We’ve all experienced that moment when an exhausted, frazzled parent steps onto the plane holding a baby (along with an insane amount of required gear). With at least half of the occupants secretly wishing the empty seat beside them isn’t the baby’s destination and the other half just hoping for a quiet ride, the hardest people hit are the parents themselves. I know, because I’ve been there—with twins. There should be literal awards for parents and caregivers travelling with babies, toddlers, and any kid under the age of 12. If you’re apprehensive or intimidated about going on vacation with your little ones, worry no more. These tried-and-true tips have you covered. Read on and you’ll feel ready to set off toward your destination and let the amazing adventures and lifelong memories begin.
Timing is everything
This tip is most important for babies and younger kids still napping. The best thing you can do is book a night flight (I know, not ideal for you… but trust me on this). Keeping with your child’s regular sleep schedule will mean more hours of peace for you on the plane. If evening flights don’t work, try to book so that the departure is approximately 30 minutes to an hour before nap time—and pray the flight isn’t delayed. This means that after takeoff, you can do a quick bottle or snack, a short story, and then hopefully the sounds and movement of the plane will help your little one drift off for a majority of the flight. Unless you’re going long distance with flights over six hours. You’ll need a bigger game plan for that.
Know the rules
From wearing masks on board to whether you can schlep your stroller on the plane itself, it’s important to know the rules before you go. (Your Flight Centre Travel Expert will also know the details.) You’ll save yourself so much stress at the airport. While airlines each have individual rules, you can be sure that an infant carrier and booster seat will be allowed on board for safety purposes. Strollers can be checked (make sure they’re in a protective bag), but you can also push them up to the gate to be tagged right there. The airport staff will get them off the plane right at your arrival gate so you can strap in and go. One of the handy little gadgets that kept me sane during airport time was the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate, which has an extendable handle and wheels just like a carry-on suitcase and lets you strap your car seat directly to it. Your baby or toddler gets to ride through the airport and you don’t have to figure out how to carry a car seat.
Other rules include the CDC’s rule of mandatory masks on all forms of public transportation (including airplanes, trains, subways, etc.) for children ages two and older. The exception is to briefly eat or drink when on board. If your child isn’t used to wearing a mask by now—start practicing early. And although adults are severely limited to their accepted liquids when entering security, the TSA allows formula, breast milk, and juice for infants and toddlers within reasonable quantities. Make sure to remove them from the rest of your baggage and alert the TSA officer as to what you’re carrying.
Give them tasks
This tip is for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged kids. Little kids love to be helpful. Even if what they’re doing is the exact opposite of truly helping out. Many retailers sell kid-sized rolling carry-ons. Let your child pack their favourite small toys, stuffies, etc. and then give them the responsibility of wheeling around their own luggage. Sure, they may run over an unsuspecting adult. But, usually, all you’ll get is a chuckle. And your child gets to feel like a big kid. Other tasks include asking them what they want to wear on vacation and letting them “help” pack. When you’re through security, ask your child who knows numbers to help you find the gate. Do the same thing when on the plane looking for your seats.
If you’re already laughing, you aren’t alone. Every parent knows preparation is key, but the unexpected inevitably occurs. Still, there are steps you can do to prepare for a few different scenarios. Always pack an extra set of clothes for babies and toddlers, as well as more diapers than you think you’ll need. A big pack of wipes will help clean up faces, hands, tray tables, and anything else. When departing and landing, make sure your baby has a bottle or is being breast fed (if possible). Toddlers and older kids should have a snack. This allows kids to naturally swallow, which will help alleviate any uncomfortable pressure in the ears. If your child has a stuffy nose already, especially from allergies, a dose of your usual medication taken an hour before takeoff will also help. That brings me to the food…
Snacks are king. Choose a variety of (age-appropriate) snacks to keep your kids distracted. I tend to use travel as an excuse to bust out the fun stuff not allowed on an everyday basis. The more delicious the better. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t bribed my twins with a single M&M for every 10 minutes they behaved on a flight. Just like with adults, vacations are memory-making experiences for kids and the little, fun extras just add to the excitement. Just stay away from anything sticky. Seriously, you don’t want to go there.
There are so many ways to amuse little kids when travelling. And something new is always the winner. I love magnetic playsets, with a board and magnetic pieces that let kids create their own robot creatures or princess fairies. Colouring and activity books are also great distracters. And if someone tells you showing your kid a movie on your iPad is wrong, well then you don’t want to be right.
Another fun idea is bringing new surprises on board, hidden in your own carry-on. I would usually do three—all of them wrapped for extra enjoyment. A small activity in the beginning to do on the plane, maybe followed by a small stuffed animal, and then a final prize once the flight has landed to open while waiting for everyone else to slowly get off. (This can be the hardest part for a little kid, who wants to get off right away and can’t handle the orderly front-to-back sloth crawl. Admit it, even most adults are impatient at this part.)
Everyone always worries about bringing a baby on a flight. But, truly it’s the toddlers that are the biggest challenge. Babies are happy to stay seated. But once your kid can walk, that’s all they want to do. Being snapped into a small seat for hours is their version of torture. If you have a super restless kid on your hands and nothing else works, walk down the aisle with your toddler or preschooler, with them in front of you and you holding on to both of their hands. You’ll not only distract your own kid, you’ll provide some amusement to the bored stiff passengers as well.
Being someplace new can be hard for kids. Even when you want to make this family vacation the best ever, full of Instagram-worthy memories with snapshots that will adorn your walls for years, kids are still kids. Some handle travel like they’re born into it, while others have a hard time just sleeping in a new bed. Try to be patient and make sure you’ve packed a few comforting things to help like their blanket, favourite stuffed animal, and even a noise machine if you use one at home. Speaking of sleep, try to stick to a normal nap schedule. This can be tricky if you’ve changed time zones, but if your trip is only a few days I suggest keeping their nap schedule on a similar time as it would be at home.
Remember when I said to pack snacks? It’s not just for the carry-on. Bring boxes of their favourite cereal, some granola bars, crackers, and anything that’s easily portable and you know will be gobbled up. And a handful of reusable containers or baggies too. Some kids love trying new foods and most resorts (especially all-inclusive resorts) have plenty of kid-friendly options. But for times when a cranky child needs calories immediately, you can whip out a baggie from your beach bag and be an instant hero.
It's so worth it
And finally, many experienced parents will tell you that travelling with kids isn’t a vacation, it’s a trip! But I promise it’s all worth it. The memories that are made are some of the best your kids will ever experience in their childhoods. In fact, my twins don’t even remember the massive fight over goggles that resulted in three hours of tears, two terrified resort employees, and a complete parental breakdown. They honestly just remembered the fun parts. And so will your own kids… just as long as you let them buy a terribly tacky souvenir they’ll forget about in three months.
Now that you know all the tricks, plan a family vacation to remember!