You know the crazy people who are running though the airport with a kid or two attached at their heels? Stuff is falling all over the place and they are a hot, sweaty mess before they even make it to the gate? They are so nutty, right? (Oh, wait, that was me.) Truth is, traveling at the holidays is hard enough without adding a kid or two to the mix. But experts say there are some nifty airport hacks for traveling with kids that can help me — err, you — better navigate the friendly skies.
Whether you are the mama who likes to have everything in its place a week in advance of traveling — d*mn you — or you are shoving everything into one bag and often arrive at your destination without underwear, there is a tip in this list that will help you during your travels. Perhaps it's a space-saving cup that hasn't yet made it into your arsenal, or maybe it's simply a tip toward your peace of mind that you'll find useful.
Either way, grab a pen and paper and take notes. While you're at it, let me know how to navigate tantrums in the middle of airport security. Asking for a friend.
1. Ain't No Thing Like Preparing Too Much
There really can't be enough preparation when it comes to holiday travel with kids, Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert and the founder of Access to Culture, tells Romper in an email interview. She says that means stashing washable art supplies, coloring books, puzzles and games, books, and a few surprises in your bag before hitting the road. If you are flying, prepare downloaded e-books, extra battery chargers, meditation coloring books, magazines, and music to enjoy inflight and during downtime. Older children can take advantage of inflight wireless internet options, Schweitzer says, adding: "The main idea regardless of your child’s age is to make it a fun experience and get the time to pass quickly.
2. Save Some Space
Famous last words: "I won't need more than one bag." When it comes to traveling with kids, there's no such thing, am I right? Consider investing in a few space-saving options that you can stow without taking up a lot of room, like the Hydaway Kids Collapsible Water Bottle ($18, Hydaway Kids). The 12-ounce portable water bottle is made from flexible, BPA-free, food-grade silicone, and will nix the need to toss or chug pre-filled water bottles at TSA.
3. Buy Yourself Some Breathing Space
Missouri-based Cathy Ussery — mom to four kids ages 17 to 3 — says traveling with ease all starts before you even hit "pay" for those airline tickets. "There is an option for children under the age of 2 to be a 'lap child' and some parents will choose that option for financial reasons," Ussery, who is headed to Florida over the holidays with her whole crew, tells Romper in an email interview. "But if you can afford it, get the seat!" The most important reason Ussery says? At the very least, you'll have a buffer between you and whomever else is in the row with you. "Traveling with little ones can be cumbersome and it's awkward to have to move around in a cramped seat or row anyway," she says.
4. No-Mess Coloring Activity
5. Consider Late-Night Travel
Charity Starchenko, a mom and business owner at One Crazy Love, wrote that she and her family recently flew from Poland to Raleigh recently. Her top tip? Schedule flights at night. "We've always taken late evening and overnight flights," she said. "International flights are usually overnight flights, and we let our kids stay up a little later with a video or some favorite toys and they've slept on the plane while we also got a little bit of shut eye."
6. Word Games Are Always A Win
Molly Dresner, a certified speech and language pathologist and author of The Speech Teacher’s Handbook, says if all else fails, you can always play word games. "Word games are my favorite because you don’t need supplies and they are sure to boost speech and language," she noted. "Trips are perfect for I-Spy because the scene is ever-changing. Also, I love guessing games, which promote proper turn-taking skills, joint attention and out-of-context thinking." Dresner also suggested Family Talk, a portable stack of kid-friendly silly questions.
7. Get Crafty
Julie Forbes, a mom of four and blogger at Otteroo, wrote that it never hurts to improvise. "If you need a toy to entertain a squirmy baby or toddler on the plane, ask the flight attendant for a cup, a lid, and a bag of pretzels," she says. "Put it together and you have a fun shaker toy.
8. Go Ahead & Cut
Trish McDermott, a family travel expert and co-founder of Babierge, noted that it's A-OK to cut in line when you are traveling with little ones. "Most TSA checkpoints have a family line that often moves you right up front," she wrote.
9. Bring Along An iPad Holder
10. But Don't Rely On Screens Too Much
"I know it is tempting to keep your little one occupied with a tablet or device, but screens actually promote self-directed play and hyper-focused attention," Dresner said. Instead, opt for what she calls "smart entertainment," the Melissa & Doug Flip to Win Travel Memory Game ($12, Amazon), as well as coloring activities and reusable stickers. "Overall, pack games without pieces that may get lost, quiet options without repetitive noises and, most importantly, activities that motivate your little one."
11. Choose Your Flight Wisely
"When traveling with kids, it’s almost always worth it to book nonstop flights," Alanna Smith, editor at TravelPirates, tells Romper in an email interview. "While the actual cost may be higher than one-stop flights, you’ll have a much lower chance of getting stranded at the airport due to bad weather." Smith points out that you’ll also experience fewer take-offs and landings, "which is good for your kids — the change in pressure can be very uncomfortable for infants and toddlers."
12. Find Reusable Activities
"Traveling with kiddos is hard, especially when it involves sitting in confined spaces for hours on end and layovers —I know firsthand, having taken my 2-year-old daughter to and from Korea twice," Rachel Sung tells Romper in an email interview. Sung says she relies on fun entertainment, like her daughter's favorite Reusable Chalk Color It Book ($26, Jaq Jaq Bird). "Not only does it encourage creativity, but it's compact, easy to pack, and mess-free. "
13. Pack Extra Chargers –– For Everything
Lauren Brennan, blogger at Lauren's Latest, wrote that she often travels with her three small children and is always sure to carry extras of everything, especially when it comes to chargers and batteries. "I always carry an external battery and charging cord no matter where my family is traveling," she says. "It's so hard to find outlets at the airport, so this ensures a fully charged Kindle or iPad for the kiddos all day long."
14. Everything In Its Place
It helps to at least kick off your trip with all of your things in one place. Consider an organizer like the AirPocket Personal Travel Carry-On ($68, AirPocket). Made from a soft but sturdy material, the AirPocket accommodates multiple items (think iPad, coloring books, crayons, and so forth), while also making it easy to fit inside your carry-on bag.
15. Give Yourself Time
"Allow yourself two hours between connecting flights so you have time to gather up kids to get off the plane, figure out where the next gate is, shuffle the kids towards that terminal, find the closest bathroom, convince your kid(s) they need to use the bathroom, continue to gate, stop for a snack, find another bathroom (because now the kid wants to use the bathroom), and get to the gate," Ussery noted. "If you're lucky and timed it right, you'll only need to entertain the kids for 30 minutes before they start calling for pre-board." Sounds like a parenting win, right?
16. Be Prepared To Pump On The Plane
If you are breastfeeding and pumping, then one of your top concerns while traveling will be how to pull it off while on the go. "Pumping in an airplane bathroom is terrible, but if you can do it, make friends with the flight attendant before you go in, and don't use the water," Mamava co-founder and CEO Sasha Mayer tells Romper in an email interview. "If you pump in your seat, wrap something around yourself and ignore your seatmates. If anyone gives you grief, remind the flight attendant that several major airlines have had serious social media problems for treating a pumping passenger poorly." Yeah, take that, haters.
17. Stay On Task
Starchenko recommends sticking with routine as much as possible when traveling. "Pack a small carry on with a change of clothes for the kids," she says. "If you take an overnight long haul flight, or a later evening flight, changing clothes before deplaning keeps up with the schedule [they have] at home. Packing bedtime and noise-canceling headphones will also help kids relax while traveling."
18. Schedule Time To Move Around
"Breaks are necessary to get those wiggles out," Dresner noted. "Do yourself a favor and plan them out based on your little one’s typical schedule. A clean bathroom and a fun little playground can make a world of difference when you are on a long journey." Dresner suggested that even if you’re on a train or a plane, make time to get up, walk around and stretch it out.
19. Don't Toss Breast Milk
Plan on bringing your milk home, Mayer says. "If you're flying in the U.S., breast milk is 'liquid medication,"' she says. "You are allowed to bring as much of it as you want through security, regardless of whether your baby is with you. You can also refuse to have it opened and they'll screen it another way." Mayer recommends you Google "TSA breast milk" and have the guidelines ready if an agent disagrees with you.
20. Turn It Into A Teaching Moment
Most importantly, use traveling as a teaching opportunity, Schweitzer says. "Explain to your kids the joys of traveling, but be honest and explain that it’s often accompanied by delays and other inconveniences that sometimes causes people to act out of character," she says. "Always keep in mind that your little ones are watching you and will model your behavior, so don’t forget to pack your best manners."
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