Air Travel Tips for When You’re Toting Along Tots

“They did great!”

Believe it or not, these are three words I have heard out of the mouths of strangers at the end of every flight I take with my two kids. Every single time. Strangers, who are not obligated to say a word, sing the praises of my children, because they are relieved. They are so glad they didn’t just have to endure screaming, crying, and seat kicking for 4 hours that they speak up. Every time.

So why is this? Is it because I’m a super mom? No way.

Was I simply blessed with the easiest kids known to humanity? Not even close. (Though I do recognize luck as one of the players in this game).

Is it a guarantee for the future that they will always “do great” while traveling by air? Nope. I’m not that naive.

After several episode-free air travel experiences in a row, I started to wonder: aside from luck, what it could be (I mean, It can’t be luck every time, right?) and after some thought, I compiled the following list of factors that I believe contribute to a positive air travel experience with small children. I hope you find it helpful.

  1. Repeated exposure: Let’s get this one out of the way. I realize this really isn’t all that helpful because not everyone travels that much, but it’s the truth. Repeated exposure makes something familiar to a child, and familiar situations are low-stress for small children. Low stress means less meltdowns. All well and good, but what if you don’t travel as much as I do? Well, onward to number 2.
  2. Planning and prepping: By planning, I mean: that which you do to get yourself and your kids organized for an upcoming trip, and by prepping, I mean: that which you do to get your children mentally prepared for a trip. If I, for some reason, was only able to do one of these, I would choose prepping. I see prepping my children mentally as even more important than making my packing list. I would never spring a surprise trip on my children. Never. Not even to Disney World. When I know a trip is coming up I make it a point everyday to give my daughter a visual of how it’s going to go down. At least once a day I bring it up and talk to her about what we will do, remind her about what it is like to be on an airplane, in an airport, go through security, etc. I bring up memories from previous trips. I want her mentally ready for what is going to happen. That means I have to prep her consistently so that when the time comes, it’s been at the forefront of her thought for a while. I know, I know. If it’s a fun trip, your kids are likely to bug you. They can’t wait to go and they can’t stop asking about it. Fine with me. I’d rather that than a meltdown at the security checkpoint.
  3. A Word on Planning: Of course, lists are essential. Everyone has different packing lists and only you know what you absolutely must take with you, but make sure you have an organized list. I use a smartphone app called “TripList” which you can learn more about here. I know there are a million listing apps. Use one of them or a pencil and paper. Whatever works for you. You will not remember it all if you don’t keep a list. Start your list at least a week before your trip and have it with you at all times, so that when something pops in your head in the middle of some other activity, you can quickly add it to your list. This will work so much better than sitting down and trying to write out an entire packing list at one time. Every time I do that, I leave something off the list.
  4. The “new toy” affect: Remember how I said I would never surprise my kids with a trip? I wouldn’t, but I would surprise them with a new toy on the airplane. A toy they have never seen. A toy I know they would like. Nothing majorly expensive. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be new. This was actually a tip given to me when my daughter was a little tot by my sister-in-law. She told me to go to the dollar store and pick something up to have at just the right time. I have used this tactic every time we travel. The last time was just two days ago. As soon as I saw my daughter starting to get fidgety on the plane I broke out a new little pack of Legos. She was set.
  5. Familiar toys: One or two tried-and-true wouldn’t hurt either. On this last trip I had our crayon and colored pencil/notebook rolls ready. She loves to color at home, so chances are, she will love to do it on the airplane, too.
  6. A word about snacks: I over-pack snacks and never regret it. How do you act when you are hungry? I am a total crankpot when I am hungry and so are my kids, so I pack a mix of healthy fruits like apples and bananas as well as special “treat” snacks that we don’t eat every day. Same deal as the new toy – they come out at just the right time, however, not as a bribe for good behavior. My daughter knows we have special snacks and she looks forward to them. It’s a special part of taking our trip.
  7. Nursing: If you are traveling with a nursing baby and you are nervous about breastfeeding in public, there has never been a better time to conquer that fear. Nursing your baby on the plane is not only comforting and soothing, it helps their ears to deal with the pressure changes on the plane. Nurse your baby on the plane. If your baby is bottle-fed, over pack formula like your snacks, so you can be sure to have enough in the event of delays. There is almost nothing worse than a cranky, hungry baby whose ears hurt on a plane.
  8. Seat for your baby: If traveling with a baby under two years old, you will have the option of having them travel on your lap. It will be tempting because it will be cheaper. If at all financially possible, I highly suggest you buy a seat for your baby and bring your car seat. Make sure it is airline approved – there will be a sign somewhere on the seat.Car seatHaving a place to put your baby down and having the extra floor space under your baby’s seat is worth every penny of that ticket. I will skimp on many other things if I have to, but these days when I travel, my baby has a seat. Even if he is not in it that much, he has a seat.
  9. Don’t be afraid to accept help: This one is so important. Back when I was stupid (yes I said that), strangers would offer me help when they would see me traveling by myself with a baby and I would decline. I don’t know, maybe I was working on my super mom resume. I am so over that. A stranger expressing a desire to help a parent in a stressful situation is a wonderful thing. It’s one of the proofs that there is some good in this crazy world. Be a part of it. Accept their help, and then offer yours the next time it is needed. Just, if they want to help you carry things, hand them bags, not kids.
  10. When not traveling, read, read, read: The benefits of reading to your kids are not up for debate. The more you read to them the better. So why am I mentioning that in this post? If your kids are used to being read to, and enjoy reading time, this is something you can do on the plane that can occupy their minds in a beneficial way. Time will pass by quickly while you are reading to them. They will be engaged and you will be giving them something they need: Your attention. Which brings me to my next point.
  11. Tend to them!: Traveling with small children is hard work. You will have to be “on” the entire time. It is not the time to try to get in some light reading on your Kindle or listen to a podcast. It is not the time to do your taxes. If they fall asleep – great! You got some much needed free time (but most likely at least one of them will be on top of you and your movement will be limited). Be attentive and engaged. I began having some great conversations and memories with my daughter (and she is only four) when I started to see being trapped in an airplane with her as a golden opportunity to spend time with her, with no interruptions and no other obligations during that time.
  12. Take your time, and expect the unexpected: I am constantly reminding myself while traveling that wherever I am, that’s where I am. Sound silly? Maybe a little, but it’s still true. Once you are in a situation, it’s all you’ve got. You do the best you can with the tools and information you have and you keep moving forward. Or you stop and take a break if needed. Whatever you do, stay calm and take your time. Kids can smell fear and they don’t like being rushed. Leave lots of extra time and then take it.

Keep in mind that my children are currently four years old and 11 months old so these points might not all be relevant to you if your kids are older or little bitty infants. I’m sure my list will change as my kids grow and as our traveling habits evolve. For instance, I really dislike being on an airplane. I do it now because my 11 month old could not handle a long road trip at this point. (I have done long car trips with him within the state of Texas, but half way across the country at this point is a no go). I hope when he is older that we will travel by air less and car more. I love road trips and so does my four year old. The little guy will get there. In the meantime, I hope my list has been helpful to someone.

What kinds of tips and tricks do you use when traveling with small kids? Do you prefer taking long trips with them by air or by car?

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22 Comments on Air Travel Tips for When You’re Toting Along Tots

  1. Elizabeth
    April 9, 2015 at 1:52 AM (2 years ago)

    Every time you travel by air with them, you amaze me. And they do well so often, because you have wisely prepared as much as you can. Well done!

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      April 9, 2015 at 10:56 AM (2 years ago)

      Thanks Elizabeth! You should have seen the boy squeal and giggle as he watched through the window when the plane touched ground. If I had known he was going to react that way this time, I would have had my video camera going!

      Reply
  2. nikkifrankhamilton
    April 11, 2015 at 8:28 PM (2 years ago)

    Wow! Great tips. I don’t have little ones, but I as a fellow traveler love to see that children are prepared for the flight, things go smoother for all involved, especially the child. Great job.

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      April 11, 2015 at 8:40 PM (2 years ago)

      It’s so true! I’m not a huge “planner” in all areas of my life but I have just seen what a difference it makes for my kids when we are well prepared to travel. And we travel a good bit so it’s definitely worth it. I hope it also means that they will grow up with a love for traveling since it will be something that goes well for them. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Reply
  3. Carrie From Carrie This Home
    April 13, 2015 at 6:29 PM (2 years ago)

    These are great, great tips! Traveling with little ones isn’t easy but taking the time to prepare can help avoid (some) issues!

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      April 13, 2015 at 6:55 PM (2 years ago)

      Absolutely! There are some issues that are unavoidable. We prepare as best we can and then (as with most things kid-related) go with the flow! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

      Reply
  4. Jackie
    April 17, 2015 at 5:32 PM (2 years ago)

    What a wonderful, helpful list of traveling advice. As a breastfeeding mom, I needed to read this, and since I’ve been overwhelmed thinking about traveling with my kiddos, I didn’t even think of some of these options. I will definitely purchase a new (hopefully magical) toy for our trip, and pack enough snacks for the entire plane (maybe that would help with angry passengers if my kiddos cry:). And you’re right, exposure is key in getting kids adapted to new situations. Thanks for the encouragement and your expertise!

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      April 17, 2015 at 5:44 PM (2 years ago)

      So glad it was helpful, Jackie! Traveling in general can get overwhelming and with kids, especially so. I also didn’t mention this but should have: when I am on the plane and other people’s kids are crying, I never feel anything other than empathy for the parent and kids. I’d be willing to bet that even though there are a few people out there who might get annoyed, there are just as many empathetic ones who have been there, or who can imagine being there! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Reply
  5. Jenna
    April 18, 2015 at 9:02 PM (2 years ago)

    These are very solid tips. I travel with my 4 year old daughter often. We go on a plane at least once a month and have for the last 2 years. (I speak at conventions all over the US). I can personally testify to every tip you have given. I remember our first few flights…. they were horrific!!! lol Now I also get comments from total strangers. We also get laughs mid flight when she shouts out something hilarious smh… that child…

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      April 18, 2015 at 10:52 PM (2 years ago)

      LOL! It is so funny when they blurt out crazy things on the plane! I’m glad to hear from another seasoned traveler that this resonates with you, too! Thanks for commenting, Jenna!

      Reply
  6. Amy Ngai
    April 20, 2015 at 12:36 AM (2 years ago)

    What a great list of tips! Travelling with a young children has to be one of the most stressful things ever. We did the new toy bit and over packing snacks. That definitely helped us when we travelled for the first time with my 18month old. Thanks for stopping by #ConfessionsLinkUp
    Amy Ngai recently posted…Remember When… (What I Miss Before Having Kids)My Profile

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      April 20, 2015 at 12:54 AM (2 years ago)

      It really can be so stressful! Yes, the new toy thing has worked wonders for us with my little girl. Now that my son is almost a year, I am going to have to start gearing a new toy to him as well so we’ll get to test its effectiveness with him, too. Up to this point on the plane, I have just had to make sure he is fed and hold him sometimes, but I can see he is going to need some extra distractions too pretty soon! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      Reply
  7. Shannon @ Of The Hearth
    April 22, 2015 at 3:10 PM (2 years ago)

    Fantastic tips! We’ll be traveling this summer and I’ll definitely be using some of your suggestions.

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      April 22, 2015 at 7:29 PM (2 years ago)

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! I’ll bet you’ll have a blast this summer. I love traveling with the kids. It’s keeps things fresh and creates great memories! Thank you for visiting and commenting!

      Reply
  8. Kathleen
    June 18, 2015 at 9:57 PM (2 years ago)

    Nicole it sounds like you have a great routine going with your travel. I like your points under expect the unexpected. I am glad that I don’t do that anymore, but I must admit it was fun when I was. It is good co-hosting with you #HomeMattersParty
    Thanks, Kathleen
    Kathleen recently posted…Fridays Blog Booster Party #11My Profile

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      June 19, 2015 at 9:19 PM (2 years ago)

      Thanks, Kathleen! Traveling is fun, but a lot of work! I remember the preparation time and effort being soooo much easier pre-kids, but having them be used to traveling and getting to do it often is worth the work. Great co-hosting with you again this week!

      Reply
  9. Lorelai @ Life With Lorelai
    June 19, 2015 at 12:04 PM (2 years ago)

    I never flew with my kids when they were babies. But even at 8-years-old, my daughter was terrified. Of course, we didn’t have the crying and fussiness, but her fear needed to be handled. These are some really awesome tips! Thanks for being an awesome co-host at the #HomeMattersParty – have a great Father’s Day weekend! :)

    ~Lorelai
    Life With Lorelai
    Lorelai @ Life With Lorelai recently posted…Home Matters Linky Party #42My Profile

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      June 19, 2015 at 8:58 PM (2 years ago)

      Oh, absolutely the fear is tough to deal with. My daughter has been flying since she was a baby so she never had the “panic” type fear but as she has gotten older and more aware – she definitely gets nervous about the take-off, I can tell. I have to remind myself to stay calm also – because as much as I do it, you would think I wouldn’t – but I get nervous, too! Thanks for visiting, Lorelai! Having fun hosting another great party!

      Reply
  10. Melissa Vera
    June 20, 2015 at 9:54 PM (2 years ago)

    These are some great tips. But we hardly ever fly we tend to drive everywhere even a 48 hour drive to Mexico non stop. Love cohosting #HomeMattersParty with you .

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      June 22, 2015 at 9:04 PM (2 years ago)

      Oh my! 48 hour drive is way more than I have done in the car with my kiddos. I would soooo do it instead of flying though if anyone else in my family would let me. I just like being able to get out of the car when I want. And I like being at the wheel and in control of where the car goes…they won’t let me fly the plane so I always feel a little out of control up there! It’s great co-hosting with you, too!

      Reply
  11. Kristi
    June 25, 2015 at 12:19 AM (2 years ago)

    Great tips! I love each one! We travel all the time with our kids. Our first two kids tricked us into thinking all kids were easy to travel with…then came our next three. I totally agree with reading and PREPPING!! :) Great post! It’s been great co-hosting with you this month at #HomeMattersParty
    Kristi recently posted…Indiana Jones & Your HomeschoolMy Profile

    Reply
    • notimefordiy
      June 26, 2015 at 10:32 AM (2 years ago)

      Kristi, as much as I travel with my two – I cannot even fathom traveling with five children – to the grocery store, let alone on a big trip! Hats are off to you! It has been great co-hosting with you as well!

      Reply

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