Traveling with kids is easier than it used to be in some senses, and much more complicated in others. Before there were not security checks to try and lug sleeping toddlers through, but there was also just one screen at the front of the plane most often playing very inappropriate movies for a toddler. I remember one of my son’s first flight’s they were playing “The Mummy”! He was terrified! So now there are hand held devices, video games, cell phone, personal screen on the back of each chair… needless to say, it is easier. But If you have a baby, an antsy toddler or a bored elementary school kid, even these changes do not help you on a 9 hour flight!
Our flight from Italy to home takes around 21-24 hours including lay overs. It’s exhausting now, but when the kids were little it was a nightmare. I remember one year, our middle daughter (who was about 18 months old at the time) was sitting nicely at her tray for about 5 minutes playing with playdoh. And then she got bored. . . So she stood up on her chair to look around the plane. Which was fine in the beginning. What I didn’t realize is that she still had playdoh in her hands. So as she began to jump up and down on her airplane seat, she also began to throw small chunks of playdoh across the plane in different directions! It took me a few minutes before I could get the playdoh out of her hands.
Or the worst is when you have a crying infant. And every one around you glares at you. Like, why can’t you just make that baby be quiet. . .which you maybe could if you were home in your own house, or if you could at least stand up and walk around or sooth the baby somehow. Once we were traveling with our oldest. He cried and cried and I was so exhausted. My husband had fallen asleep long ago. Finally a steward came and offered to take him for a while. It was the nicest thing anyone could have done for me in that moment. I am still thankful for his kindness and for the 20 minutes of rest that I was able to get while he walked my son.
So, the bad news is that there is not a lot you can do to prepare for a long trip with an infant. Try and get the seats with a basinet on the wall. That will at least give your baby somewhere to rest once in a while. Or if you can afford it, get them there own seat and bring their car seat. Most airlines still allow this, as long as you have booked a seat for your child. If you cannot afford it then tag team with your spouse. Take turns resting and soothing baby, so that you are not completely exhausted. Take advantage of non turbulence moments and get up to take a short stroll with baby. Bring formula if you don’t breast feed. Most airlines allow you to do this and will even provide warm water to mix with your formula when you need it. Bring familiar items: a favorite blanket, his car seat, a toy he loves and also one or two new items. The familiar item is soothing and the new items will keep their attention for a few minutes. And then, just remind yourself it is only a day. It will end soon. You will reach your destination and you can sleep.
Traveling with toddlers can be tricky. The interest in those screens only lasts so long. So here are a few useful tips to traveling with toddler-elementary age children.
Let them bring their own backpack. It might be a pain to lug another bag around in the airport, so pick a backpack that is smaller in size and that they can carry on their own, or that you can easily add to your load. Yet, the simple opportunity to have their own backpack already gives them something to do. Kids love to take things in and out of bags, to see what is in their bag, to get out something new, to put something away. It is already a way to pass the time.
Wrap everything!! Wrap all their toys and books and candies up like presents. Then allow them to unwrap a new present every X minutes (depending on the length of your flight). This is an excellent way to fight boredom and to keep them entertained. They do not need to be all new items, you can wrap old things too. The idea is that they get a new item every so often to open and play with. It’s a surprise what they will get next. Make sure to buy a few new things. Small is fine. No need for pricey items. Even a pack of new crayons, or a coloring book, or notepad, or a small lego are all easy ideas
Bring small food. I know that this sounds funny, but it works great. With small toddlers small food items can be fun and help pass the time. Food items like Cheerios, goldfish crackers, raisins, M&Ms, nuts and Skittles can be a lifesaver. Why? Because you can play games with them, and because you can give one or two at a time, drawing out the time spent eating your snack and therefore using up more of your airplane time. You can play tic tac toe with small food, or counting games, or hide them under a cup, or practice your colors. These are easy ways to pass the time, entertain and feed your kiddo all at the same time!
Blank paper, or notepads are super! You can color together, play tic tac toe, draw a picture, pratice writing or your numbers, play endless games. Bring a small notepad along.
Prepare them ahead of time. Depending on the age, you can prepare your kiddo ahead of time for what the trip will be like. Explain what the airplane is like: that they will have their own seat; that they will have to be sitting most of the time with a seat belt, just like in the car; that they will have meals on the plane, but that if they don’t like the food, you have brought snacks as well; that there are bathrooms that they can use, etc. Let them know what it is like and what the rules are. Tell them that after X hours of play or screen time, they will have to take a nap (it’s worth a try). Some kids will be able to fall asleep on the plane when you tell them it is time for a nap. Others won’t. That’s okay. Prepare them for nap time ahead of time, and if they can’t fall asleep just go on to solution B.
Be flexible. Remember to flexible and patient. It’s exhausting, but it will be over soon. Try and get in lots of cuddles and play time. You have no where to go either and you can’t get a lot done on a plane. So enjoy the time together and remind yourself it will be over soon! And hopefully your flight lasts only an hour or two and not a full day like ours!