Anytime we travel, someone along the way comments, “I don’t know how you do it, traveling with three little ones!” While I’d like to just smile, accept the compliment, and pretend that we are just amazing parents with children who make it easy all the time, that’s not totally accurate. I mean, the kids *are* legitimately amazing travelers, but we also just have a high tolerance for chaos, and we love travel so much we’d probably keep doing it even if the flights were much tougher than they usually are.
Also we have developed some tricks.
Yep, one more top 10 list, this one called, approximately, “How to make flying with your kids easy – or at least easier.” Here you go:
1) Involve them in the process. Let them “help” you pack their luggage or make snacks for the trip. Let them “write” their names on the free luggage tags at the check-in counter and put a bunch on their bag. Make fake tickets and let the kids hold them (so they don’t hold – and lose – the real ones). Save old hotel key cards and put their picture on it to make their very on ID (again, so they don’t lose their real passport…). Every step can be fun.
2) BYOtreats. Especially milk or whatever their favorite drink is; most short flights don’t have milk, just gross coffee creamers. At security, insist it’s a “part of the child’s special diet” (<- say these words and it’ll be allowed through). I admit, this doesn’t always work internationally but on domestic flights, it has always worked for us. And then it’s one less step to worry about once you’re on the plane.
3) Pack toys with lots of tiny parts. It’s counterintuitive, and yes, we lose some of those tiny parts on almost every flight, but our go-to plane toys are puzzles, a baggie full of finger puppets, legos, a half dozen little tiny cars/trucks/trains, and the kinds of toys that either take a long time to assemble or can be used for fun storytelling. We have put on some serious finger puppet productions that have taken almost an hour. If you’re short on finger puppets bring animal crackers. Oh, pack lots of thin books too. Curious George and most pre-K Scholastic books are light and thin and great for travel.
4) Tire them out. Go to an empty-ish part of the terminal while you’re waiting and run around with your kids. Seriously. Even when you don’t feel like it. This is a very important step! Always leave a little time for this. Obviously they’ll be much more willing to sit still if they’re wiped out.
5) Luggage carts are not toys. Yeah but who cares. Use them like they are anyway because it’s really fun. We have gotten more mileage (literally) out of using those things to transport humans instead of luggage, especially when we aren’t traveling with strollers. Or stack up the luggage and let the kids push – no, really, they like it! And it helps toward aforementioned goal of tiring them out (see #4).
6) Bring car seats. Don’t check them! (If your kids are <2 years old and don’t have their own seat, this doesn’t apply – unless you can get the empty seat next to you – see below for this.) I know, those damn car seats are a pain to lug around, and about half of airline staff will argue with you and say they won’t fit on the plane, but they are usually wrong. They’ve never not fit, in my experience. Not only is it safer for kids (right?), but we’ve found that once our kids were still napping (2-4yrs or so) and had to have their own seat anyway, they’re much more comfortable – read: more likely to sleep – if they’re strapped in and cozy in their own familiar little space.
7) Ask other people to move. Just do it. Do it politely, buy them drinks or whatever else it takes, but if there is even one empty seat on that plane, you should be thinking: that seat could be next to you and your kiddo, which means that much more space to squirm and not accidentally kick the nice lady’s Diet Coke into her lap. Better for everyone. (If you want to max your chances of getting that empty seat next to you, if empty seats exist, usually I just call in advance, then ask again when I check in, then confirm at the gate… but, there’s also this crazy detailed post about making this happen.)
8) Airline magazines are for two things. First, if your kid is little, just turn the pages and make silly stuff up about what’s happening in the pictures so these things are actually interesting. Or if reading isn’t working, just color in them. They are yours to destroy. And for some reason our kids like to color in magazines and books that are not coloring books, so they scribble over all the pictures pretty happily. Second, and related, SkyMall’s most valuable item is absolutely nothing in the magazine, it’s just the magazine itself. The pages are so thin that they are sort of perfect for origami. Seriously. Invest some time and learn how to make cranes and stuff. (I’ve also used SkyMall as a diaper changing pad when I forgot to bring one once. Sorry/Not sorry/Love you SkyMall.)
9) Screen time only after “homework” time. We starve our kids for screen time generally (none M-F, only a little on weekends) so when they get to watch a movie on a flight, they’re captivated. It’s sort of terrifying how completely their attn is focused. Anyway we also make sure they do other things to “earn” the movie before hand – read a book or two that they’ve brought, draw some pictures, eat their lunch first, whatever. And we believe in Intermission to give their eyes a break and make them use the bathroom. Sort of draws the whole experience out, and makes it possible to really just stick to one movie even on something like a cross-country flight…vs. 6 straight hours of screen-zombie kids.
10) Break your rules and don’t worry too much. With twins as our first two kids, we were really intense about our various of different first-time-parent kind of rules, mostly sleep. But whether your kids are big or small, I suggest not worrying about breaking rules too much while you travel – our kids drink apple juice on planes like it’s going out of style even though they never really have it at home. Relax.
Bonus tip for parents: Earplugs + ear bud headphones = poor man’s noise-canceling headphones. This is one of my favorite hacks. I’m not kidding, if you put the ear buds in and then jam ear plugs around them (sort of wrapped around the ear buds, obviously not also in your ear canal) I swear it’s almost as effective as the pricey noise-canceling over-ear headphones that I once bought and then promptly forgot on the plane after my very next flight.
Phew. OK. All my travel hacks are out of my system now. Next time I’ll write about the actual trip. More soon.
author of #claywaterbrick. cofounder of @kiva. instructor at @USC. investor at @collabfund. in love w @rezaaslan + our three boys.