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Flying with kids can be…well, interesting. Between balancing nap and meal schedules, time zones and preparing for every possible situation, it can be stressful and cumbersome for everyone involved. While you can do everything in your power to make things go smoothly, a delayed or cancelled flight (or something similar) can keep you on your toes!
When I started traveling with my first child, she was 3 months old and we did San Francisco to Amsterdam as our first flight. I was so incredibly nervous that she would cry and I would be that person who everyone was rolling their eyes at. In an effort to keep her quiet, I think I nursed her every 2 hours – poor kid probably wasn’t even hungry! Now, traveling with 3, I tend to have a different approach – I want my kids to behave (ex. don’t kick the seat in front of them, use manners etc), however, I can’t expect them to sit in silence in their seat the entire flight. Therefore, I have adopted an approach of some structure, some predictability but also a lot of go with the flow!
So, getting into the nitty gritty, what do you need to bring and what should you expect? Here are some of the things I consider before a flight and some helpful tips on what I pack.
Kid Gear: I remember back to when my girls were 2 and 4 and we traveled to England. We had rented a car but opted to bring our own car seats. When we landed at Leeds Bradford Airport, we have a double stroller holding 2 kids, two convertible car seats in backpacks, 3 suitcases and a slew of carry-ons. The car rental area was outside the terminal and only accessible from a narrow sidewalk that was angled downward. Suitcases were falling into the road, stroller was difficult to maneuver and we vowed to never bring the car seats again! These days, we pretty much exclusively rent car seats (through kid gear rental places or rental car agencies) or rely on pre-booked transfers with seats/public transportation. Not carrying around the bulky seats has saved our sanity!
For a stroller, I usually bring one, but more so as a vessel to carry all of the stuff we bring! On our recent Australia trip, where we knew we would be walking around a lot, we brought our easy to fold City Mini GT. When we traveled to Costa Rica and stayed at a resort all week, we brought our McLaren Twin Triumph as we really only needed something at the airport.
If you are traveling with a baby or younger toddler, I highly recommend a baby carrier. Being hands-free means you can carry or pull something or push a stroller with another kid (or all your stuff!). In many places, I have been able to keep the baby in the carrier for security which is another plus.
Snacks: I know a lot of people say to bring extra diapers, clothes, toys…yes, all important. But, FOOD IS KING! Kid is being annoying – snack; kid says they are bored – snack. It usually fixes most problems in our house. My favorites are bringing a multi-section Bento Box with fresh and dried fruit (remember, you cannot take fresh fruit across country borders), crackers, Goldfish, etc. Basically, filling but not super messy choices. I also pack some single serve options like fruit snacks, applesauce pouches, and granola bars as another option. If you have a child prone to motion sickness, ginger snap cookies can have double benefits. We also bring a reusable water bottle (Klean Kanteen with the Philips Avent non-spill spout has been our go-to) and ensure it is filled up as soon as we go through security.
Entertainment: To be honest, I actually don’t pack too many toys and books in our carry-on. Between the weight and bulk of the books and the short shelf life of most toys, I try to find things that can capture the kid’s attention for a longer span. We tend to be lenient with screen time during travel and switching between in-flight TVs and the kid’s tablets entertains them for hours. Using a smaller backpack the kids can carry, we put in the tablets and headphones. (The Kidz Gear brand on Amazon has a splitter you can buy so two kids can watch one tablet with their own headphones). I also look for things like sticker or activity books, magnetic play sets and these Melissa & Doug water reveal coloring books (just add the water post-security to avoid any issues!).
The Essentials: The rest of my carry-on consists of:
- an extra shirt for me
- change of clothes for each kid (one Ziploc per kids along with a travel size wipe pack and a single diaper, if applicable, makes for easy grab & go)
- for kids in diapers: I plan on one diaper per 3-4 hours of travel and usually opt for the full-size wipe pack – and consider ground travel time from your house to airport as well as airport to destination in your calculation
- small first aid kit with things like band-aids, diaper rash cream, antibiotic ointment (remember to put your liquids/gels/creams separate for screening)
- any sentimental items your child likes (lovey, blanket, stuffed animal) – and please, please do a check before leaving any space (we usually do a bag count & teddy bear check before boarding, leaving the plane, etc. to keep tabs on our special cuddly friends)
- if your child uses a pacifier, highly recommend a pacifier clip. After having dropped one too many in an airport or airplane bathroom (which subsequently went into the trash), I always have one on a clip and a few extras in the bag.
- a small bag for trash
Through the years, I have definitely become a little calmer during packing time as you learn to realize almost everything can be bought at your destination if forgotten. I tend to keep more tabs on our passports/IDs and then a secondary priority to anything that would be more challenging to replenish (ex. contact lenses/eye glasses, medication, etc).
What else do you consider when traveling with kids? Anything else on your “must pack” list?