Guest Post by: Sara Farnsworth
I have been a mama for almost 13 years. In that time I have traveled with kids to 3 countries, and 41 states, spending upwards of 8 weeks in many of those locations. We typically spend 10 weeks per year traveling. Currently, my kids are ages 9, 11, and 12. Here are some of my tried and true tips based on age that makes traveling with these little minions a truly enjoyable experience!
Before we dive in, my biggest piece of advice no matter the kids’ ages: Be flexible! Nothing will go according to your exact plan, you’ll get close but you’ll never be exact. Often that’s when the memories are made. Our kids still laugh about the time we got stuck in the snow in Wyoming 50 miles away from the freeway. Or the time we got a nail in our tire on the 4th of July at Crazy Horse Memorial. Or the time our AirBnB in Savannah, GA was haunted! None of those things were particularly enjoyable in the moments, but those memories have had a lasting impact.
Now onto the tips based on kids’ ages and stages of life. Many of these can translate across all ages, but sometimes it helps to see the specifics. I’ve found that there are pretty clear categories you can focus on to make your life easier: Snacks, activities, comfort, and extras. I’ll break it down for you per age so here’s my shorthand: NB – New babies-crawlers; T: Crawlers-3ish years old; K: 3ish-8ish years old; BK: 8ish-teen years.
- If you’re breastfeeding, be ready to have that baby on the boob as much as possible.
- If you’re not breastfeeding, have more bottles and formula ready than you think (yes, you can carry bottles filled with water on the plane, they will test it a TSA. I just brought empty bottles and filled them up with half hot water and half regular water at Starbucks or other coffee shops or from the flight attendants on the plane.)
- Have snacks on hand that you know your kiddos go bananas for and are easy to pack and won’t get crushed (or pack them in a sturdy Tupperware).
- Teething things. Those plane rides will not make them too happy if they’re also teething.
K & BK
- For these ages, bribe them with snacks they don’t normally get at home. Once they can understand that there are special snacks available for travel days only they’ll be more apt to go with the flow. This is a good time to loosen up on snack options and be fun mom/dad if you can. (Ignore any judgmental looks, you are doing a great job, and letting your kid have a fun snack doesn’t make you a bad parent!)
- Same with fun drinks. We don’t do soda, but this is a chance for them to get Gatorade or lemonade or something like that. I do always have a water bottle they carry with them too.
- Honestly, the name of the game is that hopefully, they nap. If they have some fun sensory books or teething toys, this is a good thing to have on hand to keep them occupied. Think of small and compact activities you can easily carry in your bag and you won’t be devastated if they get lost.
- Most of my memories of my babies traveling are of them sleeping on the plane or chewing on an empty water bottle.
- This is a tough age to travel with kids. In my opinion, the toughest. But you can do this! If your kiddo can be captivated by a book or magnatiles or coloring, great! If you need to use your phone or iPad with Bluey or Ms. Rachel on it, do it! They have great headband headphones that you can use if they don’t enjoy watching without sound.
- Eating is also a major activity for kids this age. I just kept slowly feeding my kids some snacks through every flight. I also got them those coloring books that come with the marker that’s just water that reveals the image. Those are a hit, even with older kids!
- I know this will be polarizing, but I’m a big fan of the iPad (or Switch, etc.) for plane travel. We don’t let our kids play iPads unless we’re traveling so they view this as a fun opportunity to either play or watch movies on their iPads. Just make sure you load games and movies that you can access without wifi. If your preschool-age kid can keep attention on an iPad, it’s the most compact activity you can bring to keep them busy.
- If iPad isn’t an option: books, magic reveal coloring books, sticker books (can be dangerous if you have a kiddo who likes to decorate walls like I do), magnatiles, etch a sketch, or action figures/dolls.
- iPad (or Nintendo Switch, etc.). It’s the best gift for plane travel. Because they don’t get to use devices regularly, they love to travel because I don’t limit it when we’re in the plane or car. It’s like a free for all they love.
- I download audiobooks to their iPads and sometimes they’ll listen to those while coloring or playing a game on the iPad.
- Headphones: we used the ones that were like headbands and were wired. So comfortable for the kids and doesn’t take up a lot of space.
- I always have them bring a physical book, just in case batteries die or something happens with the device. That way they have something to do no matter what.
- I have one kid who reads like a maniac, so I got her a kindle. I download a ton of books from the library onto the kindle and she brings that everywhere. She barely uses her iPad so this was a great purchase for us.
- Backpacks. This is the age when kids can start carrying their own backpacks with iPads, headphones, snacks, a favorite animal, and a reusable water bottle. We got the smaller backpacks for them when the kids were too little for regular-sized backpacks. And it keeps you from lugging around all their stuff!
- Bring charging banks and cords for all the devices just in case!
- If your baby has started gravitating towards any comfort items or blankets or teething things, bring one or two that you know will work. Don’t bring too much, it’ll be so overwhelming for you to get on and off the plane.
- Wrap that baby to you and don’t bother with a stroller. Check that bad boy at the gate or when you check your luggage (if you have a long layover – or multiple kids, check the stroller at the gate so you can use it during that time).
- Comfy blanket or stuffed animal or comfort toy. Just bring one so you don’t have to carry too much.
- Bring a comfort animal or blanket.
- The usual diaper bag things with an extra two changes of clothes in case baby is having all the blowouts on the plane.
- Change their diaper in the airport right before boarding and you might get lucky and not have to change on the plane.
- With babies, I usually book shorter flights with longer layovers so I could get up and walk around and avoid the plane bathroom. If you have a kid who sleeps great, you could probably get away with longer flight times.
- You’re probably still carrying a diaper bag around for this age too, so stuff that thing with all the things you need plus 2 extra clothes (more if you’re potty training).
- Hand Sanitizer
- Colgate Wisp teeth brush things (cause all those fun snacks and drinks will make their breath funky)
- Extra headphones
- Empty gallon storage bags (trust me, you’ll find so many uses for this)
The same ideas as plane travel applies to car travel as well as the following:
- Start practicing time in the car now. Your kiddos will be better travelers the more they get to practice being in the car.
- A mirror, so baby can peek at themselves, is a huge help.
- New toys or teething things that light up or have fun sounds are always a hit.
- Have more bottles than you think you need or plan more time to pull over to breastfeed than you anticipate needing.
- Make sure you build in time to get out of the car and let them get out of the car seat for a minute.
- Play music you love. Don’t get sucked into the trap of kids-only music!
- If you have multiple young kids, have the older one “read” to the younger one.
- Plan for fun stops along the way. Things that will engage you as well as the kid(s).
- I highly recommend not driving more than 6 hours in a day if you can. That way you can spend time at stops and still get to a hotel or your final location at a decent hour.
- Audiobooks! Pick kid-friendly books that have great narrators. (Personally, our top favorite audiobook series is the Penderwicks. It’s so sweet, low risk, with a great narrator and story. I could recommend so many more but that’s a different blog for another day.)
- Books. We brought all the books and put them in a basket next to their car seats so they could reach them and grab whatever they wanted. The books that have lots of sensory options are a big hit for the car too.
- You can make a binder with laminated pages that the kids can color
- You can buy coloring books that use the special marker that brings the color to life
- Etch a sketch!
- Coloring books with washable crayons or markers
- We also don’t let our kids play the Nintendo switch except for traveling so they get to bring that too and love it
- We also require that they pause on screens after about an hour and do something else. They don’t even know I do this, I just say “Hey guys, you want to listen to a Smash, Boom, Best podcast episode with me?” And they love those so much that they typically put devices away without grumbling.
- We used to have a car with a DVD player in it and that was great for the kids to watch a movie together, but it made it not so fun for the parents to have to listen to the movie the whole time. Now they watch movies on their own with headphones and we get to listen to whatever music or podcasts we want to.
I also always have an extra change of underwear for all kids no matter the age because you just never know. They could even fall into a puddle of water. Before you depart, clean out your diaper bag, purse, or backpack and make sure every item you have in there is worth it and easy to access. Don’t overload your carry-ons.
As with all things parenting, if you are feeling at peace and enjoying yourself, they probably will too. I highly recommend finding things your kids will look forward to on the travel portion. It really is the best trick I’ve found to keep them looking forward to the travel experience. On international flights, you can try to time it to fly overnight but don’t be surprised if they don’t sleep. I’ve experienced both and when I didn’t expect them to sleep and they did it was a much happier flight for me.
I’m Sara – a new Michigander! I’ve been married to Steven for 187 years (17 actually, but you know…) and we have 3 minions ages 9, 11, and 12. We moved here in November 2022 from Los Angeles, CA and are loving the seasons as well as the space. We bought 24 acres with a workshop on it that we are converting to an event venue. We’re also in process to plant a 2 acre you pick cut flower garden! You can find out more about us on Instagram and Facebook @thepeabodylane or at our website www.thepeabodylane.com.
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