Check out this fun picture I took after just arriving from an international trip with my two children. Savvy packing, a little determination, and following these tips helped make traveling more manageable and fun!
It’s summertime and that means it is prime PCS season, as well as peak family vacation time…so airplanes are probably in your future. I’m sure you’re currently envisioning a small, confined space with a clingy baby, a cranky toddler, and a curious Kindergartner and you’re thinking that you’d rather have a root canal without pain medication, right?
Traveling with kids does require a little more preparation and energy, but trust me, it also results in fun memories and experiences. It helps your kids build life skills and builds a sense of resilience in your kids that only comes from going to new places, meeting new people, and trying new things.
After flying on international Space A (space available travel on military aircraft) flights multiple times with children by myself and once as a whole family, as well as taking commercial international and domestic flights by myself with my children and as a family, I’ve compiled a great list of travel tips. Check them out below:
- Military families should never pass up the USO! I always recommend getting to the airport early if you’re traveling alone with children, so if you get through security and have extra time, head to the USO. You’ll find drinks, snacks, TVs, comfy chairs, plenty of charging stations, and sometimes toys and games for little kids.
- Any military child over the age of 10 should have a military ID card. Never leave home without it, especially if you’re traveling!
- Typically, earlier flights mean less chance of a delay. Though it may be difficult to get the kids up and going before it’s light outside, it may be worth it to decrease the chance of being stuck in an airport all day.
- If you’re traveling with a baby, bring supplies for about 2 days in a diaper bag and/or carry-on (i.e. diapers, formula, food, etc.) and plan to purchase the rest when you arrive at your destination. The only thing I’d recommend here is packing extra wipes – you can use them for everything – and an extra pacifier, if baby uses one. On the same lines, toss in at least one extra outfit for each child under the age of 3 and an extra outfit for yourself, as well as gallon size Ziploc bags. Accidents happen.
- Once my kids were old enough, we traveled with an umbrella stroller that reclined so that my daughter could nap in the stroller when we were in the airport, but it would still collapse easily when it came time to board. I used car seats on the plane for international trips and carried them through airports like a backpack (easy to do if you lengthen the straps). They were familiar to my children, provided them with comfort, and allowed me to strap them in securely during take-off and landing…and when I was done holding them and just needed a break, which happens during a 10+ hour flight. For more information on flying with children, check out these tips from the FAA.
- When we travel, I leave my usual screen time and healthy eating rules at the gate. I bring easy to eat snacks from home because my kids like food they’re familiar with – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheddar crackers, apples, and carrots are my usual go-to foods because my kids love them and they aren’t incredibly messy. I also attach an empty water bottle to both of my kids’ backpacks with a carabiner clip so they can fill up once we get through security and they don’t have to carry the water bottle separately. We also load up a tablet with new movies or apps and bring child size earbuds. When they were younger, I would hit the dollar store for some new quiet toys that I didn’t give them until the plane was up in the air. Favorites throughout the years were a magnetic tic-tac-toe game, word search books, Grab-and-Go play packs, and stickers.
- If you’re traveling with kids who are old enough, have them “carry” their own suitcase. Start by practicing around the house with a small, appropriately sized rolling suitcase and then practice walking with it around the block. Encourage them by telling them how awesome it is that they’re old enough to carry their own suitcase, or read a few books about flying before the trip. They’re learning responsibility and you’ve freed up another hand!
- Always remember your child’s lovey or another comfort item, like a blanket. This helps the plane feel more cozy and familiar to them and might help them sleep a little bit. Just don’t leave it on the plane – which brings me to my next tip.
- If you don’t have to catch a connecting flight, let others off the plane first. When I traveled with kids, I just had more stuff. Waiting until everyone else was off allowed the flight attendants to better help me and prevented others from getting frustrated while waiting for me to gather up my kids and our stuff. It also allowed me extra time to double-check the seats and floors for items that might’ve been left behind.
- Get to the gate early to ensure no last-minute changes were made and when the airline gives the 15-20 minute warning for boarding, take everyone to the bathroom. Change diapers, pull-ups, etc. and have everyone use the restroom and fill up their water bottles.
These travel tips have gotten me through many airports and flights – I hope they help make your trip smoother, too! Additionally, go easy on yourself! Your kids’ safety and your sanity are the most important things. Have kids take the window and middle seats and always put an adult on the aisle. Also, if you feel safer by using a backpack leash with your preschooler, use a backpack leash. Do whatever you need to do to get your family to your destination safely and in one piece…and then relax and celebrate! You deserve it!