Posted in family life

traveling with toddlers, part 1

… in which planes are discussed, with their various pros and cons …

In general, I think car trips are preferable to plane trips with little kids. They tend to be less expensive (especially once the kids are too old to fly for free!), they allow for more convenient and accessible packing, and they don’t include quite as much waiting around in lines and other random airport places. However, certain places are just too far away for a road trip to be logistically pleasant. Most of my extended family lives in either upstate New York or South Florida, and the thought of a 33 hour drive (one-way!) with multiple toddlers and babies is daunting. Doable, perhaps, if necessary – but difficult, and the driving time ends up taking away from the time spent visiting family, since time away from work is inherently limited. So sometimes planes win, despite my distaste.

When a plane flight becomes necessary, the next order of business is to find a route and time. We were able to find a non-stop this time around, which is preferable for obvious reasons, but when it isn’t (like when we went to visit the New York branch of the family last year) I think it is easier to have one long leg and one short leg, so the littlest kids can (hopefully!) nap during the long flight. They do take a while to settle down, even when they’re young and tired enough to sleep comfortably on a parent’s lap.

As far as times go, I am of mixed feelings. When we flew with an almost-two-year-old and a six-month-old, the redeye flight was perfect for us. They both slept well through the whole flight and relieved us of the difficulty of entertaining two fidgety, trapped children for 5 hours. This year, however, with a three-year-old and an eighteen-month-old, the redeye was a bit more challenging. It took the boys a lot longer to settle down, and it was harder for them to get comfortable and to stay asleep. So my advice would be to take the redeye with babies (especially if they are good attached sleepers – I wouldn’t have wanted to fly with Rondel as an infant even though he’s great now), but try for daytime flights with slightly older children. Daytime flights have the added benefit of setting kids up for a good first night’s sleep on the vacation, instead of messing with their sleep schedules and leaving you with exhausted and cranky kids on the first day there.

And what do you do with those kids on the airplane?

I have to admit that I rely fairly heavily on snacks, especially snacks of a sort we don’t often eat at home – goldfish, chocolate granola bars, and so on. If I’d really been thinking ahead we would also have had healthier options like cheese, apples, and other fruits, but I wasn’t as prepared this time. Books are also great on an airplane, where you do have the chance to sit next to your kids and read to them that is often missing on a road trip and really helps with pre-readers! A few toys can be good, but I limit my kids at this age to two each (so they can carry them and I can easily keep track of them), and I make sure they aren’t too small or too round and rollable. Paper and pencils are also good, but as with the toys, I try to limit the options so that crayons and pencils aren’t falling all over the seats and rolling under the chairs. I try not to use devices and videos unless my margin is almost gone and the kids have reached a breaking point, because if I have the emotional energy for it I’d rather use the forced time together to interact and relate, kind of on the principle of it – but a video is far better than losing your temper and screaming at (or with!) your kids on the airplane 🙂

What are some of your experiences and tips for plane travel?

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