Let’s talk about self-flagellation or at least it’s modern form – flying with young children. True, this style of self-inflicted torture went out of style, but we’re still creating ways of ensuring we suffer: enter the 15 hour flight with 3 kids.
In all honesty, we have some travel savvy little ones and they do alright, but 15 hours in a sky-bus breathing recycled air is enough to put even the most patient adult over the edge. In fact, there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to this and we watch those clips in bemusement and genuine horror. It’s like the People of Walmart but in the air.
Here are some practical ways we pack our carry-on to keep our kids, and ourselves, more human while flying.
For the youngest ones, colouring is a gold mine. Dollar store colouring books are treasures. Scrap paper from the office is gold. The real beauty is triangle crayons. Don’t be a chump and get those typical round crayons. You guarantee that most of your flight will be spent doubled over picking those things off the floor. Triangular crayons don’t roll.
On the ground at home we have rules for screen time. In the air, that means absolutely nothing. If they want to watch 8 hours of cartoons until their eyes glisten with the dying glint of a trout on a dock on summer’s afternoon, then we are all for it. One way to avoid fighting over who is watching what is to get headphones that plug into one another. There are a number of models designed for kids. This is especially great when there is 1 iPad, 2 battling kids, and countless opinions on what they should watch.
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Put that pitiful airplane blanket to good use by tying two ends to the tray table arms and tucking the other edge under the kid’s seatbelt. This creates an airplane blanket safety net. Whatever toys and activities role off the table are cradled gently in that blanket and are easy to retrieve. That’s right, go on and give that blanket a higher purpose.
We all pack changes of clothes for children while traveling, but don’t just put them in your carry-on. Pack spare clothes in ziplock bags. If a kid needs a change of clothes then something has probably gone wrong. It’s probably messy. You probably want to contain it.
Whenever we are traveling through the night, we create a bedtime bundle for each kid. This is a ziplock bag with pyjamas, tooth brush, tooth paste, and their comfort toy of choice (stuffed animals all the way). Include whatever your kids needs to prep for bed. We do our best to recreate our bedtime routine while in transit. It helps kids understand that it is time to sleep even if the sun is right outside your window.
We use a duffle that unzips from the top as our carry-on. Easy access is important. If you were to stand over our carry-on and look down, you would see that items are slid down in like CD cases (aging ourselves there). Being able to see what you want and pull it out instead of rummaging is a time and stress saver.
Pack activities together into, you guessed it, a ziplock. Pack the crayons in the same bag as the colouring books. Pack the card games into a bag together – because yes, you should have a deck of cards, UNO, and SkipBo with you on all trips. This allows you to pull out one activity and clean it up before moving onto the next one.
Before long-haul travel we hit the dollar store and pick-up a few new items. This could be a toy, an activity book, or something tactile like a puzzle. Having a few surprises to wow the masses with comes in handy round hour 9.
Pack snacks. Enough said.
A few days before we fly, we set out our children’s personal carry-on. This is their own and not the duffel that we use for snacks, clothes, and activities. This is usually a backpack. They are responsible to pack this bag. It is often a mix of toys, football (soccer) cards, and books. Before we travel, we sit down together and go through the bag. We have parental veto and we try not to use this liberally – usually if it makes noise it does not make the cut (to the joy of everyone around you on the plane). Full disclosure – our kids have hauled useless stuff around the world. They’ve over-packed and had to schlep heavy bags. They’ve packed tiny toys which have gone missing. And they’ve learned from each of those experiences.
May your carry-on be child-appropriate, may your connections be quick, and may your nerves be unfrazzled.