In the words of my 7yo, “Spring is the best season because we have spring break.”
I don’t disagree.
One of our favorite family traditions is going away for spring break. It doesn’t have to be fancy or far, especially living in Florida – there are so many fantastic places and things to do within driving distance from Orlando. But this year, we are going far and for the first time in a while, I’m fretting about keeping two busy boys entertained over a long day of travel.
Not only are we flying, but we actually have to catch two flights to get to our destination in the Caribbean – Bonaire! Side story: we were supposed to go in March 2020, but the world had other plans… Assuming no delays, we’ll have about 10 hours from airport to airport to airport, both ways.
My boys are four and seven now, so I don’t have to worry about in-flight entertainment nearly as much as I used to. With enough threats and bribes, they generally stay in their seats and are good little travelers (only half kidding about both parts of that sentence.) We seem to get by with a few snacks and a tablet each but knowing we have almost a whole day of travel each way, I’m putting a little more thought into this trip and have compiled a list of tips and tricks that I hope will help your littles if you’re flying this spring break!
For the airport
- Pack as much as you can into suitcases to check and try to travel light onboard with a backpack each. It is so much easier to keep your hands free vs. saving a few bucks on baggage fees and having to pull carry-ons all over the airport. As much as my kids love their little carry-on suitcases, the novelty quickly wears off and guess who gets stuck carrying it? Yours truly. The kids can usually fit their tablet, an activity or toy, and snacks in their backpacks, while I can carry the important travel docs, spare clothes, and necessities in mine. If you are traveling with babies or toddlers, make sure to bring more diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need, a spare change for them and for you! Also, breast pumps are considered a medical device so you can bring onboard without it counting as one of your carry-ons!
- When traveling with a car seat, you have two options: purchase a car seat bag and drop it at check-in. Or you can gate-check it for free (and if you prefer to buckle your kids in their car seat in the plane, you can do that too.) Fortunately for this trip we do not have to deal with car seats, but we usually do the former when I do have to bring a car seat. Again, I’m all about keeping those hands free in the airport.
- Find a place to run! This could be an empty gate or if you’re really lucky your airport may have a small indoor play area where the kids can climb. More movement before boarding = more regulated kids onboard.
- Give the kids and yourself time to go to the bathroom before you board the plane. The airplane bathrooms are so small (and usually pretty gross no matter how hard they try to keep them clean!) Find a family restroom before you board, and if your toddler is newly potty trained, consider putting them in a pull up for the flight to minimize any accidents.
- Be one of the last to board the plane! I never understood why airlines invite “families with young children” to board first – as if our kids need more time trapped on the plane! Hang out at the gate for as long as possible and board at the final minute. You could save yourself a good 30 minutes of in-plane confinement this way.
For the plane
- Bring electronic and non-electronic activities. Even the most tablet-loving kids can get sick of staring at a screen, so make sure you have a variety of activities to keep them busy. Here are some of our favorites:
- It goes without saying that tablets are a godsend, but make sure you download games and shows that can be accessed without wifi in advance (it’s spotty at best.) Also bring headphones – we love these for our 4yo and these for the older one!
- Coloring books and other non-messy art supplies are great if your kids are into that. I generally stick with one activity book per flight to keep the bag as light as possible.
- Window stickers and paint by sticker books!
- Play-doh! I know I just said non-messy supplies, but they can’t get too wild with a small container or three, right?
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks. This bento box is awesome for packing a variety of food. Put in an assortment of fun treats and nutritious, filling “safe” foods to ensure your kids have plenty to choose from on the plane. I also always bring an empty water bottle through TSA, then fill it up before we board the plane.
- Small toys! Let your kids pick out a small toy each that they can play with in their seat, on the tray, etc. My 4yo loves his hot wheels cars and will happily zoom them around for maximum entertainment.
Other on the plane tips
- When traveling with a baby or nursing child, try to time their feedings for take-off and landing. It’ll help with ear popping. Suckers and gum are great for kids beyond that stage.
- Bring essential medications onboard. I like to be prepared with a small bottle of Motrin and ibuprofen for myself. Nothing is worse than a killer headache when traveling, and the altitude + dehydration can make you more prone. Don’t @ me, but consider packing melatonin for your littles if you’re traveling over their nap time or crossing time zones. Kids need their sleep, and it’s important to stick to as normal a sleep schedule as possible.
- Some airlines will let the kids go up to the front of the plane to meet the pilot! This was a highlight for my boys on our recent Jet Blue flight to Mexico. You can always ask the flight attendant to see if it’s something they can accommodate before or after takeoff.
- If you’re going abroad, fill in arrival forms onboard. Guaranteed your kids will be tired, grumpy and acting a fool when you land, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
- Don’t feel bad if your kids cry. It’s normal, and as long as you’re doing everything in your power to keep them happy and calm, no one can fault you for a little noise.