My family likes to travel.

A lot.

Until recently, my closest family was 400 miles away.  The farthest, 1250 miles.  So we were packing bags and racking up frequent flier miles at least every other month.

I added it up and in Josie’s short 8 years on earth, she has flown 44 times.  That’s about 3 round trips every year.  I have to giggle to myself when, without fail, she’s asked “is this your first time flying?” at the airport.


Yup, we know the airport well.  And if I did a study, the most frequent question I get is how I travel with small kids without losing my marbles.  

Or a child.

Cross my fingers and knock on wood, I have never lost either while out cruising the open air.  And today, I’m going to share my wisdom with you.

I have two complete opposite travelers.

From Josie’s first flight, she has been a dream companion.  She would fall asleep within the first 10 minutes of a flight, she can entertain herself with a puke bag and a pen for hours, and she never fusses about carrying her own bag.

Gabe refuses to sleep in a car or in the air, talks constantly the entire way, cries, touches every button and bottom that passes his seat, and on this last flight decided to be the annoying kid that stares and waves for four hours at the guy next to us.

God bless you Gabe.

So I have had a lot of experience and feel like enough of an expert to share what I’ve learned.  With both kinds of travelers, I’ve come up with a few pointers that work in either case.

1) It’s A Military Operation And You Are The General

General might not be the right word, I’ve never been good at military ranks, but you my friend are the boss.  My biggest secret is I do not consider myself on vacation until my kids are buckled in a car at our final location.  I have a time table of when we need to wake up, leave the house, be at our gate, be in our seats.  Each part of our airport journey is a mini mission and we celebrate each one that we complete.  I have a plan as to how I will carry 3 bags, 2 back packs, a carseat, and a computer bag through an airport.  I am a drill sergeant at security.  You will not rush me, lady with a flight that leaves in 10 minutes.  Think one step ahead, let the kids in on what’s next, and keep moving.

2)  Bring Only The Neccesities

Atlanta has one of the largest airports in the country and whatever we bring in our carry ons will be lugged through the whole airport.  You don’t need a million toys for the flight.  Chances are the kid will only be interested in kicking the seat in front of them, so think about your kids interests and keep the bags light.  In our case, Josie only needs a bag of crayons, some blank paper, and her blanket.  Gabe needs food.  And lots of it.

You can’t bring liquids through security, but you also don’t have to wait for the drink service.  As soon as we board the plane I let the friendliest flight attendant know that it would save my sanity if they could sneak us some apple juice before take off.  Thirsty kids are whiny kids, drinks are mandatory.

3)  Technology Is Your Friend

I’m not one to plop my kids in front of the tv on car rides or for hours on end at home, but when you’re stuck in a tube for four hours with nothing but the back of a bald guys head to stare at, it’s ok to make an exception.  I happily hand Josie my iPad and give Gabe a movie on repeat on the laptop.  If you think it rots their brains, just close your eyes and pretend they are reading a book.  Don’t forget headphones though.  Planes are loud and they won’t be able to hear if you don’t have them, thus rendering your plans null and void.

4)  Low Expectations, High Rewards

Go ahead and plan for them to not sleep, to lollygag through the airport, and maybe even cry a little.  That way you can be pleasantly surprised if they do behave like real humans.  I used to plan our trips around when I thought Gabe would be tired enough to sleep.  And it never worked.  I’d spend my whole flight fighting to get him to go to sleep and get so frustrated it was awful.  Now I plan the trip for the time of day I’m the most rested and just plan to have a full few hours chit chatting with a preschooler.  And the few times he has fallen asleep?  Some of my happiest trip memories.

5) Give Yourself T-I-M-E, time

You can never be too early for a flight, but you can be too late.  And being late will stress you out like nothing else.  When I’m traveling with the kids, I give myself a good two hours to get our tickets, get through security, and ride the train to our gate.  If it goes super fast, awesome!  If we get hung up at security because Gabe smuggled milk in his sippy cup, no biggie.

And go potty before you board the plane.  Of course you can go once you’re on, but y’all, that bathroom is tiny.  Maneuvering it with small children and maintaining any form of modesty is pretty much impossible.

6) Check It At The Gate

Personally, I think it’s worth $25 to not have to carry my bag through the maze of Atlanta’s airport, but if you can manage to wheel your luggage through your airport, you can check that bag for FREE at the gate and pick it up at the baggage claim in the city you are flying too.  Strollers and other big items can all be left at the end of the jetway and will be brought right to the jetway in your destination.  And bring that stroller, it gets you into the “Family Line” at security which pretty much means you bypass any lines.  For this reason alone, Gabe will  sit in a stroller at the airport until he is 18.

PS – Carseats are free to check at the ticket counter.  Don’t lug that through the airport unless you plan to have your kiddo sit in it on the flight.

7) You Will Survive

The truth is, flights end.  Car rides end.  And chances are, delight is waiting for you on the other end of your voyage.  If they cry, remind yourself on repeat that it won’t last forever and people will live even if they have to listen to your sweet child squeal for a couple hours.  Some flights are bumpy and I get so queasy, but it ends.  Keep them busy, give them a drink at take off and landing (poor baby ears), and if all else fail, ask for endless bags of pretzels.

And really y’all, that’s about it.

Time, low expectations, and lots of food.

Happy Travels!