Tips For Travelling With Small Kids

Published Feb 4, 2015

We are a family no one on a plane wants to sit beside - parents of 3 kids aged 5 and under who are cute but come with noise potential. The airline staff smile sweetly as we board, the passengers however look at us terrified, imploring that we continue down the aisle and sit NOWHERE near them.

There are some things you will not be able to avoid – the unforeseen circumstances.  Here’s a little flavour of what I have encountered:

  • I booked a trip back to Ireland in 2012 with United Airlines taking us to Chicago and Aerlingus taking us the remainder of the journey to Dublin.  On checking in at Edmonton airport, United Airlines advised us that we hadn’t paid the taxes for our infant which we had.  They wouldn’t let us on the plane so we had to pay a second time.  Luckily Aerlingus apologised in Chicago and refunded us the money straight away.
  • Chances are there will be delays.  Factor these in whilst you are planning.  We sat on the runway for 2 hours in Toronto before departing for Dublin.  Jamie, my three your old kept asking “are we there yet?”

  • An airline may overbook a flight which we have also experienced.  More time to "waste" in an airport! 

  • Your bags may not arrive at their destination.  Guess what? Yes, it happened to us.  Flying back with United Airlines from Chicago to Edmonton, we were minus two suitcases and a carseat.  Luckily, we were provided with a carseat by the staff at the airport.

You can have a plan to make your trip as pain-free as possible.  Here are some tips for travelling with your small kids. 

Documentation & Luggage

Keep your passports, boarding passes and any relevant documentation as accessible as possible.  Say goodbye to fashion for a trip and invest in a fanny pack.  It’s ideal.  The world and its wife are going to want to see your various papers over and over again.  Make life easy for yourself.

We recently flew from Dublin via Toronto and back to Edmonton.  As Toronto was our first point of entry back into Canada, we needed to collect our baggage and move them to the transfer section.  Not what you need when you have three small kids.  The luggage carts are small and if you have too many bags and kids and not enough hands, invest in a porter, you will pay a few dollars for this service but you have to consider the stress it is taking away from you.  Not only that but also the kids can sit on top of the luggage and an adventure can be had.  Sweet.

Change of clothes for EVERYONE!

I implore and beg you to ensure that you pack a change of clothes for everyone in your carry-on luggage.  Why? I learned the hard way.  In 2012 myself, my husband and my then 3 year old daughter and 1 year old son flew to Ireland via Chicago.  I was also 6 months pregnant.  The first leg of our journey went well.  We had a few hours in Chicago airport to kill and so we went to a food court and grabbed a bite to eat.  Jamie was sitting on what was left of my lap, my belly was expanding by the day.  He turned green rapidly and projectile vomited over himself and me.  I had packed a change of clothes for the kids but not me or my hubby.  Yikes.  Factor in the fact that you don’t generally see maternity shops in an Airport.  Luckily I had layered my clothes, so I was able to wash out the parts that he had hit and I was presentable again.  We are just back from another trip home.  This time I was prepared for anything.  My kids are ALWAYS sick and my three year old Jamie was just recovering from a “viral” infection before we departed Edmonton for Dublin.  We are in Edmonton Airport and located a little kids play area – score.  Kids are happily playing with each other.  I am smiling looking at them.  Suddenly, Jamie’s facial expression changes.  He runs toward me and vomits……on the carpeted floor!!  Score again, it wasn’t on him or me!  I got some products from the Janitor and did my best to clean it up.  Moral of the story, don’t leave home without a change of clothes or two.  Even if you are going on a short car journey!

Keep them busy

This is another key ingredient to a fruitful fun experience whilst travelling.  Bring lots.  I took a portable DVD player with lots of DVD’s, the kids' Leap Pads, colouring books and markers, sticker books, reading books, educational cards.  Kids need variety.  “I want X” quickly changes to “I want Y” and when you are travelling you give them what they want and when they want it so that you get through the journey and live to tell the tale.  You can also buy mini size travelling games to keep them occupied.  An etch-a-sketch for the artist in the family should prove invaluable.  I found that entertaining my 5 and 3 year old was okay, the just turned 2 year old was harder.  They really don’t want to sit and have a short attention span.  When my little guy starts to get irritated I sang songs and rhymes to him and got him to repeat small words and family names after me.  We both enjoyed the one-on-one time.

A sprinkle of imagination

When you think about it a plane ride is very magical.  You are leaving your home and travelling way up in the sky over the clouds to another country.  Use this to your advantage and if you have a window seat, open the shutter and make up a story or two or just talk about what the shapes you see in the clouds look like.  This can prove quiet entertaining.

Food glorious food - Lots of Snacks! 

Let’s be honest plane food isn’t exactly fine dining on wheels.  I got a chicken wrap with a best before date far into the future which proved very unsettling to both my stomach and mind.  Kids call a spade and are way fussier than us adults!  A “No” is definitely a “No”.  They will probably not eat the food they are given on the plane.  Therefore plan ahead by bringing lots of their favourite snacks.  I packed rice-cakes, crackers, cheese products, fruits, raisins, lollipops to name but a few.  Think about your kid's and pack accordingly.  If they are anything like mine they are ALWAYS hungry.

Freedom & Movement - What a combination!

Kids love to move and are not too hot on confinement so travelling on a plane is a big challenge.  Taking a walk up and down the aisle is fairly do-able on an international flight, however, a domestic flight can prove difficult as there is only one aisle and a cart to block your path.  However, even if you can walk a few feet with your hyper toddler it’s better than nothing. 

Sweet sensational slumber

The key to a successful journey is sleep.  Sleep for the parents would also be nice but realistically we can forego sleep in favour of our children.  On our recent trip back home all three of our kids slept well.  We didn’t sleep so on arrival back in Dublin our eyes stung with tiredness and our kids bounced around excitedly.  I think it is child dependent as to whether they will get shut eye on the plane.  I think luck also factors into how successful you will be.  This time around we had the luck of the Irish.

Take advantage of any vacant spaces

On three out of our four flights fellow passengers were very accommodating and moved seats if there was an alternative available.  Wouldn't you happily move away from potential tantrums?  Our youngest was under 2 years so he was sitting on our laps.  He likes his food and is built like a tank.  When fellow passengers moved for us, this proved to be fantastic and gave us more room to spread our little family and saved us getting dead leg with "The Tank".


You will meet good and bad people on a plane journey.  We were lucky enough to go on a week-long trip to Mexico.  On our return journey, Ryan, our youngest was very upset, it later transpired that he had contracted an ear infection.  A girl sitting in front of us turned around and through the gap between the two chairs said in a sour tone “your kids our kicking our chairs”.  I am the first to admit when my kids are doing something wrong and to apologize for any bad behaviour but they were in fact not kicking anyone’s chairs, they were behaving excellently for a then 4 and 2 year old.  I really had to bite my tongue when just a few minutes later her boyfriend was dancing in his chair in front of me and causing my tray to rattle.  I had to be the adult.

On a previous trip back home to Ireland we met an Irish lady with her three small kids whom were immigrating to Canada.  Her husband was waiting anxiously for his family to start a new life in Canada.  She caught my eye as I totally admired her for doing that trip by herself with her little ones.  They have subsequently become dear friends and it is because of this friendship that I am now blogging with ChatterBlock.  My friend saw a link looking for bloggers and the rest as they say is history.    My point you never know what can happen on a plane journey!!!!

And as always let me end my blog by saying,

  • Never a dull moment in this house

  • Keep Sane

    & additionally happy & safe travelling. 


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Comments (1)

February 20, 2015, 5:14 p.m. Flag

I really like these tips. I am also a mother of 3 and living in Halifax with a husband who's family all lives in Montreal, travelling was a nightmare. Watching my kids slumped over in their car seats for multiple hours broke my heart. After 3 years in the making i came up with Amiba's, a childrens stuffed monster headrest. Kids love them because they are soft and colorful and parents love that they actually work to hold their children up comfortably in their car seats (they also double as breast feeding pillows) Check out our website, facebook page or come and pick one up at the Halifax seaport market saturdays from 7-3.


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