Traveling with your kids can be really rewarding, but it can also be stressful, especially when stuck for hours on a plane with nowhere for them to play and having to convince them to sit still. You need to start planning for your stint on the plane before you even leave your house. You don't need to pack a ton of stuff to keep kids entertained and busy on a plane, so don't resign yourself to splurging on baggage fees already. I mean, you've already shelled out all the money to fly to your destination, so let's look at how to make it as painless as possible.
Tell Them What to ExpectKids are super-adaptable, but it does help to explain things to them. Traveling is kinda weird when you think about it. You stand in line to go through security, where people judge you and look at all your stuff, then you wait to get herded into a big metal room, where you strap yourself in and the air pressure is all funky and makes your ears hurt on occasion. It's sort of like being in the car, but with 200 other people and you can't get out because you need to stretch your legs. Crazy, right? Explain to your kids what they'll be expecting, and more than once. It's better for them to be excited that they're flying than for them to be freaked out and hate every second of your journey. Not only will you also hate it, so will everyone on the airplane.
Pack SnacksRemember that meltdown that happened that one time when your kid was hungry and you didn't have any food in your bag? Imagine that 100 times worse, because you can't pop into 7-11 for almonds or a granola bar and all the airplane food that may or may not be available for purchase is $8. When you're bored, food can be distracting. Pack healthy things they'll eat, like cheese and crackers, fruit, nuts and cereal. Don't forget the beverages either, because having to wait for the drink cart to come around can suck, especially when you're "sooooooo thirsty!" You know how it is. Kids don't want it until they can't have it and then everything is dire. Either bring a bottle that you can fill up once you get through security or snag a few drinks before boarding. You'll be glad you did. (Don't forget the gum!)
Pack GamesThere's nothing better to distract your child(ren) than to make the time fly by. Games are a great way to do that. Pack a something they like and then a few other things that are a surprise, like some awesome card games. Depending on their age, this can be anything from Zigity and Old Maid to Fluxx and Uno. I have several travel games that I find fun, but perhaps your kid(s) loves Battleship or Guess Who, or maybe something more sophisticated like Yahtzee or Bananagrams. No matter what, bring an average of three games, so you can cycle through them. Coloring books, electronic games and even plain notebook paper are great ideas, too.
Bring Your TabletKids are super tech-savvy now. If yous are too, then make sure you load up your tablet with games, videos and books they'll love. A long flight can fly by when they have everything they need at their fingertips. Don't forget a back-up battery to keep it charged and headphones, because as happy as everyone will be that your kids are entertaining themselves, they'll be less happy if they have to hear Dora the Explorer at full blast, because that's how your little one likes to watch it.
Let Them Pack a Bag For Themselves
Everyone's entitled to a carry-on, and that goes for kids. Their little clothes can be packed into your carry-on, because they don't take up that much space. Allow them to bring stuff they love (within reason) on their trip in a little backpack or a fun roller bag. Even if it's just full of stuffed animals, Legos or play food, they'll feel more comfortable having that piece of home with them and they'll have something to play with on the ride if they want. In fact, here's an awesome way to pack and store Legos when you travel. (You know, so you don't have to pick up 500 of them off the airplane floor.)
Fly Really Early or Really Late
Don't fly when your kids are bound to be super cranky. You won't make any friends that way and you'll just get more stressed out. Fly really early when your kids are bright-eyed and bushy tailed. They'll be happier and excited for the day. Your other option is to fly really late when they will be asleep and can miss most of the flying time. Put them in their PJs (because this is the only time it is acceptable to wear nightclothes on a plane) and bring along a travel blanket and their pillow.
Stay On a Schedule
If your kids are used to doing certain things at a certain time (i.e. nap or eat), make sure you stay on that schedule, even if you have to do it in a different setting. Bring the things they have to have to do those things, like I've listed above. You'll be more likely to avoid a meltdown when they're tired or hungry and they'll feel a lot more comfortable, even though they aren't somewhere they're used to.
When you travel with your kids on the plane, how do you make it more fun for everyone involved?