If you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. Or in our case, if you’re going to preach about family travel, you better be willing to schlep your own children around as well. The Passported team has crossed the Atlantic seven times (there are only six of us) to scout destinations and visit family across England, Sweden, France, Spain and Portugal. Back home, we’ve done Upstate, Out East and the Shore (New York lingo for the Hudson River Valley, the Hamptons and New Jersey), plus made a pilgrimage to the West Coast and Montana. The Passported kids range from 9 months to tweens and they’ve been troopers. Really, troopers. We caught up in the office and traded flying tips, so now we’ll share them with you—color coded by level of difficulty expected. Safe flying, and happy travels!
AGE 0-1: CODE ORANGE
Gear required: excessive
Risks: blow-out diapers, colicky crying, fussy passengers offended by breastfeeding, bottle paraphernalia
Wear a baby carrier, a lifesaver for walking the aisles to keep baby entertained or help put her to sleep.
Bring an empty thermos and fill it with boiling water when you’re on the plane. Having hot water on hand makes it easier to warm up a bottle when baby gets hungry.
Buy the Baby Buddy Secure-a-Toy strap. This will save you from constantly picking the toys baby will drop (and throw) on the gritty airplane floors.
Bring a cloth book, not a board book. They don’t weigh anything, can be thrown in the washer when you arrive and serve both for reading and playing as well as for chewing if baby is teething.
AGE 1-3: CODE RED
iPad: possibly interested
Gear required: excessive
Risks: blow-out diapers and potty training accidents, tantrums, unrelenting desire by baby to roam the aisles, especially when the seatbelt sign is illuminated
If your baby’s at the finger food stage, bring nibbles that take them a while to eat, like blueberries, raisins or bread. Pouches are brilliant for quick meals, but for snacking, take a slow food approach.
If you’re flying solo with an under-two, skip the airplane meal (and tray table juggling act!) and bring a packed lunch, ideally one you can eat one handed and share with little eaters.
For teethers, take bath toys to chew on. Munchkin characters are small enough that you can take a selection and bring out a new one every hour or so. Plus, they wipe clean easily.
Take favorite toys and books but don’t underestimate the novelty factor. A last-minute mini race car purchase at the airport can buy an hour of entertainment, but very little is as successful as a crunchy Poland Spring bottle, the airplane safety card and a big sticker, particularly hilarious when stuck on clothing, armrests and mama’s head.
Spare clothes for you and your kids are a must for managing food spills and diaper fails but also great for weird climate control—remember, it’s boiling when you board and freezing by take off.
Don’t forget your own headphones at this age. Although toddlers are probably the most challenging age to corral on a plane, they do tend to sleep for longer when they finally go down. You might have a chance to watch some TV!
AGE 3-5: CODE YELLOW
Gear required: manageable
Risks: drained batteries, food spills, potty training accidents
Extra clothes are still important, but now they take up more space than those tiny baby onesies. If flying overnight, or even late at night, use pajamas as your backup. They won’t fill your carry-on and might convince the tots that it’s worth taking a snooze along the way.
Load iPads with games and movies the kids already know. Now’s not the time to try to explain how to use that new app or discover that a movie isn’t age-appropriate.
Motion sickness can be common at this age, and the kids are old enough to medicate. Pick up the chewable children’s Dramamine in the airport and give a half-dose before boarding if your child tends to get an upset tummy (obviously, run this one by your pediatrician first!).
If traveling alone with multiple children, select seats within sight of a bathroom. If you have to run one to the potty, the other can stay strapped in and still know that a parent is nearby.
AGE 5+: CODE GREEN
iPad: as many as you can carry, including one of your own
Gear required: totally reasonable
Risks: boredom, sibling spats
Don’t turn down a toilet. Older kids think that they have a handle on their bladders, but they’re also likely to realize they can’t wait right as the plane enters its final descent. Make a rule that everyone goes 30-45 minutes prior to landing.
Battery packs in every shape and size will weigh you down but also save you. Kids this age aren’t likely to conk out during a day flight (and possibly not much at night), so your electronics will work over time. Come prepared.
Bring your own food. Kids this age are old enough to turn their noses up at the airline food (and who can blame them). Sandwiches, some fruit and other small snacks keep the troops full and happy.
If you have two children, buy a splitter so both kids can plug into the same iPad and share a movie. It conserves battery power and prevents arguments over who watches that coveted film first.
Get Global Entry! You’re re-entering the world of the carry-on once your kids can start pulling their own suitcases, so with Global Entry, you can sashay straight off that plane and into a taxi upon arrival home. It’s worth its weight in gold.
For more travel tips, visit Passported.com or stick around and read this article on the Vacation Rental Website That Will Make Family Travel Easier.