Flying tips

Bring your own food

Southwest gives you snacks and drinks, but that’s it. There’s no food for purchase and even if you’re on long flights, there isn’t much to eat. Make sure you pack lots of snacks or buy food to go in the terminal before you board. We like to make macaroni and cheese the night before for our kids, since it’s something with calories, a little bit of protein, and they don’t mind eating it cold. The family I was sitting next to brought three bottles of milk for their 20 month old, which I thought was pretty smart as well. Just don’t get caught unaware – hungry children (and adults) turn into cranky children (and adults).

If you know when and where you're going, don't wait to book

Rarely ever do airline tickets get cheaper as your departure date approaches, especially if you need to fly on a certain date. Budget airlines typically offer low rates as a baseline price, and as these tickets sell, the remaining ones increase in cost. This is very typical in Europe and Australia. If you know when and where you're going, don't wait on an unknown sale. More often than not, your biggest savings come from booking far ahead when you can.

Check if it's cheaper to pay in other currencies

Before booking a flight, consider if the rate is cheaper if paid in another currency. Often budget airlines will make you pay in the currency of the country you're departing from, but this isn't always the case. An important note when doing this: make sure you're using a credit card that is free of foreign-transaction fees, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, otherwise your attempts to save money doing this will be lost! Our article on money matters for world travellers can help steer you in the right direction for the best credit cards for travel.

Pick Fellow Parents’ Brains Before You Book

Before you book, speak with as many travel-veteran parents as possible. Ask them what worked, what didn’t, what they wished they’d done differently on their first or subsequent airplane journeys with small children. Our new baby’s first flight was the result of a last-minute obligation, so we didn’t have time to canvass many new parents in our social circle. One piece of valuable advice we did receive was to babywear the 4-month-old nugget on the plane, a calming tactic we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves. Later, my wife joined a closed Facebook group for traveling moms in her profession. Numbering well into the tens of thousands, the group’s active membership is a font of highly specific, extremely useful advice for globetrotting parents. Though we’ve independently verified all the tips on this list, many first came to us through the group. Our European vacation would have been far more challenging — and far less fun — without the traveling moms’ input. Online groups can be especially helpful to parents who have special circumstances — traveling with children with special needs or babies with chronic illnesses, for instance. You can find reassurance and additional actionable advice in Facebook groups or real-world support networks for families in similar circumstances. Pro tip: When traveling with small children, expediting airport security is a huge stress-reliever. One option is CLEAR, which scans your fingerprints and eyes. You can sign up for a free two-month trial of CLEAR, and kids under 18 are free with their parents.

Plan for those inevitable toddler tantrums.

I try to think what will cause a tantrum and plan for managing toddler tantrums on the go. As an example, I know take off and landing will be the hardest parts so I make sure to have a fun snack and an activity ready to go for when that seat belt light goes on.

Save the best distractions for when you really need them!

Am I the only one that avoids letting my toddler know we can walk up and down the aisle? Seriously, aside from taking my newly potty trained toddler to the airplane toilet, I never let on that we can walk up and down the aisle. Why do I do this? One – so I don’t have to spend the entire flight doing it. Two – so I have one really special distraction in case I need it.

Study Your Ground Transportation Options Before You Arrive

Pre-kids, my wife and I rarely bothered to rent cars on vacation. No longer. Now, we find ourselves behind the wheel much more often. With a vehicle (temporarily) all our own, it’s easier to keep to our son’s schedule, flee social situations ahead of foreseeable meltdowns, and store low-value toys and supplies in the car’s trunk or back seat. On the other hand, renting a car is often expensive, and one with a car seat even more so. If it’s practical to get around your destination on public transit and you’re willing to do so with a small child and their accouterments, your final transportation bill will be much lower. In North America, my wife and I have settled on a hybrid approach: using public transit and ridesharing in urban areas and rental cars on forays into the countryside. In Europe, we avoid car travel altogether, taking the bus or train into town from the airport and walking or riding public transit once there. Avoiding airport taxis has saved us at least 50 euros, according to our calculations, and sticking to buses and trains in town even more. Wearing is the way to go on crowded public transit vehicles, so get your baby (and yourself) comfortable with the carrier before you arrive.

Ask Your Baby’s Doctor About Sleep Aids

I don’t think my wife and I are terrible parents, so I’ll just come out and say it: On the outbound flight to Europe, we gave our son a safe dose of liquid Benadryl in a futile attempt to get him to sleep soundly for eight hours. He did not sleep for the first half of the flight. Reflecting on his sustained mania during those terrible hours, we’re fairly sure he had a paradoxical response to the Benadryl — the mirror image of what one would expect from a baby dosed with a mild sedative. That was the first and last time we gave our son Benadryl on a flight. Your kid may fare better than ours, but always ask your family doctor or pediatrician before you dose and understand the risks. According to Healthgrades, parents should never give infants antihistamines like Benadryl except on the advice of a doctor. And don’t bother on flights shorter than four hours unless you feel like dealing with a sluggish baby after landing.

Have a Plan to Keep Slightly Older Kids Occupied

Eventually, baby-wearing returns diminish. By our son’s first birthday, he wouldn’t tolerate being worn by a seated person at all. He was too interested in everything going on around him. However, he continued to enjoy the body carrier on walks, which came as a relief on the ground in Europe. But you need a sound plan to keep wiggly older ones occupied. Snacks and bottles help, as do toys. We’ve found that the “twice what they’d normally need” rule works for toys too, so half the main compartment of our diaper bag is reserved for things like dolls, stuffed animals, links, and rattles.

Babywear Newborns & Smaller Infants on the Plane

Comfort-craving newborns and smaller infants do well facing inward in body carriers. We had success with the Moby Wrap when our son was really young and the Beco Gemini baby carrier as he got older. The Moby Wrap is confusing at first, but you get the hang of it after a YouTube video or two. And it works. For most of his first flight, our son slept soundly on my chest save for brief feeds at takeoff and landing. And it’s easy enough to read over a small baby’s head and shoulders.