My first idea for traveling by airplane with children involves a kindly mother or mother-in-law, whom your children adore, and who would like nothing more than to come stay at your house with your kids for 3 weeks while you and your hubby fly off to Tahiti. Sadly, we tried this one time, when our youngest was just 2 years old — my husband and I spent 10 fabulous kid-free days (the first we’d had in almost 10 years) in Amsterdam. But back in the U.S., my mom and little Arlo got in a fight one night and both have been holding something of a grudge for 5 years, so it was a big price for all of us to pay for our bit of freedom. So now we’re off to Europe with the kids in tow. There will be two 11-hour airplane flights, two 4-hour-long train rides, one overnight train ride (also 11 hours!), and a couple of day trips involving shorter train rides, ferries, cars, and boats. It sounds a bit rough, especially with a teenager and a young 7-year-old, but we’re actually getting excited about the trip. Besides seeing the sights, we’re all coming up with activities to wile away our time in transit (besides the stash of electronic devices). Here are some of our favorites:
- Playing cards! You can play games while waiting in the airport, on the plane, on the train, in a park. Older kids can play solitaire or work on magic tricks when they’re bored. You can use them to teach wee tots their numbers and a few shapes. “See, this is a 6 of hearts. 1,2,3,4,5,6 hearts on this card! And this is what the number 6 looks like.”
- Washable markers and a notepad. We use markers a lot on the plane, and I can’t wait to try out Brookelynn’s fabulous Puffer Fish Barf Bag project! (Note to self: Bring small scissors.)
- Books of all kinds. We bring sports trivia books for our teenage boy, beginning reading and simple word search books for our 7-year-old, and trashy fiction books for me.
- Magazines. After you read them, you can cut them up or rip them apart to make collages or funny pictures. You can also make paper airplanes and fancy paper doll clothes out of them in a pinch.
- Forgotten toys. I always raid the toy chest in search of small toys that we’ve forgotten all about. They’re like a new gift and a dear old friend wrapped into one! Army men and other figurines are great for adventure and make believe play, plus they can be used as game pieces or betting chips.
- Homemade games. I found a box of old Maker Faire badges in the recycling bin in the office and decided to keep a pair of each type for a DIY memory game. We tried it out here at home and it was a hit! And our new reader is now learning impressive words like “Volunteer” and “Exhibitor.”
- Your imagination. At some point during the trip, your bag of tricks will be used up or no longer hold the interest of your offspring. When this happens, it helps to arm yourself with an imaginative mind. Look around, maybe something will catch your eye that can be put into use in a new, better game. Or dig down deep and come up with a funny tale — “Did I ever tell you about the time I dropped an entire bag of groceries? I bet you can’t even guess what all I broke, or how funny I looked with mustard all over my skirt.” Embellish at will!
- A sense of humor. On one plane trip, my then 5-year-old spilled a bag of chips all over the waiting room, then knocked over bottle of water, and finally set his sandwich down on the chair, at which point it slowly slid off the seat and onto the floor, unwrapping itself and dribbling out all the innards in the process. Wanting to cry, or maybe yell, I instead shook my head and began to laugh. And so did my older son. And so did my youngest. A few moments later, a woman came over and told me I was the most patient, wonderful mother she’d ever seen. Amazed, I again shook my head in protest and laughed even more. What else was there to do?
What tricks for traveling with kids do you readers have? Tell us about them in the Comments. Happy Summer!