Many people have asked me about traveling with four kids. To be frank, I don’t love flying at all, let alone with four boys, five years-old and younger. Up until recently, my ears were always sensitive during both the ascent and the descent to the point where I was often in tears. For whatever reason, the pressure changes haven’t affected me in recent years for which I praise God!
I am also not very patient sitting on a plane for more than an hour at a time. I do not fall asleep easily, I’m not a big reader, and I just don’t like being confined to a small place. I feel like I need to be ever so careful not to accidentally nudge the person next to me, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone by asking them to move so I can use the restroom, and I really don’t want to spill my beverage on my neighbor as it’s handed to me (I recently had a in-flight drink spilled on me and wet jeans are the worst).
Traveling with Young Kids
As you can imagine, traveling with kids is even less appealing to me. There is just so much that goes into planning for both the expected and unexpected. But in the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, that is, for our boys.
Traveling with four young children can be very overwhelming. But sometimes, I know that the attitude I CHOOSE to have about the situation makes a world of a difference in the outcome of the event. Being cognizant of the fact that my boys most likely enjoy being stuck in a seat for four hours even less than I do, can help me to understand the emotion behind their behavior. And once I’m aware of that, I’m able to better prepare for the trip.
Before I lay out how the course of our travel day typically goes, I want to say that part of the preparation of traveling for us includes preparing our boys for what to expect. Obviously our baby and toddler are not able to understand what’s about to go down, but our 3 and 5 year-old get it. So leading up to our trip, we discuss the long car rides to and from the airport, the shuttle bus that they’ll ride, the airport experience, and the flight itself. We let them know how they need to help us throughout the day and what we anticipate their responsibilities to be. This not only prepares them for the inevitably long day, but it also helps them gain excitement for the steps leading up to seeing our Wisconsin family.
The First Car Ride
When we travel, specifically to visit my parent’s in the summer, our day starts early in the morning with a nearly two hour drive to the airport. More often than not, we are able to schedule our flights around non-commuting traffic times so our car rides go fairly smooth. If we book a morning flight, we usually end up having to wake the boys up and buckle them in the car, still in their pajamas. If we’re lucky, they go back to sleep for a little while, but that’s not always the case.
The car ride can get a little long, but the excitement of starting our journey to Nana and Papa’s house definitely helps temper the frustration of being strapped in their car seats.
Luggage Drop Off
Over the past five years of traveling as a family, my husband and I have fine-tuned our travel preparation and it’s been a better and better experience each time. Last year, we decided to try something new. Instead of all of us going to park the car at an offsite long-term parking lot and then shuttle over with our luggage, strollers, etc., we decided to have my husband drop me and the baby off at the airport with everything except the boys’ backpacks. I’m usually able to find a stray luggage cart (so I don’t have to pay for one) and then get in line to check all the bags. I’ve been able to check all the bags under my name and the kids’ names.
After dropping me off, my husband and the older boys park the car and take the shuttle over to the airport to meet me. My husband just has to go up to the ticketing counter to show his ID, grab his boarding pass, and then we’re all off to head through security. We most often fly Southwest because it’s a direct flight to Milwaukee so I don’t know if other airlines would allow us to check-in this way.
I usually have time to feed the baby before they arrive back at the airport, and my husband gets the boys dressed in the car and feeds them a quick breakfast (usually yogurt, a banana, and a breakfast bar) while they’re riding on the shuttle over.
Going through security can seem overwhelming, but it usually isn’t too bad. There have been a few times when the boys have been asked to go through the metal detectors one at a time and they are on the other side before us. We quickly learned that my husband needs to go through first, then the older boys, and then the baby and I. This way, we don’t have one run off before we’re able to collect all of our belongings.
We never bring liquids through security, except bottled water for the baby (which is allowed once tested). Some airports will test some of the food and others just browse through the bag. It’s nothing too painful as long as you’re not in a rush. As they’re testing everything, we are usually getting shoes back on, organizing kids and strollers, and making sure we didn’t leave anything behind.
Another thing that has helped our older sons cooperate throughout this process is making them responsible for their own backpacks. At this age, they enjoy having a “job” to do, and they like to know they are helping us. Because I’m a numbers person (a trait I inherited from my mom), I’m always counting our backpacks/carry-on items to make sure we always have all of our stuff. It helps when I can see the two boys each wearing their backpacks.
The flight itself is so long! That’s why Part 2 of this blog post will be coming soon to cover this topic separately. But I will say that remembering that our kids are kids and allowing them some leeway in being antsy, goes a long way! We do our best to not allow them to kick the seat in front of them, to use inside voices, and to not argue with each other. Aside from that, we let them have fun and make the most of being crammed into seats for four hours.
When I prepare myself for the worst, I’m always thrilled with everything that does go well and I’m not shaken by things that could have gone better. After having changed more than one blowout diaper in the tiny lavatory with a miniature changing table that might only be big enough to hold a small mouse (sorry Baby, don’t mind your head being halfway off the table while I awkwardly try to put a diaper on your booty that’s sliding off the other end. Oh turbulence? We’re fine!) , I’m unfazed by much else.
While the older boys engage in all the activities we packed for them (see part 2 of post), I usually feed the baby, let him nap, feed him some more, let him play, and feed again. It’s not the most appealing way to spend a flight, but a well-fed baby tends to be a happy baby so we make do.
The Final Car-Ride
Upon landing, we take time for a bathroom break and then gather all our luggage. The only thing that separates us from the airport and my parent’s house is a little less than a two hour drive.
This last trip home, we were blessed to ride in Nana’s new minivan that has a rear entertainment system. The boys were able to watch a movie and crash for a bit. This was a huge help because this last leg of the trip is usually the most difficult for everyone because we are all just done and want to be there already!
Once we take the final exit, we all gleam with excitement to finally begin our vacation with family!
Timing is everything while traveling with littles. Over the years, we’ve learned it’s important to give yourselves plenty of time without having too much time at the airport. Idle time at the airport with kids is not fun, which is one reason why flight delays are such an inconvenience. We try our best to always allow enough time to get our bags checked, make it through security, change diapers, use the bathroom, and grab the gate check tags for our strollers and car seat without leaving more than about 30-45 minutes before boarding begins. Again, flight delays can completely derail this plan, but it tends to work for us.
Note: If you find yourself delayed, check to see if there is a children’s play area in your terminal. Many airports have these now and, when they aren’t too crowded, they can be a life-saver for you and your children!
I feel like I now laid out for you every detail of our typical travel day, but if it can help even one person have a less stressful travel experience with kids, it was worth it. We by no means have this all perfected, but we have learned a lot along the way and made improvements to how we travel with our boys. As our family has grown, our travel experiences have actually become less stressful because our system has improved.
While I do not necessarily enjoy flying or the busyness of a long travel day, I do feel blessed to be able to give our sons this opportunity at such a young age. If we lived closer to family, they most likely would not have been on a plane at all by now, or at least significantly less times. These travel days give us the chance to challenge our boys to be good listeners, great helpers, and awesome leaders. We rely on the older boys to use the lessons we teach at home in responsibility throughout our journey. They also are required to be patient on the flight, courteous to the flight attendants and those around them, and gracious for the ability to be able to take an airplane to go visit Nana, Papa, and their cousins.
I wouldn’t consider it fun, but I do love watching our sons adapt so well to the expectations we set for them. And I feel it teaches them life lessons on how to work cooperatively and be flexible.
How do you travel and what tips would you share with others looking to travel together as a family? I love reading about the experiences of others 🙂
Let’s raise His Mighty Warriors TOGETHER!