One aspect of my life that I have spent over five years trying to master is traveling with kids. Whether it be on a plane, train or automobile, traveling with kids has the potential to be a complete nightmare, especially if they’re under the age of 5.
Here are my tips for traveling on a plane with kids under the age of 5:
1. For the love, choose a seat near the back of the plane.
The back of the plane is typically the loudest area of the plane. So if your kid is losing their you-know-what, you’ll at least be partially saved by engine noise. Also, I have made the mistake of not sitting near the restroom when I was flying with my two oldest kids alone. My son (3 years old) needed to go potty and REFUSED to pee in the pull-up he was wearing. I was begging him to because I had his little sister (18 months and not yet walking) throwing a fit on my lap for the ENTIRE flight. And I mean the entire flight. Luckily a kind woman behind me offered to help, so I handed my daughter over to a STRANGER so I could take my son to the restroom, because obviously you can’t fit three humans in one of those tiny closets they call a restroom. I thought to myself “Well at least she can’t kidnap her”.
2. If you have to pay for a seat (meaning your child is over the age of 2 and you’re not willing to lie about it), take FULL advantage of the fact that the TSA considers your kid a fully-functioning human.
Once your offspring spends 24 glorious months outside of the womb, TSA treats them the same as you and I. This is a financial bummer but a perk in terms of packing. Your 2+ year old is allowed to have the same size personal item as you - which is a big deal on budget-friendly airlines like Spirit. Carry-on bags cost one million dollars on cheaper flights so you want to make the most of your personal item. I found children’s luggage that is cute, on wheels and fits the size requirements for Spirit Airlines. *insert praise hands here*. Sure, I could pack two adult backpacks and act like my daughter is carrying one of them, but then I have to carry two backpacks, a baby and potentially a preschooler throwing a temper tantrum. No gracias. With cute, rolling luggage for my 3 year old, she is WAY more likely to be interested in helping.
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3. Pack a small bag full of surprises.
*Disclaimer: This advice is for parents who have children who do not own a tablet or are not able to be entertained by one for more than three and a half minutes at a time.*
Tiny backpacks and tiny gifts can save the day when you are traveling with little kids. If you are not trying to make the most of your child’s “personal item”, then make sure it is small enough for them to carry on their own. We love using the CamelBak Backpacks for travel. We simply remove the bladder that is typically used for drinking water and fill the backpack with toys, snacks and activities. The Dollar Store is a great place to find small coloring books or other toys to entertain them on the flight. If you have the time, wrap the snacks and toys like they are tiny gifts. Unwrapping becomes an activity in itself. Also, I recommend bringing an empty kids' water bottle or used juice bottle (see picture) to fill up with water. My kids absolutely cannot handle a full bottle of water, so buying something once we're through security is out of the question.
4. DON’T order coffee.
I think it’s precious you think this is a time to relax and drink coffee, but it’s not. Drink it on the way to the airport (for the love) but once you step out of that car, throw it in the trash. If you order coffee there is a 99% chance you are going to spill it on you or your child who is already screaming for various reasons. Once you land and start taxiing, text your family member or friend who is picking you up to make sure they know where the nearest coffee joint is. You’ve earned your second cup, my friend.
5. Pack grocery bags.
I am going to be bold here. You will absolutely, without a doubt, make a mess on this journey. Pack at least three plastic grocery bags. One for dirty laundry. One for garbage. One for more dirty laundry. Yes, you could jam the dirty laundry in your bag, but then you’re going to have to sort through things later doing the good-old-fashioned smell test and that is just zero fun. You could wait for the flight attendant to come to your row to take your trash. But, then you will be scrambling to locate and consolidate everything your kids have thrown. Why not be ready with a bag? Plus you can clean up as you go. A clean, clutter-free space will make you less stressed. There is a good chance you will not have time to clean up as you go, but in the event you do, you’ll be ready.
6. Forget your cute purse, get a backpack.
Do as much as you possibly can to keep your hands free for this experience. Even if a purse is on your shoulder, it is not as convenient as a backpack. Purses slip and swing around when you don’t want them to. Backpacks just stay where they need to be. Plus they are better for your neck and spine. Uneven weight on your shoulders and back coupled with stress of traveling might make you pretty uncomfortable once you’re done traveling.
7. Just because you can check baby gear for free doesn’t mean you should.
If there is a way for you to borrow a car seat or a stroller once you arrive at your destination, do it. Carrying car seats, bags, babies and strollers through an airport is just a lot. I am a big fan of umbrella strollers when you have kids that can walk but are not great at it. In my mind, if your kid fits in a baby carrier (attached to your body), that is the easiest option. Yes, it’s heavy, but it keeps your hands free. Plus your backpack and your baby carrier will equal out the weight on your body.
8. Consider your clothing.
I don’t know about you, but parenting makes me sweaty. Wrangling a preschooler and an infant feels like a more intense workout than CrossFit.
Don’t bundle up, but bring an easy-to-throw-on sweater for the flight, in case the minions fall asleep and you actually relax long enough to get cold.
Wear shoes that are easy to slip off, because you’ll have to take them off to go through security. (Luckily, in my experience, they don’t require young children to remove their shoes).
I believe it is borderline impossible to parent in real pants, so I always opt for black, stretchy, cotton-ness for travel and every other life event.
If you are a mom who is breastfeeding, make sure you are wearing something that gives you easy access you are comfortable with. Your baby might be hungry or stressed, so nursing will make your life easier. Not to mention, the act of sucking helps relieve or avoid the discomfort of ears popping. So if your infant is screaming in pain during take off or landing, breastfeeding could be the solution.
I almost always have my kids in their pajamas for a flight because we are usually flying at the butt crack of dawn. So I make sure to have my potty training kids in a pull-up, undies and two piece pajamas. Dealing with a kid in a onesie on a potty in a dirty airport restroom is just a bad idea. There is an 85% chance the top of that onesie will end up in the toilet or on the pee-covered floor. And even if you are very confident in your child's ability to not have a potty accident, I would still put them in a pull-up. It can't hurt.
9. Pack snacks.
My children act like they are going to die if they don't have snacks on hand at all times, so I try to be really intentional about packing snacks. These are my motivating factors: money and sanity.
Airport snacks are ridiculously expensive and I usually don't have extra time to shop once I'm through security. Plus taking a stroller and multiple children and bags into one of those little shops is a TERRIBLE idea. Trust me.
Pack snacks that are not too messy and will help improve your child's behavior, not make it worse. I always make sure to pack at least one snack that is full of protein - this helps avoid tantrums caused by their blood sugar spiking and crashing. Justin’s Almond Butter Packets and The New Primal Snack Mates and are GREAT for this.
For emergency purposes, I pack one bag of bite-size candy in case I need to bribe my little one into silence. Usually I choose Peanut M&M's since at least there is a teensy bit of protein in there. It is critical to choose a bite-size candy so you can give them one at a time. If you hand your Tasmanian devil a Snickers bar, you will get 12 seconds of peace and quiet. Good job, you still have two hours to go and zero bribery sugar.
Traveling with children is not easy. May the odds be ever in your favor.