Remember when the toughest part of airline travel was figuring out what magazine to read and getting over the fact that you would have to make do with red wine that is cold (because apparently airplanes only have cold red wine? Why is that?)? I am assuming times have changed for you as they have for me. The only thing worse than facing airport lines, smaller and smaller airplane seats, taking off and taking on your shoes over and over again in the name of "security" is, in fact, doing so with a baby. Or two or three.
But it's Christmastime, when many of us will be embarking on various adventures in air travel. Gives the phrase "it's not the destination, it's the journey" a whole new meaning, eh? Here, at the request of several readers, are some of the best tips I've heard and used on traveling with kids:
Before You Leave
- Less crowds means less stress. If you have the option, book your flights for non-peak travel times: Mondays - Wednesdays, at midday, or in the evening.
- Pack more food, snacks, diapers, and wipes than you think you will need. Something about planes bring on messes of unprecedented proportions. Plus, you never know if you'll be delayed.
- As for activities: Pack books, activity/coloring books, travel-sized board games, playing cards, and, if you let your child use a portable video game system or LeapPad®, you will never appreciate it more. (Be sure to charge it the night before.) And remember Colorforms? Those plastic sticky things that peel on or off every surface? They are particularly useful on planes, where your kids can stick and unstick them over and over again to the windows and the tray tables. And each other.
- If your child is old enough: Prepare your child for the trip. Tell him what to expect at the airport and on the plane, and give him tips for how to behave. (When checking or screening baggage, reassure your child he will get his belongings back — something many kids worry about.)
- Remind your child that it's illegal to make any kind of jokes about bombs. My friend learned this the hard way--and her family in London was not amused when she wasn't there for Christmas dinner. According to the FAA, even a child's jest can result in fines, delays, and revocation of your tickets.
- Save room and pack your checked luggage lightly. Okay--lighter. Check out this site and this one to find places near your destination to rent cribs, strollers and any other baby/child necessities you may need.
- Allow extra time at the airport. As you know, everything takes looooongerrrrr when traveling with kids.
- Give your child safety rules, such as what to do if you become separated. Should she stay where she is and wait for you?
- If you are traveling with a carseat, I cannot sing enough praise for the GoGoKidz contraption that turns your carseat into a stroller. If only I had a dollar for every envious stare I get as I wheel this baby through airports...
- Take-offs and landings can be painful for little ears. For young babies, bring a pacifier or a bottle to use during these times. For older children, bring along ear filters, which buffer eardrums against rapidly changing air pressure. Encourage your child to swallow by offering beverages, gum, or hard candy.
- For maximum entertainment valve, bring toys out one at a time, and put one away before introducing the next. One odd thing that has worked for me: Individually wrapping a bunch of small toys and presenting them to my kids through the course of the flight--especially when they are getting antsy. Kids love presents.
- Seat your child by the window. Most kids find the view fascinating. It's also safer than sitting on the aisle, where little arms and legs could get bumped.
- Remember, not all passengers appreciate the joys of children...even a perfect, genius, wonderful one like yours...! Plan to keep your child entertained and know your kid--some parents of noisy kids, for instance, deliberately choose seats in the back of the plane, where engine noise can muffle piping voices. My friend Suzanne told me two tips to immediately ingratiate yourself to your fellow-passengers, which I still use today: (1) Enter the plane bearing a bag of ear plugs and hand them out (with self-mockery) to the people next to you; and (2) Buy everyone around you a drink.