For more Mexico travel tips, you can check out my full Yucatan guide.
Whether it’s a “short” three hour domestic flight or an international long haul, flying is probably the number one thing that stresses parents out about traveling with babies and kids. Even after flying over 50,000 air miles with Ellie since she was born, I’m still not thrilled about getting on a plane with her. But I did learn a few things along the way, so I’m sharing a few simple tips that might make your family travels a bit more enjoyable.
1. Don’t over-pack toys. Let’s be honest, a toy isn’t going to hold their attention for more than five minutes, especially if you’re traveling with a baby under one. Even a backpack full of their favorite toys will probably all end up on the floor within the hour. Instead bring items that have longer attention value like their favorite books. Ellie doesn’t mind when I read her the same book over and over again, in part because I think just the sound of our voice can be soothing to them in a strange and cramped environment like the airplane. Even airplane magazines will work as you can make up stories to go with all the pictures.
2. Allow them to explore. Just know that babies and kids are developmentally programmed to crawl, touch, climb, and explore everything and that it’s unrealistic to expect them to sit still and not go all over the place. It’s natural parental instinct to want to keep their kids safe in a busy airport, but it’s usually possible to find a quiet corner in the waiting areas where you can allow them to explore and run around. Taking them on short walks around the airport while talking to them about what they see is also stimulating and interesting. It’s more fun for everyone when you can get your child to become excited about being in new enivironments. Ellie now loves airports and airplanes, and she seems to anticipate that we are going on a new adventure. Supervised exploration is key.
3. Use distraction to deal with tantrums. Lectures and punishment don’t usually work with toddlers and even less so with babies. When your child is throwing a tantrum, take a deep breath to calm yourself first, then shut out the world around you and focus on calming your child down. Whether it is a hug, or finding a quiet corner where they can lie down for a moment, going for a walk, or flipping through magazine, keep trying one thing after another until they are able to calm down. Even though it feels like more work than just putting them in time-out (which is pretty hard to do in an airport or on a plane), it usually works way faster. After the storm has passed, you can talk to them about their behavior. Lastly, this is obvious but maybe not so easy when you’re child is screaming NO! and rolling around in public: try not to give into their tantrums by giving them what they want, it will only make it harder in the future.
4. Modify routines. It’s hard to stick to your regular routines when you’re traveling, but when possible try to find some way to modify your routine to make it work. When you’re out and about and it’s their nap time, it may be tempting to just skip it and just let them play or snack on something sugary, but it will probably make them really grumpy later on. It’s better to hit pause and try to help them go to sleep, even if it means wearing them in a carrier or sling, or rocking them to sleep on your lap. Always try to have some food handy, or stop to buy food, so that even if you can’t sit down and eat, they don’t have to skip their meals. It all comes down to helping them feel less tired and less hungry while traveling so that tantrums are less likely to happen.
5. Embrace slow travel. I think the biggest difference between traveling with kids and traveling while single is just time. Once we’ve accepted that things are going to take longer with a baby, we just decided to embrace it. Ditch the FOMO (fear of missing out) and you’ll realize that your experience was special and memorable even though it took you twice as long to get from point A to B. After all, the journey is just as important as the destination. Embrace the cliche.