Travel light. I mean it. Especially on the plane. Schlepping two backpacks, a car seat, a stroller, two carry-ons and a diaper bag through airport security screening clearance is enough to exhaust any traveler before they even begin. You really, truly, do not need all that stuff that you think you need for the flight.
Remember when you had your first child and you carried around a bag the size of a small country, loaded with everything you might need during the next 18 years of your child’s life? For many parents, their first trip abroad is like that. Take some cues from your fourth-child friends and their two-diapers-in-a-purse style of parenting. Bring the bare essentials. This will mean different things depending on the age of your children, but cut your “must bring” list in half. Modern technology has revolutionized the business of keeping kids entertained. If you have a tablet or a smart phone, that will be enough to entertain your kids for hours. Download some new games, and watch them ignore you for the whole flight. Older kids will be fine with an ipod and some books, younger ones may surprise you by spending the whole flight industriously covering every piece of paper you can find with red crayon. Portable DVD players are great too, but you don’t need the whole toy closet.
Everything you bring for the plane should fit into one backpack per adult. No big carry-ons, no extra bags. If you can’t get to it mid-turbulence because it’s up in the overhead compartment, what good is it? You will thank me when you stow your backbacks under the seat in front of you and remember how you breezed past that other family with the 23 carry-ons at the metal detectors.
There are a few exceptions to the “you really don’t need it” policy. These are snacks, diapers and a change of clothes. Airline food is notoriously bad, and when your flight is 12 hours long there’s really no avoiding it. Don’t forget to bring plenty of sweet and salty snacks, preferably repackaged in small ziploc bags to allow you to send a constant stream of snacks your kids’ way. The people in the row in front of you will thank you for it.
And another hint about airplane food: most airlines offer a kids’ meal option when you book your flight, and my kids have found them universally more appetizing. Sure, they are heavy on hot dogs and chicken nuggets, but this is not the moment for healthy eating. This is the moment for survival at all costs. These may not be available if you book through a travel website like Orbitz or Travelocity—try booking with the airline’s website instead.
Also, don’t skimp on the diapers. Bring more than you will need for the flight (babies almost invariably have a blow-out on airplanes), and do a little research on the diaper-availability situation where you are headed. Diapers may be plentifully available in some places (Europe) and completely missing in others (Asia). There are few more frustrating situations than running out of diapers in a small airport in China with hours to go before your flight and the knowledge that nobody else in this airport is going to have any to spare because Chinese children don’t wear diapers. Trust me on this.
And that blow-out I mentioned? It’s going to be big. If you have a child in diapers, bring her at least one change of clothes. (I prefer footie pajamas, as they are easy to change and strangers on the plane seem to find babies in pajamas adorable.) Older kids need a clean shirt, just in case.
You’re also going to need a clean shirt for yourself. Because odds are, a child is going to throw up, and when they do, it’s going to be on you. Gallon-sized ziploc bags are also invaluable for dealing with any and all fluid-related matters onboard.
Once you take the plunge and go minimal in your packing, you are going to be amazed at how easy it is. You’ll never go back to your overpacking days again.
PS: Speaking of overpacking, I can’t say enough good things about OneBag. This website will revolutionize how you pack forever, and make your travel experience so much more enjoyable. Check it out!