As someone who spends a lot of time in airports and on airplanes, I have been reminded in recent weeks that summer is clearly the time for family travel. Based on my own experiences and recent airport observations, I think it’s safe to say that family travel is an adventure that involves an entirely different skill set than traveling solo; and it involves quite a bit of planning! With so many of us taking to the family-friendly skies this summer, it seemed like a particularly useful time to share some parental tips and tricks for planning your trip and navigating the airport.
- It’s about time. The timing of family travels can have a noticeable effect on a child’s behavior. Booking departures during naptime or after bedtime works well for children who conveniently fall asleep upon boarding. But be aware that this approach has the potential to backfire, leaving you trapped on an airplane with an overly tired, cranky and wide-awake child. When it comes to the length of time you’ll be in the air, consider whether a direct flight is really preferable to a connecting one–especially if you are traveling a longer distance and have a child who is more amenable to sitting or sleeping in his seat if given the opportunity to get off the plane, have something to eat, and run around.
- Take your seats. The first order of business when it comes to young children and airplane seating is recognizing that even children who aren’t required to have their own seats are far safer if they are sitting in one–an admittedly more expensive, but safer option. Bringing your child’s car seat along for the trip is also a good idea so your child is well-secured during the flight and you have an appropriate car seat to use at your final destination. Finally, in order to take airplane boarding in stride, I suggest you consider whether you really want to accept the seemingly family-friendly option to pre-board. I recall juggling our belongings between my husband and three small children as we hurried down the jet way ahead of a throng of other passengers, only to find ourselves stuck on the plane for that much longer.
- Hope for the best…but pack for the unexpected. What you bring in your carry-on can make a world of difference. Bring a change of clothes for every member of the family in case of spills, spit-ups and whatever else may come your way, as well as a couple of books or toys (preferably non-disruptive ones). When it comes to the true essentials your family can’t go long without–diapers, baby food, snacks or medications–be sure to bring plenty of extras for unexpected delays.
- Dress the part. For travelers of all ages, dressing in comfortable, layered clothing is helpful, since you never know if you and your children will find yourselves sweltering or shivering on the plane. While not as realistic an option for adults, I often see young children dressed in pajamas—a wardrobe choice that certainly fits the bill for comfort and predisposes them to falling asleep on the plane. Finally, wearing comfortable shoes is a must. Whether you end up sprinting across the airport or simply passing the time by taking a stroll with your children around the terminal, you’ll be happy you’re wearing the right shoes.
- Make the most of the day. With some forethought, patience and a bit of creativity, airports and airplanes can be a lot like a day at the amusement park for young children. I’ll be the first to admit that family travel days when my children were young were very tiring, and required a lot of juggling; however, maintaining a positive attitude towards the day can set the tone for what is hopefully an enjoyable summer vacation.
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