We have traveled a lot.
Here we are (a million years ago) on our very first “couple” vacation in Sri Lanka.
Anyway…I think you get the point but – full disclosure – now that I have started going back through old travel photos, I can’t stop myself from posting them. We were just such BABIES! What has life done to us?????
So, please bare with me for a few more…okay?
Here we are in Oman. Oh and Brado would like me to point out that he no longer wears “old-man shirts” and “ugly-ass tennis shoes”.
Okay…I think I’m done. For now. But I can almost guarantee you that I will be revisiting this topic of old travel photos at a later date. There are just too many embarrassing and memorable moments to leave rotting away in the archives of my hard drive.
Since having children, it seems we have started traveling with them too. It’s funny how that happens.
Having children has certainly changed our travel tendencies. Namely, it has changed the frequency of travel. These days we don’t really travel all that much. I’d say we average 3-4 trips a year as a family (Two of which are trips to go back to the States for our summer and Christmas holidays…so those hardly count).
But when we travel, we travel on planes. This is primarily due to the fact that road trips from Beijing equal certain death. You will either die from boredom or the general population’s disregard for very basic traffic laws, like stopping at red lights. Not to mention, that there is no real place of interest to drive to from Beijing, so frankly…what’s the point? Thus, traveling anywhere for us almost always involves a passport stamp and a 7+ hour flight. It is just our reality.
Beau took his first flight when he was 4 months old.
Finley was only 2 months old she boarded her first international flight back home to the States. In fact, in her very short little life she has already racked up 6 international flights and 2 stateside flights. Please don’t make me go back and try and count how many flights Beau has been on. That requires a lot of mental math. And it is early. Don’t make me do it. It is a lot. Trust me.
This all may sound terribly exotic to those of you who have never been on a plane with a child (and to you people I respectfully say,” F@$% off!”), but the vast majority of us know the real truth: Planes were invented by sadist ancestors of Hitler as a way to torture parents, children and innocent, child-less passengers. But mostly parents.
Traveling with children via any mode of transportation is dreadful. Trains, cars, boats…it doesn’t matter the vehicle…children ruin the “travel” portion of any trip. That much is guaranteed.
But of all the forms of travel torture, plane travel is the absolute worst. Ammiright? There is something about the cramped quarters, recycled air and static-y blankets that will morph your darling, sweet child into a soul-sucking monster. This is especially true if your child is over the age of 6 months and under the age of 4. During this little window of time, you people with small children (and by you, I mean me) should really just stay home, shine a bright light in your face, pour yourself a stiff drink and watch reruns of Baywatch. You will feel as though you have been transported to a tropical sunny climate but you won’t feel like you want to poke your eyes out with a fork. Win-win.
If you do decide to set foot on a plane with small children, just know that they will make it their life’s mission to: throw up on you, shit their pants and have it leak up their back, break your headphones, scream obscenities at strangers, eat the one edible item on your airplane dinner tray and/or smush gooey granola bar particles into the charging dock of your iPad. Consider it a great flight if less than three of these things happen in total.
What they won’t do, of course, is sleep. So that is always fun.
You would think that, because we do it so frequently, we would be experts on the topic of ‘Plane travel with Children’. I mean, theoretically, we should have all these awesome strategies in place to ensure a seamless and stress-free flight, right? Ummmm….yeah…we don’t. Not even close. We suffer. Every. Damn. Time.
You wanna know my advice for traveling with small children?
- Don’t go. Just don’t do it.
- If you must go, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED, don’t go it alone! Bring a husband or a wife or a mom or a friend or a professional tiger wrangler… ANYONE (over the age of 20)!
- If you must go and you have someone to go with, please ensure that you are not traveling the day after your adult companion’s 30th birthday celebration. Severely hung over adult companions are approximately as useful as a 2 year old.
- Lastly, don’t you even dare pack a book in your carry on. You are just tempting fate and laughing at the Gods. And they will make you pay.
That’s it. That’s all I got.
This why, when my friend asked me to write a post advising about plane travel with children, I panicked. A travel post that advises people not to travel probably does not count as helpful.
So, I did what I imagine CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies do all the time, I enlisted the help of people that are waaaaay smarter than me.
The mamas I am about to introduce you to are well-traveled, funny, creative and, unlike me, have mastered the art of traveling. I know because I have traveled with them and I often find myself just standing there in awe of their – je ne sais quoi – have-their-shit-togetherness.
In fact these women had so many great ideas that I couldn’t include them all in one post. Thus, I have whittled it down to a few of my personal favorites. But there are many, many, more and if you want the whole unabridged list just click here: Plane Survival Tips.
Without further adieu…
How to Increase Your Chances of Survival when Traveling by Plane with Small Children
- For infants, baby carriers are a must. Twice I have traveled 24 hours with a child strapped to my body. Having both hands free was very important.
- Pack a small backpack just for the individual kid. Let him/her help pick out the small toys.
- Buy a few new toys (toy car, train, princess figurines, etc.) and wrap them like Christmas. Every hour or so you can promise a new present for good behavior.
~ Megan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Truly Asia): Mother of two adorable girls, teacher of Chemistry, giver of inappropriate going away speeches and just generally hilarious.
- The check-in lady at your counter is your friend. I have unashamedly charmed the ladies at the counter to give me a whole row because I am traveling with an infant (even though I didn’t buy a seat for her) and it has worked both ways when we traveled to Phuket. Having a whole row was definitely helpful!
~ Hannah, Beijing, China: Quite possibly the cutest and happiest human being on the planet, she is the mama of two little girls, the wife of one unruly art teacher and my son’s future mother-in-law (fingers crossed).
- Deprive children when they are of a certain age (say, 4ish) from all screen time for at least 2 weeks prior to travel. Our kid then sat for the entire 10 hour flight without blinking, he was SO happy to have a TV all to himself. No joke. (But you need to make sure the airline or you provide in-flight entertainment to last that long!)
- Always pack at least ONE FULL MEAL per kid, per 5 hours travel. We’ve been stuck on a runway for 4 hours. I fed 3 families (6 kids) and EVERYONE was happier.
- Pack a water bottle – but not the straw kind – they leak and spill with changes in pressure – so you want something more like a sippy cup. Kids need to drink a lot on the plane to help them not feel so gross and act so ugly. What also works is Gatorade or something like that that you can let them choose and buy after you’ve gone through security. If you leave the cap on, they don’t explode, and they’ve chosen it, so they tend to be more excited about it. It’s a treat.
- If they are walking, but not yet 2, buy them a seat anyway and BRING THEIR CAR SEAT. Best thing EVER! Especially if you are on your own with more than one, the ability to lock ’em down for even 20 minute intervals is the best thing ever. I can personally vouch for this one…so, so, so true!
- Pack headphones for you, so if all else fails, you don’t have to listen to their shit.
~ Leah, Luxembourg: Mama of two cute kiddos and truly a citizen of the world. In her adult life she has called Canada, Singapore, Sudan, China, Luxembourg, and soon, Japan, home (and I am probably missing some). And she is WAAAY younger than me. She is also a smart ass. Which is, obviously, why we immediately bonded.
- Stickers, new colored pencils and an empty notebook. This has saved us when we were delayed on the plane and when iPads were not permitted.
- Child size headphones are super helpful. Get kids used to wearing them in the weeks leading up to your flight.
- A backpack that clips in the front and has a leash is helpful. Our son was a runner when he was younger. This gave him freedom to run, but not get away! Personal Side note: I used to laugh at people who leashed their kids…until I went to the airport with a two year old. Then I was so supremely jealous of them.
~Pam, Beijing, China: A native New Jerseyan, the mama of two of the cutest kids known to mankind and my ex-next door neighbor. My life more or less stopped when she left me for a semi-detached. She looks innocent enough but she will destroy you in Cards Against Humanity.
- Lollipops are a must, especially when you’re descending. It helps with the ears. I recommend tootsie roll pops because they seem to last longer and there’s some motivation to keep going. More practical then ones with gum inside.
- Don’t forget that if you have kids, you can board first and cut all those people in line. This is the ONE perk to traveling with children! Use it!
- Drink, you deserve it. Hopefully it’s free. If not, it’ll totally be worth it.
~Cara, Beijing, China: A mama to 3 adorable blonde girls, she wins the prize for most experienced panel member. Cara and I share a lot in common: our love for the Pacific Northwest, a serious Starbucks addiction and the belief that life is pretty much always better when you add wine.
I think it goes without saying that different strategies are more effective for different kids. The key is to figure out what strategies work for your child. Lord only knows the whole “safely-drug-your-kid-with-Benedryl-and-they-will-sleep-like-a-baby” strategy DID NOT, I repeat, DID NOT, work for Beau (it actually had the opposite effect- YAY!). You live and learn.
I guess what I am trying to say is that riding on planes with children is terrifying and horrible and so totally exhausting. And even when you are ultra prepared- armed with your toothpicks, sets of spare clothes and perfectly wrapped presents- there is the distinct possibility that it could all go terribly wrong. Every kid has had or will have a bad flight. The most important thing is to not beat yourself up about it.
Remember, planes are torture devices. Your only real objective is for everyone to make it out alive. If you have done that, you have succeeded!