Tips for traveling with children by plane
May 20, 2011
Traveling to paradise but you have to get there first!

by Eileen Wacker

When we relocated to Seoul, Korea from Connecticut, our four kids were aged 3 months, 17 months, 4-years-old and 5-years-old. During the plane trip and associated travel were some of the toughest moments I can remember. The flight attendants were shushing my kids who spilled food and irritated passengers. The toddler sobbed when I escaped to use the bathroom. Then came the dreaded rousing of the jet-lagged children once we landed, and getting through the terminal and security with two baby carriages. I think our journey was the definition of “schlep” and no one had fun.

Every summer as our vacation back to the states approached I would start to perspire as a felt a sense of foreboding. Traveling had become a “necessary evil” if we wanted to go on "exotic" vacations and/or visit family.

But aren’t vacations supposed to be fun? Isn’t this what we save our hard earned vacation time and money for? Today our home is in Honolulu. We decided we needed to put "Operation Travel should be Fun” into effect. Its basic premise is minimizing chaos and adding elements of fun for kids that naturally are not good travelers.

Tip 1: be in control of your mindset and mood

First you must convince yourself that staying positive is a mindset that you can achieve. Oh, this is much harder than it seems and you will be tested repeatedly by overly intrusive security agents, other passengers who seem to think the rules of waiting in line, etc, don’t apply to them, the overworked gate agent who acts as if she/he does not care about delays and missed connections, and yes, the dreaded clueless travelers who hold up every line fiddling with their shoes and trying to board when they are not supposed to. And, of course, we can't forget our children who start to complain and grumble at the first hint of inconvenience. So, try to keep a smile in the face of all this.

Tip 2: meaningful assignments make traveling much more efficient

Give out assignments in advance and you will be surprised that your kids will complete them with enthusiasm. If your kids are too young to handle the task on their own, have them as “partners in charge” and do it with them. Here are our travel jobs:

Tip 3: pack reading materials

Every family member should have one book for reading and one for activities. My daughter prefers a book of mazes; my son brings the latest joke book. We try to load one book on my Kindle. At the moment, our 8-year-old wants to read Island of the Blue Dolphins and our 12-year-old loves the “Hunger Games” series.

Tip 4: perfect the art of the carry-on

Optimize the balance between carry-on and packed luggage. Approach this as if it is a science. For kids, the key is how many hours the items keep them occupied. Here’s our short list:

Tip 5: other honorable mentions

Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off at security (and on the flight). We see so many people wearing sneakers. Pack them in the checked suitcase unless there is a health reason to wear them.

Be nice to young mothers struggling to control their children. I massively appreciated a kind word or sympathetic smile.

In summary, summer traveling involving airline flights and airports will always be challenging but keep your positive mindset. You can do it and it’s worth it! Happy travels.

Eileen Wacker, a Harvard Business School graduate, lived and worked in seven different countries, including the United States. She is the author of the children's book, Silent Samurai and the Magnificent Rescue, the third installment of the Mom’s Choice Award Winning Fujimini Adventure Series.

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