5 Secrets to Stress-Free Travel With Kids
Both the Consumerist.com and the NYTimes.com Bucks blog recently asked readers what sort of airline fees would be worth paying. In particular, the Consumerist.com asked its readers whether they would pay more for a child-free flight -- and two-thirds said they would.
A survey of business travelers prompted the Consumerist.com poll. Of those surveyed, 74% said what annoyed them most about first-class travel was having children in the cabin with them. As a mother of two, I initially was irked by the survey results and the idea of kid-free flights. But as I thought back on all the nights I would've gladly paid to sleep soundly without being awakened by the kids, my irritation eased. I could understand why a business traveler who paid a premium for first class wouldn't want a noisy child disrupting his work or sleep.
The survey and reader poll also reminded me of an article I wrote a couple of years ago about how not to be that family -- the one with the screaming kids. I can't help those of you who would prefer kid-free flights. But I can offer parents some tips on preparing properly before traveling to minimize meltdowns -- and even save money.
Parents, please share any tips you have in the reader comments box below. And let us know what you think about the idea of kid-free flights.
1. Don't pre-board -- team board. The airlines think they're doing you a favor by letting you jump the line with your small children. But you're just being forced to spend even more time trying to keep a squirming child calm in a seat.
So if there are two adults in your party, send one in first with the carry-on bags to secure a spot for them in the overhead bins. The other can hang back, run around with the kids then corral them into the plane after everyone has boarded.
2. On long flights, buy the baby a seat. You'll save a couple hundred dollars by holding a child younger than 2 on your lap. But if you can afford it, buy the extra ticket and put your child in a car seat to save your sanity on flights more than two hours. Make sure your car seat has printed on it: "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." If not, you might have to check it in as baggage, cautions the Federal Aviation Administration. Booster seats are not allowed.
3. Come prepared ... for anything. Never pack your child's favorite teddy bear or security blanket in checked luggage. Make sure you have at least one change of clothes for your kid in your carry-on bag. You also might want to take along an extra shirt for yourself, too (as my husband learned when our daughter so kindly shared the effects of her motion sickness on him).
If your child relies on a pacifier, have several on hand to pop in junior's mouth when he tosses one on the ground. And if you're flying, be sure to have something for your little one to suck on (bottle, sippy cup) during take-off and landing so her ears won't hurt.
4. Provide plenty of entertainment options. My parents used to fill a bag with cheap toys to keep us entertained on long trips -- and I looked forward to traveling for that reason. Hit the dollar store and load up on cheap children's books, finger puppets and age-appropriate games. Some other entertainment options: Leap Frog's LeapPad, Crayola's Color Explosion paper and pen, Magna-Doodle, sticker books and, oddly enough, calculators or anything with buttons.
Snacks are another way to keep your little ones occupied. But once they've tired of the food and toys, it's time to bring out the big guns -- the portable DVD player. Every parent I know says these are a must-have for long trips. You can rent them but don't bother. It'll cost you about as much as buying one (starting at about $60).
If your kids are big enough for headphones, get them so you don't have to spend hours listening to "super cool explorer Dora!" And don't forget the cables that come with your DVD player so you can port it to the TV at your destination in case all Grandma has is a VCR and an old worn out copy of Field of Dreams.
Don't want to lug your entire DVD collection with you? Check out the public library where you're going. Some will loan to out-of-staters, or borrow your relative's card. It's probably not a good idea to pack stuff from your own local library, though. If you lose that book, movie or CD on your trip you'll have to pay for it.
5. Don't push the limits. Whether you're flying (or driving), remember your little ones just can't hack it the way you can. So if you're flying, don't schedule a flight around your child's nap time or bedtime. It might seem like a good idea, but you can't count on them to fall asleep on a noisy plane full of distractions. You'll end up with a very cranky kid on your hands. And don't push yourself too far. Your crankiness will rub off on your kids.
For more tips, see Traveling With Tots: A Survival Guide.