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Travelling with Kids: In the Air and On the Go

People & Places
November 07, 2021

In last month’s blog post, we discussed travelling with kids. Specifically, we delved into one-half of the experience, exploring kid-friendly destinations worldwide and offering salient tips on what to pack when travelling with kids. However, once you’ve finished the preparatory work – choosing your destination and packing your bags – there’s the small matter of actually taking the trip.

And so, we’re back for part two of our exploration on how to travel with kids. And this time, we’re focusing on the trip itself.

As we mentioned in the previous article, wanderlust doesn’t stop when you have kids. You still want to see the world, taste the array of cuisines it offers, and enjoy its cultural breadth. Moreover, you want your kids to benefit from those same experiences.

But travelling with young ones takes preparation, patience and a few choice tips from people who’ve walked that road. Here are a few curated tips for navigating air travel and keeping kids happy on the go. These tips specifically address travelling with kids; for general advice on travelling smoothly, check out our DIY travel hacks.

In the Air

It’s natural to feel a certain social guilt when taking kids on an airplane. For much of our lives, we were the ones in the aisle seat, quietly complaining to ourselves about the baby crying next to us. Now, we’re the proud parents of that crying baby (or talkative toddler, or seat-kicking kid).

We might also feel for our kid, who has to deal with the stress of an unfamiliar environment, the boredom of a long-haul flight or the uncomfortable feeling of “airplane ear.”

First off: take a deep breath. Air travel with kids isn’t as challenging as some make it sound. Here are a few choice pieces of advice from avid kid-towing travellers to help you take flight with ease.

Prepare Them with Candid Conversations

Kids do a lot better on airplanes when they know what to expect. (In fact, that’s probably true of most unfamiliar experiences). Before you fly, talk to your kids about what they can expect on the airplane. You can explain:

  • How long the trip will take: If it’s a seven- or eight-hour flight, frame it in terms of a day at school or daycare.
  • How fidgety they might feel: They have to sit in the same spot for quite a while. Understanding this is advance may help them cope with the feeling when it happens.
  • Their ears might feel uncomfortable: Changing pressure on an airplane can feel discomforting. But reassure them that you'll be there, ready to offer water (gulping is good for relieving pressure) or chewing gum (if your kid is four or older).

As you talk candidly about the negative aspects of flying, try to frame the entire experience in a positive light. Remind them that the flight is a means to an end – a requirement for taking a fun, exciting trip abroad.

Pack Snacks

Airplane food is barely palatable to adults, let alone kids. Occasionally, you get a tray of buttered noodles that a kid will happily eat, but you can’t bank on it. Instead, pack snacks to keep your kid satisfied.

There are no hard and fast rules for what snacks to pack (it will depend on their age, taste, allergies, etc.). Ultimately, you know what your kid likes best. Pack them familiar snacks that remind them of home, mixing in some “once-in-a-while” treats for good measure.

Capitalize on That Early Boarding Offer

When the gate agent gets on the loudspeaker to announce that “people flying with young children are now invited to board,” snatch up that offer. There’s a reason why they prioritize parents of young kids in their boarding schedule; it can take time to get a kid settled and buckled, and ensure everyone’s luggage is safely stowed in its proper place.

Credit: yaroslav-astakhov Via Freepik

Vaccinate Well Enough in Advance

Depending on where you’re travelling, you may need to get region-specific vaccines for you and the kids. As the CDC notes, kids should stick to a routine immunization schedule, but international travel “may require accelerated schedules.” Further, they list travel-specific vaccine considerations for things like Hepatitis B and meningitis. Always consult with your doctor to decide what vaccines to get before travelling; they can appraise the various risks and requirements for your travel destination.

Our piece of advice here is concerned with when to get the travel vaccines. Common side effects of vaccines for kids include trouble sleeping, low-grade fever and – occasionally – vomiting. In other words, you don’t want to take a recently vaccinated kid on the plane. That won’t be fun for anyone. Instead, schedule your immunizations a week in advance to avoid vaccine reactions on the flight.

Book a Night Flight

Some online tipsters are adamant that you should book a morning flight when travelling with kids, citing less chance for delays and crowdedness. But we’ve had good luck with night flights.

Night flights also tend to be less crowded than daytime flights. Moreover, we find that kids are more likely to sleep on night flights (a no-brainer, really). Having to sit still for several hours during the day can be painful for a young flyer, but at night they can simply follow their evening routine, falling asleep when they feel tired. (Pro tip: bring their favourite nighttime book to read on the flight).

Accept the Inevitable

Part of taking a young kid on an airplane is preparation. But another significant element to living through the experience is just accepting the inevitable. You can do everything right, but there’s still a chance that you’ll experience a rough ride. You can’t control everything.

So relax. Tune out the odd dirty glare from a fellow passenger when your young one is crying (a breach of good etiquette, most people agree). Don’t sweat it if you can’t make the experience 100% perfect for your kid. Occasionally, the best things in life – like travel – come with their share of difficulties.

Get Comfortable

If you yourself aren’t comfortable, your kid will likely pick up on it. Kids are way more perceptive than we sometimes give them credit for, which is why it’s usually best practice to model the behaviour you want to see in them.
As we mentioned above, try to relax, go with the flow and settle in. Wear your best pair of merino underwear and merino socks on the travel day so you can fly in comfort. Adjust your neck pillow, grab a good book and kick off your shoes (which we maintain is acceptable airplane etiquette). Upon seeing you get comfortable, your kid will probably try and get cozy themselves.

On the Go with Kids in Stow

The plane has landed, you've picked your bags up from the luggage carousel, and you’re ready to greet your destination. But being in an unfamiliar environment, away from the routine and creature comforts of home, might cause some friction with your young traveller.

In this section, we’re exploring on-the-go tips for travelling with kids. These aren’t guaranteed to work 100% of the time, but, in our experience, they help make the trip smoother.

Credit: freepik Via Freepik

Make Frequent “Recharging” Stops

The little human you’re travelling with doesn’t have quite the same gas in the tank as an adult. They can’t usually walk around a city, taking in the sights, for the better part of a day.

Give your kids (and yourself) frequent breaks by building “recharging stops” into your itinerary. If necessary, stick close to your hotel in case they need a quick naptime. Or plan to be around a park for part of your day (as we’ll discuss below, parks are a fantastic resource for kids on the go).

Conversely, you might find your kid experiences too much downtime for their liking (an issue that especially affects beach vacations). In these cases, research nearby activities – like science centres, nature hikes or mini-golfs – and build them into your itinerary.

Limit Boring Laundry Trips by Packing Merino Wool

As we've discussed before on this blog, doing laundry abroad is tedious and time-consuming. Waiting an hour and a half (or longer) to clean clothes detracts from your precious travel time and can make an already-impatient kid even more cranky.

Instead, pack merino wool clothing for travelling. The travel clothes we make at Unbound Merino are engineered for long trips abroad – they are naturally antimicrobial and sweat-wicking. Some of our customers report wearing their socks, underwear or merino wool running shorts for weeks without any noticeable odour. This means you only have to pack a few pairs to last you the entire trip – without stepping foot in a laundromat.

Not convinced you can make it the entire trip without a wash? No problem. Read our straightforward guide on cleaning merino wool, which you can easily do by hand in the hotel sink.

Always Carry Snacks and Drinks

As most parents know, a kid’s mood and their stomach are intimately related. Without regular sustenance, they turn into heel-dragging, crying, tantrum-ing travellers who are virtually impossible to reason with.

Consider waking up relatively early each morning and doing a quick grocery shop for the day. Grab on-the-go snacks like pre-cut vegetables, crackers and cheese. If you’re the parent of an adventurous eater, you might even grab some local foods your kid hasn’t tried before. And add fruit juice to your grocery list, which offers a fresh measure of natural sugars (irritability is often a sign of low blood sugar in kids).

Credit: freepik Via Freepik

Find Open Spaces

Once they start walking, they start running around too. And it can be hard for them to sit still in enclosed places like restaurants and museums for too long. If possible, find a nearby park so your kid can stretch their legs, run around, and maybe even meet kids their own age. For your part, you may even meet local parents, who can advise you on kid-friendly activities in the area.

You might also consider eating some meals at the park. Eating in parks takes the stuffiness out of eating abroad – you don’t have to worry about offending fellow diners or crouching under the table to retrieve tossed French fries. We’re not saying you need to eat every meal as an outdoor picnic, but it’s nice to switch things up occasionally.

Develop an Itinerary that Satisfies Everyone

Let’s rewind a bit to the planning phase of a trip abroad. In our last article, we discussed how to pack for kids of different ages, and elsewhere on our blog, we’ve touched on how to pack so you can feel your best when travelling. But packing isn’t the only prep work involved in a successful trip; you also have to plan an itinerary that satisfies everyone.

Try to strike a balance between kid-friendly activities and adult activities. For every fine-dining restaurant or history museum you attend, throw in a theme park, playground or aquarium. Travelling with kids shouldn’t preclude you from doing what you love; you just need to consider their needs too.

Let Older Kids Have Some Say

If your kids are a little older, consider inviting them to the table as you plan an itinerary. Leaf through travel guides like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s or Rough Guides together, and see if anything catches their eye. Looping kids into the planning process lets them feel a sense of ownership in the trip, which – in our experiences – translates directly to better behaviour.

If you haven’t read part one of our guide to travelling with kids, we recommend heading over there, where we discuss kid-friendly destinations and packing tips. Hopefully, between the two articles, something caught your eye. As usual, if there are any tips this article didn’t cover, you can list them in the comments below, so other like-minded travellers see them.

As a final note, we hope that openly discussing the hardships and rewards of travelling with kids has given you the confidence to try it. Yes, it can be challenging at times, but with enough preparation, compassion and attention, you can make the travel experience enriching for everyone.