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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Genius Shortcuts to Keep Your Sanity When Flying with Children

Though traveling with children has its challenges, creating memories with your family is worth it. In order to save your sanity (and the sanity of those around you), consider these handy tricks.

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Pare down your carry on

Remember, you could be carrying a child at any second and you don’t want to miss a connection because you are frantically trying to make sure you have everything off of the plane, so packing smart is key. I take a tiny cross body purse so that my money, phone, and ID are at the ready and a backpack with the kiddo necessities. If I’m traveling without my husband, I pack a small carry on suitcase that I can manage and check it. “It’s hard enough to carry a toddler, so I always look for ways to keep it simple. And that’s even more important with two kids,” notes Faith, a college professor and writer from Fargo, North Dakota, who travels frequently. “As long as I have milk, snacks, and activities, I keep the rest down to a minimum. After all, you can always buy diapers, etc. at the destination.”

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Double check everything

On our first flight abroad with my daughter, my husband and I arrived at Chicago’s O’hare airport three hours prior to the flight only to discover that our infant daughter had somehow disappeared from our booking. After nearly missing our flight (and having to throw away her outfit that got trashed because we were unable to change her while working everything out with the airline), we’ve learned to call the airline ahead of time to ensure that everything is accurate, and make sure that everyone has an extra outfit. Organization and a few extra steps can alleviate any extra travel stress. If you fly with kids often, know when it’s smarter to check your luggage.

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Introduce new activities and toys

My daughter has a favorite doll that we are unable to leave behind, but other than that, I make sure that we have a new book, coloring activity, and a small toy that she’s never seen before. The novelty of this often keeps her occupied for hours and makes life easier for parents, not to mention the other people on the plane. Karen, a mom to two and trainer from Northern, Indiana keeps a collection of inexpensive items from the dollar store for upcoming trips. “Before I travel with our kids, I start building a “stash” of entertainment months in a advance. I have found that having this prepared is a key component to happy parents and children while traveling. For that reason alone, it is well worth the effort. My daughter now sees her special ‘purple bag’ and knows that in it are fun ways to keep busy in the airports, on the planes, in restaurants and in the car. I look for small toys items at stores like Dollar General, TJ Maxx, or even craft stores.” When flying, flight attendants hope you won’t make these mistakes. 

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kidelectronicsOlesia Bilkei/Shutterstock

Relax your routine

Though I typically like my kid to have a solid nap in the middle of the day and to eat healthy, when we’re traveling, I relax. It’s more important to me that she be happy and not a distraction to others, so if she stays awake past her normal nap time, no problem, she’ll sleep on the plane. If she wants chips for the plane ride, I let her have them because she’s likely to be happy. Of course, use your best judgement—you know your child and what works best, but I’ve found an airplane full of people isn’t the best time for an argument about low-sodium snacks. These are the best gifts for frequent travelers in your life.

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Give in to electronics

We are pretty strict with iPad time at our house, but on the road it’s a lifesaver. I tend to favor educational apps like PBS Kids and ABC Mouse or these best reading apps for kids. We typically download a new movie for the flight as well because you never know when you’re going to be delayed or have to work out a travel glitch with an adult. This also ensures that it is a special occasion and not something that will be happening every day. Having books downloaded also saves from carrying so many extra things. If you do decide to bring a tablet or other electronic device, be sure to have headphones for your kids so as not to distract other passengers.

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Bring your strollers and car seats

Though my daughter can walk, having a stroller at the airport makes life so much easier for us, particularly when she falls asleep or we have to run to make a connecting flight. Airlines check them plane-sidefree of charge. Though we check our car seat to the final destination (using a TSA-approved bag to keep it from getting dirty or damaged), many opt to bring them on flights. “I choose to bring car seats because I knew I could strap the littlest in if I absolutely needed to so I had hands free to do what I needed to do,” says Nikki, a mom of three boys in Los Angeles. Nikki brought a harnessed car seat for the two kids under two because as she notes, “I was outnumbered!” If you do check a car seat, know that U.S. airlines aren’t allowed to charge you for the privilege and it doesn’t count toward your luggage total. Find out the popular travel tips that are actually no longer true.

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airportMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Let people help you

Many parents subconsciously are trying so hard to do it all that we forget to ask for help! Many times airline officials and flight attendants will offer support whether it be to allow you to board early, check extra items, or even watch your child mid-flight while you use the restroom. If someone offers help, you feel comfortable with it and need it, take it!

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Have lots of snacks

Airline food isn’t particularly delicious or even available on some flights, so make sure you have lots of TSA-approved snacks that your child loves. (Remember to inspect their bag if they’ve packed their own snacks to ensure everything is travel-friendly!) I pack a few things that my kid absolutely loves (because that will also entertain her and quiet her down if she becomes unhappy) and make sure to have things that are healthy and high in protein for longer flights.

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Be engaged

A family vacation is also a time for you to unwind and catch up on magazine articles and your Facebook feed, but while you’re traveling, this is a great opportunity for you to connect with your child. Playing with him or her and giving them special attention helps them remember the trip a little more and of course, be happier and better behaved.

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I am the first to admit that travel brings out the worst in all of us. But, when I’m stressed out, my family is stressed out. I wear some of my comfiest clothes, try my best to be prepared for all outcomes, and take everything as it comes as calmly as I can. If I’m worked up, chances are, my kid will be too! Above all, enjoy the time with your family. With our busy lives, one-on-one moments with our children can be few and far between, so soak up this time before you have to go back home or—worse—your kids grow up!

Julia K. Porter
Dr. Julia Porter has worked in Higher Education since 2008, following a career as a High School teacher in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a PhD in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). She lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and rambunctious Australian Shepherd.