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A Pro's Tips for Flying with Kids in 9 Easy Steps

Don't worry, you've got this.

After a year and a half of constant travel with four kids aged under 10, we have lost count of how many times we have been asked the following:

‘But how do you travel with the kids?’

‘Are they ok with it?’

‘Do they behave on the plane?’

Followed by the same excuses for not travelling themselves:

‘We can’t travel because the kids just won’t sit still.’

’It would be too stressful.’

‘It’s just too much hassle.’ 

These are what they are, just excuses. If you don’t want to travel, then don’t travel. That’s cool. But don’t hide behind the kids and project your own fears and worries onto them. If you asked 100 kids if they wanted to get on an airplane and spend a week in a different country I bet 90% would jump at the chance. 

Here are 9 tips for those who have been putting off travelling with kids. Hopefully, they'll allay some of your fears and kick start you into spending some quality family time together. No matter what, remember: Flying with kids is no biggie—just get going, enjoy the ride and experience the adventure together!

1. DO NOT overthink or over hype it. Don’t even tell your kids you're going away until a few weeks or even days before. There is nothing worse than having young kids revelling in the idea of getting on a plane for months on end. Come the actual moment of boarding and sitting down, the expectation built up in their minds will be chronically smashed, causing anxiety and frustration.

2. DO (whenever possible) choose a flight time when they are not likely to be tired—boarding a plane a 10 P.M. will always end in tears.

3. DO NOT let them ‘run around to burn of some energy’ before boarding the flight. A quick fact for you: If you exercise your body releases endorphins and adrenaline, which makes you feel great and keeps you wired for hours after the activity. You can’t then expect the child to go and sit down and not move for a number of hours. Just ask any school teacher how painful the first lesson after lunch break is! Allowing your kids to play tag and run recklessly around the airport is just a no-no. Keep them calm and sat down, watch the airplanes and airport vehicles buzz around outside, watch the TV in the boarding area. Anything other than physical stimulation.

4. DO NOT bring 1000+ toys/books/teddies/games in your carry-on. Let them discover their new surroundings before you give them toys. Let them be free with their inquisitive process and follow their lead. We found our three-year-old twins loved to sit down and belt themselves up and before leafing through the pocket of magazines in front of them. Their absolute favorite thing was the laminated safety instructions. Why? Because it’s covered with pictures of people shooting down a massive slide! We used to get a full story out of them as they went through each picture telling us what was going on. They even named the characters after family members. Then, they'd move onto the inflight duty free shopping magazine. Why? Because it’s filled with bright colourful pictures of toys, perfumes, watches, sweets, and its glossy pages were wonderful to touch. Plus they felt grown up and a part of the crowd—this is what everybody else was doing around them.

5. DO buy sticker books. There is a sticker album for every age, every topic, sport, hobby, TV show/pop star out there. You will know which ones they'll love and you can buy them right there in the airport without them even knowing. They are light, inexpensive, and wonderful fun to a child. I suggest waiting until after takeoff and slipping the albums in the seat pocket when they're not looking. Try guiding them to discover it for themselves, which will give them the sense that they have found it and experience the wonderful surprise of it being their favorite character. This works on a much better level than just being handed something and told to ‘be a good boy, just play with your sticker book.’

6. DO bring snacks. NO SWEETS, CHIPS OR COOKIES! Are you insane? Who in their right mind can expect a child that has just been stuffed full of sugar to sit still? I cringe when I see other parents doing this. To be honest the airlines themselves really need to snap out of it and start taking the chocolate and cakes out of the kids meals. It's just a recipe for disaster. We always travel with some of the following snack items: Crunchy cucumber and carrot sticks, cubed cheddar cheese, apples, and dried fruit or nuts. All can be prepared at home and put in a ziplock bag or small tupperware. Believe me, if they are hungry they will eat it, especially if you start eating it first.

7. DO enlist the help of electronics. A great tip is to secretly download a new album or app for them to discover. This will kill hours of time and put a huge smile on their faces. If the flight is long haul the inflight entertainment systems are unbelievable. There are hundreds of movies, TV shows, games and music to choose from. Let them enjoy being able to watch TV or play games for hours on end!

8. DO try and get them to sleep. When you see that first yawn you have to pounce. Whip out that favorite bedtime teddy, offer a quick cuddle, stroke their hair, and watch them drift off into sleepy land.

9. DO treat yourself to that glass of wine or beer from the drinks trolley. Sit back and relax—ou're going on holiday!

>>Next: AFAR's Ultimate Guide to Family Travel