Summer’s nearly upon us, okay well there’s still snow on the ground here in Maine, but wishful thinking right? And now is the time when many of us start planning our summer, family vacations. Oh blissful summer! I remember as a child flying to Disneyland one June, lazy days at our cousins’ farm in Wisconsin, playing spoons and cards with the same friends, year after year, at a cottage on Lake Erie. All these warm, peaceful memories.

But even now, all these years later, I remember some horrible trips.

One Christmas my mom flew with us three kids to Ohio. My dad flew the next day after work, lucky guy. A blizzard re-routed our first plane. Then the plane was grounded in a random city due to ice on the wings. We eventually had to be bussed to another airport with more delays on the plane, and when we finally arrived in Chicago, after an entire day of flying and not arriving at our final destination, my mom had to locate my aunt in O’hare with luggage and three children (under age 5) in tow. And no cell phone. 

When we finally arrived in Ohio the next day, all the kids, including my two cousins we were staying with, proceeded to get the stomach flu. Fun times! Oh, and people could still smoke on planes at that point. It was a regular party!

If there’s one thing we can recognize as parents, travel is a whole different beast. I used to stress about getting through security before I had kids. Ha!! Now I long for those solo days. 

Traveling with kids definitely amps up the anxiety. One time when my son was about five-months-old I flew to Cincinnati with him by myself. I think all he did was nurse and poop, and by poop, I mean he had the runs, for five hours. I was terrified that he would cry the entire time annoying all the passengers. I nearly wept when I saw my sister waiting at baggage claim. 

Flying in the summer can mean long, hot delays, overcrowded flights, and kids who get air sick. Still want to get on the plane? I’m no expert, but my husband and I have been flying with our two kids since they were babies. I have nine years of experience, and I’ve definitely learned a few things. Like all things parenting, it helps to be as prepared as you can.

Ten Must Haves on an Airplane with Kids

Wine. Just kidding! I wish.

1. Snacks 

Because when aren’t kids hungry? Crackers, fruit chews, granola bars, salami, oranges. Put little bags of goldfish everywhere. My 7-year-old-pickiest-eater-on-the-planet is proof that child can survive on goldfish alone. Sneak in some food for you and your spouse too. No sense adding hangry to the list of stressors.

2. Water Bottles

Fill these up after you breeze through security, at which point you might want wine again. Airplanes beat a desert any day for driest places on the planet. I can feel the moisture getting sucked out of my body on every flight. And I don’t know about your kids, but when mine are dehydrated, meltdowns happen quickly.

3. Books and/or E-readers

My kids love books, but I’ve found their Kindles to be more entertaining for them on a plane. You can absolutely disagree with me on this one, and I understand the screen time issue. But think about it, you’re not in your living room with shelves full of books and games, or in wide open back yard. You’re crammed into an airplane seat, in a flying tube, surrounded by too-hot, or too-cold, stale air with a gazillion other passengers. Now is not the time to worry about screen time. Give yourself a break.

Many libraries have programs where you can borrow e-books. Plus, there are some really great learning apps and games, many of which are free. Math, spelling, and puzzle apps. Angry Birds is one of our favorites; it’s just fun!

Two apps we love that are not free are: Endless Alphabet by Originator, with the cutest monsters spelling words for your kids. Actually all of the Originator apps are awesome, but not cheap. Pettson’s Inventions is for kids 4 and older. It challenges your child to build inventions. Super cool and it can entertain my kids (and husband) for hours.

4. Soft Kid Headphones

There are some inexpensive ones for kids with the big padded ear pieces to cover their ears gently. This way you won’t have to buy them on the airplane, and you won’t have to stick those tiny, hard rubber ones in their ears. They can use these with their Kindles, or for a movie on the plane. I’ve found they also help my sensitive child block out too much noise.

5. Drawing Pads & Markers

It helps to have things they can use that don’t require batteries. My kids also have small zippered pouches for their markers and crayons so they don’t roll around on the airplane.

6. Pillows & Blankies

Hopefully your lovely children will nap during the flight. We often flew the redeye from Seattle to the Midwest, and I was so thankful when my kids had a pillow and their blanket to help make the airplane seat more comfortable.

7. Surprises

I find fun, cheap gadgets to sneak into the pockets of their backpacks. Treats they might not normally get, tiny travel games like magnetized checkers or tic tac toe, a new book, coloring book, random animal figurine or stuffed animal.

8. Gallon-size Ziplock Baggies

Boy do these come in handy. Both my kids get airsick. It’s awesome, yup, and those tiny, paper, airplane, sick bags don’t help at all. A good thick, ziplock is your best friend. I pack one in everyone’s backpack. These bags come in handy for all kinds of kid accidents.

9. Extra Clothes

And here’s the most important part, not just for your kids, who, we already know can spout bodily fluids all over themselves with the snap of a finger. See, they don’t just puke or pee or poop on themselves, they spew on you too, sometimes on the airplane, and sometimes just walking through the middle of the airport. All. Over. You. And your shoes. 

So toss in an extra pair of pants, t-shirt and flip flops, for each of you. Even if you get cold on airplanes, I can tell you from experience it’s better to feel clean, even if your toes are chilly on the way to your destination, than warm, but covered in puke.

10. Washcloth, Paper Towels, or Wipes

Children are messy! Enough said.

Always remember your mantra, “We’re having fun, we’re having fun!” And know that there’s a glass of wine, or a delicious iced mocha (and hopefully a beach) waiting for you at the other end. Happy summer traveling!

Sara Ohlin

Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the upcoming contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher and Salvaging Love. You can find her essays at, Feminine Collective, Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, and in anthologies such as Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak about Healthcare in America, and Take Care: Tales, Tips, & Love from Women Caregivers. Find her at