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This post was originally published on 8/2019 but was updated on 6/2021.
Did you notice how many people mention travel in our expert tips post? Four of the six people interviewed! If the experts say we need to prioritize travel, then it is definitely time to learn how to travel well with our kids. Here are some of the best tips for traveling on a plane with kids.
Tip #1 for traveling on a plane with kids: Plan your travel around nap time.
When my son was a baby he would always sleep on the plane. Once he got to about 1.5-2 there was way too much going on for him to settle down. That lead to some exhausting flights with an over tired little man. If your child needs to stick to a strict schedule, don’t put him or her on plane during quiet time. Try to stick to their normal schedule as much as possible.
(This tip earns a spot at #1 because I just flew an hour and a half on a 11:30 am flight with a poor toddler screaming the entire time. I wanted to go take the boy, hug the momma and somehow make it all stop, kind of like this amazing lady. My husband told me that probably wasn’t the best idea, and that I should stay in my seat. In retrospect, he was probably right. I am not exactly a baby whisperer. Next time I will just forward her this list…)
Tip #2 for traveling on a plane with kids: Start small
If you’ve never been on a plane with your child, don’t start off with an overnight flight to Australia. Start off with quick 1-2 hour flights to ease into it. Traveling with kids is a whole new adventure but it gets easier with practice. You wouldn’t think of running a marathon without training. Don’t sign up for a crazy, long trip without practice.
Tip #3 for traveling on a plane with kids: Keep your kiddos busy
I always head to the dollar store before a trip and buy a few “new” toys to keep my son entertained, like these 15 best dollar store travel games. Here are some of my other favorite ideas:
Activities for babies:
I honestly had it pretty easy in the baby stage. At take off I would start breastfeeding, he’d fall asleep and we’d cuddle the rest of the flight. In case your baby is not so serene, Laura from Our Next Adventure has some great tips for flying with babies.
No flight is complete without some touchy-feely books. It is so hard to pick a favorite but since you are flying and the Usborne “That’s Not My…” series are pretty wonderful, we will go with this one (if you want to see other options click here):
My favorite baby flight toy looked a lot like this one:
My son’s favorite toy though was this one:
Of course he would choose a loud singing toy, that we still have four years later and it STILL makes noise! If you ever sat next to us on a plane during the infant/toddler years….I am sorry that we ruined your peace.
Activities for toddlers:
Our Next Adventure lists 50+ ways to travel with a toddler
Our go-to travel buddies were these cute little finger puppets. Slip these babies on and cue the finger family song and you’ve got hours of entertainment.
I just discovered this one while looking up our favorites and it looks like great fun!
Quiet books are another amazing option for young kids. Here are some great ideas for making your own but if you are short on time or not feeling super crafty, Little Beans Toy Chest has some amazing, hand-made quiet books and some of them are even travel themed!
Activities for travel with preschool:
I must say, at least in my opinion, traveling with preschoolers is much easier than traveling with toddlers. They have a bit more self-regulation ability at the preschool stage. We love to tell stories, make up games and color pictures together.
We love these Water Wow! books.
Did you know that window clings stick to airplane walls, tray tables, and of course, the window? My son and I have spent entire flights sticking and un-sticking these things. The only downside is that they get a little dirty.
Just gently rinse them with warm water upon arrival and they should be good to go for the next flight. I usually just get mine from the dollar bins at Target but these animal window clings could definitely lead to some great made up stories.
Activities for travel with school-age:
Traveling with school age kids feels almost like cheating. They are pretty self sufficient, can carry their own backpack of stuff and stay entertained for much longer. You might even be able to crack open your own book or listen to a podcast alongside your kiddo. However, it’s never a bad idea to come prepared.
My dirty little secret is the Amazon Fire Tablet for kids.
Not only does this come with a durable case and a 1 year warranty for any accidents (really anything, my son sat on his 6 months after he got it and they replaced it, no problem), it also comes with a year subscription of Amazon Kids+. Amazon Kids+ has tons of apps, games, and books that your kiddos can access for free. My personal favorite part of the app is that it has a library of books, games and videos in Spanish as well. So, my son can happily play and reinforce his second language and I don’t even have to force him. It’s a beautiful thing.
Live, Love Sarah has some great carry-on tips for both school age and young children. Definitely don’t forget the hoodies and the blankets! Planes are always so cold!
With smaller kids I steer clear of small pieces but I would imagine most school aged children could handle this (it looks so fun!):
This game is a classic that every family should have in their collection:
There is also a waterproof version that we’ve enjoyed in the bath, pool, beachside, etc.
These compact, magnetic games will keep your kiddos busy for hours!
Tip #4 for travel on a plane with kids: Bring something to relieve the ear pressure.
As we listened to the poor child scream during 90% of our flight last week, we came to the conclusion that he was overly tired and couldn’t settle down because his ears hurt. Most adults chew gum during take off and landing to dissipate the pressure you feel building up in your ears. Yet, babies and most toddlers are definitely not ready for a stick of gum…unless you want them to swallow it or put it in their hair.
For babies and even toddlers, nursing during take off and landing is hands down the easiest trick. You could also bring a bottle or cup and encourage them to drink frequently. For slightly older kids, gum, suckers and gummies work very well. I love Zollipops because they aren’t coating my child’s teeth with sugar. You can find them at most grocery stores.
Tip #5 for Travelling on a Plane with Kids: Bring Wipes
When my son was in diapers, I always had wipes with me and 100% took them for granted. It took a few wipe-less travels for me to realize they are a travel necessity. Somehow we always get the seats with leftover food smeared on the tray table and suspect smudges on the wall. Or, he will without fail cover himself in Cheeto dust. To avoid covering your entire row in Cheeto dust, just bring some wipes. Since my son has sensitive skin, our favorites are either the Honest Company or Seventh Generation Free & Clear wipes.
Tip #6 for Travelling on a Plane with Kids: Stay Calm
Easier said than done, I know. However, kids, no matter how young or old, are amazing judges of your emotional state. If you are anxious or upset, they will feel the same way. Becky Bailey and Conscious Discipline have taught me this lesson over and over again. If I am in a frantic state, my child will be there too. As adults, it is our job to calm ourselves down so that we can then help our children calm down.
Check out How to Help Your Child Calm Down for more tips.
Here are some quick and easy ways to stay calm on the plane (or anywhere)…even while your child screams:
- Take a few deep breaths (or allow the Calm app, My Life or Mindful Mama to guide you through a meditation).
- Sing a song (under your breath or out loud…who cares if they judge, you’ve got a kid to keep calm).
- Don’t think about the other passengers thoughts or opinions of you. Your child might act up a bit on the plane and that is OK. If fellow passengers have kids, they aren’t judging you, they feel for you. Fellow passengers who don’t have kids might be judging you, but who cares. If they ever have kids in the future, these judgmental moments will come back to haunt them. Sometimes parenting is hard. That doesn’t make you a bad parent. Sometimes kids cry and act out. That also doesn’t make you a bad parent.
- Give your upset child a big hug and breathe deeply and calmly while you hold them. (Sounds crazy but it works! Here is the breakdown of Conscious Discipline way to handling tantrums if your curious.)
- Get up and take a walk. (As long as the seat belt sign is off.)
- Rub some lavender oil on your neck and wrists. (You could dilute it and do the same for your child.)
- Look at pictures of your destination or talk about all the fun things you will do there. Take your mind to a happy place.
Tip #7 for Traveling on a Plane with Kids: Bring your own food.
It never fails, on the way to the airport, no one is hungry. You get into the airport and boom! It’s like no one has eaten in days. They want McDonald’s, chips, candy, soda, all the things you normally say no to. Don’t you dare give in. They will be bouncing off the walls or whining of a tummy ache.
Avoid it all and bring your own food. Pack your child’s favorite snacks and an empty water bottle you can fill up once you are through security. If your flight is over meal time, pack some sandwiches. Yup, you can do that! Here are the TSA guidelines to prove it.
Tip #8 for Traveling on a Plane with Kids: Use technology
Normally I am not a huge fan of kids wasting away in front of screens. Granted, we are much more lenient than the APA guidelines but still…screen time needs its limits.
However, if you are stuck on a plane and nothing else is working, get out that phone or tablet and dump the guilt. You can stick to your limits once you hit the ground. Travel with kids is all about survival. (I’m only partially kidding with that dramatic statement.)
When my son was young, we would look at pictures or family videos for those flights when my entire bag of toys and snacks were discarded before takeoff.
Once he hit preschool age, we started downloading apps and videos for him to watch during the trip. Our favorite apps are:
- Amazon Kids+: you can read my full raving review above in the school age section but it’s full of educational books, games and movies.
- Alphabet Learning for Kids: You get to trace the letters with your fingers.
- Sticker Puzzle: You put together puzzles using virtual stickers. It is available in Spanish or English.
- Fun Spanish: I love this Spanish learning app. They have it for other languages as well. Our favorite is the pirate game because you record yourself saying the words and then it replays your voice recording and challenges you to match what you said to the correct image.
Check out this tutorial for how to download videos from Netflix or Amazon Prime. My other trick is to download all the videos in Spanish so that he is practicing his minority language while we fly. Here’s how to switch the language for your Netflix videos.
COVID Travel with Kids
This new world of COVID-19 adds a whole new layer of anxiety and stress to travel. If you are planning to travel during pandemic life, take heart. I’ve been there too. Here are our tried and true tips to get you through:
You don’t want to become a headline- family kicked off plane because toddler refuses to wear a mask. Practice all the plane protocols beforehand. Have your child wear a face mask on shorter outings, talk about the importance of it and compliment your child for doing it well. You can even turn it into a game (let’s see who can find the coolest mask, who can keep their mask on the longest, who can make the funniest voice through their mask, etc.
If your trip will require temperature checks or a COVID test, talk about those too and practice. (Don’t actually try to stick a swab up your child’s nose but play pretend and go through the motions. I love this doctor kit for helping kids through the anxiety of any medical procedure or even just regular check ups. Pretend play is such a great way to help kids cope.
Bring Extra Masks
Kids are great at throwing things on the floor, losing them, or getting things dirty. The last thing you want is to have to stick a dirty face mask up against your kids mouth. So, bring extras. Lots of them. I generally travel with a pack of disposable masks for kids just in case.
Pack hand sanitizer and wipes galore
I know I mentioned wipes before. Maybe throw in some disinfectant wipes too. Some airlines give you wipes to clean off your seat, others don’t. The last thing you want to ruin your trip is an illness so take extra precautions to stay healthy and wash those hands like its your job.
Throw in a face shield
We all know that face shields are not technically an approved face covering. However, one of my go to ways to keep my kiddo calm is an all flight snack time which is kind of hard to do with a face mask on.
However, on several flights I’ve allowed my child to wear a face shield instead while he is snacking and I’ve never had an issue with flight attendants asking him to put the mask back on while he is eating, even if he’s taking far too long to finish the snack.
I am not promising this will work for you and I’m also not recommending you buck the CDC recommendations and skip masks altogether. It’s just a little trick to help plane snack time still happen while doing your best to keep your kiddo safe and healthy.
I wish you and your family happy, safe travels. Do you have a favorite tip for traveling with kids that we missed? Leave it in the comments below.
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