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If you plan on flying with a small child, careful planning and preparation can make a world of difference on your trip

Air travel, whether for business or pleasure, has become commonplace for many adults. We know the ins and outs of airports. We have packing down to a science. Even security checkpoints can be navigated with ease. But throw a small child, or more, into the mix and suddenly we’re lost. 

Plan

In planning a flight with a small child, the first important step is to look at your flight options. It is important to be cognizant of your child’s sleep and eating times.

Depending upon the distance you will be traveling, consider your layover options. While some families prefer a non-stop flight to their destination (having to get on and off only one plane is a bonus), many others prefer to schedule a layover so their kids have a chance to run, play, and eat in the middle of their travels.

Consider the age of your child and their desire to move. Will they be happy sitting through a feature-length movie or a marathon of their favorite shows? Or after a few hours of travel, will they be climbing the walls?

Many parents hope to avoid travel troubles by flying through the night. Too often, though, this plan can backfire, as children are thrown off their typical routines and may be unable to sleep. Although infants might have an easier time flying through the night, most toddlers and preschool-aged children may simply become cranky and exhausted.

Pack

Have you ever noticed that lady in the airport seemingly drowning in bags? Look closely, for she just might have a child hiding behind the backpacks, suitcases, or diaper bag.

Smart parents know that what you pack for a child on a flight can make or break the experience. Start by thinking about what your child occupied best. Do they like to color, build, look at books, or play games? Pack their carry-on with a variety of these activities. Think of each option as buying you 15-30 minutes of engaged-child time.

Don’t forget the screens! As much as parents try to limit screen time for children, flying can be an exception to the rule. Downloading a marathon of favorite shows or finding an app that sparks your child’s fancy is a great way to keep kids happy—and you sane. Just don’t forget the headphones!

Snacks are another very important part of flying with children. While many airlines offer kid-snack options, your best bet is to pack a plethora of your own. Fruit snacks, crackers, cookies, and applesauce packets are convenient options.

A change of clothes is also a great thing to stash in a carry-on, both for you and your child.

After all of your planning, the time has come.

On travel day it is best to take a “go with the flow” attitude. Breathe deeply as you step onto the plane with the knowledge that millions of parents around the world have done this same thing and survived.

Do your best to make friends—not enemies—on your flight. Be kind to the flight attendants, apologize in advance to your neighbors, and do your best to dismiss the eye-rolls of fellow passengers.

Know that there is a pretty good chance that those around you, who are less than thrilled at having a small companion on their flight, will most likely be—or already have been—in your same shoes.

Other articles you may be interested in on Family Travel

The prospect of a no-kids week in the summer might have you hurrying to find a sleep-away slot for your child. Or your child might already be part of a Scout troop or other group that includes a summer sleep-away camping opportunity. Maybe the family of your child’s best friend has offered to include him in their vacation this year.

But you hesitate. How can you tell if your child is ready?

A quick rule-of-thumb is age. A week away from home is often too much to manage for kids younger than nine, unless the excursion is with a grandparent or someone else that’s family or as-good-as-family. Nine-year-olds have enough experience under their belts to adapt to most situations and they understand their own feelings well enough to soothe the inevitable homesickness. They have a good command of time and can tell “how long there is left to go” before the vacation comes to an end.

A second consideration is experience: has your child slept over at a friend’s house without problems? Is your child able to handle her affairs without her parents around, can she adapt to another set of rules and customs, and can she sleep in a strange bed without tears? A child who has never slept over at the home of a friend might find sleep-away camp too big a leap this summer.

Third, is the camp you’re thinking of a good fit for your child? If your kid is a bold adventurer eager for a challenge, he might love to rough it in the wilderness. But if your child likes his creature-comforts, enrolling him in a rugged experience “for his own good” is unlikely to make him a happy camper. There is a wide range of camps, suiting kids of every taste. And every camp – even one that seemingly presents little challenge – will stretch your child and teach him new things. Try to find a camp that will make your child happy.

Fourth, does your child want to go? If your child is dead-set against sleep-away camp then there is little to be accomplished by forcing her to go. Of course, as soon as you sign up your child, she will experience “buyer’s remorse.” Cold feet are to be expected and usually are not a reason to withdraw. But if sleep-away camp is the last thing your child wants this summer, then see what other options are open that she’ll find more acceptable.

Finally, are you ready? Can you be happy without knowing what your child is doing every minute of the day? Can you survive without knowing if he’s eating well or sleeping well and if the other kids are being nice to him? It goes without saying that you’ll choose a camp wisely. A good camp that’s well supervised and fun can create wonderful memories and a wish to return next year. But the other secret to a great camp experience is the readiness of the child and his parents. Sleep-away camp is a big step, a rite of passage.

If both of you are ready, then sleep-away camp can be a summer treat for the whole family.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.