My single biggest tip for traveling with small kids

Becoming a new parent is filled with changes in how you live your life. There are things that will become more challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do them anymore.

Traveling is one of those things. You’ll hear or see a lot of advice that  recommends you get your traveling desires out before having kids. After you have kids you can kiss it all good bye. It will be just too inconvenient.

Some of us didn’t get the memo early enough to do that. While others of us actually want our kids to experience travel.

Either way the truth is that traveling with kids does indeed add a different dynamic to the whole process. If someone tells you different nod politely, but be ready. Challenges do exist and the best thing you can do is be prepared.

We’ve had lots of trips with kids driving and flying. But the single biggest tip is this.

Their sleep schedule is your travel schedule.

That’s right.

Nap time. Or bed time.

Now of course there are a lot of little details to take into account when applying this advice. For example how long is the flight?

This advice we have found is best used for trips 2 hours or longer. That is because no matter how tired the kids are there is usually an adjustment period. I’ve noticed this can take about 30 mins.

Our flights usually range from 4-5 hrs. So a pretty long flight.

For us this works best because we aren’t big on screens. Do the kids watch movies? yes of course but if we can avoid having them watch movies non stop for 4-5 hrs then we will. If we can avoid having to worry about keeping them entertained for 4-5 hours, then we will. Most kids don’t want to have to sit down for 4-5 hrs. Even school aged kids get breaks through out their long days.

So when do we all stay put? When we’re sleeping. So we use the bodies natural rhythms to our advantage.

This means we fly red eyes( overnight flights) or late night flights. This also works best if you can get uninterrupted sleep for the entire flight. Which means we are also big fans of direct flights.

This way kids can sleep, you can sleep, and flight will seem shorter if you sleep.

We know people have had good experiences breaking up the flight with connections. For us the connections aren’t anywhere convenient. Which means we go from 4 hrs on a plane to 6 hours ( sometimes as bad as 7). Sure it’s 3 hrs at a time now but that just doesn’t make sense for us. Not only that these flight are usually during the day!( Yes do try and say that last line with terror in your voice)

If you stop you add time to the whole experience. Its not just the extended flight time, you’re also doubling the length of time spent taxing to and from the gate. We like to stick to the direct overnight flights.

Vacation in Denver. Currently we take about 2 trips a year.
Vacation in Denver. Currently we take about 2 trips a year.

That’s how we roll.

But I should warn you.

It’s not going to work 100% of the time.

That’s right everything isn’t always going to work out. Our last trip back to Michigan is a great example.

Our red eye flight got seriously, and I do mean seriously delayed. A 10:30 flight for our kids is pushing their bed time. But usually like I said they take 30 min to get comfy on the plane and wind down. Then they sleep for the rest of the flight.

This time the delay was atrocious. We were up until 1 am when we finally boarded our plane. Jr Roamer had given in and fallen asleep in the chairs around midnight. But Minnie couldn’t seem to relax and rest with all the bright lights and people who insisted on interacting with her. She was really wound up and we were exhausted and worried about the flight.

How did it go?

Well it wasn’t pleasant at the start.  Jr Roamer was use to the drill so he got in his seat and almost fell asleep before taking off. Minnie was another story. She was very unhappy. Exhausted and uncomfortable there was plenty of crying right at the start. While this was a nuisance for my fellow travelers I knew that if I let her let it out she would let it go. So I comforted her but didn’t try and shush her. A bit longer then 30 mins of unpleasantness this time and she finally fell asleep.

So no, most things aren’t 100% awesome but we have had many more good experiences and so we will continue to book red eye direct flights.

We must not be the only ones who think so either as we always see more then 1 other family on the flights too.

How do you travel with kids? Whats your #1 tip?

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4 thoughts on “My single biggest tip for traveling with small kids”

  1. We’re going to be taking our first flights with LB this year. We might regret this but I actually booked them for midday with the expectation that we’ll entertain hir during the flight, since ze won’t sleep when there are people around anyway, so my hope is that ze will be tired enough at the end of the flight to nap at the destination. We’ll see how that works out!

    1. That’s great that you are taking him on an adventure already. I think no matter what the 1st flight is always the hardest.
      Also like I said the duration of the flight makes a big difference. Not to mention mobility. When JR was younger I was more concerned about the price then the time. But as a baby its not like he was use to running around anyway. But yeah once they are mobile it can be challenging. I hope it works out. Is he going as a lap baby?

      Hope you come back and let me know how it went.

      1. It’ll be a little while before we go but I’m sure I’ll write about it 🙂

        LB is one now but hasn’t been a lap baby in the sense of being willing to be held for months. The second crawling was on the table, LB was off like a shot.

        I’m collecting travel with kids advice, and probably organizing by age, can I ask how old your two were when the above advice was applicable?

        1. Not sure if you are asking about red eye part or lap baby part but….

          We’ve been flying red eyes from California to Michigan consistently since 2011. Jr was 3 so he had his own seat. Minne had all her flight be red eyes or night flight since her first at 6 months old.

          We do lap seats for our kids until it’s not allowed anymore. All airlines I’ve seen its 2 yrs old. So I carried the kids on my lap every flight until they reached 2.

          When lap babies I used nursing or a bottle in conjunction with night flights as it helped relax them and it was the only time they would fall asleep in my arms.

          I think one of our Colorado flights we ended up scheduling during a nap time for Minnie but that was a lot more chaotic for us as they don’t turn down the cabin lights and like yours while she’s awake she doesn’t want to be held.

          My kids are currently 7 and 2. So what I wrote in the article is what we’ve done and still do. Hope that helps.

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