Traveling with a family of six can be a daunting task. Learn how to manage the stress of long flights and layovers with these helpful tips for packing light, bringing comfort items, and planning for jet lag. Enjoy the adventure, explore the world and make memories with the whole family!
For the last 7 years our family has enjoyed traveling to quite a few countries. We have done a wide rage of different flights. We usually stick to one layover, and our longest stretch has been an eighteen hour flight. Together we have been to 3 continents and 30 states.
“How do you manage to travel with 4 kids?”
I get asked this question all the time. I often witness how nervous people feel when seeing our family of 6 entering a plane. Truth is, we have very rarely been “that” family. Maybe once or twice.
For the most part we have been able to survive our flights way better than I even imagined thanks to a few super helpful tricks. In fact, we often get compliments for how well our kids behave when traveling.
A comprehensive guide and tips for surviving long flights with a large family:
With a few tricks, family traveling, rather than being the stumbling block to hold anyone back, can become the reason to make unforgettable memories together.
Purchase a flight that leaves at the ideal time
When traveling as a family to a long distant location, we choose a flight that departs during the afternoon time or early evening. I find flights can be extremely long and boring. So if I and baby or child can squeeze in a nap while onboard, we do it. What a perfect way to forget that you are even on a plane. Our kids sleeping in the afternoon and evening time. We try to match that with the time we will be on the plane.
By leaving later in the day I also find that I have more time to pack a few last minute items, take out the trash at home, eat a healthy meal rather than the over priced airport food, and also be well rested from the night before.
Pack a few favorite activities
Every time we travel as a family we let the kids pack one beloved item from home. This can be a favorite toy or stuffed animal, a coloring book, a sticker book, a wooden toy, Anything that is not too bulky that will help kids stay entertained and feel that there is some familiarity amidst all the changes they are going through.
After all being far away from home can be hard. Now remember, you will be carrying and hauling these toys all across the world. So keep toys to a minimal. Plenty of flights already offer sticker books and free pads for activities. The last thing one wants is to be carrying too much weight on their carry on. Hauling that across airports is tiring.
Keep in mind that the more items of sentimental value you bring, the higher the chances are that you will lose something. And you will hear more of that from the kids, than if you forget it at home and it’s there safe and sound once you get back.
Bring sleeping aids
The plane engine acts as white noise and actually puts babies and children to sleep. But whether is a little eye cover or ear plugs or headphones to drown any unwanted noise, both can be a life saver. Especially if the crew likes to make lots of random announcements.
We love noise cancellation headphones. Make sure you have the ones that plug into both your phone or a screen for entertainment. Most long flights offer entertainment via phone or an inflight screen. Some airlines offer free headphones but that is not a guand even blankets and pillows. but that is not a guarantee so it’s always best to pack something to keep warm and comfortable.
Bring a change of clothes for everyone
Hands down super important for family traveling. Especially when traveling for extended periods of time. Having extra clothes in case of an accident, or just to freshen up between flights is a must. You also never know when your flight will be too cold, or too hot so make sure to bring a sweater and extra warm socks that you can store in your personal item.
I like to pack extra socks because security requires to remove your shoes, and walking barefoot in a public space is very unsanitary. I like to change my socks at some point if I can. Being seated for an extended period of time can also make ones feet feel cramped and cold.
It’s nice to be able to kick off your shoes and put on an extra pair of socks that way they can protect your regular socks from all the dirt that is on the carpeted floor of a plain. Think of everyone’s shoes that have been stepping in the airport bathrooms with lots of questionable paddles. They then have then been rested right where you will place your feet on the plane Yikes. I bring an extra pair.
Remember to bring some disinfecting or children’s wipes. You won’t regret it. It’s very common for children to have an upset stomach or to have an accident when traveling. Being far away in an uncomfortable situation can make kids forget where they are. It raises their levels of stress in their bodies. This can cause them to regress and maybe have a little accident. It’s perfectly normal. But it’s nicer to handle when fully prepared.
It’s always nice to be able to change them, have a wipe to clean their chair and the bathroom stands, and also have a fresh pair of clothes. Remember to also bring an empty plastic bag to store any soiled or dirty clothes in case any accident happens.
Bring a favorite bed time item
Bedtime routines are extremely important not only for adults, but especially for kids. Even when far away from home. Having a set routine with a few favorite bed time items can be a life saver. Not only for when on the plane, but also for it’s time to sleep in hotels and “NEW BEDS.”
For example, our kids all have a favorite small blanket and a stuffed animal they like to take everywhere. We prioritize those more than toys. Because we know that if we are in a new environment, as long as they have something that is close to home, they will be able to sleep a lot more comfortably. They will still feel that their home sweet home is not as far away as they think.
Some airlines offer pillows and blankets. We still don’t gamble since our kids love to have their own from home.
Bring a favorite snack
Especially when traveling with children, choose a powder formula. Water will have to be bought at the airport.
We have carried liquid formula, and while we had to do an extra test for it while going through security, we have always been able to keep our precious liquid gold. If I I can I prefer powder to avoid risking it.
Children feel more comfortable when they have snacks and little sweet pleasures that keep their taste buds entertained for a while.
Plus airfare food is just flat out terrible. Having a plan B in case the kids don’t like anything is a life saver. As long as you are not bringing fresh fruits and meats or dairy, most packaged dry snacks always make it through security in a parent’s baby travel bag.
Pack any medicine you might need
Children’s histamine levels tend to rise when traveling. Being in a different environment can often make one’s body more susceptible to getting sick or having an allergic reaction.
For that reason we always do our family traveling with any medicine that we know our kids have needed at some point or another at home.
It’s harder to find a doctor and get medicine that requires prescription when abroad. I bring anything from pink eye drops, upset stomach medicine, allergy syrups, baby Tylenol, inhalers, anti diarrhea, anti vomit, infection medicine, even UTI medicine for myself. The most common unexpected things can happen when exposed to a new environment and food. I bring it all because I never know if one of us will get sick in the middle of the night when everything is closed and my insurance doesn’t work abroad. I rather be prepared.
If needed, something that has also helped us fight jet lag and insomnia on the plane has been children’s melatonin. We very rarely have needed it. But it has helped us on very long flights. When we knew we were landing at a strange time and had to catch other connecting flights.
When we wanted our children to sleep sooner than their regular home schedule we would use melatonin. So if for example we would leave at 5 pm and knew that when we landed it was going to be midnight for us, but the following day at 10 am at our landing destination… We would try and start making them fall asleep sooner than our usual time at home. In order to be able to sleep enough before we landed. Melatonin would help them sleep sooner. Otherwise we would basically skip a whole night because of the local time at our destination.
Fight airplane ear aches
For us it means a lolly pop, a piece of candy or chewing gum. Plus, treats are the perfect motivational tools when needing kids to do something on a plain. They are a good way to prevent a kid from throwing a giant tantrum while surrounded by another 200 people.
We often tell them before getting on the plane that if they will achieve certain goals, we will reward them with their favorite treat.
At some point or another one of our kids has also had their ears plugged or ear ache from the change of pressure while in the air. Ear pain is very common among children especially during take off and landing.
When I was a little, flight attendants would always go around and pass out a hard piece of candy for passengers to chew on to reduce ear sensitivity. That is something that no longer exists, but ear pain still does.
I still have kept with this tradition just in case the kids start having an ear ache. It’s the reason why so many children seem to cry always during take off and landing and scream the whole way through.
Plus when I warn our children that if they will sit really still and buckle they will get a piece of candy, they make every possible effort to comply.
They will blissfully look outside the window while joyfully having an explosion of flavor in their mouth.
Nursing a baby or feeding a toddler a bottle is also a great alternative. When our kids were under one, I would plan on nursing them always during take off and landing. Since they would swallow while sucking and eating, this would always help them to stay calm, not have ear pain, and even fall asleep.
Make sure to get plenty of rest the night before traveling with a family
Ok, I’m going to contradict myself on this one. I have done it both ways. When traveling with the family I have left with zero sleep so I can sleep on the plane. I have also slept well the night before. It all depends on which stage of life we are at with our children.
If they can fend for themselves on the plane and I just want to fall asleep, I make sure to be plenty tired by the time the plane is leaving. But if I want to be alert and ready for the ride, I will need my sleep.
The last thing you want to happen is that you spend an hour or two rocking your child in the back of the plane and you are so sleep deprived that you start having hallucinations.
Whenever I have travelled with children under 3, we have always slept before the plane ride. Some flights have gone super fast, and not because we were having fun. I was always busy either changing a diaper, or feeding someone baby.
We have spent many hours doing some walking time with babies, or rocking them to sleep. So remember to fly for a very long stretch, when you know that you are ready to take on this venture with a healthy and sound positive attitude.
It may not always be possible, but unless you want to be the parent that starts screaming and losing its cool because they are so mentally exhausted. Who is to blame parents for having such a moment of weakness, though.
Family traveling requires not only physical energy between going through security and carrying heavy suitcases, but it also takes energy to stay patient during a long flight.
The more rested I am, the faster and smoother things will be with children. After all, what matters most is that the parents are in full control of their own emotions if they want to be able to handle the kids when they aren’t at their best behavior.
BONUS TIP FOR FAMILY TRAVELING:
Before traveling as a family, I try to make sure that I have picked up somewhat of a routine already at home with the children . Once we have a schedule, we are now ready to do the same, but away from home.
Our family thrives on routines and we implement them no matter where we go. They allow our children to know there is something that is a constant in their life. They can easily adapt that way no matter where we find ourselves in the world.
Pack light when traveling as a family
This is to help yo use you are not burdened by carryon all the heavy bags and items. I remember during some of my first flights back and forth between Europe and the US. Before I even got married. I used to want to carry everything with me on the plane. In my carry on.
This proved to be always to my demise. I didn’t use half my staff. I also would be so burdened by the heavy bag. Especially when I had more than one lay over, carrying my heavy bag would literally send me into tears.
Now that we have kids I have appleid that same rule. Our first flights as a traveling family, we allowed each child to bring a carry on. That proved to be only to our detriment. Because once our children were tired they not only wanted to be held, now we also had to carry their own luggages.
Very rarely have they used the items in their backpacks. So for us, an adult carry on only is plenty, if we are checking in bags. We prefer to walk around freely around the airport and do some window shopping. We also like to be able to easily get on and off the plane. It’s so much easier to make it through security with less items.
This part will come with experience. You will know more and more over time what you absolutely need and what you don’t.
Remember that upon arriving at your destination you will be tired. You will want to be comfortable and light enough that you can walk for a long distance with your children and luggage.
Test what you have at home that you are traveling with. The less loose items the better. The more you can check in at the airport and not haul around with you, the more strength you will have to run after your little kids and freedom to move around. The more smooth the overall flight will be.
There is nothing worse than to check in at the airport and having 10 gazillion items with you. Right as you are about to walk over a mile between the entrance and your final gate.
Landing in a new country often requires going through extra security check points. Waiting in line for everyone else to go through. Any heavy bag can turn into the equivalent of carrying a boulder when tired and standing with nothing else to do.
Family traveling is amazing because you get to explore the world than with the people that love you most. We love to show the kids the world. As parents we trust our influence and we feel safer knowing we are there to protect them. If you have any questions feel free to find me on social media. Linked below. For more info on this topic, don’t forget to check out my next article coming up next week on how we pack for trips.