Any amount of travel can be challenging with kids in tow. Like it or not, a child's list of needs is longer than an adult's, and their reaction to not having those needs met can be much more dramatic. Even driving a long distance with kids can be a total nightmare, especially if they're awake. Some families try driving overnight while the kids are sleeping, and that can help, but it doesn't solve every problem.
And air travel? Flying with kids poses its fair share of challenges, too. For starters, some kids just don't like flying for various reasons -- turbulence being one of them. We've all heard kids crying during takeoff or landing, seen children holding their parents tightly when the aircraft hits a few bumps or endured a long plane ride just rows behind a crying child, wondering if it would ever end.
While other people's children might stress you out, the situation becomes far more serious when you're traveling with your own children. That's because most parents really do want their kids to behave and become incredibly frustrated when they do not.
Fortunately, technology offers new ways to keep our kids distracted during travel, and there are still plenty of tried-and-true methods to keep children entertained without the use of electronics. Want to fly with kids without losing your mind? Here's what you should pack.
Bring a tablet -- any tablet
Before you go, load your tablet with any games, puzzles or movies that will help keep little minds and hands busy. Throw in a set of headphones that will fit your child's delicate ears.
An iPod or iTouch can work wonders for a child who gets stressed out easily when flying. Listening to their favorite music can serve as an excellent distraction, or at least pass the time until you can land. Don't forget to bring an extra set of headphones for those as well.
Technology might hold them over for a few hours, but what will your children do for the duration of your flight? To avoid a meltdown, pack some fun activities for your children -- think games, stickers or crayons and paper. These cheap, easy-to-pack activities could be just what your children needs once they get burnt out on electronics (or worse, the battery dies).
In recent years, airlines have become increasingly cheap when it comes to onboard snacks, which means you need to pack your own. Before you fly, fill some small Ziploc bags full of treats that can easily fit in your carry-on. Avoid foods that are messy (like chocolate) and aim for foods that are filling and relatively easy to clean up (like graham crackers).
In the stressful world of a young flier, it never hurts to have a few items from home at hand. Of course, comfort items are different for each child. For some, it could mean their favorite stuffed animal. For others, it could be a blanket they sleep with each night. Bring a few of the things your child treasures most to lend a sense of familiarity to the flight.
Flying with kids is never ideal, and can feel more like a necessary evil than a vacation at times. Unfortunately, short of magically teleporting, there are few ways to move a family thousands of miles within a day's time, crossing oceans and time zones in the process.
The good news is, you are still in control -- even if it doesn't seem like you are. You just have to plan ahead and anticipate your child's needs. And when all else fails, pack some ear plugs for yourself and those around you. Because, when you're on a plane with kids, there's nowhere to hide.
About the author: Holly Johnson is the founder of travel website, Travel Blue Book, which covers travel experiences ranging from cruising to fine dining. Holly also writes about frugal living, travel and budgeting on her other website, Club Thrifty, and at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, Personal Capital and many other online publications.