Traveling with kids, especially taking a long international flight, can be tricky—little ones just don't understand the necessary logistics of getting from point A to point B. Of course, you want the experience to be as smooth as possible for your family as well as for the other passengers on your flight, and there are some things that you can do to have the best outcome possible. And, if things don't go as planned or as hoped, there are strategies that can help. Read on to find some practical tips you can use.
Plan Ahead of Travel
Before you even book the airfare, get your kids involved. They will be happier with the outcome if they have some input into the trip. Research together and learn about the activities you’ll be doing once you arrive at your destination. Are there museums, unique restaurants, walking tours, beaches, or other activities that you’ll be adding to the itinerary? Get your kids involved by showing them travel videos, looking at photography books, following a recipe and cooking international food, practicing a new language, or learning how to make some local art. While on the flight, you can talk about all of the fun things you’ll be doing once you land, which will feel like a light at the end of the tunnel. Also, you can pack activities and snacks for the flight that coordinate with the country you’ll be visiting.
What to Do on the Day of Travel
If you’re traveling with kids, and all of their gear on an international flight, you need to allow for extra time to get to the airport, get through security, find your gate, and take care of your kids’ many needs along the way. You don’t want to miss your flight, because your child had a bathroom emergency, or there was an unexpected meltdown at a snack stand. It’s better to be early and waiting than have to reschedule altogether. Also, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to pack and recheck that you have all of the necessities—passports, onboard activities, extra snacks, change of clothes, plenty of diapers or baby supplies—that will get your family to where you’re going with the least amount of stress.
How to Pick the Best Airplane Seats for Kids
When you book your flight, make sure you choose your seats wisely. When you arrive at your gate, let the agent know how many kids you’re traveling with and what their ages are to be sure that you have selected the best seats possible. Is there a bulkhead row available, for example, so that your kids won’t kick the seats in front of them or annoy other passengers by lowering and raising the window shades and tray tables over-and-over? Are there open seats with extra legroom so that your babies can play on the floor and have a little extra wiggle room? Seats directly in front of the lavatory are not great because the extra noise and people in the galley will create commotion and noise. If you have older kids, put them in a row directly behind the adult seats so that if a seat gets bumped, it won’t disturb a stranger.
Keep Your Kids Entertained During the Flight
Playdough can be great fun while in the air, and it’s also easy to pack. Bring along drawing supplies, books, and workbooks. Put some Legos into a baggie and challenge your kids to build a travel scene or a plane. Consider bringing along some fully-charged technology, loaded with movies and games and some headphones. You might also think about buying a few surprise toys to offer your kids along the way. Children will get a lot of mileage out of new finger puppets, sticker books, pipe cleaners, mini building sets, coloring sheets, or airplane-specific toys.
Getting Your Kids to Sleep on a Long Flight
Ideally, everyone in your family will get many hours of restful sleep and wake up refreshed just as your flight is preparing to land. However, this is not usually the reality. It could help to bring along comforting items like lovies and blankets, avoid sugary foods and drinks, lower shades, and do your best to create an environment that is good for sleeping. Read a book together and sing a lullaby if this is what you usually do at bedtime. Strolling up and down the aisle while bouncing your baby might take the place of rocking. And, if they just won’t sleep, ride it out, go with the flow, and remember to breathe.
Other Kid Travel Hacks You Should Know
- One of the common reasons babies cry on airplanes is that their ears hurt. Wait to nurse or bottle-feed your baby until take-off or landing-sucking helps alleviate the pain due to the air pressure. Pacifiers can also help infants. If you have older kids, give them a sucker, a piece of gum, or candy.
- Bring an extra change of clothes in a Ziplock baggie. If your child has an accident while onboard, or if they get wet or dirty from snacks and drinks, you’ll be able to do a quick-change in the bathroom and put the dirty clothing in the sealed bag.
- Pack a variety of snacks. Not only is it good to keep your kids well-nourished on long flights, but also, it can be a good distraction from the boredom of being stuck in a seat. And, if your kids are too picky to eat airplane food, you’ll have something that you know they’ll eat or drink.
- If you fear that your babies are at a high-risk for disturbing those around you, consider offering your seat neighbors a package of earplugs, chocolates, and a note apologizing in advance for any discomfort.