Does airplane travel with kids send your ANXIETY through the roof? Keep reading to get tips and tricks for making family travels a fun experience!

international or domestic travel with kids

OK, here goes. I have a trip coming up. I am flying up to Canada to visit my family and I’m taking ALL THREE BOYS with me! We fly out a week from today. I need to prepare – both physically AND emotionally. 

Traveling, including flying with kids, is a daunting task and definitely puts me on high alert. I want things to run as smoothly as possible, but need to realize that although I can control some things, I can’t control it all. 

Here is what I am up against: 

  • I am flying SOLO with THREE boys aged 6, 4 and 18 months. Lord have mercy! 
  • I have one 1-HOUR layover in Minneapolis.
  • Total flight time is approximately 4.5 hours in the sky. 

I CAN DO THIS!                             

So how does one prep for such an adventure? We’ve all been there. We’ve all thought about taking a family trip somewhere and perhaps we were deterred when flight travel was involved. Having done this before (and survived), rest assured that if I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT! I’m sharing some tips and tricks to help the ride go more smoothly and included a “kid packing list” for carry on goodies and diaper bags

If you’re traveling with an infant or toddler:

Odds are, if you have a baby or toddler with you, you’ll most like have a diaper bag. Here are some must-haves to make packing easier:

  • Diapers (1 for each hour of travel)
  • Wipes
  • Portable changing pad (most diaper bags have these build-in)
  • Blanket (I like to bring a Copper Pearl swaddle. Thick enough to snuggle, but packs down small enough to not take up too much space.)   
  • Spare change of clothing. You KNOW the day you don’t pack extra clothes, they have a blowout or vomit everywhere!)
  • Wet bag (For such blowouts and messes)
  • Pacifier or teether
  • Toys/books/distractions. I will often bring a small plastic container and I’ll cut a small opening in the lid. I fill it with little poms and let my little one practice putting them back in container. Keeps him entertained for awhile and teaches him dexterity! 
  • Snacks! Lots of snacks. I don’t know about your kids, but mine LOVE food. For my littlest, I usually pack blueberries, those puffed cereal things, soft baked fruit and oat bars, goldfish and baby food pouches. Some of the pouches are over the allowed 4oz limit BUT they left you take them on after they do a little test at security.)
  • Pre-made bottles of formula, or pumped milk, or you! My itty bitties did great when nursing the ENTIRE flight. But hey, they were quiet and mama was relaxed.             

Here are a few more tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way:

  • I always pack a baby carrier. My favorite is the Ergobaby Omni carrier right now. It’s ergonomic, versatile with 4 seating positions and can adapt to my son’s needs. It’s so great to be hands free in the airport while trying to wrangle a few other kids, or go to the bathroom (that’s a task in itself) and it’s even come in handy on the plane when he got a bit fussy. The carrier wins every time! I also always check my gear so this comes in real handy – see next bullet.
  • I always check my car seat(s) AND stroller at the counter BEFORE security. I typically don’t have long layovers and having to wait on the jet bridge for my items to arrive while mentally counting down the minutes to my next departure gives me high level anxiety. It’s so much easier to strap baby in (on the plane), grab your other kids and carry on items and continue (or run) to your next gate! 
  • If your baby is still nursing or bottle feeding, plan on feeding them during take off and landing. The sucking reflex will help equalize pressure in their ears and also soothes them. 
  • I rarely pack a carry-on for myself during these solo adventures. One more thing to forget and one more thing to carry. I put my personal items (wallet, cell phone, etc) in my diaper bag and typically put my empty purse in my CHECKED bag. Yeah when I travel alone with my trio, the less I need to worry about the better. I check EVERYTHING and only carry on snacks, distractions and a diaper bag. I even make my older kids haul their own carry -on bags. (More about that below)
  • Lastly, this will vary per family BIG TIME. I love to board early when I fly solo with the kids so that I can get them and myself situated with our carry on luggage, seat belts, etc. I know this prolongs your time on the plane but trying to fight your way back up the aisle of a crowded plan because there is no storage near you, all with a baby strapped to you just sucks. 

My hubby loves to board last with the kids (he’s braver than I am) and this actually works well when both of us are flying together. We can tag team the kids, get them all settled and we minimize the actual time on the plane. 

If you’re traveling with an older child:

Now, this is a game changer. Once my boys hit around age 4, flying became a whole lot easier! They understood the final result of our trip and looked forward to it. They could sit still when asked, could reason with me and could be bribed by the in-flight snacks and entertainment. As I mentioned above, I then started to have them bring their own carry-on for the flight. I guided them as to what to pack to make them more involved and get them more excited for the trip. I do have these really cool Trunki Ride-On suitcases that the kids can pull or ride on. Makes the layover WAY better and entertaining. When I have really short layovers, I sometimes make them forego the ride on carry-on and go for the backpack so they can run better. 

This is what we typically pack in their carry-on: 

  • Headphones so they can watch in-flight entertainment
  • Tablets. I really try and limit screen time at home but when we fly, that’s out the door. If they are quiet and distracted, BONUS! I have really been enjoying KindleUnlimited. You can monitor what your kids have access to and also find books for them that target their level. [CLICK HERE] to sign up for KindleUnlimited and see how it could change your travel game! 
  • Snacks. We do jerky, apple sauce, crackers, trail mix and they live for juice and treats from the flight attendants!
  • Books, crayons to color, hot wheels, etc. They get to choose a few favorite toys to bring.
  • Travel pillow. These clip on nicely to their carry-on and give them a cozier place to rest. 

Embrace the Journey

At the end of the day, no matter where your next destination is, all parents deserve a pat on the back. Most other passengers understand that children are like wildcards and that you are doing your best to avoid a tantrum that escalates to WWIII. In my experience, other passengers kindly offer distractions to your littles and give you sympathetic glances saying “We’ve all been there. You got this”.  Flight attendants have also been very helpful in helping to assemble my belongings before we de-plane. 

Ultimately, family flying adventures can be stressful, but so is life with kids. Embrace the journey and be proud of yourself for doing something incredible with your kids. You know they’ll remember it for years to come! 

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