Tips to Make Holiday Travel With Kids Easier
Mathias Friess, Webjet’s North America CEO, offers up easy tips for making holiday travel with children less stressful.
1. Avoid the biggest travel days of the year
Traveling with kids (big or small) already comes with a heightened level of tension and stress. There is no need to add to it by opting to leave on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Avoid the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It is better to depart a few days earlier on Monday or Tuesday and return from your family visit on Friday evening or Saturday; but steer clear of Sunday travel. Not only will it reduce stress, but also has the potential to save you 30-50% in airfare.
2. Nothing beats nonstop
Often the worst part of travelling is actually getting to the plane. By the time you reach your seat half the race is almost won, and you just have to make it through a few hours of sitting and entertaining your child in a confined space. The last thing you want is to change planes, even if you are able to save a few dollars by booking a flight with a layover. A plane change automatically means you will have to grab all of your stuff (including kids) and go through the hassle of finding the connecting flight, which may require terminal changes and train rides to get from one gate to the next. If your children are little, you may not even have access to your gate-checked stroller—this is especially true on international flights. The hassle is exasperated if the first flight you are on is late and you don’t have enough time to catch the next flight (which is tough enough as a single traveler, but try doing that with kids). Imagine you miss that connecting flight and have to stand in line at the airline’s transfer counter to be re-accommodated. If your missed flight happens on a peak travel date where flights are full, there is a very good chance that you will not get on the next several flights and perhaps not even out on the same day, which adds a night at the airport or a hotel. So get that nonstop flight whenever possible and cut unnecessary stress levels to a minimum!
3. If changing planes is inevitable, avoid mega airports like Atlanta or Chicago
If you can’t get to the destination you want to non-stop, try to book flights that connect in smaller airline hubs and avoid the busiest large airports like Atlanta and Chicago. During peak holiday travel days these airports are too busy and difficult to navigate. If you are traveling to an international destination, try to change planes in the United States and continue non-stop to your international destination. For example, let’s say you want to fly to Munich, Germany. Your best bet would be to take a flight with a US connection (e.g., JFK in New York) and transfer to a non-stop flight rather than flying into an international hub (like Paris) and connecting from there.
4. Consider night flights
If your child is a fairly decent sleeper and can usually fall asleep anywhere when it is bedtime and he/she is tired, it might be a good idea to take that night flight. By the time you make it to your seat and the flight takes off, your little ones will fall asleep and you should be able to manage few hours of flying without any problem and without big entertainment needs.
5. Avoid red eye flights – in MOST cases
If your children are not good sleepers and have a strict sleeping routine, it is probably not a good idea to take a red eye flight. Nothing is worse than having an upset child who cannot be settled while everyone around you gives you dirty looks as they try to sleep. However, there are a few red eye flights that are the exception. Some of the eastbound flights from the West Coast are packed with young families who opt for the direct red-eye flight to avoid an early morning layover and plane change. For example, the red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Tampa is packed with babies, and as a parent you don’t have to worry “what if my child screams for four hours?” It’s okay because there are generally few business professionals on this type of flight.
6. Pack lightly
Pack only what you really need. Families traveling with kids always look as if they are going on a two-month vacation, even if it’s only a weekend visit to the grandparents. Cut back as much as you can and see if you can rent items at your destination city like baby car seats and portable cribs. What you spend on renting the items could indeed be less than what you may have to pay in fees for checking additional, bulky luggage. Also, it is very wise to invest in an inexpensive lightweight umbrella style stroller, which is sturdy and folds compactly. This style can be gate checked and does not require delivery through the oversized baggage belt, which can add from 30 minutes up to an hour in additional wait time at the airport.
7. Pack smart carry-ons
Assume the worst when you pack your carry on. Make sure you have ample diapers, wipes, baby food and extra clothes (not only for the kids, but an extra shirt for the parents in case of a random spill or sudden illness—trust me this happens). Just think of a three-hour flight that gets delayed by a few hours. All of a sudden, your travel time has doubled or tripled. You do not want to be caught off-guard, without enough diapers or food. If you are still bottle-feeding, consider investing in an instant bottle warmer, which will heat the milk without the hassle of troubling a flight attendant for boiling water. There are a number of options that you can carry on, like the Instant Bottle Warmer Pack from BambinOz.
8. Make advanced seat reservations or check in online 24 hours before departure
Try to make seat reservations early to ensure your whole family sits together. Having your partner sit two rows in front while you sit in the back with your kids won’t make your travel experience any better. The best time to make a seat reservation is when you purchase your ticket. If the airline won’t let you do that, check in 24 hours before online and grab these seats together. Even if the airline charges you for an advanced seat reservation, it’s probably worth it to be on the safe side.
9. Arrive early at the airport
Traveling with kids slows you down, so be at the airport earlier than you normally would arrive. If you usually show up one hour before a flight when traveling alone, make that at least two. During holidays you may even want to arrive up to three hours in advance. This will allow you to take your time through security and have a snack once you are through. If you cut things short you will increase your stress level unnecessarily.
10. Have snacks ready
When you travel on a plane with kids it is not the time to start introducing new rules or enforcing existing rules too strictly. After all, you just want to get to your destination and create the least amount of hassle for yourself, the kids and your fellow travelers. Have some of your children’s favorite snacks handy and give them a treat every so often to keep them happy.
11. DO NOT forget their favorite toy or doll
It can end up as the worst trip of your life if you forget that favorite stuffed animal, doll or toy your kid carries around all the time (or even worse—can’t fall asleep without).
12. For longer flights, the ‘Unwrap a Package Every Hour’ concept works brilliantly
If you plan to fly for over four hours, particularly if you will be traveling on an international flight, head to the local dollar store and by little treats for your kids and wrap them up individually. Then every hour get one gift out and have the kid unwrap the gift and explore the new treat/toy. Our personal favorites are new coloring books, washable markers, small toys that do not make noise and puzzles.
13. Bring books and a DVD player
Many long flights don’t feature in-flight entertainment suitable for young children, especially if you are traveling in economy. It’s a good idea to have your child’s favorite books and/or favorite DVDs or video games with you. Particularly on long international flights, there are still many airlines out there that don’t have in-seat video options. You do not want to end up on a ten-hour plane ride with bored kids!
14. Pre-order a Kids Meal
Airlines do not typically advertise this great option, but almost all will offer a vegetarian or kids meal if ordered 48 hours prior to departure. Most of the time, the meals are more accessible to young taste buds and, most importantly, special meals are always delivered first. This can be extremely valuable if your children are hungry, exhausted and an afternoon/evening sleep is due.