The dreaded flight with kids—over-tired, fussy, hungry, thirsty, bored, bathroom, ears hurting, crying, tantrums, bathroom again, kicking the seat in front, “are we there yet”, too hot, too cold, bathroom yet again—can be a recipe for meltdowns galore. Then just when you are about to land, your kid finally falls asleep and refuses to walk… luggage, child, and headache in tow. The thought actually makes my stomach turn. I think it’s safe to say that most of us parents have been there. After countless global travel with our four young children (including relocating to three different countries and four states), it’s safe to say that our family has been through many ridiculous scenarios and learned how to prepare like a pro.
While many of you have already been privileged enough to dig your heels in the sand for the Summer holiday, some are still inching closer to that exciting last day of school. Either way, vacation plans are likely in full throttle and weather updates on close standby. Thankfully, throughout most of my mistakes, I have survived and thrived… so I’m happy to share my top strategies to surviving the prep, flight, and jet lag.
1. Don’t tire over the attire
Packing for the family can be exhausting and overwhelming. It’s the “sit and stare” approach—too many weather variables, too many different types of dress required, no washing machine, and making sure to have enough (but not too much) that will get you blankly staring for a good half hour until any progress happens. This technique will certainly get you nowhere fast, without much time to finish. Here’s my plan instead:
- Check the weather forecast.
- Know your itinerary and duration of trip.
- Pack the pyjamas first (easiest way to get started), and consider reusability to minimize over-packing.
- Plan kids’ outfits according to the number of days and necessity. Consider reusability in pants and sweaters.
- Bring a couple of “fancy” outfits in case.
- Make sure that you have enough total outfits to mix-and-match for the duration of the trip. When that’s settled, add one or two more easy extras in case of unexpected spillage.
- Organize the stacks of clothes for easy accessibility.
- Make sure to bring a few garbage bags to make laundry collection organized and simple.
- Shower caps are great for covering the bottom of shoes for packing.
- Use zip-lock bags to contain any toiletries for extra protection, and bring extra for the return trip.
2. Emergency prep
Expect the unexpected. Be prepared and bring most of these items in your carry-on luggage.
- Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer (for adults and flavored for children)
- Antiseptic cream
- Antihistamine in case of unexpected allergy
- Saline Spray
- Daily Vitamins (optional)
- Eye/Ear Drops for kids (optional)
- Diaper Cream (not just for diaper rash, but also works for scrapes and eczema)
- Emergency tooth fairy gift (optional – depending on age and tradition)
- Tampons and sanitary napkins
- Emergency outfit change for the kids (including socks and underwear) in case of accidental spillage/leakage of any kind.
3. Smart snacks
Please keep in mind that what you feed your kids is what you will get out of them. Sugary, artificially flavored, and food coloring-soaked foods may result in a hyper child who crashes with a nasty tantrum. Snacks can be fun AND healthy-ish enough for a flight.
- Baby cereal flavoured puffs (kids of all ages love to munch on these).
- Mini rice-cakes for snacking.
- Freeze-dried or regular dried fruit.
- Real fruit gummies (special treat during take-off or extreme moment, but beware as too many packs may induce a hyper child with loose stool).
- Make sure to buy some bottled water after passing the security line, before the flight, to avoid a sudden thirst emergency before take-off.
- Special Treat: one or two non-healthy treats (lollipop, candy) to be reserved for hurricane-grade tantrum, head-spinning moments.
- Granola or protein bars for an energy boost.
- Applesauce or fruit/veggie squeeze packs.
- Fresh fruit with careful packing to avoid unintended squishing or rotting.
- Depending on the duration of your flight, feel free to pack any additional refrigerated snacks in a lunch sack with ice pack.
4. Entertainment tools
Make sure to find out if your flight offers individual monitors. This makes a BIG difference in entertainment planning.
- If the flight does not have a monitor, bring your own and make sure it’s charged (don’t forget to bring the charger). Feel free to download a new movie or game for extra appeal.
- Clearance isles work fabulously to create a private stash of stickers, non-messy crafts, coloring, small cars, small toys, and travel-sized board games.
- Have each child pack a few favorite items (i.e., stuffed animal, small toys, and crafts) to play on-board.
- For older children, bring a new chapter book for a good hour of quiet time.
5. Pre-board rituals
- Depending on how many children are traveling, please discuss window, isle, and middle seating arrangements BEFORE the flight.
- Plan which children and parents will be sitting side-by-side to avoid any arguments on-board.
- Review expectations in behavior, snacks, and sleeping schedules.
- Make sure that everyone uses the toilet before the flight!
- Buy any warm meals and/or drinks before boarding.
- Get their energy out! Plan enough time for the kids to walk, run, and play for a bit before the flight. We’ve even played a family game of Duck, Duck, Goose before a long flight. Whatever you do, keep it safe and as non-annoying to others as possible. This bullet point alone may be just as important as the flight itself.
6. Take-off to-do’s
- Have a lollipop ready for the take-off, as this is the time that ear-aches may ensue. Sucking will help to minimise ear pain and pressure.
- Teach children how to “blow air into their cheeks” to help eliminate the discomfort in the ears.
- Make taking-off a game to avoid nervous crying. If you’re familiar with “The Little Einsteins” cartoon, our family pretends that the airplane is “Rocket” and we sing the “pat, clap” chant until take-off. This worked for all four children.
- For children with travel sickness or sensitive tummies from the cabin odor or change in air pressure, peppermint oil works well to alleviate nausea and upset stomachs. Bring some mint lozenges to help.
7. Avoiding jet lag
- Carefully review the travel, arrival, time zone details and determine whether your child should try to nap on the flight or stay awake.
- Try to maintain the child awake if you’re arriving to your destination closer to bedtime. For a long flight, the earlier nap, in this case, the better.
- If a child will experience nighttime on the flight, try to mimic a semblance of your nighttime routine (i.e., reading a story, back rub, blanket, special cuddle toy) to encourage a deep sleep.
Wishing you many safe travels and a bon voyage!