Remember the days of traveling without kids? The glamour of chewing on Twizzlers, reading People Magazine and falling asleep against the backdrop of a Nora Ephron movie– all at a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet.
Flash forward to the present – traveling with young children – and a startlingly different picture comes to mind. Managing a backpack for umpteen snacks, sippy cups and emergency clothing, and a separate bag for the array of gadgets and doodads to keep your kids from not kicking the seat in front of them. Not to mention the bags your children insist on bringing. All this while trying to navigate the narrow, mile-long aisle to your seats.
A more harrowing experience, to say the least. Honestly, I stopped buying the gossip magazines because there is no peaceful moment to read them. But I can tell you about any product in SkyMall.
My twin 3-½ year olds have logged a cumulative 100,000 miles in their short lives and each flight has been a learning experience. Google “flying with kids” and dozens of hits come up with tips to manage the friendly skies with your little ones. As I am about to embark on yet another transcontinental flight (plus a hop over to jolly old England), I wanted to share some of the tips that have worked for me and my kids to make the flying experience more manageable, dare I say enjoyable:
- Cheap toys and trinkets are your best friend. Whether it’s the $1/$3 section at Target, the baskets of junk near the cash registers at Michael’s or the Dollar Store, these are all great places to buy dirt-cheap coloring books, glow in the dark bracelets, Hello Kitty notepads and Spiderman crayons. Put one new item in your kid’s backpack and keep the rest with you, unveiling a new item every ½ hour or so.
- Invest in a good pair of child size headsets – I found great ones on Amazon. Despite your best intentions to not let the kids sit catatonic in front of the television, it is unavoidable. But at least with proper fitting headsets, your child won’t be tapping on your arm every five minutes to readjust the adult size beads the airline gives you.
- Try not to buy food that doesn’t fit into your bags. As tempting as it is to buy a hot meal at the airport, it’s not easy to carry a small personal pizza box or bag of tacos while also managing your bags, your kids’ bags and your kids. It’s more sensible to pack sandwiches, yogurt sippers, raisins and dum-dums from home. And while this may not be environmentally friendly, choose zip lock bags over reusable containers so you can eat and trash.
- If your child is young enough to sit in a stroller, avoid using it once you get past security. The more your kid runs around and explores the airport, the more likely he/she is to tire out and sit for the first few hours of the flight with little interruption. And speaking of boarding, I recommend boarding last. Yes I know, this runs contrary to the kind announcement by airline staff that allows families with young children to board earlier, but trust me. You have HOURS to be on the plane. Use the time leading up to “final boarding call” to let your little one exercise and explore at the gate.
- Beware of rollers. By that I mean small objects that can roll off your tray table or seat and onto the ground, well beyond your aisle and back to the AFT section of the plane. Caps to markers. Toy cars. Princess figurines. Rubber balls. Yes, I’ve actually seen parents pack small rubber balls.
- Dress your kids cute. Passengers will smile and make kind comments when your adorable children are skipping down the aisle towards their seats, backpacks in tow. You’ll need this goodwill for later in the flight when your kids are fighting over the window seat.
Jokes aside, I enjoy traveling and visiting family, and want my kids to have the same joie de vivre. Their eyes widen with delight when they see the airplanes up close. They become shy because the larger than life airplane pilots say hello to them. It’s all part of the experience, and worth every minute to unite grandchildren with grandparents and expose our kids to the big, beautiful world that lies just beyond the jetway.
In a few short years your little ones will be bigger ones and more independent than you would like, and you can return to your People Magazine and discover that in our changing and growing world, it’s nice to know that Hollywood is still Hollywood.
Have a tip on how to have a tear-free travel experience? Please share!