Monday, April 10, 2017

Traveling with Small Children


That's right, someone who has never raised small children is here today to tell you all about traveling with small children.  Not to play armchair quarterback, but with ten years of traveling under my belt, I feel like I've seen some of what works and what doesn't.  Most of my advice is towards parents of kids under six years old.  I feel like your six year old can keep themselves busy as needed, and keep up with you in a crowded airport, but take this (like all advice) with a grain of salt.

Packing & Planning
Skip the cute roller bag.  I get it - you're flying to see Grandma who got your child the adorable roller bag, but the small bag holds very little and are difficult to access during the flight.  Not only are they a pain when you're on the plane, but you're asking a lot of your kid to drag it behind them in a new, crowded environment when all they want to do is look around.  I've seen kids struggle with these bags, or mom and dad have to snatch the bag quickly because the kid can't keep up more often than I've ever seen them successfully used.  Save the cute roller bag for your next road trip and consider having mom or dad carry a large backpack for your child's carry-on, or a backpack your kid can wear.

Pick the right shoes.  As an adult, I try to wear shoes I can easily remove for the TSA Security Check, but your child under the age of 12 can keep theirs on.  I've seen flustered parents dealing with a child's shoe slipping off in the middle of the very busy airport walk way, and I'm sure you don't want that to be you.  Laces or velcro or whatever, pick shoes your child can walk in comfortably.

Get your kid prepared. Consider what will be new to your child and help the prepare.  Whether it's talking about wearing a seat belt on the plane, talking about what to do if they get separated at the airport, or riding on the train between gates, help prepare your child for their new experiences.

At the Airport
Pack snacks.  Did you know you can pack food in your carry-on?  Airport food is overpriced and lacks variety, so might as well pack cheap snacks your kids like.  Chewy snacks like Fruit Snacks can help your child's ears to pop during the flight too, avoiding tears just after takeoff and before landing.

Board early.  Even before they call for first class, they usually announce families with small children who need additional time can board early, and I see so many parents miss out on this!  Even though your ticket may say Zone 4, get your family ready to spring into action when they call for family boarding.  This gives you a bit extra time to fold up a stroller for gate check and get settled in your seats.

Plan ahead for your layover.  Obviously you don't want to have a 30 minute layover and risk missing your connecting flight, but a long layover can be a great way to let your toddler burn off energy.  Some airports, like Dallas and Minneapolis, have a designated play area for kids.  Chicago's OHare has a Children's museum at the airport, and Chicago and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airports have really neat tunnels connecting the terminals.  In Chicago you'll enjoy a little neon light show, and Atlanta has art installations.  The moving sidewalks can be fun for kids and there are usually really wide walkways, but be mindful when a hoard of travelers need to get by quickly.

Find a quiet corner. Often a flight will have an empty gate nearby and it can be a great place for your kid to run, scream, climb on stuff - whatever!  without disrupting other travelers.  This can also be a good spot to picnic a quick lunch, or have your kid lay down for a quick nap.

During the Flights
Plan activities.  I'm sure your kid can keep themselves busy, but being confined to a seat during a flight can be a whole new experience, especially if there's turbulence and the seat belt light is on.  I remember my mom packing playdoh for flights when I was a kid, but also consider sticker books, markers, etc. to keep your kid busy and happy.

Break the screen time rules.  Most parents have limits on how much screen time their kids can enjoy each day/week, but this is the right time to break the rules.  I would recommend not letting your kid play with the tablet or phone until you're seated on the plane.  The FAA now lets you keep electronics on the entire flight, as long as the device is in airplane mode.  This means you'll want to load Netflix videos, games, and apps before you leave home.  Amazon Fire tablets are super affordable, and it would be worth getting one for each kid.

Headphones.  You can probably tune out Elmo, or Dora the Explorer (or anything other than that annoying Caillou kid), but your fellow travelers shouldn't have to.  These Kid's Headphones have maximum volume settings to protect their hearing, AND have a built in splitter so you can plug in a second set and let two children watch the same show, or watch with your kid.  I would suggest having your child use these for a few weeks before the flight so they get used to wearing headphones.

Flyebaby for children under 25 lbs. I first saw the Flyebaby when the mom next to me set it up once we had reached our cruising altitude, and immediately started asking questions.  It's a portable hammock that anchors to the tray table and parent, letting you interact with your baby during the flight.  It can't be used during taxi, takeoff, landing, or major turbulence, but a great way to keep your baby engaged during the flight.

Your kid calls the shots.  I know, I know.  You're a wonderful parent who establishes and enforces boundaries so that your child grows up to be a perfect adult. Just like I tell parents during portrait sessions; this is not the time for parenting, you should absolutely negotiate with the tiny terrorist.  This may sound harsh but after keeping your child safe, parents number one concern should be minimizing the impact to other passengers.  Just like I wouldn't play my movie without headphones so that other passengers have to listen to Step Brothers or Talladaga Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby,  we should try to minimize what other travelers are subjected to.  I know you're probably on vacation, but unlike at a store or mall where I can walk away from your 2 year old who is having a meltdown because he realized his shoes are brown, I (and 50+ other passengers) are held hostage by a child's tantrum.  Your small child's behavior isn't your fault!  But I think a lot of the parents who do their best to fix the situation.  If I could beg of you one thing, give into what your child wants, distract them with more snacks, a new show on the tablet, playdoh, your earrings - whatever!  As long as it isn't going to hurt them or you, it's totally okay to give into their demands.

At the end of the day, kids have a mind of their own and who can say what will and won't work; hopefully these suggestions will be a tool to get you started in the right direction!  What other travel tips do you have?  Leave them in the comments!