The oldest was going on hour 8,973 of screen time and pretty much lost her mind. The youngest was restless and acted like a tyrant. My husband was ready to lose it, too. I looked over at him and with my most serious face and said, “Get it together, man. You can do this.” He bucked up and got our youngest to sleep while I dealt with our bloodshot three-year-old. I was insanely proud of him that day.
- Know when to fold ’em, when to hold ’em. I am willing to bend a lot when we travel. For example, I’ll fold on things like food and screen time, but you better believe I will not stand for whining or unkindness. I know what hills to die on based on what matters most to us as a family. Just because you’re on a trip does not mean you get to be an a$$hole. It does, however, mean you get to eat lollipops and fruit snacks.
- Vow to be kind to your adult traveling partner(s). Be kind to your spouse or whomever you are traveling with. Just like your kid, you’re not allowed to be an a$$hole. You are however, allowed to have a Bloody Mary at any time without judgment. It’s always 5 o’clock when you’re flying with small children.
- Be OK with some awkwardness. From the side-eye given by the efficient business traveler, to the indignation the woman in front of you feels when your kid decides to play with the tray table, you must accept a bit of awkwardness from your fellow travelers. From “You’re flying with a baby THAT small?” to “Wow, she watched a lot of movies on that flight,” just let it all be water off a duck’s back. Don’t let anything ruffle your feathers. Insert other fowl metaphor.
The necessities of flying with small children
- Baby Carrier. We never travel with strollers but instead strap our wee ones in their favorite baby carrier. You can go through security while wearing them (they just have to swap your hands after you pass through the metal detector) and you always have your hands free. Plus, most babies love to sleep in baby carriers and I have spent a flight or two standing in the back rocking my cuddled baby to sleep.
- Extra Clothes in plastic resealable bags. Do not forget to pack extra clothes for your kiddos (and an extra shirt for you). Go for slim clothes you can just stuff in a ball, leggings work great for girls. Kill two birds with one stone by packing the in a Ziploc: you’ll have it in case you need to “quarantine” an undergarment in the event of an accident or something.
- iPad. Oh dear, sweet iPad. Let me count the ways! From downloading movies and TV shows to awesome apps like Pat the Bunny or Drawing Pad, I’m not ashamed to admit that the iPad plays a key part in parenting my child on long trips. Don’t forget the headphones and a splitter if you’ve got two kiddos! Here’s a list of some of our favorite apps for kids that won’t drive everyone nuts.
- Snacks for days. Our motto is: when in doubt, feed them! Nothingcreates hunger more than traveling. From hard-boiled eggs to the aforementioned lollipops, half my carry-on is food. Don’t rely on airplane or airport food because nothing compares to what you can bring with you. Rainbow goldfish in tiny cartons? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with love from home? Apples or clementines? An infinite supply of fruit snacks? The possibilities are as endless as their appetites. Don’t forget a water bottle that doesn’t leak! We like these the best — just bring one, kids can share.
*yes, you can travel with breast milk! Know your rights and be prepared to assert yourself should you come into contact with an ill-informed TSA Agent.
- Books. I stuff as many paperback books in my bag as possible. Since they’re quite thin, I can fit several. Breaking out the books provides relief from screen time (and my guilt about screen time) and changes the pace a bit.
Coloring Accoutrement. Particularly if your kids get strung out with too much screen time (or if you are a no-screens family), you need coloring options and you need a lot of them. From Water Wow booklets to old fashioned crayons and paper, drawing helps pass the time and calms your kid.
Another option for drawing on the go is a Buddha Board. Let me tell you, this turns my kid from crazy to zen in 2 minutes flat. The Enso style is the easiest to travel with because of the water pen but all three variations they make are slim, lightweight to carry and super satisfying for kids as young as 2.5 to use. There’s something about painting with water that is so relaxing, even your high-strung toddler will sit still for a little bit.
- Comfort Objects. Particularly if you’re flying at night or nap time, bring your children’s comfort objects. From loveys to backup pacifiers, make sure they have everything they need to be soothed.
- Set a Rest Time, if flight is long or at nighttime. Just like it’s important to bring a comfort object or two, it’s critical to let them have downtime to us it. If your flight is long, like most of ours are to visit family in California, chances are your kids will need to rest. We’ve learned that, if our children get crazy overtired and are watching shows at 11pm on a flight, things will go sour. Set a limit, explain to them it’s time to rest, hand them their comfort objects and let them be. Your kids will get the hang of this, I swear. We do this on long car rides as well and it prevents my children from having major meltdowns and being extremely sleep deprived at our destination.
Flying with small children is like being in the Boy Scouts: the motto is “Be Prepared”.
Taking a little extra time to set your kids up for success (and yourself up for a less painful flight) can make a world of difference.
Ready to book your flight? What helps you survive flying with small children?