We’re musicians and we tour with our two kids… currently ages 2 and 5! These kids have flown across the US and to Europe and back multiple times. We’ve sprinted through airports carrying babies and guitars and somehow, it’s all been fun. Maybe not always in the moment but in retrospect at least. The key is to have lightweight, small stuff that can entertain for 10 – 30 minutes at a time. I usually bring a HUGE military-issue backpack with all of this in an opaque bag inside of it. That way the kids can’t tell what I have. And they know the drill; if they remain awesome, they will keep getting surprises.
We always have the essentials in the big backpack too… hand sanitizer, wipes, a thermometer, Honest Company Healing Balm, Band-Aids, kids’ ibuprofen and liquid Benadryl in case they get hit by something while we’re over the Atlantic Ocean! You are allowed to carry on ALL that stuff with children. Water Bottles – refill those puppies before you get on the plane when everyone goes to the bathroom! And don’t forget a change of clothing for each kid and at least a fresh shirt for you! We have had to fly in poop/puke covered shirts. Trust me. Just a unisex shirt anyone can wear in the very bottom of the bag.
In my magic fun bag, I have hidden…
If you live near a $1 Dollar Store they are a GOLDMINE for travel supplies. They usually have tons of puzzles with current TV show characters, animals, Lisa Frank unicorns, and oftentimes come in resealable baggies. If they come in a box you can totally cut the lid off and put them in a Ziplock yourself when you’re packing.
2- Card Games (also Dollar store)
Our 5-year-old loves Uno, War and matching games. Our 2-year-old really likes organizing things so even though she doesn’t really play any of the games, yet she loves putting them in piles and looking at them. We don’t stress over losing any. It’s going to happen. They are considered 1 time use on an airplane. Sometimes you just got to let it go.
EASY. Bonus if there are stickers included with the book too. Let them get it on the tray. Hand sanitizer and a wipe will sanitize that tray and clean just about anything else around the seats!
4- Melissa & Doug Water Wow Reusable Color-with-Water Travel Activity Pads
These things are amazing! There are educational ones and some that are just for coloring. Both kids still really like them. You just fill the brush with some water and let them go to town… on whatever they want. It’s just water, no ink involved. Your jeans will dry.
5- Magnetic Tiles
These are kind of expensive but will occupy the kids for a LONG time. It hurts a little more to lose these but it’s worth the weight in my bag and the bill on my credit card.
Our son River is a Lego freak. He will do anything we ask in the airport because he knows as soon as the captain tells us we’re at cruising altitude and the seat belt light goes off he can put his tray down and get a brand-new Lego set. It’s usually a little box one, no more than $10. I also stow a few Ziplock baggies so he can keep the pieces together for later. We usually bring a quart or gallon size bag of random Legos from home too.
7- Forbidden snacks
We’re pretty healthy eaters as a family. But NOT on an airplane. We bring Sour Patch kids for takeoff and descent. They are really chewy and since the kids aren’t ready for gum it really prevents ear problems due to pressure changes. When they were nursing, I could just do that but now… Sour Patch Kids all the way. I also bring a couple lollipops, M&Ms, a small pack of Pringles each and LOTS of fruit snacks. They LOVE fruit snacks. We bring some healthy snacks too… peanut butter crackers, fruit pouches and Clif Bars for Kids. Hunger and tiredness are the enemy in kid travel. There’s not a lot you can do about the tiredness, but you can make sure they don’t get HANGRY!
8- A New Book
A small little book they’re never seen! This should be disposable in case it gets left in the plane’s seat pocket. Which it often does.
9- Un-inflated beach balls
Sometimes when you have a long layover the kids need to get their energy out. A beach ball takes up almost zero room and is SO much fun. This really only works if you can find a little corner in the terminal to yourselves or if there is a kid play area. But those times are worth bringing something to throw!
10 Over ear headphones for each kid
If your kids are old enough to watch a movie bring their own headphones. They are SO expensive at the airport and mine will not use the earbud kind. Our rugrats tend to get kind of bored with the movies though, so we don’t count on standard in-flight entertainment as a cure-all.
*We are not sponsored by any of these products. We have just happened upon them through trial and error! * Also, worth noting… the most important thing is to try to remain calm and cool yourself. The kids reflect your actions and emotions. If they are crying or having a hard time, try to tune out the people around you and just help the kid feel better. In our experience many people are kind and understanding. The other few… let them be annoyed! It’s only a temporary situation. And the trip you’re taking will have a lasting awesome impact on your child no matter their age, even if it’s not obvious in the moment. They always grow and emerge from each adventure as more confident, savvy, and understanding creatures.