Being 2 days away from a highly-anticipated trans-Atlantic flight, I thought I’d share some timeless wisdom for traveling with small children, which is almost as fun as sitting near a drunken bachelor party in economy class, but not quite as fun as sharing a row with a ‘nervous flyer’ who tends to yell the f-word or make impassioned pleas to our Lord and Savior with every bump of turbulence.
It’s a little of both, truth be told.
There are some basic fundamentals to keep in mind when flying with children, and I firmly believe they are the key to maintaining sanity.
Expect this. You’ll either be right, or pleasantly surprised.
1. You are definitely going to be hit with bodily fluids of some sort. Do not be afraid, rather, make it a kind of game to try to anticipate when and from where you’re going to be splattered. It becomes almost fun then, like some kind of aviation equivalent to the license plate game. (Hawaii, in this case, being projectile diarrhea or more than a half pint of blood.)
2. Bring one change of clothes per child, and be liberal in your definition of what counts as an ‘outfit.’ I have no qualms about making my 2.75 year old do the walk of shame through baggage claim in an ill-fitting onesie if he ruins his first outfit. Because I need room in my carry-on for…
3. Snacks. Whatever your kids like to eat, bring twice as much as you think they will want. I try to sneak protein into the rotation in the form of deli meat and string cheese, but I have no problem loading up on the peanut M&Ms. Will they be intoxicated on sugar once you land? Yes, yes they will. But if you’re lucky, you will have availed yourself of an in-flight cocktail and will also be feeling pleasantly loose.
4. Drink. Yes, while traveling with children. Yes, even if (especially, perhaps) you’re traveling solo. One glass of wine can go a long way when you’re enduring what is arguably one of the most dreaded acts in all of parenting. Plus, you’re not driving! Diego is. Or maybe Buzz.
5. Movies. My kids have unlimited access to screen time when we travel. Because 1. free babysitting and 2. My primary job on a flight is to keep them as happy and quiet as possible, keeping in mind that there are a couple hundred other people whose comfort and sanity are depending on me. Is this going to work every time? Of course not. But now is NOT the place to make some kind of ideological stand on the dangers and destructive nature of moving pictures on developing young brains. Unless your kids are good little soldiers who are willing to read quietly and draw placidly on their coloring pages for 13 hours straight. In which case, call me, because I have all kinds of questions.
6. Toys. Straight up bribe your kids with a pre-flight trip to the dollar store, and then ration the goods over the span of the trip. Joey got to shop for and pack his treat bag yesterday, and you better believe he is raring and ready to board that flight to tear into all that made in China goodness. Stickers. Window clings. A notebook and crayons. Matchbox cars. A mooing cow keychain with demonic light-up eyes. All good stuff, all relatively quiet, and all for around $10.
7. Less is more. As long as you have some fun! small! cheap! toys you don’t care about losing/breaking/giving away, enough food to keep them reasonably quiet, and a scrap of clothing to cover their wee naked bodies with after the inevitable accident, you’re golden. Seriously, security is awful enough without adding 50 extra lbs of carseats, toys, strollers, etc. to the mix. We are so used to traveling, at this point, that we know exactly how much is ‘enough,’ and have therefore relegated some surprising things into the ‘overkill’ category: stroller, car seats, blankets, diapers.
I’m not advocating for baby endangerment here, but if you’re traveling somewhere near family or friends, chances are somebody will be able and willing to loan you a stroller, car seats, pack-n-plays, blankets, etc. for your stay. We are done with strollers in the airport, unless it’s a mucho cheapo umbrella model you are happy to part with should it be lost/damaged/destroyed in transit. Plus, if you have a tight connection, your stroller will be the last thing they unload off the plane and you will either miss your connection or have a heart attack while running to catch it As for diapers, there are actually stores that sell them all over the world, it turns out.
I always wear our littler guy in the Ergo when we fly, and we make the toddler march through the airporpt, sometimes on a leash, because it tires him out, and because it frees up daddy’s hands for suitcases. Remember: suitcases with wheels also make good wagons…
Gypsy chic. Put a baby on it.
8. Use your neighbors. Not in a utilitarian sense, but seriously, if grandma in the next row over is flirting shamelessly with your one-year old…hand him over. Use the opportunity to make a restroom break, and remember that for many people it is a joy (and too rare) to see young children in public. Chances are you will also be treated to a sad story of how her daughter and son-in-law have decided they only want ‘fur babies’ for now and how much she longs for grandchildren of her own. Be kind to her, and let her hold your baby for as long as she’s willing.
9. Speaking of babies in public, remember: you are a witness to the culture of life when you bring your kids out in the world. I try hard to keep this in mind (probably not hard enough), especially when my kids are being ter-ri-ble and I’m starting to sweat. While I can’t always (ever?) control how they will act, I can always control my reaction to them. I’ve also learned through countless hellish flight experiences, it’s always the worst for the parents themselves. Most of your fellow travelers are not freaking out nearly as much as you might think, and even if they are annoyed, they’re likely not going to say anything. And if they do…
10. More drinks. We’ve offered to buy people drinks before, either because they traded seats with us when we needed them to, or after a particularly harrowing episode of baby behavior. They may not take you up on it, they may continue glaring, or it may just serve to sufficiently lighten the mood. It never hurts to try a little courtesy, though.
11. Relax. You are going to be home or on vacation soon enough, and you probably won’t die on this aircraft. Kids can absolutely pick up on your anxiety and will respond accordingly. If you are relaxed, happy, and keeping your standards niiiiice and low, chances are they’ll follow suit. Plus, you’re never going to see any of these people again in your life. So if something traumatic/humiliating does happen…yolo.
End PSA. And thank you everyone who prayed for my family – they never did have to evacuate, and the fire is now 50% contained. Sadly, more than 500 families in our community did lose their homes, so keep them in your prayers as they begin to pick up the pieces. I am so grateful my mom and dad aren’t in that boat, but it’s awful to see some of the pictures of those who are.