We just flew across the country with our two boys, ages 4 and 1. Because, you know, we like a challenge.
Just kidding, it’s because Daddy was graduating with his PhD. (Can you HEAR the hallelujahs? SE-RI-OUS-LY.)
Plane travel isn’t a new thing for us, though. Because my family lives in the Midwest and we live in California, we fly a couple times a year.
Here’s what we do when we travel by plane with littles.
- Bring snacks that double as activities (and bring a million of them)
Plane travel is all about finding ways to keep the kiddos occupied until you land at your final destination. Whether it’s a short flight or a long one, a single leg or multiple stops, do not skimp on the snacks.
We try to pack snacks that also take some time and energy to eat, as these help keep the boys occupied for awhile. Depending on their ages this can be anything from a pouch of baby food with a spoon to a banana to Cheerios to a strip of beef jerky.
Peeling clementines can burn at least two minutes.
2. Bring a good stroller.
You don’t want to be stuck with a stroller that is hard to fold. Many of my friends travel with simple umbrella strollers, but these don’t have a snack tray or an under-kid storage area, making them less helpful than other types.
Our favorite, favorite, favorite for our two kids is one that folds easily and compactly, allows the preschooler to get on and off at will, has a huge storage bin underneath, and keeps the baby happy with a snack tray.
We got our current one for free as a hand-me-down from a friend. (Lauren – we constantly sung your praises through our three airports. Your stroller is THE BEST.)
This past trip we rested our preschooler’s car seat and my giant purse on top and basically turned it into a shopping cart for all our crazy baggage. It made a huuuuuuge difference.
3. Bring a car seat on the plane
Our baby is a lap sitter on plane flights, but as soon as our oldest hit age two, we started bringing his car seat on the plane.
Sure, it’s a pain to haul through the airport (but not if you have a good strollllller!), but once we’re on board, he can’t undo the seatbelt easily like a normal plane seatbelt, he naps well in it, and it’s familiar and cozy for him.
Plus, it’s like a million times safer.
4. Schedule some run time
Don’t expect well-behaved kids if they haven’t gotten their wiggles out. Either take them to the playground before you head to the airport, or arrive early enough to let them do laps inside the terminal.
Energetic kids on an airplane is a recipe for misery.
If you have a layover, try to plan enough time to let them recover from being cooped up. Many airports have children’s play areas that are an absolute godsend.
A two hour layover is perfect for us. We want time to find the gate, hit the bathrooms, grab a snack, and let the kids wear themselves out a bit.
5. Give older kids their own bag filled with snacks, toys, and activities
Our 4-year-old had his own backpack this trip. It was his first time and he was super proud. It held a couple of toy cars, a train, a water bottle, a package of fruit snacks, a banana, a reading activity, some granola bars, and an coloring book with stickers.
It let him take ownership of his tummy for the day, eating whenever he was hungry, and helped him learn to take responsibility for his own (tiny) bag.
6. If you are nursing and can keep nursing, do it
This is the ONLY way I can get my baby to sleep on an airplane. Not just nursing, but nursing and then cuddling him in a snuggly cradle hold while leaving continual nursing as an option.
Turbulence? Nurse a bit more. Drink cart stop right next to you with the world’s loudest flight attendant whispering to each passenger, “WOULD YOU LIKE SOMETHING TO DRIIIAAAAANK?!” Ditto.
A soothed, full tummy and closeness to mom can be the best tool in your arsenal with the tiniest tinies.
7. Bring a light, soft blanket
You will use this for a bazillion things.
It can shield a nursing mama, soothe a grumpy preschooler, swaddle a hysterical baby, or wipe up an applesauce-splosion. I bring one that looks like a scarf so I can wear it through the airport and have it constantly at my fingertips when I need it. (It’s the light turquoise thing around my neck in the photo above.)
8. Pack a change of clothes for each person in your party in your carryon
Someone’s diaper will explode. Someone will melt a chocolate bar in his fist. Someone will get coffee spilled on her by a flight attendant. Someone might get airsick.
Just a t-shirt and undies stashed in your carry-on can be the difference between, “Only two hours to go!” and “ONLY TWO EXCRUCIATING HOURS OF SMELLING LIKE BARF AND BEING SOGGY DOWN TO MY PANTALOONS TO GO!”
9. Make a checklist
I hate packing. Haaaaaaate it. But since my friend Orva gave me the world’s best packing list, it’s been tons easier.
As our family grows and changes I adapt the list to our family’s new needs. (I’m a TOTAL dork, so I even put it into an Excel spreadsheet with categories!)
Don’t rely on your memory before a big trip. Make a list, check it twice, and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration and heartache.
I’ll never forget the 5-hour flight when our oldest was a baby. He spiked a fever midway through the flight and I had remembered the Children’s Tylenol, but I had packed it in our checked bag.
Never again, friends. The list is king.
10. Schedule flights during naptime
This might sound like an awful idea, but it’s often worked beautifully for us. The preschooler dozes, the baby naps, and an hour of the flight goes by without us needing to entertain/feed/potty the littles.
It’s best to get about half an hour into the flight to try naps. That way the captain is done doing his/her excessively loud announcement about the flight altitude (because, I guess, we care if we’re at 35,000 or 37,000 feet?) and the beverage cart has been by with all its ice scoopy sounds.
11. (Bonus point!) Let go of your usual standards
My 1-year-old spent two hours barefoot at DFW. When we got on the plane his feet were filthy. But do you know what? He didn’t want to wear shoes that day and travel days are Pick Your Battles (with a capital P-Y-B) Days.
Our preschooler watched probably four hours of television on our combined six hours of flights. Travel days are PYBD and I wasn’t about to arm wrestle him over another episode of Thomas the Train.
Do you travel with littles? What tips do you have to share?