Okay, so the key to surviving flights with preschoolers is keeping them entertained and you sane. I make no guarantees that these inflight essentials will keep your little angelic sweetheart from transforming into a demon after take-off or that you won’t try and open the emergency exit door for an escape. But, these things should help keep you all happy for long enough to consider traveling with the munchkins ever again.
1. Bag Of Snacks
A bag of snacks is the ultimate travel essential for flights with preschoolers. Hunger is guaranteed to strike at some point. Snacks will ward off crankiness and serve as a brief activity. Pack a gallon size zipper bag for each kid with their name on it and load it up with their favorites. Be sure to pack the same items for each kid so Pre-K Ultimate Fighter doesn’t ensue. They’ll get so excited when you pull out the bag and let them make their own choices on what to eat throughout the flight. Some of our favorites are Gogo Squeeze fruit pouches, yogurt raisins, Pirates Booty, Pringles individuals, rainbow goldfish, and m&ms.
If your kids are anything like mine, even one crumb left on their hands won’t do. Avoid meltdown and be sure to stash travel size wipes so you can clean fingers and mouths after they plow through those snacks and definitely after the flight attendant hands them a warm chocolate chip cookie. Thanks, American Airlines! For your own sanity (and their health), you’ll want to plow through the wipes package too to de-germ those funky arm rests, seatbelt buckles, sticky seat back trays, stuck windows, and their hands which have now touched everything from the security line to the gate.
3. Disposable Placemats
Even if you won’t dare open that germ filled seat back tray, they will…and will spread out their snacks all over it. Hurl. For extra sanity (really, wipes can only do so much) stick a disposable placemat on the tray. I like these from Neat Solutions which cover the entire tray and are fun for the kids too!
4. Toddler Backpacks
Lighten your load by giving the kids stuff to hold in toddler backpacks. They can carry their own snacks, headphones, and in flight activities and they will love being a “helper.” I love these Skip*Hop Zoo Packs toddler backpacks. Two fit easily under one seat in front of you leaving more space for your carry-on and handbag. Plus, they’re pretty damn cute.
5. Electronics & Activities
I panicked when my husband, who was holding all of our electronics, almost missed our last flight we were taking with the kids. Electronics really are travel lifesavers for families. I like to start their trip on LeapPads that are more educational and hold off on tablets loaded with movies and video games as long as possible. Our latest trick is using old iPhones for the kids so there’s no chance our new phones will fall and shatter (again). Though we’re lenient about screen time when traveling, we try and take breaks with other activities we’ve packed in the kids backpacks such as Magic Paint Posters, Grab-n-Go Play Packs, trains, cars, puzzle books, and a few Target Dollar Spot surprises I sneak into their backpacks.
6. Surprise Gummies
You might think giving your kids pure sugar at the beginning of a flight is the craziest idea ever (and depending on the kid you might be right). But, if your kids aren’t so sensitive to sugar, give kids gummies during take off and landing so their ears (which are prob congested from that never ending cold) don’t hurt them from the pressure. They also help distract little ones from being scared. I like to go all out and get the gummy bears and gummy worms because we normally avoid them and they will be a super special treat. It’s vacation for them too! Prefer to go healthy (and avoid potential inflight seat jumping)? Give the kids yogurt raisins or craisins which work just as well.
7. Trash Bag
I’m a big believer of disposing of things as you travel so bring a trash bag so dirty wipes and empty snack bags don’t end up all over your seats. This helps dispose of your trash quickly and easily when you get off the plane or when you hand it to a flight attendant.
Don’t forget to pack toddler headphones so when the person in front of you asks you to turn the sound OFF on your son’s barely audible LeapPad, you have a quick solution to the problem, your kid is still happy, and you don’t go postal on the self-consumed adult who should just be happy the kids aren’t screaming. Sigh. Besides, you may scream if you listen to Nemo or Cars for the umpteenth time. These Kidz Gear padded headphones are volume-limiting and have passed our kid test. Little ones usually can’t figure out and don’t like the feeling of your ear buds (we’ve tried). Plus, they have the Beats by Dre look to them which this style mama loves.
Okay, maybe you don’t call them “Lovies” but that’s really what they are…a special blanket or stuffed animal your kid loves to keep happy, feel safe, and (if you’re lucky) feel sleepy. Roll it up as a pillow of sorts if they do sleep on that uncomfortable armrest. Just be sure to take inventory when getting off the plane so their favorite thing isn’t left behind.
Although most flights are hot boxes, you do get the occasional freezer flight so bring a cozy hoodie for the kids. Cuddling to keep warm on your lap is cute for a while but gets uncomfortable come hour two. I like solid Ralph Lauren zip up hoodies and contrast zipper American Apparel hoodies because they go with most outfits, are soft, and adorable in itty-bitty sizes.
11. Cups with Lids
Because kids + turbulence = spills, pack a cup with a lid to avoid a soggy situation. Save yourself some frustration by packing empty cups and filling them once you’ve cleared security. Though most times the TSA will let you bring the kids’ drinks through security, they sometimes have to pull you aside while they test the liquid. Toddlers don’t understand “waiting.” Plus, after the TSA agents have had their hands all over it, you won’t want your kid drinking from it anyway. I like these Take & Toss Cups because they have interchangeable lids, are BPA free, lightweight, and can go in the dishwasher and be reused.
Finally, when you’ve tried everything and you’re about to lose it, hit the flight attendant button and order yourself a glass of wine. You’ve never deserved it more…and did you really think you were getting through the flight without it?
Former NYC fashion industry girl, forever traveler, foodie at heart, and now Mom in Miami. My blog, Arrive Chic, covers the style I find in everyday life both on the road and at home, often with my two energetic little boys in tow.
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