There are few things as stressful as airline travel; the crowds, the rushing, the daunting task of having to haul all your crap plus keep an eye on your kids and make sure you have all of their crap – it’s enough to make anyone crazy.
In an effort to save the little sanity you have left, here are my tips to help you get to where you’re going with as few meltdowns as possible. Oh, and how to keep your kids happy, too. Look at my happy little travelers!
Plan, plan plan!
First things first; know what you’re dealing with. There’s a big difference between an hour flight to the state next door and traveling cross country or to another country altogether. There’s also a difference between traveling with one kid and traveling with 5, and whether you’re by yourself (fun!) or with your husband to help. Whatever the case is, it’s best to plan ahead to avoid those oh crap moments at the airport or in the plane. How to do that? Keep reading.
Make lists… Lots of them
Make a packing list. This is essential. I usually make two – one for myself and one for the kids – about a week beforehand, or at least a few days before. This way I can add to it as I think of things, and I’m not scrambling to put things in suitcases as we’re trying to get out the door.
Make a to-do list and a to-buy list as well, so you can have everything ready to go before heading to the airport. Essential things to have? Your IDs, all your big liquids in your suitcase that you’ll be checking (hairspray, shampoo, etc.), snacks (for you and the kids – there’s no rule against bringing your own food), a little cash broken into small bills, and some $5 Starbucks gift cards if you are non-revving. (I can’t even tell you how handy those are!)
If your kids are a little older they can help you with the lists, and it will also help them with learning how to pack.
Know what to bring – and what NOT to bring
The trick to being efficient is to bring only what is essential to your trip. It’s easy to over pack with all the what-ifs you can come up with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wasted precious suitcase space with shoes I really didn’t need for that dinner I didn’t really go to. Pack mix and match items that can be dressed up or down, and minimize your items in order to maximize your space. The less crap you bring, the less crap you haul around.
Same thing with kid stuff. Is it absolutely essential that you bring a Pack’N Play or will there be a crib you can use when you get there? Do the kids really need to have their own shampoo or can they use yours for a few days? Do you actually need to bring a suitcase full of diapers or would it be smarter to pick some up at a store there? Think about the things you really need, and get rid of the rest. Reduce, compact, and condense your way to happiness.
Another thing to keep in mind is that different airlines have different baggage policies. It’s good to research beforehand what they are so that you don’t get a surprise fee at the ticket counter. Also, a lot of baby items such as car seats and strollers can be checked for free.
For an awesome list of airlines and their baby item policies courtesy of the blog Have Baby Will Travel!, go here.
Be smart about carry-on bags
This is a big one. Keeping your kids entertained keeps everyone happy. But you have to plan ahead. (Sense a theme?) I don’t know about you, but traveling with toddlers is pretty high up there on my Dear-God-please-help-me-get-through-this list.
Snacks, games, movies, and toys are a given because of the entertainment factor. But old toys can lose their luster. Ever noticed how your kids are so excited to play with their friends’ toys? It’s because they’re new to them, or at least provide a break from the same old, same old. Distraction and novelty are awesome meltdown prevention tools. My rule is to bring one surprise per hour of travel. This applies to all ages. Every hour I whip out a shiny new toy or book or movie or activity that the kids have never seen or played with before. It works like a charm!
(Smart move: pack a Ziploc bag for each child and have it ready to go. There are some great examples of travel bags for different age groups on Pinterest, here’s a link.)
It doesn’t have to be anything big – I will often hit Target’s $1 section right before a trip and stock up on little things. If you are really into preparing, you can make the unwrapping game. Take a party streamer and some small toys and wrap them up one by one, until you get a ball of little gifts. These are great entertainment – it takes time to unwrap them and there’s little surprises sprinkled throughout that they can play with afterwards.
Katie from the blog Mom Favorites has some super cute ideas for kid travel bags, too. Check out her post here.
Also, don’t forget to pack your own carry-on. One of the best tips ever; bring a change of clothes (or at least a different top) for yourself! Sitting for hours in spit up or worse is not fun for anyone.
Don’t expect help
This is sad, but true. One of the best things you can do is to expect to do it all yourself – because a lot of times that’s what ends up happening. Carrying bags, keeping the kids corralled, getting through security, and then getting settled on the plane is hard work. But that’s my responsibility. These are my kids, not anyone else’s, and I don’t expect concessions just because I am choosing to travel with them.
Sometimes a kind stranger or helpful flight attendant will lend a hand, but I don’t expect it. If you are offered help, for the love of all that is holy, take it. And thank them profusely. I will be one of the first people to go and help another struggling mom if I see one. But not everyone will offer, or even notice. Don’t take it personally. Just do the best you can with what you got!
Non-rev ninja moves
For non-revving, my advice is to just be as polite and friendly as possible, even if the ticket agents or gate agents are not friendly back. They have a tough job and put up with a lot, so I try to just be nice to everyone I come into contact with, because of course they are your ticket onto that plane. It sucks, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and be nice anyway.
(And then flip them off behind their back as you walk down the jetway. Or at least in your mind. This actually helps, I promise.)
I also try to have those $5 gift cards on hand to give flight attendants before the flight. It may seem small, but this gesture has gotten be more things than I would have ever imagined! Don’t wait until you’re in the air, hand them out as soon as you get on the plane.
I’ve gotten free movies, free food for myself and the kids, and even free drinks! It’s amazing what a small act of kindness can do to put someone in a good mood. When I was a flight attendant, I was always surprised and then extremely grateful for any small token of thanks. It makes your day! And even if you don’t get anything from it (in terms of free stuff) it’ll make you feel good and it’s good karma. Win!
And last but not least…
Don’t freak out
Sometimes (ok all the time) things don’t go as planned no matter how hard you prepare. All you can do is make the best of it. That’s what parenting is all about, right? So if your kids are restless, or your baby won’t stop crying, just try to stay calm and ride it out. Deep breaths. Kids can sense our emotions, so make an effort to keep them in check, as hard as that may be. Just don’t let your kid kick the seat in front of him – seriously. Don’t be that mom.
And feel free to tell that guy in 24A to shut his face or he can hold your crying baby for you. You’ll get through this, I promise. Keep trying different things and stay calm. Remind yourself that there is wine at the end of the tunnel.
And when you get there? Celebrate your success! You made it!
Have any tips of your own? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
The Flight Wife