I get asked if I’m crazy all the time. The first time, was when my daughter, Harper, was five months old, because that was the first time my husband and I took her on an airplane. Standing in line waiting for my turn to stumble through security with my pants around my ankles, the lady in front of me said “Are you crazy? You must be to take a little baby like that on a plane.”
She didn’t offer to help me with my bag or hold sweet baby Harp while I tried to reassemble my carry on. She didn’t even let me answer her question. Instead she acted as though we were the only parents who had ever, in the history of commercial aviation, taken our child on a plane.
I assumed it was an isolated incident but I was completely wrong. In the past 2 ½ years Harper has been on over a dozen flights and though it may shock many people, she is still here, living and breathing and asking us to take her on the plane. I have never flown with her, not a single time, without someone asking or saying one of the following:
• What if your kid cries? It happens. They do that sometimes.
• What if your baby poops? We change her diaper…
• Is it safe for a baby to fly? Yes. Even though it’s cheaper, we decided not to kennel her in the cargo bay.
• Why would you do that to yourself? I enjoy watching her experience new places and new things.
• Are you crazy? No.
• I would never take my *blank* year old on an airplane. *insert unamused glare*
Forget those people, they suck.
They probably lock their kids in the closet with a box of crackers and go vacation in the Bahamas without them. Kids cry. Everybody poops. It is going to be okay. Be courteous to everyone but don’t let them get you down.
Side note: If you are one of those people, I forgive you. You can atone for your sins by making genuinely sympathetic eye contact with the mom whose kid is pulling a move from The Exorcist because she won’t buy him a bag of $9 M&M’s from the duty free shop and/or offering a hand to the parent who has more bags and/or children than appendages.
Okay, awesome, moving on.
Be excited and smile!
Travel is awesome so let that excitement show. Mark the date on the calendar and start a count down. Make a big deal out of putting pennies in the piggy bank for vacation spending money. Let them know it’s a special treat and it’s going to be an adventure. Answer questions they have about the trip, even when it means answering the same questions over and over. “Are we there yet?” Ask them what they are looking forward to. Make them part of the process.
Smile. Even if you are working with only 2 hours of sleep and 6 cups of coffee. Traveling can be a time of uncertainty for kids who are used to having a routine and parents acting uncharacteristically grumpy is not going to help ease any anxiety. They are going to look to you for cues on how they should be feeling and acting. If you want them to be cheerful, you have to be an example of that.
Talk to your kids about what they can expect and what you expect of them:
A 15 minute conversation with your child can greatly change the outcome of a long day in an airport. Give them a basic outline of your day. Explain what will happen at the airport and on the airplane. Explain any special rules for the trip and why you need those rules. If your kid is anything like mine you’ll hear your words repeated back to you with a stern eyebrow quirk when you slap your travel partner for losing their boarding pass between ticketing and security. “Mommy, we keep our hands to ourselves.”
Gives them options:
Apple juice or orange juice? The red shirt or the blue one? McDonalds or Burger King? Escalator or elevator? Giving kids some decision making power makes them active participants who are more likely to invest in making everything run smoothly and less likely to have meltdowns.
Don’t give your kid(s) anything out of their carry on until you have exhausted all other options.
Airports are interesting places, full of new and unfamiliar things so use that to your advantage. Options includes walking around the airport, watching airplanes land, talking about where you are going and what you’ll do there. Make a game out of the activities that are trying for kids. Count the people in line for security. Give older kids a job. 25 jumping jacks. Doing circles in the airport also makes kids less likely to want to do laps on the airplane. Let them go through the seat back pocket and pull everything out. Play iSpy with the safety information card and Skymall Magazine. The barf bags make excellent puppets. Look out the window. Then, once the stuff the airplane supplied isn’t fun anymore and the kiddos are getting restless, bust out the backpack.
Pack smart and plan ahead:
Take a change of clothes for each kid with you on the plane in case there is an accident, be it food or bodily fluid, or your luggage gets lost. Bring the lightest version of everything like the paperback version of books instead of the hardcover. Pack a couple of new toys, activities or books for the plane to use as your trump card when things start to get hairy. If you have a laptop, tablet or iPhone, this may be the time to let your kids indulge on a little too much Magic School Bus. Pre-load any DVDs or downloads before you trip so they are ready and you don’t have to fumble with any extra pieces like flash drives or DVD cases.
If your kids are still in a car seat, check to see if you will need it where you are going. If you plan to use public transit, you won’t need it. We did a 2 week, 4 country tour of Europe with a 20 month old baby and never needed a car seat once.
Unless you are traveling to a super remote area, wherever you are going will have a corner store when you can pick up that tooth brush that didn’t get packed, so relax. The best part about traveling with kids, is that you get to see the world through their filter. What excites them, what they are interested in, what new things they are drawn too.
Some tips for traveling with kids under 1:
If you aren’t taking the car seat on the plane, think about baby wearing. Having my daughter in our Beco Gemini made it easy to move around the airport, nurse, buy a pop, and yes, even make a bathroom stop, especially when I was flying solo.
Talk to your baby. Explain what’s going on, where you are going, who’s going to be there and what you’ll be doing when you get there. You’d be surprised what your young child actually understands and even if they don’t your voice will be a constant reminder of your presence in the chaos of the airport and the unfamiliar places you visit on your trip.
Breast milk, formula, and water are all items you can take on the airplane when you travel with a baby. Most airports have a special family line for people who have packed liquid in more than 3 ounce quantities so make sure you are in the right line. If you aren’t sure, ask a member of the TSA where you should go.
And last but not least. The easiest way to change a diaper on an airplane that doesn’t have a changing table is to go into the bathroom,put the toilet seat down and use that mostly flat surface as a makeshift changing table.
Traveling with kids is not as foolish as some people assume. Suitcases are heavier, car seats, while necessary for safety, are kind of a drag, and corralling little ones can be interesting in a crowd of hectic travelers but not one without reward. Traveling teaches children patience and taking turns. It allows them a break from the every day. It fosters exploration and adventure. Most of all, it teaches them to be adaptable, interested individuals, who are open to learning via all five of their senses.
Written By Rachel Brandt