Travelling with kids can test your patience, and the patience of those around you – even if they are your entire world! These frustrations can be accentuated when on a long haul flight – traped thousands of feet in the air for hours at a time. How can you combat the challenges of air travel with children?
The answer is preparation, with pre-planned activities, entertainment, and snacks as your ammunition. To help prepare you for the next family vacation, we’ve compiled our top 12 ways to entertain and fuel the little ones when in the air. Regardless of how near or far you are from setting off, these tips, tricks, what to do’s and – almost more importantly – what not to do’s will be a lifesaver come travel time. With a little forethought, time will fly and travelling with children won’t be quite as challenging.
When equipped with the right tools, flying can be manageable
Preventing boredom and keeping kids busy during airtime can be a lot easier when you’re adequately prepared with activities that can go the distance, while not taking up too much room in your carry-on luggage or being irritating or intrusive for other travellers.
6 of the best ways to entertain kids on a flight
- DIY colouring tables – bring cardboard, crayons and a small roll of tape to whip up your own colouring table on the tray table. The kids can scribble to their hearts content.
TIP: Parenting.com say triangular or rectangular crayons are best as they don’t roll onto the floor as easily, so they may be a worthwhile investment if you don’t have some already!
- Sticker books can be another great way to keep the kids entertained. They’re lightweight and don’t take up too much room in your carry-on luggage too – bonus! For a cheap alternative to many of the popular licensed sticker books, you could even simply purchase some post-it style stickers or little sticker dots from your nearest office supply store and a notebook and let the kids create their own pictures and shapes.
- Handheld electronic consoles like iPads and Gameboys are one of our go-to entertainment tools. While you might not like having the kids glued to a screen for extended periods of time, long flights are a good opportunity to break the rule in order to get through the journey, giving you some time to rest too. On some longer flights, entertainment may be included, often featuring popular family friendly movies, TV programs, games and music. If it’s only available for an extra fee and you run out of things to keep your kids occupied, this might be a good option.
- Printable activities and colouring pages. There are many free online resources available that you can print and download. With this in mind, why not create your own mini activity book with your child’s favourite characters and topics and bring them along with you? Think crosswords, puzzles, bingo and colouring in pages to name a few. To get you started check out Crayola’s free colouring pages, Education.com’s travel games or our personal favourite…
Download our sandy fun colouring in sheet!
- Audio books – with countless options available, including bestselling series like Harry Potter audio books are a cheap form of entertainment and remove the need to carry heavy hard copy books with you, those you can leave with you at home.
- Electronic or magnetic board games – for a small cost, you can download family favourites including Connect Four and Monopoly and play them on an iPad.
TIP: To make travelling with kids less of a nightmare, Lifehacker and Better Health recommend that parents introduce different toys and activities throughout the duration of the flight, rather than placing all options in front of the kids at the beginning of the flight. This will keep them engaged, and help you to pass the time by breaking it up with surprises along the way.
Things to avoid
Every good ‘what to pack’ list should come with a brief ‘what not to pack’ guide. A few pieces of advice and considerations to make:
- Avoid toys that make noise. This will not make you any friends, even more so on redeye flights or long haul journeys.
- Avoid bringing anything with too many pieces to it that can be lost or dropped under seats.
- If the kids are playing with an electronic device, bring headphones so you don’t distract others.
6 foods to keep little tummies happy
Air travel can be tiring for kids and can upset regular routines with disruptions to meal times, changes in time zones and also being away from the comforts of home. Keep the kids happy by packing some snacks and treats for travel days. It’ll not only please fussier eaters but save you money as you steer clear from more expensive airport or in-flight options.
- Popcorn – perfect for creating the perfect in flight cinema experience. Flying can be a bit of a novelty for the little ones, so why not make the most of the screens at your seat and all watch a movie on your own screen. Commence screening at the same time, and tell the kids its movie time, giving them some popcorn to munch on while they watch. Plain popcorn is also a relatively healthy treat too.
- Trail mix – pre-purchase in store or make your own with all your favourite ingredients.
- Muesli Bars/Granola Bars – great to stuff into your bag and with so many flavours to choose from, you can pick your kids’ lunchbox favourites and save any leftovers for day trips throughout your vacation.
- Dried Fruit – full pieces of fruit may squash and bruise while you’re getting from A to B, so dried fruit options may be a better alternative.
- String Cheese – several sources including LifeHacker say this is a great one. It should keep well in transit and won’t be too messy.
- Lollypops – while this might not be the healthiest option, these are easy to carry and long lasting! Let the kids choose their favourite flavour and enjoy this treat during takeoff and landing. For those too young to chew gum while the plane is pressurizing, Kidspot recommend sucking on a lollypop as it is also known to sooth and aid in adjusting to flight conditions.
Some advice in regards to in flight food and drink
As a rule of thumb, take note of this advice for a more enjoyable flight:
- Encourage kids to keep their fluids up. A pressurised cabin and harsh, drying air conditions can be dehydrating, so it’s important to make sure the kids drink plenty of liquids during the duration of the flight.
TIP: Bring your child’s favourite sippy cup or drink bottle.
- Take food that is easy to wrap up if not eaten in one go.
- Familiar foods are best. Don’t waste your money at the airport on expensive treats that may not be eaten. Stick to those which are tried and tested.
- If you’re travelling with more than one child, pack separate snack packs. Sara Esther Crispe from The Jewish Woman swears by this, as it will avoid fights and tantrums about sharing. Each child will have their own little bag of snacks and everything is fairly split.
- Steer clear of sticky or crumbly food!
- Avoid bringing anything that will spoil quickly without refrigeration. Epicurious recommends packing pre-made sandwiches, avoiding ingredients like tomato that will likely go soggy. Instead, they say to try selecting “fillings that keep well for a handful of hours without refrigeration: cheese, cured meats, hummus, grilled vegetables and greens.”
- Pack extra – just in case! In case of delays to travel, fussy children, being hungry between meal service times etc. it’s safest to bring more then you actually need according to the Bub Hub article Tips for Travelling by plane with Children, a compilation of their more well-travelled members tips and tricks for families flying.
You’re in close proximity to a number of other travellers for an extended period of time. If you’re worried about the reception you might receive, may we recommend buttering your neighbours up by offering them some snacks or a drink. While it might not completely make up for grumpy children or hyperactive kids unable to sleep, sit still or remain quiet on your journey, it will get you on good terms with them and allow them to acknowledge that you understand their frustrations. Small actions can speak volumes.
Good luck on your next flight!