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Raising Lexington: Holiday Traveling with the Kids

Traveling with kids, especially by air, around the holidays can be stressful but with some pre-planning you can make it tolerable for everyone.

Now that you have your holiday shopping under control (insert laughter here) and your stress level is manageable (more laughter) you can start to think about taking your kids on the plane this holiday season.

I am sure, like everyone else, you have read the many articles about air travel with kids and feel that you have it under control to some degree. But if you are like me and not only want to travel with your kids but also want to actually have fun, you will need to read on. I say this because there is traveling with kids, and then there is traveling with kids with style and sanity.

I understand there are lots of ways to travel with kids -- in a car, by train and sometimes just walking to a neighbor’s house can be a real test of your parenting skills -- but let’s be honest, air travel is the most difficult. There is no out! Just standing up and pacing the aisle can be frowned upon in flight, let alone letting your child run around to stretch their legs.

You’ve got to plan things out when you travel by plane and even the most experienced air-traveler can be caught off-guard when they add their kids to the mix.

My husband, for example, is a veteran air-traveler but when the kids are with us, he forgets he can’t fall asleep at take-off with his head set on, breeze through security leaving us in the dust and unpack his lap top at the gate to get a few more emails answered.

Rule No. 1: Do not assume you will get reading, sleeping or general relaxing done while flying with young children. But, you can at least breathe in flight by going prepared. Yes, stop off at the , buy a few new books and, by all means, head over to Trader Joes and pick up some of their excellent snacks. I know now that my son struggles with his ears during takeoff and landing, so I allow the forbidden gum, lollypop or suckers to ease the pain. And I always fly with a pain reliever in my bag (which, by the way, is still a diaper-style bag long after the diapers have gone because of its size, many pockets and general good looks).

Another hint: Don’t show your hand too soon. I don’t tell my kids about all of these in flight goodies, don’t reveal them too soon during flight and don’t use them just to use them. My daughter might be fine with a sticker book and a snack, while my younger son might need all of that, a movie and a few glares from the flight attendant.

Another tried and true trick: Talk to your kids about the day ahead. This works with kids about 3-years-old and up, but try it with the younger ones see where it gets you. The day of the flight, usually on our drive to the airport when they are strapped in and attentive, I tell the kids about the day’s schedule. First we will take the car to the airport parking lot, then we will take a shuttle to the airport, then we will get on the plane, then we will sit in our seats without fussing for four hours and then we will get picked up by Grandpa and the party will begin. It's not too much information, but just enough so they know what lies ahead. Also, this way, you can remind them what stage in the travel day they are in and how much they have let to endure. I often remind my kids that they aren’t the only ones making such a long journey and point out when I see other kids getting on the plane.

Next, don’t under estimate what the airlines have to offer. When I traveled with my daughter alone when she was a baby, I called ahead and told them my situation, had a liaison meet me at ticketing, walk me and my daughter through security all the way to the gate. They even offered to wait with us to board. I offered a tip and everyone was happy. Even when I travel with my husband and both kids we make sure they know we have lap children or need extra time with the car seats. Several airports we have gone through have a family security line, which allows us the extra time we need to take off kids' shoes, stuff car seats through the X-rays and deal with kid anxieties without slowing down the rest of the travelers. I have to say, that's a real help when you have a long line of everyday travelers behind you rearing to get to their flight.    

Finally, set expectations ahead of time. I tell my kids that there are rules on the plane, just like everywhere else and it is the flight attendant’s job to enforce those rules so the pilot can focus on flying the plane. Once they are strapped in car seat or airplane seat, I tell them there is no getting out expect to use the bathroom (and I follow the same rule). There is no kicking the seat in front of you, no slamming the window shade up and down out of sheer boredom and no pushing the flight attendant call button to see what happens.

I tell my kids that these are all things that slow down the flight and are inconsiderate to the rest of the passengers. I once broke one of the aforementioned rules to have my son stand up in his seat, turn around and look at all of the people who were on the flight that he was disturbing. The look on his face when he saw all of those other faces was enough to show me he got it. He sat back down and quieted right down.

At the same time, I get that these are kids we are talking about and, for some of us, babies. It’s hard to stay still, not cry and not whine “When are we going to be there” some 20 times. For this, we need to be patient, hope others are patient and sometimes just apologize for your screaming baby who can’t seem to figure out if he wants to eat, sleep or poop.

I’ve been there, wanted to jump out the window and somehow made it through. Now that my kids are a bit older, I can use tools I’ve mentioned to make my flight a little easier, enjoy a magazine and maybe this trip, even a cocktail.   

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