Traveling With Kids: 5 Tips for Survival

We recently traveled across the Atlantic with our five kids. Pre-flight, I had some anxiety, but as there was no other expeditious way to visit Italy, we had only one option — 8 hours of flight time with 3 year old active boys (the three older girls pretty much fend for themselves at this point.) Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Now, I have to start thinking about the way home.

 * * * Check Out Our “Bag of Tricks” story for ideas to keep the kids entertained on the plane. * * *

1. Keep your expectations VERY low and you will likely be pleasantly surprised. It is hard for anyone to sit in one place for hours on end. This is especially difficult for children. Expect to get no sleep, to walk the aisle constantly, to get dirty looks from nearby passengers and to generally be miserable for the duration of the flight — this way anything less will feel like a home run.

2. Set the ground rules before the flight. If your children are old enough to understand reason, sit them down before take off. Explain travel is a privilege. Courtesy to you, the flight attendants and the other passengers is expected. The security line will be long and yes, they have to wait in it. There may be delays, and this is something they will just have to deal with. Make them responsible for their carry ons. What games, books, electronics and crafts can they fit in the bag they will be carrying? Always be honest. Don’t tell them they are almost there, when arrival is hours away. Be prepared to explain why you have to take off your shoes, turbulence and the meaning of life. The earlier you make them competent, self-sufficient and patient travelers, the better your family trips will be.

3. Be prepared. Take the time to think of the worst-case scenario and plan for it. Pack extra batteries, medication, diapers, formula, change of underwear (for the kids too), portable chargers and Valium. (Check Out Heather’s Carry-On Packing List.) Know your kids. If they have a runny nose, consider tylenol pre-flight. If they have a tendency toward motion sickness, extra clothes and washcloths are a must. If your kids are full of surprises, pack everything. I was once on a flight when the kids were very small from Turks and Caicos. It was meant to last 3 hours. It turned into a 12 hour ordeal, with crying and shouting and turbulence and near-death experiences. There were families on board who had no diapers or food for their babies. I also lost an engine on a recent flight(terrifying), had an emergency landing and was delayed 14 hours and missed my connecting flight and didn’t get home until the next day. As a rule, if you prepare for the worst, it will not happen. Not much more can happen on my flights.

if this happens…and it probably will, remain calm.

4. Distraction is an art form. For little kids, bring toys and games they have never seen before. Do not make the mistake (while it may be a very understandable and honest mistake) of packing a huge bag of matchbox cars, as they can cause serious injury when thrown in a fit, and by nature of the fact they have wheels, will end up all over the plane.

Bring new books, new coloring pads, and snacks they have yet to try. Consider purchasing earphones which will fit little heads, as it is beyond frustrating to hold in ear buds, so they can watch the movie. Before you take off think of all your distraction options, and deal them out slowly, one at a time. It is very tempting to throw everything at them at once, but then you may have a good kid for 1/2 hour and a lunatic for the rest of the flight.

5. Remember my mantra — This Too Shall Pass. No matter how bad the experience, it will end. You may be divorcing your spouse and putting your kids up for adoption in a foreign country when you land, but at some point, you will have both feet on the ground. Focus on the prize. If you like vacation, no matter how bad the trip, it was worth it.

Reprinted from Feb 2016

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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