If you asked me a year ago, just the idea of air travel with my 3 kids would have brought on instant panic. We once flew with our 18-month twins and preschooler, thinking it wouldn’t be that bad. Well, it was that bad. It was so bad in fact that one passenger asked the flight attendant for scotch tape for our kids’ mouths. My husband wrote a hilarious blog post about this flight and others we’ve faced. If you’re in the mood for a fun read I highly recommend it.
After our awful flight, we decided to stay put for a while until our twins were older and more capable of handling air travel. Luckily, we didn’t have a reason to leave home so staying around town was easy to do.
Fast-forward to August 2017 after we committed to two trips (both 5-hour flights) all within 3 weeks of one another. Knowing what we experienced 6-months ago, I was not eager to get my kids on an airplane anytime soon, but the allure of visiting family and a tropical vacation calmed my anxiety.
This time around I was determined to do things right. I took what I learned from the first few flights with 3 littles and applied them to my upcoming trips. I hope my mommy-hacks prove helpful to you as well. If they can help just one family get through a painstaking trip, then my job is done.
TIP #1 Make your kids carry their own stuff
It may seem counterintuitive to have your kids carry their own things but trust me on this one. It really makes a difference. In my past trips, I was determined to cram diapering essentials, snacks, waters (for 4 people), clothing, entertainment, and my own necessities into one large carry-on handbag.
What was I thinking?!?! My handbag ended up weighing about 15lbs and although it was nicely organized (thanks, ToteSavvy!) it was a pain to hold everyone’s stuff. Each time one of my kids wanted a snack or a coloring book, I had to reach down, grab it from my bag, and hand it to them. I realize this isn’t that big of a problem but as a mom with three kids, I was over it after the 5th ask.
Instead of trying to carry everything yourself, have your kids each carry a backpack with their own activities, snacks, and water. Our flight was immensely better with this setup. Each child had their own seat (they were all over the age of 2) and their own backpack under the seat in front of them. If they wanted anything at all, they could reach down and grab it themselves. To my amazement, even my 2-year old twins loved this convenience. They thrived off of the independence and loved digging through their backpacks looking for hidden treasures (aka goldfish crackers and cookies).
Land of Nod backpack pictured above
On our first trip this summer my twins wore Land of Nod backpacks (pictured above). While I loved these adorable designs and large capacity, the size was a little large for their small frames. I think in a year or so they will fit much better and be a great option. Because of the size issues, we ended up hooking their backpacks on the stroller through the airport. This wasn’t a big deal to me but I find it necessary to fully disclose that my children didn’t actually walk through the whole airport with backpacks in tow.
On our second trip, my twins wore these adorable little backpacks by My Little Pack Company. Aren’t they just precious?! The size of these was beyond perfect for a 2-year old frame, while still holding enough snacks and entertainment tools for a 5-hour trip.
My Little Pack Company backpack pictured above
TIP #2 Pack snacks, snacks, an iPad, and more snacks
From my first tip, I think you’re getting the idea that snacks are essential when we travel. My kids don’t get a ton of snack food at home. We stock the house with crackers but rarely cookies, squeezers, gummies, and other snack foods. This comes in super handy when I need to keep my kids happy for 5-hours. They are so excited to be eating animal crackers that they’re well behaved for 15-minute increments.
Along with a backpack full of snacks we carried an iPad (in our adult bags) for entertainment. I’m sure this isn’t everyone’s favorite form of distraction but it works for us and I honestly would rather have happy, quiet children than other passengers asking for scotch tape again.
My preschooler happily watched a couple movies for both trips while my twins tuned in off and on throughout the flight. I found that rotating their “distraction” worked best. I would offer a snack, then offer a movie, then a sticker book, and so on. Once I had exhausted all of my options I was back at option 1 with a happy toddler ready for another snack.
One last mon-tip is to pack a large booklet of stickers. My toddlers happily unpeeled and stuck stickers on themselves for at least 2 hours during the flight. 🤷♀️
TIP #3 Don’t forget to bring a stroller
Ha! This is a big one. I can’t even believe we attempted this but hey.. you live and learn. If you don’t want to carry your children, bring a stroller. Hell, bring anything with wheels. They will not want to walk alongside you, and when they do want to be independent, they will be running full speed towards something hazardous.
You can take your stroller all the way to the gate and check it under the plane right before boarding the aircraft. Be sure to let the front desk associates know you’re doing this so they can give you a special tag for your stroller.
TIP #4 Get digital with your boarding pass
My husband loves efficiency so anything that helps streamline our day he’s all over. On travel days he makes sure to download all of our boarding passes to his iPhone so he can easily hand over his phone when going through security and boarding the plane. You can quickly swipe to see all boarding passes, and even scan them from your phone. Easy peasy.
TIP #5 Look into Clear or TSA Pre
Waiting in a security line with three kids is not fun. Then when you finally get up to the front you have to practically undress everyone and unpack your carry-on before proceeding. To make your life easier, consider signing up for TSA Pre Check or Clear if you fly regularly. Depending on which service you use, you may not even need to take your shoes off. Liquids and electronics still have to come out of your bag but it’s much less chaotic when you’re not chasing your toddler barefoot.
TIP #6 Organize your carry-on bag
Carrying an organized bag on your flight is a no-brainer. It will help you access what you need, when you need it, and keep you feeling together.
For my two trips this summer I decided to try something different. For the first trip, I took my Fawn Design bag––packed with a ToteSavvy Mini. For my second trip, I took a Goyard St. Louis Tote––packed with a ToteSavvy original size. My packing list was very similar for each trip which allowed me to determine which style of bag I preferred.
Here’s my verdict...
Carrying a tote has its pros and cons, as does carrying a backpack. I personally like being hands-free when traveling so the backpack is a clear winner for me. One benefit the open tote has is it's easier to access what you need. You can also bring your ToteSavvy original size (large) which helps carry more stuff. Unfortunately, those pros were not enough to sway my opinion of carrying a tote bag while traveling from now on.
For future trips, my perfect situation will be using a convertible tote/backpack that fulfills all of my pros and none of my cons. Stay tuned for recommendations as I find them!
my large travel tote (Goyard + ToteSavvy original)
my travel backpack (Fawn Design + ToteSavvy Mini)