Since my husband is from Europe, Portugal to be exact, we travel there every three years to visit family. It’s tough living so far away from half our relatives, so we make the effort and we generally stay for a month. Yes, we take the entire family, which means flying with young children.
We were unable to go last year, so before we arrived here two days ago, it had been four years since we made the trip. Though we’ve gone with kids nine times, it’s been long enough since we’ve done it that I was worried about keeping my youngest daughter occupied.
A few memories of past flights
We have seven children but they came along one at a time. So taking one, and then three, and even four wasn’t that bad. But five and six became more challenging. We made the trip twice with six, ages 10 months-14 years the first time and ages 3-17 the second. But by the time our last baby came along, the oldest two didn’t go with us (in 2013), taking us back down to five. For this trip in 2017, we’d be taking only four. Easy right? Well, maybe not.
You see, I vividly remember past trips when, even during turbulence, I had to change baby diapers in tiny airplane bathrooms—not to mention all the baby’s clothes. And I had to scrub my pants. I remember one hot plane where the man’s gift chocolate from the row behind us, somehow ended up in my space and all over my baby’s feet and clothes.
The last time we went to Portugal in 2013, the plane made an “emergency” landing (with one hour to go) because ONE of the toilets was broken, and regulations said they couldn’t continue that way. We were stuck for hours in a boiling hot (and unmoving) plane while mechanics fixed a broken toilet. Finally, they let us out into the air-conditioned terminal to use the restroom and finish waiting. The unplanned landing ended up extending the last leg of our trip by six hours. Though we tried to make the best of the situation, it seemed ridiculous that we had to stop one hour away from our destination to wait six hours while they fixed a toilet. It was enough to make me wish I’d never even considered flying with young children.
Preparation is key
I was right to be worried about my youngest. The last time we’d taken her to Portugal (the time with the broken plane toilet), Lisbon was almost two years old, and this time, at nearly age six, she was by far more needy. “Mommy, are we there? Mommy, I need a drink. Mommy, I’m bored. Mommy, I dropped my . . .”
But I was prepared! I asked readers for help before I left, and most agreed that keeping her occupied and happy was the best way to have a great trip. Several recommended wrapping small items and giving them out one at a time over the course of the journey. I knew that would be something Lisbon would enjoy—and she did!
Here’s a list from me and my readers to help you on your way. Pick and choose what will interest your child most.
To bring or do when flying with young children
- Snacks that are low in sugar and high in protein
- Empty water bottle—to fill after passing through security, so you always have water at hand
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Extra set of clothes for children in diapers—just in case!
- Light jacket (some airplanes are cold even in the summer)
- Small stuffed animal to snuggle
- Gum to help their ears adjust on takeoff and landing
- Puzzles (size dependent on your child’s age)
- Toy cars or other small toys
- Crayons and/or colored pencils (markers are often too messy for a plane)
- Coloring book
- Sticker activity book
- Story books (could be ebooks)
- String and beads to make simple necklaces
- Small ball to bounce for airport layovers
- Skipping rope for airport layovers
- Deck of cards
- Ball of yarn (after watching a video on how to finger knit)
- Finger puppets
- Headphones (small children often have trouble with earbuds)
- Music they enjoy
- DVD player and movies—or a tablet with downloaded movies
- Games on your tablet or phone that can be played offline
- Play games like “I spy” or “What shape is that cloud” (if you can see clouds)
How our flights went
A 90-minute weather delay in Denver almost made us miss the last of our three flights, but the plane was miraculously held for the 20+ of us who’d been delayed on three different flights. So this turned out being one of the easiest trips out of the nine we’ve made with our kids. Of course, it helped that the other three children we brought were older (13, 17, and 20).
What my child liked best
On this trip, the puzzles were the biggest hit for my daughter. They came in small tins and cost a buck and a half. She was only mildly interested in two of the three small toys I’d brought, but she adored the heart watch that blinks. At one dollar, the watch was well worth the cost. She also spent almost two hours watching a DVD that we’d brought.
Since my daughter fell asleep for four hours on the last flight, we even had extra “presents” left over that she opened in Portugal as we waited in line to pick up our car rental. As a bonus, these toys and activities have kept her busy as we all catch up on lost sleep.
Last word of advice
Most of all when you’re flying, try not to stress! You’re going to get to your destination eventually, one way or the other. Getting upset at delays will only make things harder on you and your children. Go prepared—and with the idea that there will be delays somewhere along the line. I really think that’s the key to making good memories. It’s all a matter of perspective and keeping your cool.
Thankfully, my children all enjoy flying and have fond memories of playing games in airports.
What have you brought on trips that helped make flying with young children easier (or at least tolerable, lol)? What do you wish you’d brought but didn’t think of before too late?