My tips for travelling with young children

After a wonderful, lazy summer in the Seattle area with my family, we have just returned this week back to London. Every summer my husband flies out there with us, but unfortunately can’t stay the entire time… which means that every year I end up flying back home solo with all the kids.  It’s the teensy price I pay for a nice, long, extended holiday with my family. Totally worth the trek!

Plus, I feel like I’m getting kind of good at it by now. Or maybe it’s that my kids are getting good at it and that makes an enormous difference. In any case, I thought I would share with you some of my simple tips for (long-haul) flying with young kids…

  • Try to avoid the ‘oh my gosh, I’m flying for 10 hours on a plane with my kids –  I must pack every single thing I have in the house to entertain/feed/care/clean/change them’ feeling, and pack as little as you can. I used to bring the kids their own headphones for the TVs, and those neck pillow thingies for sleeping, and a change of clothes, and an entire bag of snacks. But it meant that I was carrying on at least two enormous (and heavy bags!). It made the schlep through the airport tiresome, and we often ended up not using most things. This recent trip, I packed one bag and tried to keep it as lightweight as possible. (You can also give your kids their own backpack and ask them to tote around the things they need for the plane – toys, books, snacks, etc.)
  • Use a baby carrier instead of a buggy. It’s so much easier going through security and navigating a busy airport if you’re carrying your baby instead of pushing them in a buggy. You can go straight through security carrying your baby – no need to empty your buggy, fold it up, have it examined by the airport security, etc. It also means you have your hands free to hold other children’s hands, or carry bags, etc. My favourite right now is the Ergo Baby Carrier .
  • We always eat in the airport before boarding the plane and skip the first meal they serve on board. It’s not easy holding a baby and trying to eat off your little tray in front of you. And inevitably one of your kids will need his meal chopped up, or will spill his drink in his lap, and you’ll have to get up to help… and it will be extremely difficult if you have your food on a tray on your tray table in front of you. Just skip the meal entirely.
  • Make sure your kids use the toilet before boarding the plane to eliminate any extra trips to the bathroom on the plane. It seems like common sense, but I have forgotten before… and there’s nothing worse than your child telling you he has to go potty when the plane is taking off and the seatbelt sign is on! (Also make sure to change your baby’s nappy.)
  • Pack simple, non-messy snacks. I like raisins because it seems to occupy the kids for a while, trying to grab little raisins out of the box, and they’re not messy. I also like to pack nuts or trailmix, snack bars, dried mango, pretzels, fruit, etc. Before take-off, I always have a box of raisins ready for the baby in case she gets antsy sitting still on my lap when the seatbelt sign is on. (I also still nurse Marlow… and that is a big help for calming her down, and keeping her ears from popping during take-off and landing. Nursing is the easiest thing, but if you don’t nurse, you should have a prepared bottle on hand for the same reason.)
  • Dress (you and your children) in comfortable clothing. I never bother with changing them into their pyjamas – I just find that it’s an extra hassle. Instead, I dress them in normal, comfortable clothes, and make sure everyone has an extra layer (like a hoodie or a cardigan) in case it gets cold. I always bring a scarf for myself because I always get cold on planes.
  • Don’t bring too much, but make sure you have some simple entertainment on hand. I have always found that once kids get to the age of 4 or 5, they are much more independent on airplanes because they can watch TV or movies. My boys are so easy on airplanes now. I don’t even think they got up to use the toilet the entire time on our recent flight from Seattle to London – they were either watching movies or sleeping. So… for children under 4, you will need to have some entertainment on hand. Things like simple paper pads and a pen, sticker books and colouring books (you can often buy them in the airport bookshops), and paperback books (hardback books are too heavy – leave them at home!). If you have an ipad or iphone you should make sure you have children’s games or books on there (see here for ideas).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. People are always so sympathetic to mothers travelling with small children. Ask the flight attendants to help if you need it. You can even ask for help when going through the airport. One time I had to ask for help getting my sleeping children and bags off the airplane and to over customs because I simply couldn’t carry everything. Someone came immediately to help me and got me all the way through the airport.

I hope these tips were somewhat helpful and not just redundant things everyone already knows. Please feel free to add any tips I may have forgotten below.  And lastly, I’ve written my tips for beating jet-lag here if you’re interested.

xx Courtney

p.s. Photo above is of my children on the ferry overlooking Seattle, and a photo of Marlow in the Ergo carrier.

13 COMMENTS - Add your own

1. Emilie | September 6, 2013 | Reply

Great tips, it is funny how easy it is to forget to get kids to go to the toilet before boarding a plane!

2. P | September 6, 2013 | Reply

We live in Asia. Travel to Canada and UK twice a year. We travel as a family and I return on own with kids. We like the trunki suitcases. Great to pull the kids and they are small but yet you can fit so much. Airports are big and too much walking for little legs! Don’t do iphones and ipads and not planning to. My list of things that I prepare beforehand and surprise and pull out for them. Mine are 5 and 7. Pack anything flat and small, stickers, origami paper, small puzzles, 3D paper building things, foam sticker pictures, mosaic square pictures, deck of cards, travel games and I love Usborne activity cards. Oh and I like to sit close to the bathroom actually.

3. Christy | September 6, 2013 | Reply

Great tips! I totally agree with taking a carrier instead of a stroller. There are times when a stroller comes in handy, but dealing with it while boarding and disembarking is an awful pain plus sometimes even if you gate check it, it has to be claimed with baggage. I have three girls, so this may not apply to everyone, but I have a set of markers for each girl just for traveling and we usually get a new coloring book and/or the Usborne sticker doll books (these keep them occupied for hours!). And yes, things are so much easier once the kids are 4-5 and above.

4. J | September 6, 2013 | Reply

I always travel with a backpack as my carry-on bag. You can easily manage a backpack and a baby carrier leaving hands free for older toddlers/kids. I agree completely about raisins and other small snacks. This can keep kids busy for a LONG time.
We also try to do a day flight where possible (our children are 3 and 6 mths). A red eye with a toddler is no fun for anyone. Much less stressful to travel during the day.
I also tend to pack each child’s items in ziplock baggies and put these in the backpack. I can then easily grab whichever bag I need and it stays organised (ie. nappies/wipes/changing mat all in one bag).

5. Engracia | September 7, 2013 | Reply

Great tips Courtney, one I would add if you are travelling really long flights (Australia to Europe as I do – about 30 hours) limit the kids exposure to videos & electronic devices as they get over stimulated and then can’t get to sleep. You don’t want a child who is so tired that they can’t fall asleep & then start getting very loudly distressed when the rest of the plane is asleep!!!!

6. Pam | September 7, 2013 | Reply

Great tips and so true about how helpful others can be. I flew back to Bristol via Amsterdam from Las Vegas with a stopover in NY (whoa! never typed out all the cities we had to stop in before…) with my 3 month old and 2 yr old on my own. I don’t think I could have coped with all the bags, travel buggy and kids without the kindness of strangers. Peter from Amsterdam will always be my hero.

7. elizabeth antonia | September 9, 2013 | Reply

so, so true. i just experienced my first flight with elodie being able to watch a movie independently. it was such a dream! such great tips. xo

8. Mina @ Mini Piccolini | September 10, 2013 | Reply

These are such good tips! I am just in awe of anyone who undertakes trans-continental travel on their own with more than one child. We can’t stop debating back and forth whether or not do do it this fall with two kids (1 and 2.5 years old) and two adults. The jet lag stresses me out the most and the air travel stresses my husband out (our 1 year old doesn’t really sit still). Great post!
I compiled my best tips a little while ago: http://minipiccolini.com/2012/05/mini-piccolinis-best-tips-for-traveling-with-children/

9. sian robinson | September 11, 2013 | Reply

could i just add another….. i usually dress my kids in the same coloured clothes, name tag bracelet, and i take a quick photo (on my iphone/mobile) of them both before i leave just in case they get lost and i can share the latest photo with the police/security.
then i relax! x

10. Rachel | September 21, 2013 | Reply

Great tips! My life saver this summer was a tiny sticker book with reusable stickers – I was surprised my 18 month old actually loved this! I thought he’d be too young. Also one of those magnetic drawing board thingys – you draw with the magnetic pen & then swipe clean – a pound shop find that he LOVED! Final tip for us is when travelling together sit separately – you can trade off turns at entertaining the baby, baby gets a change of scene & mama & dada get regular breaks! X x

11. Nadine Rioux | September 21, 2013 | Reply

Great tips! We travel quite a bit to Montreal from Halifax and these will help for sure. The one thing that we always were concerned about was being comfortable as they slept (hated seeing them slumped over). So that’s why we came up with the Amiba Monsters. Let me know what you think Courtney! Keep up the great articles!

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