5 genius tips for flying with kids

Between airport food and restless tots, flying off for Spring Break with the whole family isn’t always as easy as we want it to be. With these five great travel ideas from other smart moms, you’ll be in for a smoother ride.

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As Spring Break approaches and many of us start dreaming of days we’ll spend lying at the pool or swooshing down the slopes, a familiar dread starts to creep in. It’s the dread of wrestling sleepy kids out of bed for the pre-dawn ride to the airport, the standing for eternities in security-check lines, and the wrangling of restless children as we sit squashed together waiting to board—all the time fighting off the travel exhaustion that inevitably hits before we even arrive at our so-needed destination.

Yes, flying with children can wear down even the most patient and optimistic of parents, but it can also be a terrific adventure. Traveling can be a time of family bonding and building family memories, as much as any beach or ski slope, if done correctly.

Here are five ways to help you do just that:

Make it predictable

Sure, predictability sounds like the antithesis of adventure, but when it comes to flying, it’s key to setting up the possibility of adventure. The more you and your kids know what’s coming, the more relaxed and better off you all are. So, if you’re able to choose your plane seats ahead of time, do so. Think ahead about who is best sitting next to whom so there’s no arguing in the aisles. If you’re flying from an unfamiliar airport, check out the map online ahead of time and know where you’re going. The less time spent about worrying where a gate or newsstand is, the more time you have for exploring airport terminals or looking out windows, or just watching people go by. Also, let your kids know ahead of time how long the flight will be, what they can expect, and how you expect them to behave. And remind them of how their bodies behave: let them know their ears may pop, or that they may have to wait to go to the bathroom, and prepare accordingly.

But also interesting

While train or road trips are generally lauded as the way to “see the country,” air travel doesn’t have to leave us ignorant of land or water we’re flying over, especially thanks to a new app. Flyover Country, a new app developed by Shane Loeffler, a geology student and curious traveler from Duluth, Minnesota, who received a grant from the National Science Foundation, gives users information on the geology below your airplane. It uses your phone’s GPS, so you don’t need to pay for in-flight WiFi. The app turns the activity of staring out the window and thinking “I wonder what that is?” into a geography and geology lesson for everyone. The app tells users about about glaciers, mines, and even dinosaur bones that lie thousands of feet below. Flyover Country is available free at Google Play and the App Store.

Make it delicious

Pack snacks at home, and bring empty water bottles to fill in the terminal. Hungry and thirsty kids (and adults) make the worst travelers. But experts also suggest ordering special kids meals through your preferred airline (ahead of time!) for particularly long flights. But, regardless of age, most airplane food isn’t the yummiest or healthiest fare, so come prepared for yourself and the kids. Depending on their ages, great plane snacks can be anything from granola bars to string cheese, or a plastic zip bag full of Cheerios (though some parents suggest making a necklace out of them for your toddler to make it even more entertaining). When in doubt, packing a few PB&J wraps along with water-rich veggies like cut celery sticks or cucumber slices (to combat dry plane air), is always a good choice, too.

Make them responsible

Shawna Schoonveld, a mom of two from Chicago, has her kids pack their own bags for the plane ride. She reminds her kids technology might not always be available, so the children have learned to pack things like Uno cards and colored pencils. Of course, along with the iPad and headphones, which Schoonveld admits—ruefully—are “lifesavers.”

By packing for themselves, kids not only learn to sift through what’s really needed for a flight (which in turn breeds responsibility), it also has an added bonus: they only have themselves to whine to when they get bored—or forget something.

But also let them break the rules

The best travel rule, says Kathryn Johnson, a mother of three from the near-west suburbs of Chicago, is to break the rules. Not TSA or flight-safety rules, of course. But family expectations you’d normally adhere to at home. “Break every parenting rule to keep them happy, because then you are happy—as is everyone around you,” Johnson says.

So, if the kids want to eat through their treat bag or chew all their gum at once? Enjoy endless screen time without ever cracking open that book?

“I don’t care,” Johnson says with a laugh. Easing up will make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.

Though she does admit her dream of being the mom with the “new tricks up her sleeve” that would buy her time with her book has long gone. She’s realistic now. When they fly, Johnson says, “I’m more of an in-flight nanny.” (If only those truly existed.)

Elizabeth Van Drake*, a mother of four boys from Kansas City, says her family’s travel motto is: everyone needs to suck it up. “Traveling with kids is hard,” Van Drake says, “but if you stay in the mindset that traveling as a family is just too much work to go, you will have a small world.”

Indeed. Airplane travel with kids (and without!) will never be completely stress-free and can’t always be as fun as we’d hoped, but if parents plan ahead, and focus on the destination ahead, it can go more smoothly. If you view your plane ride as part of the family adventure, it might just become that.

*Some names were changed for privacy reasons.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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