Traveling by airplane is rough. Airports are crowded, planes are smelly, and all of the snacky treats cost triple the normal price. Probably the worst thing about flying is the rush to get to the airport and get through TSA security to only wait. Rush, rush, rush and then wait, wait, wait. Am I right?
This July, I enlisted my family on a four-night vacation plan that included a short non-stop flight. Our recent summer vacations have included 13-hour drives and staying multiple nights in a modified camper that smelled like toilet water in the hot afternoons. Therefore, I foolishly thought flying on a plane would go pretty easy for my husband, myself, the three kiddos, and our go-with-the-flow newborn. While it wasn’t a disaster, it also could not be described as smooth and calming. Flying with kids is difficult, but here is what worked and what did not work for us.
By and far the worst part of flying with children was all the checked baggage that was required for our small herd. I utilized my clothes packing technique from last summer, which still worked well and kept me in check as to not fold in too many extra pants, shorts, or tanks. However due to a new baby joining our clan, we also needed luggage space for a playpen, a boppy, blankets, a stroller, pacifiers, swaddles, diapers, wipes, and an entire trunk of baby gear that would not fit in a single diaper bag. We also needed booster car seats for the older three kids because we would be driving a rental car once we made our destination. Oh, and we were going to a place where swimming would be our number one activity. This meant we needed life jackets and tons of sunscreen, and also (according to my six-year-old) snorkels, goggles, and flippers.
After writing up my packing list, I reconsidered flying and took a harder look at a driving option for this trip. But in the end, I was committed to sky travel. My kiddos had been talking about flying in a plane for months, and trying to sell them on 1600 miles in a vehicle after promising them each a chance to sit in a window seat seemed cruel. Thankfully Southwest does not charge extra fees for checked baggage. If you need to travel with kids and are going anywhere that requires more than a carry-on, flying Southwest seems to be the only appropriate option for families. (They also make allowances for unticketed passengers under the age of two, that will let parents bring bags and baby items without being charged extra for them.)
In order to avoid checking three booster seats individually, I had a flash of parenting brilliance a few days before the trip. We took a large, completely empty suitcase with us that could fit three booster seats inside of it. It took some jigsaw puzzle genius on behalf of my husband, but we got all three car seats into one suitcase! This method also made the boosters much easier to transport as we navigated airport shuttles.
Carry-on luggage saved us on this trip when it came to keeping youngsters entertained. Each of my three older kids got to pack their own carry-on backpack. They felt special being in on this packing process, and also only had themselves to blame if something was forgotten. My two older girls packed books and notepads, while my three-year-old took some monster trucks. Each child had an electronic device of some sort plus a package of brand new batteries. I also had them put in an empty sports bottle, so they could be filled with water once we got through security at the airport. This was a huge hit, as all kids get thirsty and airports tend to be so dry.
My kids enjoyed filling their bags, and I made sure that they were not packed too heavy. Each of them felt responsible for their carry-on and they all understood that on the trip they had to carry it with them the entire time we were in the airport or plane. (Another travel tidbit: My husband put red masking tape on the straps of every piece of checked baggage plus carry-ons to make them identifiable to everyone in the family. We had labels too, but we made sure no tags had our children’s names showing. I heard somewhere that it is dangerous to have names showing for all to see, especially a kid’s first name because strangers may see the child’s name on a suitcase and call out to them as a ploy to get he or she away from their family members.
Terminals and the Plane
My kids actually did amazing when it came to flying and dealing with airports. The excitement of going through the clouds and even just watching planes take off beforehand kept them intrigued. My kids viewed the tram at our destination airport as an amusement ride.
There was also enough white noise on the aircraft and even in the airport to keep our newborn content and sleeping. He ended up being our best traveler. Picking up our checked bags (I think we had eight total plus a stroller) required my nine-year-old and six-year-old to literally pull their weight, as we needed them to help carry bags to the shuttle and rental car. It got a little hectic at times, but ultimately my kiddos felt important. They liked being needed and jumped at the chance to wheel a suitcase along with the grown-ups.
Flying was a lot of work, but our vacation was beautiful. My son also said being in the airplane was the best part of the trip for him. We were gone for four nights and I am one of those people that wants vacation to last forever, and in this case I really wished we could have been gone a few extra days since we spent so much time packing and transporting luggage. Ultimately though great memories were made. One of my daughters is now able to say (with pride for some strange reason) that she used a barf bag, and the other one got to buy useless gift shop souvenirs. Kids love talking about the weirdest things, but it is the little things that make for the best memories.
I love going on vacation with just my husband and kids, because no matter where we go or how we get there it is always time well spent together. The journey is usually just as entertaining as the destination, do you agree? What are your tips for travel with kids? Be it planes, trains, or automobiles? Leave a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org because we want to know.