People always ask me how I travel so much with a son at home, and the answer is I have a very supportive husband and a kid with a sense of adventure. I didn’t want to give up travel, and thankfully didn’t have to…I often bring the little guy with me! Whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, I feel it’s our job as parents to give these youngins perspective that the world is bigger than their own back yard. Then they need some tools and skills on how to handle themselves in these situations.
Today, I’ll give you 9 tips for traveling by airplane since my husband and I (sometimes together, sometimes solo) have done this more than 25 times with our 21 month old son. And no, none of these tips include Benadryl! (Never tried that, since these tips work just fine. My experience is kids don’t need to be asleep in order for it to be a pleasant trip. That said, I keep it packed in our bag just in case a child-armageddon-meltdown happens someday and I change my mind…)
#1: Plan flights around sleep
Know your kid’s nap/sleep schedule, and try to plan your departure from your HOUSE (not take-off time) when she naturally wakes up. Don’t assume the child will sleep on the plane…it’s an exciting environment and many little ones find it stimulating. If she hasn’t napped before the flight and can’t sleep during the trip, well now you have a spastic, angry troll on your hands for the next few hours. Good luck with that.
#2: Hit up the dollar store
Tantrums are not your enemy…boredom is! If you can prevent boredom, you can avoid most outbursts. The biggest mistake most parents make is they don’t bring enough fun things to do on the airplane. My best advice is to hit up the dollar store and whip out the plastic. For many toddlers, an activity can last anywhere from 2-30 minutes depending on his perception of awesomeness. Our nearly 4 hour flight yesterday from Florida to Colorado had a few winners: stickers, a bag of plastic frogs and flash cards with simple words/pictures on them. I am still finding stickers all over myself and frogs intermittently dispersed in all our travel bags…but who cares? RIBBIT…
Note: Dollar store activities are especially exciting if the child has never seen them before (so hide them after buying), if they are still left in the packaging (buys you a few more minutes while he opens it) and if you put all the toys in a “magic bag” that they can select one toy at a time from (builds up the mystery). Avoid buying loose items, balls or anything that encourages ideas of chucking things around the cabin. That flight will end with dirty looks, I assure you.
#3: Seek out environmental entertainment
Regardless the treasures you find at Dollar Tree, the most entertaining activities will still be the ones no one intended to be fun. Case in point, arm rests that move up and down. Window shades that open and close. Seat back tables that can be released and put back. Wall mounted ashtrays (next to bathrooms) that pop in and out. You see where I’m going with this. Think of the entire airplane as a game, and try to be as un-annoying as possible to your fellow travelers. And take full advantage of travelers who seem to like your child! Don’t prevent your kid from playing peek-a-boo with that nice lady behind you. If people are annoyed by your child’s existence, you will know it. (Be respectful, but pretend they don’t exist, dirty looks and all.) As we found yesterday, even turbulence is a mighty good time. Put your panic attack aside and say “Wheeee!”
#4: Keep ’em fed
I treat airplane rides like exotic adventures, and a special treat. Therefore, we bring new and interesting snacks on the airplane to reflect that. For example, a different flavor of a snack they normally have or a sweet treat you don’t normally allow. Just don’t make it too sweet, otherwise you have a hyperactive gerbil trapped in a confined space with no wheel to run on. (That’s a situation I would refer to as “not awesome”.) Keep it healthy, but interesting. (freeze dried yogurt melts were a big winner for us recently) And use common sense about the messy factor. Airplanes and apple sauce don’t mix…or anything else that can be splattered. Solids are your friend.
#5: Hydration, hydration, hydration
Air travel sucks the moisture out of anyone, even little ones. We usually fill the sippy cup with water. Avoid milk. Offer the cup to the child often…like, every 10 minutes or so. Sometimes they get too busy (and hopefully are having too much fun) to think about drinking.
#6: Seat belts are awesome
Most airlines allow kids to sit on your lap until they are 2 years old. If you can make it that long, God bless! We gave in and started buying his own seat at 18 months, but it’s totally up to your tolerance level. Some parents let toddlers just roam the aisles the entire flight, regardless if they have their own seat. This really isn’t safe, nor is it enjoyable for you or your fellow passengers. Some parents bring car seats, but we’ve never done that. Instead we talk a lot about how mommy and daddy wear a seat belt and they are the coolest gadgets ever. We have our son put on his own seatbelt, so he feels like he had some say in the matter. (Just don’t teach him how to take it off…that’s just a little too much empowerment in my opinion.)
#7: Encourage rest time
While some kids won’t sleep on a plane, some will if given the chance. During smooth air, bring your child out of their seat to cuddle on your lap with a blanket. Look out the window and talk about Care Bears. Rub your kiddo’s back or take off his shoes/socks and give a foot rub. If you bought headphones at the dollar store (I highly recommend this) let them listen to the TV or music. Close the shade and sing a lullaby. Even if your child doesn’t sleep, it’s a good energy neutralizer to take the time to chill out for a bit.
#8: Develop a rotation
Try to have a mindful rotation of playing, eating, resting, changing diaper, etc. Repeat the rotation, so your child can expect what is coming next. Don’t expect any kid to do just one of those things the entire flight, regardless how short. I also recommend rotating between “real” activities (that you bought at the dollar store) and environmental activities (like walking down the aisle). Otherwise she will plow through your bag o’ tricks in no time.
#9: Accept defeat with a smile
As any parent knows, you can prepare for everything and still your child is a demon. Hey, it happens. And it always seems worse to you than to everyone else. If you get stressed or upset, it just further amplifies your child’s crabby factor. So just keep acting like you’re having fun, play with the games yourself and keep re-directing his/her attention to new and fun things to try and steer out of the dark cloud.
Hope this helps…and feel free to share your ideas in the comments below. Happy travels mom and dad!
Here’s a basic packing list for your child’s carry-on bag: Sippy cup, bag o’ snacks, bag o’ toys, diapers, wipes, kleenex, extra outfit in case of “blowout”, blanket, sweatshirt, printout of birth certificate, any necessary medicines