“NOT ALL THOSE WHO WANDER ARE LOST”

J.R.R. TOLKIEN

My daughter Piper was an international traveler at age 3 weeks old, we flew back to the Virgin Islands and later to Europe a few times.  She’s been a dreamy travel companion. She’s going to be a big adventurer as she gets older I just know it. The boys are the complete opposites, they love being home and playing in the back yard. Traveling with them is terrible. Both get motion sick, bored and ornery fast.  With the holidays coming up, I thought it would be a good time to compile a huge list of travel tips for parents!  

Many parents have a fear of flying, but not because of safety issues. The thought of a screaming child in a crowded airplane prevents many families from taking holidays.

A short domestic flight will be easier than a cross continental long haul, but a 15-minute screaming fit between Chicago and New York is as stressful as one over the Atlantic Ocean. Long flights require more planning, but should be no more demanding than short hauls. There is no reason why a family should not enjoy the pleasures of Europe or Asia just because of an eight-to-twelve hour flight.

Travel Tip #1 – Prepare the Children Ahead of Time for the Flight Experience

The single most important piece of advice for parents is to never, ever allow kids to roam the plane. The sound of feet pounding up and down the aisle annoys other passengers, potentially causes safety problems, and most of all results in screaming when the child is ultimately forced to return to the seat. Once kids get up, they tend to want to stay up and the cabin is no place for a negotiation.

A week before the flight play a game each night and pretend to be on the plane. Sit them on the couch and talk about how it just like the plane. Reinforce that they can’t get up unless it’s to use the bathroom, and in that case they will be accompanied. Get them to sit there as long as possible without getting up. Try to make it into a contest if that helps, and supply them with things to do. Hopefully this sets the stage for in-flight behavior.

Each child should bring along a backpack loaded with favorite books and toys, as well as a change of clothes in a plastic bag in case of a spilled drink or toilet problem.

Travel Tip #2 Determine What In-flight Media Equipment Will Be Available

There is nothing better to make a long flight go more quickly than a ready supply of cartoons and movies. Find out If the plane is equipped with in-seat screens instead of a shared television, and if so, what the children’s programming is. Ideally there are many shows available to keep each child occupied.

If in-seat entertainment isn’t available, consider either an iPad or laptop loaded with content. Bring along a good set of earphones or battery-powered headphones that digitally eliminate cabin noise. The kids may look a bit odd with an adult-sized Bose headset, but it will keep them settled by eliminating the distracting buzz. In addition to in-seat television screens, most new planes now have in-seat power for laptops and MP3 players, so batteries are not a problem.

Travel Tip # 3 Be Prepared With Gifts and Activities As Needed

Bring along time-consuming toys such as coloring books, action figures and dolls, and Play-Doh. Wrap them up like gifts and when the kids are getting antsy ask who would like to open a present. Based on the flight length, bring an adequate supply and encourage sharing. Avoid gifts with small pieces like Lego and jigsaw puzzles. One very smart idea is to use a strip of Velcro tape on pens and pencils, and then lay a wide strip across the front of the container. The kids can simply stick the pen onto the outside of the container without losing it on the floor.

Another good idea is to bring along an ample supply of treats like fruit snacks and chewy bars. Unfortunately the ban on liquids means that juice boxes are prohibited.

Travel Tip # 4 Get Active Before a Flight

Toddlers have endless energy, but if parents plan their day to include a good long run around the park or play equipment before heading to the airport, they’ll find their child a lot easier to deal with on board.  We always bring a blow up beach ball and play soccer in the gates.

Travel Tip #5 Locate the Sick Bags

When a child suffers from motion sickness, disaster can be avoided by having easy access to the bags. A wet flannel placed on the back of the neck can also help prevent nausea.  We love Dramamine for kids. But check with your pediatrician first. 

Travel Tip #6 Fly at Night, or During Nap Time

The motion of the plane can be a great sleep inducer. For short haul flights (3 hours and under), time flights with a nap – the motion of take off is normally enough to get young children sleepy. For longer flights, by catching the red eye, they’ll likely catch some shut eye for the majority of the journey too.

Travel Tip # 7 Stacks of Snacks for Kids

A long haul flight is not the time to tempt toddlers with new tastes. A plethora of their favorite, healthy foods on hand can be offered at tougher moments throughout the journey, often taking the edge off their boredom. Also, having something for a child to suck during take off and landing helps ease any pressure she may be feeling.

Travel Tip # 8 Pack for All Possibilities

A couple of spare outfits (for kids and parents), wet wipes, nappy sacks and hand sanitizer never goes astray. Even for toddlers who no longer need these “baby” supplies in day to day life, they can be a lifesaver in the air. Quiet toys also keep kids quiet, so it always helps to pack books and puzzles. For older children, loading an iPod with an audio book or favorite nursery rhymes and songs, can be a winner.

Travel Tip # 9 Arrive Early at the Airport

It may be standard advice for traveling, but with the added time it takes to get strollers, port-a-cots and car seats checked in, as well as having plenty of time for last minute bathroom breaks, it’s well worth getting to the airport with plenty of time to settle pre-flight.

Travel Tip # 10 Parents Should Try to Relax as Much as Possible

Moms and dads may be feeling the tension, but if children see stress and anxiety, they tend to follow suit; a stressed toddler is no fun for anyone. Other passengers will also be more sympathetic and tolerant to parents who appear to be attending to their child.

travel with toddlers mom blog 2020

Keeping Busy While Traveling Tips!  

Flying with kids is a very controllable situation, but only if the parents plan ahead to keep children occupied. The first ever flight is perhaps the most important as it locks in behavior for future travel.

If you’re embarking on a long trip with your preschoolers and feeling a little nervous, it is absolutely understandable. It is amazing how those tiny creatures can so quickly turn from smiling shiny faced angels ecstatic about their summer holiday into bored and agitated little monsters. A portable DVD or an iPad may only keep them entertained for so long. The trick is to be prepared with as many fun travel games and activities as possible, which doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds.

There are a lot of ready made travel games and commercial activities on the market, which are handy if you don’t have much time to prepare to travel. Make sure to include some familiar and favorite games and activities from home, which really works well if you can hide them from the children for a while prior to the trip. (The excitement of seeing their favorite things again can make the playing with them even more fun and interesting). There are several kinds of car games that the whole family can join in with together and a whole bunch of things you can prepare yourself, which can be surprisingly easy to create.

Commercial Travel Games

A great idea for any long car ride is a cushioned travel tray, which the child places on their lap and immediately becomes a comfortable place to play. An item that is definitely a worthwhile investment as your child can use it well into their Tween years. Anything that is portable and easy to use in a moving vehicle is always welcomed by preschoolers when traveling. Toys such as Doodle Pads or Etch a Sketch, Sticker Books, Coloring Books, Pocket sized Books, Audio Books, Child friendly Rubix cubes, Puzzles, Card games and portable versions of Board games really work well.

Play doh or soft modeling clay and a few tools are also a big hit as the children don’t expect to be allowed to play with such things in a car or on a plane (as long as you don’t mind the mess). Dollar or Discount stores can be great places to find little gems for amusing preschoolers, as they tend to sell unusual novelty items that are often smaller than other toys or games. Just make sure that the games are really age appropriate for your child if you want them to engage them for a while. And from personal experience, try to avoid anything that has too many small pieces or attachments. It is not good to have additional tears along the way because a vital piece went missing!

Homemade Travel Games

A great way to entertain your restless preschoolers on a long trip, is to surprise them. What better way to do this than having some homemade stuff to do all readily prepared, for you to whip out of your travel bag when things get sticky. You can prepare ahead of time some Lacing Cards (in the shapes of animals, their favorite characters, numbers or letters), provide each child with some colored shoelaces and see what designs the come up with by lacing the laces through the holes punched on the card or foam. A Mystery bag always goes down well and you can really use your imagination to include anything from around the house to put in it (such as cotton reels, pipe cleaners, tin foil, toothpicks, etc..) These items can be used to make or construct something or can be used in a fun game of “You’ll never guess what Mummy brought along in her Mystery Bag”.

Have a tin foil sculpturing competition (a couple of sheets of tin foil can turn into magical creations, statues or figures with a just a couple of twists). Practice some simple origami moves well before you travel and have the children make their own paper hats or birds. Felt boards can be a lot of fun and are very easy to make. You can cut out different sizes and shapes for the children to create their own pictures with, or tell them story and have them make the sequence on the board as you go along. If you have some letter magnets lying around, why not make a Spelling Board out of an old baking tray. Or some personalized Bingo cards. The options are endless, and most of the things you need to create homemade travel games can be found around the home anyway. It’s really just about being creative and making the activities portable and easy to use.

Interactive Travel Games

Don’t forget of course that although many of these ideas can keep them entertained, what most preschoolers thrive on is their interaction with you. So any silly, funny or entertaining games that involve playing together, will really keep your child enthralled for quite a while. Games such as Simon Says, I Spy, Ask me a Question, or 20 Questions all work well and don’t require any preparation. You can also have them take note of their surroundings by playing games where they have to spot something in particular, count a certain number of objects or colored objects or make a certain noise when they see a particular object. The sillier the better, as this a great way for them to let off some steam!

Whatever you prepare or decide to take along on your long journey, as long as you have some secret tricks up your sleeve that will probably suffice. And don’t worry, however long or tiring the journey ends up being, there is always an end in sight!

With families spread across the globe, the emotional pull of grandparents, aunts and uncles, sees many parents having to make long haul flights with their young children.

While for many, just sharing a plane with toddlers may seem torturous, for the parents themselves, the anxiety, the frustration and the embarrassment if it all goes wrong, can turn what should otherwise be a pleasure (a family holiday) into seemingly endless hours of pain.

Flying with a toddler can be terrifying, but if they are well exercised, have their favorite snacks and toys, have plenty of emergency supplies and are traveling with relaxed parents, traveling with toddlers can indeed be quite terrific. 

Good Luck Friends and Happy Travels, I promise it get’s easier. 

Related:  

The New York Times has an excellent piece on traveling with kids of all ages.  

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