Parenting: Travelling with small children

Thursday, February 09, 2012

My family recently took a vacation to Turks and Caicos.

At the end of our return trip, a fellow passenger asked us how often our children travelled. She assumed Luke, 6, and Emma, 4, were little "frequent fliers" since they behaved well on the plane.

We only travel once a year, but we've found ways to make the flight relatively painless.

When it comes to booking, I've found it pays off to buy a non-stop flight. You avoid the hassle of lugging your children and all your carry-ons to a connecting flight. Also, you only have to deal with one ear-popping descent, which can be uncomfortable for some children.

Travel agent Rabia Shahenshah suggests budgeting at least an hour for the connection. "If you don't want to battle crowds, avoid peak flying hours. The emptier flights depart late at night, in mid-afternoon, and early in the week. If avoiding potential delays is a higher priority for you, consider booking the first flight of the day," she said.

During the flight, I like to play Santa. A few new coloring books can go a long way on a flight. Also, during the flight we allowed both our children rare access to their electronic games (a Nintendo DS for Luke, Leapster Explore for Emma.) We don't want our children playing these games much while on solid ground, but they are a great way to kill time during a long plane ride (volume on low, of course!)

If you do pack toys, try to avoid ones with a lot of tiny pieces because they tend to get lost on an airplane.

Speaking of packing, we bought both of our children small, wheeled suitcases for Christmas (Disney Princesses for Emma, Lightning McQueen for Luke.) They are big enough to contain enough clothes for a week's vacation and small enough to bring as a carry-on.

Both kids liked being "big enough" to pull their own suitcases. Besides saving money on checked bags, this ensured our children had plenty of clothing changes in case of an accident or spill during the flight.

In terms of food items, I also packed a soft cooler full of enough food to last a couple days. It's a bit of an overkill, but it would keep hunger at bay in case we were stuck on the tarmac for hours, and it also supplied snacks for the hotel room. I tried to make it as healthy as possible: dried fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola, Powerbars, etc.

I also packed some "emergency junk food" like chips, cookies and lollipops - after all, it is a vacation. If your children drink from sippy cups, remember to pack a couple. Make sure they are empty so you can get through security quickly.

When it comes to time, allow even extra time for checking in than you would if travelling by yourself. Children often require a few extra trips to the bathroom and can't sprint through an airport as quickly as adults. In our case, the line for security was especially long. I was glad we arrived a full two hours before our flight. The long wait in line allowed time for me to explain the process of going through security and kept us stress-free. Kids can pick up on your anxiety, so try to stay calm!

One other suggestion that could make the days AFTER your flight more enjoyable: pack plenty of antibacterial wipes. I wipe down all the surfaces on the plane that my children or I, will touch: the seats, the tray tables, the little buttons, the window blinds, etc. Ever since I started doing this, my children and I have stopped getting sick a few days after flying.

Have a great trip and happy parenting!

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