In the weeks leading up to our last trip across the world to Melbourne, Australia, every time I thought about the 26-hours of flying, coupled with being away from home for 21 days, topped off with my fears about making the journey with a four-year-old, I could barely sit down I was so riddled with anxiety. As a result, I spent weeks leading up to the trip planning, prepping and organizing like a crazy person.
In order to alleviate some of that anxiety, I made preparing for my son's needs on our journey, my first order of business. I TOTALLY over did it. In an effort to save you the same angst and overthinking, preparing and worrying, below are my, 5 Sanity Saving Tips For Family Travel.
1. Choose Your Seats Wisely: Seat choice is crucial when flying with your family, especially if you don't want to sit anywhere near them! (Kidding... Kind of...) The goal when flying with your family is to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible, and o course, the ever important window seat is crucial for entertaining your child in flight. If you are flying a carrier that does not offer early seat selection, call the airline, and inform them that you are flying as a family and see what your options are. The seats could make or break your journey, so make sure you get the best ones you can!
2. FOOD! Food is essential on any flight. In fact, it is the one thing that should be considered if nothing else when prepping for a family flight. Even though you can't bring a bottle of water through TSA security, food is completely acceptable, and 100% essential if you are flying with children, For our flight, I packed a Cooler lunch bag with 5 Lunchables, a bag of grapes and two cutie oranges. In a separate bag, I packed my son's favorite cereal bars and cookies. My rule of thumb is to consider how many meals, including snacks, we will be traveling for, and then pack accordingly. Between the fear of a short connection and the high cost of airport food, I make sure I have plenty of healthy, low-sugar snacks.
3. Child-size Pillow and blanket--preferably easy to smooch into a carry-on or small vacuum bag and seal. While most long haul flights provide each passenger with a blanket, it's more like an oversized paper towel. And the pillow is laughable, at best. the last thing you want on a flight is a freezing child, stuck under an air conditioner vent that won't turn off. The pillow is EPIC for keeping your child's head and your arm comfy. Trust me, smashed up against the side of a plane holding a sleeping child is a recipe for a numb sore arm.
4. Let your kid pack their carry-on. Explain that ONLY the things that fit in the bag can go on the plane, and to choose their favorite things. Once your child has finished packing, throw in a favorite book, crayons and a coloring book, if not already packed. The bag is great for in-flight fun, that will hopefully buy an hour of two of quiet. It was also nice that my son had a few of his favorite toys from home on the trip. I could whip out his backpack for downtime in the hotel, or to keep him busy on a road trip.
5. Pack light and limit carry-on. It's hard enough navigating a large airport with a child in-tow, it's another to do it with six bags! Actually, it sucks. Bad. If at all possible, pick an airline that allows the first bag to fly free, or, consider the idea of paying to check one large bag, especially if you have multiple connections.
After dragging my son and six bags across the globe, I bought one large bag in Australia to make sure I NEVER did that again. Also, not only do you have to lug the carry-on around the airport, finding an overhead compartment is near impossible, and nothing fits under the seats anymore. Just imagine being stuffed in the luggage bay. Same thing when you fly with a ton of carry-on.
Also, pack as light as possible. You will buy plenty along your travels and will need room in your luggage to bring things home. Think two pairs of PJ's instead of one for each night away.
I have to say, all of the prepping made a huge difference. Most of all, packing food for the trip was the game-changer. The food and selection along the 26-hour journey were, SO NOT!, stuff my son wanted to eat. It was really nice to pull out his favorite snack, rather than try to make him eat something he didn't want.
I also think children are great plane-riders. My theory is the fear, mixed with the excitement, mixed with the fun, mixed with vibration and hum of the aircraft keeps most kids in an overload-comatose. I have yet to see a child go mental for an entire flight, or really even more than a few minutes. And now that smartphones and tablets exist children seem more well-behaved than their parents! (At least that was the case for my son.) For more about how my son did on the 20,000-mile journey, read, How Children Really Act On Flights