The thought of traveling with my kids used to scare me to the point of a near anxiety attack. I am not joking or exaggerating. I recently traveled abroad with my two children and the thought of canceling the trip crossed my mind more than once. I had traveled with them in the past, but I always had my significant other or my mother as a backup. This time I was flying solo.
About seven years ago, I left the United States for Switzerland. Five years later, my daughter was born and that put an end to any trips across the pond. In May of last year, I sprouted the wonderful idea of traveling to my homeland with my two children, but alone. After much planning, we finally made the trek. In September, we flew from Zurich to Chicago and started our two-month journey. Now, I am back to reality and can share what I learned with you, dear reader!
Read the Fine Print
The first thing I did to ensure a smooth sail was read the airline website. This time, I went with Aer Lingus and I was pleasantly surprised. Apparently, they are a discount airline, but I wouldn’t have guessed. Pre-kid I was a frequent flyer and their service is on par with others these days.
I wanted to find out all the important things: baggage limits, food options and of course, in-flight entertainment. It’s amazing, but you can, depending on the airline, book a “kid-friendly” meal for your pickiest eaters. I didn’t do that because my kids are vegetarian and the options were hot dogs and burgers, but it’s definitely good to know for other parents. I did end up requesting the vegetarian meals for them and the vegan meal for me, which years ago was not an option.
Next, I had a look at the in-flight entertainment. I cringed at the idea of having to entertain them for 10 hours without any help from good ol’ Mr. Screen. Sure enough, there were kid-friendly movie options, games, and even music. This was a life-saver, as you would probably guess!
Next, I wanted to be sure that they could bring their own bags, so I checked the limits. We were able to bring a personal item each at no extra cost. This is important because many low-cost airlines charge extra for backpacks. Unfortunately, I took full advantage and ended up with too much carry on, which brings me to my next topic.
Don’t be a Pack Mule
That’s right, you guessed it, when traveling with kids, you will want to pack as light as possible. I tried but they just looked at me with those big eyes and asked for one more toy, one more book, one more tablet of paper and then markers to go with it, stuffed animals, and you get the picture. In the end, I was a real donkey to let them bring all that stuff! Even with all the promises in the world to carry their own baggage, you already know who actually did it when they were too exhausted after an 8 hour leg. Instead, I suggest bringing one stuffed animal to cuddle and one book, because in reality, we all know what they will really be doing the whole flight: watching the screens or eating briefly, or if you are luckier than me, sleeping.
When I say dress easy, I mean dress them in convenient and comfortable clothes. Think about the shoes too. Trust me, you do not want to be messing around with tie up shoes every time your kids need to go to the little boy’s or girl’s room, or when de-boarding or taking a stroll up the aisle. I suggest either bring some hard bottom slippers or make sure the shoes are my very favorite, ta da da da, VELCRO! I definitely do not want to be trying to bend over in that sardine can they call an airplane messing with shoe strings every five minutes and I certainly do not want my kids putting their feet all over the seats or me or anywhere else they might think to put them, like the seat in front of them, for example!
As for the rest of the attire, try to go with very cozy clothes, similar to pajamas, but still clothes. Think sweats or baggy tees. Be sure to bring a sweater no matter the season. You might think that if it’s warm outside, they won’t need it. They will. Unless you want to give up your blanket to cold little people next to you, bring it!
For your destination, pack accordingly. If you are staying a while, as we did, it can get complicated. I knew I would stay two months in the Midwest from the end of September to the end of November. I also knew I wanted to pack light, which I actually didn’t manage very well in the end. We needed clothes for all types of weather, but I had somehow forgotten how cold Michigan and Illinois get in November. My advice to you would be don’t try to dress them too cute. Bring a few functional outfits and clothes like raincoats that can also be used as jackets. Bring hiking shoes instead of sneakers, that way when the weather starts to get cold, you have something more substantial. When it snowed, I borrowed some snow boots and purchased heavy coats second hand. Another trick is to bring clothes that they are almost grown out of and leave them behind when you go home. I did this with my daughter, which freed up space in our suitcases for the inevitable things we picked up on the journey.
If You Need Something, Say Something
Let’s face it, traveling with kids is never breezy. You are going to be stressed, your patience will be either gone or dwindling fast, so if you need help, ask someone. The people working security might look busy and uninterested in being there, but chances are, most of them are parents themselves and they probably understand how it is traveling with kids. If you need extra time at the security check, ask which line is best for families. If you are getting nervous because your kids are bored, ask which line is faster, or better yet, ask to be put through with first class passengers or crew. This is what I do and they always say yes! Even if they don’t, the worst that can happen is they say no. But if you can travel with kids, you can live with that because you are tough!
Although not everyone will like your precious angels, many people will be sympathetic. These are the people that make the world a better place, make traveling with kids easier and they are the ones that will save you. If you need a bathroom break and you are traveling with a baby or toddler, ask the person next to you. My guess is that they will help you. I had another mom holding my son for me so I could take a much-needed break. I had people switch seats with us so that we could all sit together. Despite the horror stories, because let’s be honest, jerks do exist and they do travel, most people are going to help you!
Research Like There’s No Tomorrow
If you want to save time, money and your sanity, do your research. Even finding a place to eat can be difficult at the last minute, especially if you have special dietary requirements or picky eaters. Just give yourself an idea of what to expect and that should be enough. You do not want to be driving or walking around a strange city without a plan, while small humans moan and complain because they are dying of hunger, thirst or they’re tired.
Many times, you can even get a discount by reserving in advance. When I was in Chicago with my littles, I found out there is a discount package to see the sights, which in most cases, you not only save money, you also get to skip the lines. This would have been good to know before spending three hours waiting in line for the Willis Tower Skydeck. Always have an idea of what you are getting yourself into and what your options are when traveling with kids. This goes for museums as well. The prices can add up very quickly, especially for large families, so be sure to research, research, research!
Go With the Flow
Some parents might be of the mindset to squeeze in as much as possible when traveling with kids. Don’t do it. You really need to schedule downtime, the amount depends on the ages of your children. Smaller kids need more downtime. This could mean one big excursion per day or even one day of doing nothing followed by one day out. I picked up a rhythm with my kids, ages 5 and 8, pretty quickly. We have traveled pretty extensively in Europe so we are used to doing one big excursion per day. Some children might need more downtime, which could mean a whole day relaxing at the hotel with Netflix or having a beach day.
Part of going with the flow is learning to follow your kids’ lead more than doing what you really want to do. Many of us adults just want to squeeze it all in. I have learned that when traveling with kids, this is not going to happen. I always tell myself not to worry. The world is a big place and there will be plenty of chances to see more of it in the future. The best thing to do when traveling with kids is just taking it slow and remember that the trip is going to have a positive impact on their view of the world if it’s done with minimal stress.
Depending on the purpose and length of the trip, you might have to deal with strong feelings and emotions upon returning home. I traveled two months with my kids. It was difficult for them to be away from their father and their home, but it was nice for us to have alone time to grow in our relationships with each other. It was great for me to realize that I am stronger than I thought and traveling with kids showed me a side of myself I hadn’t seen in years, since before I had them. It was really empowering!
For those of you on the fence about traveling with kids, I say do it. You might not want to go far or stay long, but just get out there and travel. See the world, show it to them! They will be excited to see what exists beyond what they live every day. And who better to show them?
I feel like I can conquer the world after traveling with my kids. In fact, I am already planning the next trip! What have you learned when traveling with kids?
About The Author…
Erin is a travel-loving friendly introvert that lives in Europe. She has an undergraduate degree in Russian Studies from Grand Valley State University and a Master of Arts in Russian
Literature and Language from SUNY at Albany. Originally from Michigan, she now spends most of her year in Switzerland. She loves art, history, art history, music, cats, vegan food, and speaking out about injustices. She has three adorable children and one feisty feline. Erin joined the team at The Quiet Nonsense to get reacquainted with technology and gain editing and writing experience. Someday she would like to start her own blog or do professional editing.