I recently took my four kids on a trip that involved a two-hour flight to Guadalajara from San Antonio. Given their ages—8, 6, 4, and 22 months—I decided to brave the adventure by myself. Any parent who has taken their kids on a trip knows it can be quite a challenge. One that kicks off with a restless night prior to the voyage and ends as soon as we hit our destination. Actually, I believe it ends as soon as you hit your pillow and close your eyes.
Well done, you! You made it!
Now let’s take a step back and go through all the things you did right. For me, it all starts here.
The less you pack or the smarter you pack, the less you will have to carry. Think of how many days you can go without doing laundry and go from there. Stick to the basics, clothing that you can combine in multiple ways, or choose one main color to be your base. I like my kids to match, so even if they don’t have the same clothes they will have the same hue, and they repeat outfits every week.
Before going to the airport:
First, do a run-through of how you will haul your baggage once you get there. In my case, the older kids loved pushing the big suitcases. If you can, get the bags with four wheels—they slide so easily, even my four-year-old could do it! Second, check in to your flight online to avoid waiting in line at the airport. This was a mistake I made. Third, get there early. Whatever mishap you may encounter, if you have time, you can fix it.
Use a baby carrier or a stroller:
The great thing about airlines is that they don’t consider strollers to be luggage, so definitely take advantage of this. I took my baby carrier this time but didn’t use it, but it works great for babies. I’ve taken my big Uppa Baby stroller with double seating and the ride-along board for when my kids were four and younger. Now that all of them can walk without whining (mostly) a lightweight stroller was my best friend. For me, a stroller works as a vessel as well as an anchor. When we wait, they all hover around it, and when we are on the go, they grab onto it or ride on it.
Snacks and water:
Take snacks. Period. You know it, I know it, and every person who’s been around little people knows that snacks save the day!
For water, you can pack an empty water bottle to get through the customs security checkpoint, and once you are in the waiting area find the water fountains located outside the bathrooms in the San Antonio Airport. They are the cool ones that taste great and tell you how many bottles you’ve saved from the landfill. Or you can buy water; just do it after the checkpoint.
I am not a fan of screens, so my suggestion would be everything but screens. I took crayons, coloring books, and stickers. Books, magnets, magic markers, cards, sketch pads, and little toys are also great. The key is to keep it simple. There is a lot going on in an airport—you don’t want the added stress of having to pick up or clean up.
Before boarding the plane, go to the bathroom!
“Even if you don’t want to, just try,” is what I say to my kids. It is not fun to go to the bathroom in an airplane as an adult, even less fun as an adult with a kid, and the least of fun times as an adult with a kid with other kids crying because you left them alone in their seat. Save yourself the trouble, my friend.
Security and COVID restrictions:
Double-check the current COVID-19 protocols before your trip since they change frequently.
By now, we’ve all been immersed in security protocols for so long that going to the airport with COVID restrictions should not feel any different to your kids than going somewhere that requires mask-wearing.
Kids ten years old and younger do not have to take off their shoes at the security point.
You are allowed to take a 12-ounce liquid hand sanitizer in your carry-on bag.
Masks should be worn at all times inside the San Antonio International Airport and inside the airplane, even if vaccinated. This will be in effect until at least September 2021. Check the airport website for updated information.
All my kids wore their masks except for my 22-month-old daughter. Get lanyards for your masks so you won’t lose them.
The screening takes a little longer because of the sanitization process, but it is still very smooth.
Social distancing is encouraged, but when you are boarding the airplane, it is practically impossible.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, your kids will find the security checkpoints, airline protocols, documentation, customs, etc., new and exciting. Try to engage them in the process as much as you can. Teach them about the gate numbers and how to navigate an airport. Explain to them how their luggage goes from the checking point to the baggage claim point. If you make it fun, it will be fun!
A lone parent who is responsible for taking their kids from point A to point B carries a huge mental load. When all the physical aspects of the trip are taken care of, such as the packing, the documents, the snacks, etc.… all that is left to do is take care of your mental state. And for me, this is the thing that binds everything together because your mood will determine the “feel” of the trip.
My biggest tip for you is to stay CALM throughout the journey. You can handle tantrums, spilled beverages, loud bathrooms, running toddlers, explosive diapers, and so much more if you are in this state of mind—and your kids will also feed off of it.
This doesn’t mean that you get to relax—this will come once you are at your destination, hopefully. But being calm will make you aware of your surroundings and allows you to stay alert. It truly feels like a superpower to be able to tackle any situation with a zen-like demeanor.
You have a schedule to keep, papers to fill out, and luggage to claim, and being calm is your best bet to make sure things run smoothly.
My oldest was experiencing a lot of anxiety, but as soon as she understood how things work, where to go, what the gate numbers meant, and that the airplane was not going to leave without us, she relaxed and became curious instead. The six-year-old and the four-year-old were bursting with excitement. I felt all their joy when the plane started to lift off and they kept telling me between squeals, “We are flying, we are flying!”
Up in the air, with my baby sound asleep in my lap, I glanced over at the three-seat row where three little humans were staring at the clouds, eating their snacks peacefully and quietly. I closed my eyes and relaxed for a little bit just before the plane started descending again. I mentally patted myself on the back for a job well done.
The experience of going places is one that I will always cherish. I know how hard it can be, as well as how great. My hope is that the fear of the challenge of traveling with kids doesn’t deter you from trying it.
You got this!