I may not have kids, but working in the Airline Industry, I’ve seen the struggles parents go through when travelling with children on a daily basis. This led me to find the best and easiest ways for parents to cope with this sometimes stressful situation!
Have your children’s appropriate legal documents. Passports are now required for all children, including infants and toddlers, for international U.S. travel. Make sure to order them 4-6 weeks in advance to allow for their applications to be processed. Double check everything, as the last thing you want is to cancel a trip because your child’s passport application was denied for lack of information. If you don’t need a passport to travel, still remember to take a copy of your children’s birth certificates. The cut-off age for lap children is two years old. Some airlines don’t ask for a birth certificate and some do. So to be on the safe side, keep a copy of your children’s birth certificates in your purse/bag. Of course, if you have a passport, you will not need to bring birth certificates as the passport will provide complete authentication.
Bring a backpack of toys and activities. Kids like being in charge, so give them something to be in charge of. A backpack is perfect because it stays put, unlike a bag which can slip off their shoulder and you end up with one more thing to carry; just don’t make it too heavy for them. Not only is this useful in-flight/on-board entertainment but it’ll serve a dual purpose of amusing the kids once you reach your destination. Put in all your favorite ideas, including these suggestions:
- Books. There’s never enough time in the day to read to the kids, so take advantage of the opportunity of the long plane, train or car ride for some one-on-one time. Pack your kids’ favorite books for you to read or easy-reader books for them to read by themselves. There’s no reason to plug their brains into electronics for the whole journey. Expand their imagination through the endless possibilities in a good book!
- Coloring Books. Coloring books can be a great distraction and can help get out a little scribbling energy. A favorite coloring tool is Crayola’s “Color Wonder” markers and paper. They’re great because the markers only write on Color Wonder paper, which means your little ones leave no evidence behind! Also try dollar stores for coloring books you won’t mind them half-completing and being discarded for the sake of extra space.
- Comfort Toys for Small Children. Throw in a favorite blanket or bear for small children. It may help them snuggle down for quiet time or just help get through a bumpy patch of air or a tedious part of the drive. You can never have enough props for entertaining that last 20-30 minutes of a flight when everyone is impatient to get off! Favorite games to play with a blanket or cuddle friend are “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake”.
- DVDs/Movies and Personal DVD Players. A laptop with a DVD drive works just as well as a personal DVD player. Bring along a set of earphones (or a splitter so you can have two sets of earphones), so your child’s viewing of his/her favorite movie doesn’t interfere with the comfort of others. Although, if you are taking a plane flight, you can save on space and rely on the in-flight entertainment. Best suited to car travel.
- Electronic Games. Hand held games are extremely popular for older kids and can keep them quiet for hours. Bring along a set of earphones so your child’s favorite game doesn’t interfere with the comfort of others. A long plane or car trip might be a good time to invest in a new game for a special surprise!
- Sticker Books. Reusable sticker books are great for early elementary age kids. You can find them in your child’s favorite TV/movie character or interest. And because they’re reusable you can create new scenes, stories or just mix them up for fun!
Bring your car seat on the plane. One way to rein in a squirrelly toddler is to take their car seat on the plane. Young kids behave much better in a familiar car seat, which keeps everyone happy. They can rest and fall asleep more easily in their car seat because it reminds them of riding in the car. Check with your airline first that this is permissible before lugging it down to the airport.
Divide and conquer. Don’t lose the kids, especially if you have more than one to keep an eye on. Decide ahead of time who is in charge of which child. This will eliminate the heart-sinking question “Where is so-and-so?? with the answer of “I thought you were watching him?” Miscommunication and lost children are not a good way to start a vacation!
Take precautions to guard against ear problems:
- For babies: bring something they can suck on to help regulate their ears during the course of the flight, especially during ascent and descent. Airline flights can be quickly spoiled by a little one with an earache! Some ideas to try: Bottles of juice and/or water, pacifier, jello jigglers with extra Knox gelatin (this is messy but the kids love it!), or any Gerber baby type snacks. They dissolve quickly in the mouth eliminating a choking hazard (read safety precaution on the label before buying). Try such snacks as “Gerber stars” (lots of flavors), fruit snacks (these start dissolving almost instantly) and baby cereal bars. As of August 2006, such snacks and gel products may be prohibited under tight new security regulations. Check with the airline or government transport security sites for prohibited items.
- For toddlers and older children: toddlers and older kids don’t always understand how to regulate their ears by just swallowing, so a little help is sometimes required. Try Starbursts because they take a long time to chew and a lot of saliva begins flowing, which to keeps the child swallowing. Some other ideas are fruit snacks, gum and hard candy (for older children). Again, check with your airline or government transport security site to see what is and what isn’t permitted to be carried on board.
Be flexible with your seating arrangements. If you’re traveling with a group, or a large number of family members, it might be fun to let your children choose which adult they want to sit by. If they don’t see Uncle Bob very often and want to sit by him (and Uncle Bob is okay with the idea), then relinquish parental control for a few hours. It’s a great time to talk and tell stories with people you don’t get to see every day. And the parents have a small rest!
Take snacks. Snacks, snacks and more snacks! Snacking keeps children busy and entertained. So pack your kids favorites for your long journey. The healthier the better – try carrot sticks, celery pieces, permitted nuts, gummy bears etc
And there you have it! A list of fun activities that will hopefully last you the length of your trip. Happy travels!