Must-haves for a stress free flight and beyond.
I am admittedly terrible at packing for myself. Ninety percent of the fights I have with my husband begin with my refusal to pack light. Or normal. “Over packing” doesn’t begin to cover the amount of luggage I take on a trip. But when it comes to preparing travel with kids, my packing skills are expert-level.
For many years, I traveled to and from our vacation our home in Tucson, navigating LAX alone with a toddler and two dogs. Our family getaways have featured anywhere from one to five kids, varying in age from 0 – 20. It only took one six-hour airport delay, with three children who had nothing to do or eat, followed by a two hour delay on the tarmac, for me to learn how to properly pack for traveling with kids.
These days, I’m annoyed when people in the airport compliment Levon for being well-behaved. He is well-behaved, but the reason he does so well in airports is because I am prepared to keep him entertained, and I’m more than happy to take credit for that.
Below is the packing list I’ve devised over the last several years of traveling with our kids. Do you have more items to recommend? Post them in the comments!
Never have I ever taken a flight where at least one child hasn’t complained about being cold. I don’t care how hot or cold it’s going to be when we land, everyone is required to take a warm sweatshirt on the plane.
An Empty Water Bottle
Levon spilled a tall Starbucks chocolate milk in my lap TWICE before I learned to always pack an empty water bottle for the airport. All drinks are poured into a spill-proof, leak proof cup as soon as they are purchased. I also pack an empty travel mug for myself to prevent spills during boarding and take off.
I only pack a pillow for long flights, but this is my go-to. It’s also great for strollers.
I’m big on packing a full meal for every kid. I’ve been delayed ten-too-many times with a picky eater to ever travel empty handed. I’ve boarded planes with Thermoses of BBQ chicken, mac and cheese, oatmeal, green beans, and every other hard to eat food you can imagine, and I’ve never regretted it. Airport food is awful and overpriced and there’s no reason for a kid to ever be hungry when it’s so easy to pack a small meal. Our co-founder Erin Jackson never steps on a plane without a box of breakfast bars. They make a perfect airport snack, plus your kids will have breakfast the next morning no matter what time they wake up.
I always pack Levon a few of his current toys. Small things like little action figures, Hot Wheels, or a deck of cards. He can entertain himself in any airport or car rental line as long as he has something to play with.
Levon hates loud noises and puts on his headphones as soon as we step out of the car, using them to decrease traffic and travel noise. For kids with sensory issues or who are just sensitive to sounds, a set of headphones can help them stay calm as they unload from the car and make their way through security.
Don’t forget to pack a splitter for kids who will inevitably want to share a screen, even though you’ve packed each of them their own.
iPad With Case
Speaking of screens, my biggest airport horror story may be when 3 year old Levon carried his iPad over to a little girl to show her a cartoon and dropped his screen onto hers, shattering her family’s only iPad minutes before she and her siblings had to board a cross country flight. Invest in the padded iPad case, I beg of you.
A Ziplock With A Clean Shirt… For You!
As moms, we’re always so careful to pack a change of clothing for our kids, but never for ourselves. Yet we’re the ones who get spilled on. My friend April taught me a genius hack – pack an extra shirt inside a Ziplock for yourself. If you need to change, put your dirty shirt in the Ziplock and stuff it back inside your bag.
Anytime we take a city vacation, we pack Levon’s Razer scooter. And if we’re landing somewhere like JFK or LAX, where we’ll have a long walk to our car after we exit the airport, I take it as a carry on and unfold it as soon as we’re outside. It’s a great way for him to kill time while we’re waiting for a rental or a cab, and it comes in handy throughout the trip. This one is our favorite and folds up easily.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.