We travel a whole lot as a family. I love offering my kids the opportunity to see new places and enjoy fresh experiences. They happen to have a mom who can’t sit still for too long so we take to flight as often as possible. Through the years of travel I have learned ways to make long hours on the airplane and layover stops do-able and often enjoyable. With spring break and summer travels on the horizon I figured it was time to offer up some helpful travel tips to keep in your back pocket.
I roam a whole lot on my own and I use these tips for myself as well. So no matter what your age you should find these tips helpful. When by myself I can wing it a bit more and keep things lighter. I can be more whimsical and self sufficient. By the way, did I mention I will be venturing to Switzerland in June? Yes indeed! Ridiculously excited about that journey to the Alps…
When it comes to family travel, things need to be properly managed and thought out ahead of time. Checked bags need to be well planned out, but what you carry on the plane is to me the most important. Missed items can generally be purchased no matter where you are. We need to have essentials on the airplane. Always predict the unpredictable.
Also don’t forget to sing on the tarmac…
As our kids get a bit older air travel is getting so much easier. The trickiest years so far for our family was the 1 1/2-4 year old window.
We brought my daughter on her first international trip to the Cayman Islands when she was just 8 weeks old. I had to learn quickly how to be efficient with packing and planning. I feel peppered and well seasoned now that my kids are 5 and 8 years old and they travel all the time…
Can I you tell how much fun I had taking photos of my kids on the tarmac? Yup I did. The airport security was somewhat intrigued with my enthusiasm. The light was perfect!
Before you go…
Think and Plan Ahead: Checklists
My dad’s favorite tip: Way before you travel set aside a box or small suitcase where you can toss things as you think of them. You can also keep a checklist handy. There is nothing worse then obsessing about something and then forgetting it. It is easy to lose precious hours of sleep when you have too much on your mind. Let’s face it, family travel can be stressful. There are lots of nuts and bolts attached. The more you plan ahead the easier things will be on travel day. Set important documents and items aside, that way you know you won’t forget passports, prescriptions, etc.
Make a Calendar to Mark Off the Days
About one one month prior to your travel date let your kids check off boxes on a calendar. My 5 year old reminds me the first thing each morning that we are one day closer to travel day. Counting the days leading up to the trip is also great to help them learn counting skills. You can mark off the days with little stickers and colorful markers.
Make it fun, festive and happy. After all, travel is fun!
Give Kids Some Responsibility
My kids start packing for our trips about a month before we travel! They take out their own suitcases and start throwing things in. I of course make edits along the way, but I let them indulge in fantasy packing. As they get a bit bigger their choices are quite appropriate for the actual trip we have planned. They feel such a sense of independence and part of the whole experience when they help pack their own bags. Besides it gives them something to do when they are bored.
Check Passports and Important Documents Immediately
If you are traveling international check your passport before you even purchase your tickets. Be sure nothing has expired or is about to. Certain countries require a passport that has at least 6 months on it before the expiration date. The US Passport Office recommends that you renew 9 months before the expiration date. You can also put a rush on things for a higher fee if you are in a pinch. For all you need to know about applying for, renewing and passport FAQ’s visit the website Travel.State.Gov.
Plan Ahead for Security Lines
Make sure all of your toiletries are of the right size, water bottles are empty and electronic equipment is easy to get to. The most life changing travel investment I ever made was this laptop & camera bag I learned about from KevinandAmanda.com. As soon as I watched Amanda’s tutorial on how to pack it I was sold. This perfect pack is by Case Logic and you can find it on my Amazon.com store. Just so you know ~ the photos of the bag are from Amazon.com. All of the other photos are mine. But you probably all ready knew that…
Amanda also recommends this awesome iGo Green phone charger. A great little investment with a whole lot of juice for when you cell phone needs a quick charge.
Wear Slip on Shoes or Boots
This tip might sound silly but it can save you tons of time and aggravation and will make everyone’s life a whole lot easier.
There were a few instances when my kids had lace ups and this cost us way too much time and frustration when going through the airport security lines. Have you ever noticed how little kids like to remove their shoes all the time except when they need to in long security lines? Velcro tabs or slip on boots will make you a way happier parent. Less tying saves more time for everything else you need to manage.
I am not sure if there has been a universal change, but lately my kids can pass through some TSA lines without having to remove their shoes. Thank goodness for change.
Carry On Bags are the Most Important
Pack essentials in your carry on bags. We always have a change of clothes and sweaters for the chills. You never know when someone will spill a drink, drop messy food or *gasp* get sick. Having extra clothes in your carry on bag packed in zip top plastic bags will keep your mind at peace. Nothing is worse than having a screaming child because they dumped their orange juice on themselves on the airplane. Pack a whole outfit per kid including underware and socks. Trust me on this. Having sealed plastic bags will keep clean clothes fresh and the soiled ones far from anything else in your bag.
In your carry on is where all those healthy snacks and nibbles should go too. Pack some toothbrushes and toothpaste too while your at it. Wipes and hand sanitizer too.
Each Year Gets Easier
In my experience from 0-1 was not too tricky. You hold your baby on your lap and nurse them or give them a bottle when they get hungry or cranky. You also don’t need to purchase a seat on most airplanes until your child is 2 years old.
When you have a toddler and small kids a bit more planning is needed. They wiggle and tantrum more as they get bigger. Then by 4-5 things settle down again a bit.
Snacks and Nibbles
Let’s face it, being on a long airplane ride can be awfully boring. Especially for a small child. If you are anything like me and my family you think about food a lot when you are trapped on an airplane.
I always pack lots of nutritious snacks and special treats. It is amazing the mileage and bribe power a few little goodies can have with little ones. Don’t forget about long layovers, flight cancellations and jet lag. Bring more food then you think you will need. Sometimes I pack a full lunch box meal. My Gluten Free Chicken Skewers travel great. If traveling international have a clear understanding of what foods you can & cannot travel with.
Not only will you feel better if you pack your own healthy food, but you will also save lots of money along the way. I can purchase a one pound bag of high quality nuts at Trader Joe’s for a few bucks whereas just a few ounces of over salted junky nuts at the airport will cost more. Probably more like triple.
Pack some empty snack sized bags so you can divide up portions throughout the day. This will not only prevent fights over a big bag of that Pirates Booty but it will also encourage mindful portion control.
Here are a few recipes you can make ahead of time that are simple to prepare and travel nice and easy:
- Apple Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
- Citrus Cranberry Truffles
- Crackers and Cheese
- Maple Apple Pie Oat Bars
- Roasted Chickpeas
- Telluride Trail Bars
- Tropical Granola
- Make an easy trail mix with nuts, pretzel nuggets, dried fruit and chocolate chips.
I also always bring our Essential Travel Oatmeal and lots of it. You never know when you will hit snags or delays. It is also great for early, budget friendly breakfasts.
Be sure everyone drinks a lot of water throughout the day too. Airplanes dehydrate like crazy.
While on the airplane…
Magazines, Picture Books, Coloring Books & Toys
Since I love to look at glossy magazines filled with photos of food, fashion and travel there is always something pretty to hand my kids. We talk about the pictures and make up our own stories about those pictures. Children’s magazines are great too, ones with little games inside can be time busters.
Bring easy to clean colored pencils and washable markers for all kinds of colorful fun. We have coloring books, game books and plain paper for sketches.
Make a Diary of your Trip
Have little ones make a diary of the whole trip starting with the adventures at the airport. Bring a separate little notebook just for this purpose.
When kids are old enough to write this is a great creative writing exercise. If they are younger, you can write a few words and they can illustrate. Have them draw lots of pictures. These are fun to look back on. Leave some room for photos if you want to add those later. Make a scrapbook of those special memories.
DVD Players, iPhones and Handheld Games
In a pinch it is awesome to turn on a DVD player. For us they have diverted many horrible tantrums. Bring a little DVD player with some favorite kid movies. My kids also play with our iPhones set to airplane mode that are filled with kid friendly games, movies and shows.
Make Use of Down Time: Do Homework
Do you ever have to travel with homework and extra class projects? I sometimes pull my kids out of school for travel and this means we need to stay on track with school assignments. Get a head start with doing some of that work while waiting in the airport lounge or on that long flight.
Exercise When You Can
One thing I really like about layovers is the ability to get out of the airplane to stretch and walk around. While on the airplane I get up to stretch when I can and I encourage my kids to stretch in their seats too. Here are a few links to show you some great airplane exercises.
- Airplane Yoga: 18 Exercises for Healthy Flying CNNgo
- Exercise Tips for Travelers Boeing
- How to Exercise on a Plane eHow
Don’t Forget to have Lots of Fun!
Every step of the way you have a unique chance to make memories. Try to smile even when the goings get tough. These kids sure do grow up quickly and we need to make the most of each and every teeny tiny moment.
Do you have any family travel experiences you would like to share? How about any tips for us? Leave them in the comments section below.
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