We recently had the privilege of traveling as a family to Phoenix on spring break. With a four-year-old and a six-year-old in tow for the first time, my biggest concern was managing all the hurry-up-and-wait of the airport and the inevitable boredom of the plane when the newness of the experience finally wore off.
I polled several of my more experienced mom-friends, and thankfully, was not only able to successfully navigate the actual getting-there of our trip, but was even prepared for the inevitable travel delays that happen on a cross-country trip.
While you may not pack them all up into one rolling suitcase (ours were evenly distributed among backpacks and smaller carry-ons), these are the ten things we couldn’t do without, and the ten things I think every parent needs in their carry on luggage.
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1. Activity books
Activity books are an absolute must-have on a trip of any significant length. While I’m not as big a fan of coloring books and crayons (because who really wants to spend their time searching the floor of a plane for the ones that drop?!), I am absolutely in love with the DK Ultimate Sticker Collections books. My boys have several of them, and not only love matching stickers to the pages, but often have me go back and read them over and over again.
The trick here is new. Bring activity and reading books they’ve never seen before and you’ll be amazed at how long they will keep their attention. Amazon has a huge selection of these sticker books (in a pinch I’ve also found them at Target) so if you can be thinking a few weeks out from your trip, that is definitely the way to go. We also purchased one storybook collection to be shared and read between the boys. These also carried over as great time fillers during our vacation as well.
2. Headphones and Splitter
If you’re flying on a plane you MUST bring headphones for your children – for your sanity and everyone else’s. Even if you choose to skip numbers 3 and 4 below, some planes show in-flight movies or offer kid specific games on the seat back in front of you. These all will require the use of personal headphones, and while most planes have them available for a small fee, I personally wouldn’t spend my money on no-name electronics.
3. Game System
We are not big on video games, but were very impressed with the LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra Learning Tablet, and were subsequently extremely grateful for Grandma and Papa’s generosity at Christmas. The LeapPad Ultra comes with educational games already built into the device, with the option to purchase and download games directly from their website, or play by cartridge. Because the boys have limited access to these on a regular basis, it was an incredible treat for them to be able to play with them as they wanted on the plane (the Carrying Case was also a great idea for safe keeping).
LeapPad may be the only reason I was able to read most of Divergent on the way there. For that I am extremely grateful :).
4. DVD player with movies
I went back and forth on bringing this the entire week of our trip. If not for the insistence of a few very wise friends, it would have definitely been left behind. DON’T DO IT. This was like an emergency life vest pulled out at the end of the trip when we finally arrived in Phoenix and had to wait another two hours for the right car seats. The DVD player and a few favorite DVDs are what redeemed the end of the trip for us, keeping everyone occupied and happy at the end of a long travel day.
5. Snacks and Gummy Candy
It’s true airports have lots to offer in the way of meals and snacks, but who wants to spend $5 for a granola bar? Keep a few packaged items (per person) in your bag to help tide you and the kiddies over until you can find something affordable for meals. And don’t forget the gummy candy – it’s a MUST for take off and landing, unless you’re comfortable with the smacking of gum.
6. DIY Disinfectant/Personal Care kit
This may just be parenthood 101, but germ fighting is a non-negotiable, ESPECIALLY on an airplane. I packed a quart-size plastic ziploc baggie with a few of the essentials (which you can easily find at a Target or Walmart in the travel aisle):
We used it all :).
Pack the chargers in your carry-on. All of them. Phone. Game System. DVD player. Kindle. Anything you’re bringing that needs power with their cords. Most planes have an outlet per seat, and if they don’t, you can always borrow one at an airport charging station . . . just don’t put the chargers under the plane. YOU WILL NEED THEM.
8. EMPTY water bottle
You can’t bring liquid past security, and the bottled water at the airport is costly, so pack an EMPTY water bottle in your carry on to refill as needed. Simple. Straightforward. Done.
9. Anti-nausea something
You know yourself and you know your kids. If there is any chance you might get sick during air travel pack some anti-nausea something. Clearly you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using any kind of medication for yourself or your child, but at the very least pack a few peppermint candies. With morning sickness mere days behind me, I opted for Peppermint Essential oil to take a whiff of as needed. Thankfully we all fared well.
I never carry cash anymore – ever – but having a little green with you at the airport can go a long way. Small purchases can be subject to a credit card fee (unnecessary), and if you haven’t called your CC company ahead of time, they may freeze your account because of “suspicious activity” aka you had to buy dinner at the terminal (annoying).