Guest Post – Staying Sane While Traveling With Kids

by beagooddad on June 18, 2007

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We recently returned from a family vacation to Disneyland. I knew we would have a great time once we arrived. It’s the process of actually getting there that stresses me out a little.

You see, we have 2 daughters €“ a 5 year old (Girlie Girl) and a 16 month old (Baby Bug) €“ not exactly the ideal traveling companions. Add to this, the fact that it’s Baby Bug’s first time on an extended flight, and you’ve got one very nervous mother (that would be me).

So what makes me some what qualified to write this post? My husband and I are both flight attendants and we’ve also been taking Girlie Girl on trips twice a year since she’s been a year old. So far (knock on wood) we haven’t had any major problems along the way.

Here are some tips that should help you plan your next family vacation:

Research: One of the best online sites to visit is SeatGuru.com. Here you can find out exactly what type of plane the airline uses, which seats are better for kids, the kind of amenities the airline offers (such as meals), carry on luggage restrictions, and policies regarding infants.

Before You Leave Home: Make sure you pack in your carry-on everything you might need for the flight. Some things you may want to consider are:

  • Food and snacks for the kids €“ airlines do not carry baby food and older kids may not like the food served (if any) on the plane.
  • DVD player with headphones €“ believe me, it’s a life saver. You can even use it when you’re waiting in the holding area to board the flight. Don’t forget to pack an extra battery.
  • Small toys €“ it’s probably best to purchase some brand new inexpensive toys for the flight. Just make sure you hand them out periodically and not all at once. Coloring books and crayons are also great. Do not bring anything with too many small pieces. You’ll be spending a lot of time hunting under seats for them.
  • Extra clothes €“ just in case. I once had a child throw up all over himself and his Mom. They both didn’t have extra clothes with them so the boy had to wrap himself up with an airline blanket and the Mom had to stay the way she was. Not very pleasant for her or the other passengers around her.
  • Jackets €“ it can get really cold when your cruising altitude is 20,000 feet in the air.
  • Plastic bags and wipes €“ put them in your seat pocket for easy use. It’s amazing how messy kids can get in such a small area.
  • If your baby uses a pacifier, make sure you bring extras. The last thing you want is to drop it and lose it on the flight just when your baby is screaming for it.
  • If you have toddlers, consider having them carry a backpack with their toys in it. It will make things easier for you and they’ll have all their things handy.
  • When packing your carry-on, make sure you have the important things on top and accessible. Nothing worse than having to fumble around in your bag while your child is screaming at the top of her lungs.
  • If you have toddlers or older kids, it might be a good idea to talk about what to expect on the flight and what is expected of them. Kids can sometimes get overwhelmed by the new surroundings.

Arrive Early:

  • Make sure you arrive at the airport early. I’d say at least 2 hours before your flight. This will allow you ample time to check in your luggage, go through security, and get to your gate. Remember, it takes a little longer to get through all of this when you’re traveling with children.
  • You may even want to consider curb-side check in. Yes, you will have to tip the porters but sometimes it’s worth it not to have to stand in line at the check-in counter while your kids play limbo with the ropes or announce that they have to use the restroom.
  • When getting your seat assignments, you may want to request a bulkhead seat. These are the seats right after the divider between first class and coach. There’s extra leg room which comes in handy for wiggly toddlers or for kids who like to kick the seat in front of them. The only downside is that there is nowhere to stow your carry-on in front of you. Everything has to be stowed in an overhead bin for taxi, take-off, and landing.

Security:

  • Passengers are still banned from packing anything liquid in their carry-on unless it’s in a 3 oz. or less container (doesn’t matter how much is actually in there) and secured in a zip loc bag. You’re only allowed 1 baggie but you can stuff as many 3 oz containers in there as you can.
  • If you’re traveling with an infant, you can bring your baby bottle through security but it cannot contain water unless it’s fluoride, milk is fine. I learned that one the hard way. I had to dump the water out, get escorted out of the secured area, and stand in line to go through security again. Not fun. The bottle must be taken out of your bag and placed into a bin prior to it going through the x-ray machine.
  • If you have a stroller, it will need to be folded up and placed on the conveyor belt as well.
  • And don’t forget to remove EVERYONE’S shoes and jackets! Yes, even the baby’s.

Boarding:

  • Most airlines will allow families traveling with children under 5 to pre-board. It’s really up to you if you’d like to take advantage of this. Some say it’s better to pre-board so you can have some extra time to strap in the car seat and stow your bags. Others rather wait till the last minute to have to strap their kids in for the long flight.
  • Some airlines will let you use your car seat free of charge if there are extra seats available. Otherwise, you would need to purchase a seat if you want to use it. Infants who are 2 years old or younger are not required to have their own seat. They can travel in your lap. NOTE: if you are going to use your car seat, make sure that it has a sticker on it that says it’s approved for airline travel by the FAA. If it doesn’t, you can’t use it even if you paid to use the seat. Flight attendants are supposed to check the sticker before you board.

During The Flight:

  • If you need to have your baby’s milk warmed up, try to let the crew know about it in advance. They may not have time to do it exactly when you need it.
  • Never go barefoot! You will not believe how dirty those carpets are. I’ve seen people pee, poop, vomit, and spit on those carpets and I’m really not sure how often they’re cleaned.
  • Above all else, if your child is crying or having a meltdown, try not to worry about what others are thinking. After all, you’ll probably never see them again. Just try to focus on making your child, not the other passengers, as comfortable as possible.

These are just a few suggestions from someone who’s been there many times. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Only you know what works best for your family.

Just try to remember that you’re going on vacation to have fun and spend some quality family time together. Everything else will work itself out.

Happy Traveling!

[Kailani is a full-time mommy, part-time flight attendant, occasional wife…living a chaotic life in Hawaii. In her spare time she writes An Island Life.]

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