Having now flown back and forth between Australia and the US several times and across Australia from Canberra to Perth, I've found a secret to traveling with children that is worth sharing.
Presents. Lots of them.
Before a flight I collect all sorts of cheap yet interesting trinkets. Here's a snapshot of the collection I amassed for our last journey to the US.
Other suggestions of things kids might like include colorful paper clips to make a chain, a battery-operated fan, a lock and key, chapstick, anything with a suction cup, silly putty, Russian stacking dolls, Legos, board books or lift-the-flap books, puppets, tiny dolls or cars, a magna doodle, stretchy bracelets, wind-up toys, puzzles and magnets.
For us, the big winners were the glow sticks, the balloons, the zip pouches, half a dozen mini rubber ducks, the tape measures, the stickers and the toy cameras.
Part two of the secret plan is wrapping the presents. I wrapped each one individually in red wrapping paper. Kids love unwrapping presents and this just adds to the time that they're entertained. This time around I put each kid's presents in a separate bag because on our last flight I spent lots of time squeezing and rattling packages to remember what was inside and who it was for!
I got this idea from the fabulous Dr Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting in a post on Flying with Kids that is highly worth reading before you pack a single suitcase. Her recommendation is to bring six to eight presents for every three hours of time in the air.
Sound like too much bother? I can guarantee these presents will be worth their weight in gold! The first time I did this I must have spent $50 or more on random items but once trapped in the confines of an airplane with restless children, trust me, this will seem like the best money ever spent. You'll be grateful for every minute that your child isn't fiddling with the tray table or kicking the seat in front of them and you'll be pretty darn pleased with yourself when fellow passengers tell you how well behaved your kids were. Add a tablet computer or DVD player to your carry-on and you're as prepared as you can possibly be.
A last minute addition to our gear for the US trip was a double umbrella stroller to help us move easily around airports. It was really useful when the kids were tired and couldn't walk very far and we could hang bags and even car seats from the handles as we were moving ourselves and our things from the gate to the baggage claim to the car rental desk, for example.
Riker and Ari were absolutely fabulous while flying on this last
journey. Even so, we all arrived completely and totally exhausted but I'm so glad I put the time and effort into preparing for the trip to make
it as easy on everyone as possible.
PS. Some of my earlier tips and tricks for traveling with kids can be found here.