How to Maintain Your Sanity When Flying Internationally With Kids and Dogs

I’m very much a wing-it type of woman. Dinner time is whenever it’s ready, bed time is after the kids are fed and bathed, and our daily schedule is so fluid I wouldn’t even call it a schedule. However, when trying to maintain my sanity on a long haul flight, I try to be prepared.

It’s now been about 10 years that we’ve been traveling as a family so I do consider myself somewhat of a travel expert. People often ask if I have any travel trips, especially when traveling with children and, so here are my top sanity savers just in time for the upcoming season.

(1) A few days before your flight, start getting the kids acclimated to the time zone, which often means keeping them up later than usual. It may seem annoying to have the kids up and cranky past their normal bedtime, but you’ll thank yourself once you’ve arrived at your destination and the kids are better able to naturally adjust to their new time zone.

(2) Annoy the hell out of the airlines about seating, which includes calling months ahead, weeks ahead, and days ahead so it’s on record how many times you asked for the bulk head, or a particular seating arrangement. Regardless of what seating arrangement you prefer, I find that whenever there is a problem at the airport they always tell me that I should have called ahead of time, so that is exactly what I do now.

(3) Always request the bulk head if traveling with a baby under 12 months so that you can use the airline bassinet and actually free your hands long enough to eat, pee, and breathe. Even if your child is over the age of 1, I find that the bulk head is still a life saver because of the extra space you have at your feet. I didn’t have to fear the kids kicking the seats in front of us, and there was also space for the little ones to stand up or sit and play.

(4) If you aren’t able to get the bulk head, ask if they can find a row of seats with an extra seat or two. It’ll mean the world when it’s time for a child to sleep. Although our trips are usually bought by the team, we prefer to purchase the tickets ourselves and have them reimburse us. That way I can more easily manage the details online, which include being able to see the available seats and seating chart while choosing our seats.

I always choose the aisle seats in the middle row, which leave the undesirable middle seat available. Most travelers will not choose a middle seat when both of the outer seats are taken by strangers. This only works if the flight isn’t full of course, but it has proved useful time and time again.

(5) This should go without saying, but you should plan to arrive extra early to the airport to anticipate problems that may arise. There always seems to be an issue with our dog, our visas, our seats, or things that are out of our control. Get there early and eliminate some of the stress. You can then have lunch or relax in preparation for the flight.

(6) Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and always be as nice as you can be! You only need that one sympathetic person to let you through to the priority line or agree to hand check your stroller instead of making you collapse the whole thing and takeoff wheels to get it to fit through the X-ray machine.

On our most recent return from Argentina, my son got sick and threw up while in the ridiculously long line at Custom’s. There was a lot going on so when someone from TSA asked if we needed help I didn’t hesitate to say yes. They got a wheelchair for my son, found a porter to help us with our bags, expedited us through Custom’s, and brought us to where our dog and his paper’s needed to be inspected. This was in Atlanta so we still had one more flight to get to NY and without the help we received, we would have absolutely missed our flight.

(7) Bring a baby carrier/sling and a stroller so you can load the stroller up with carry-ons,  jackets, food, and crap. Since you can check your stroller at the gate, it’s a life-saver to not have to carry a million things all around the airport.

(8) Let the kids run wild (within reason of course) in the airport. Find a faraway gate with minimal active flights and let them get all of their energy out while they still have some space. The same holds true for your dog. Some airports have special enclosed areas for dogs, but if not you should still exercise your dog by walking around the airport as much as you can before the flight so they’ll be nice and tired.

Perfectly well behaved when it counts

(9) Pack an extra bag in case your bags are overweight and you don’t have time to re-organize and weigh your bags over and over. You will have a place to put a few heavy items and you won’t be there all day. 

(10) If you want to eliminate all bag-related stress, get yourself a bag scale. The most practical and useful gift we’ve ever received was a bag weight from my mom. It’s small, attaches to the handle of the bag, and eliminates the ridiculousness of trying to get a bag onto a household scale, while keeping the bag steady and trying to get an accurate weight. The worst would be getting to the airport and finding out that our best estimate was either 6 pounds under or 4 pounds over. Don’t let that happen to you.

(11) If you’re nursing, it’s true what they say in that you should try to nurse during take off and landing. My oldest had a horrible ear infection years ago while on a flight, and her screams were almost unbearable. Since then I’ve been vigilant in getting them to nurse, or giving a bottle. Basically anything that gets them to suck when the altitude changes will help. If they’re older, let them have gum.

(12) Order kids meals ahead of time because they bring all the special meal requests out first, so you can feed them early and get them to bed.

(13) If you’re child is pretty much potty trained, but has the occasional accident, put them in a pull up just in case. You’ll thank me. Also, you should bring a change of clothes for every child.

(14) Let them each pack a backpack filled with their favorite toys, cars, or teddy bears. In addition to that, bring goody bags filled with coloring books, activity books, stickers, plain paper and crayons. Also bring whatever gadgets you have (mini dvd player, tablets, leappads, etc) as well as headphones that fit their ears comfortably. The key to traveling comfortably, with minimal stress , is to give the kids plenty to do, especially when there are connecting flights.

(15) Choose your snacks carefully. I’m not above the bribe/reward treat, but I’m careful to have a mix of good and bad. I bring peanut butter crackers, fruit, organic low sugar fruit snacks, granola bars, and the holy grail of bribes……lollipops.

(16) With regards to your dog, make sure your paperwork is solid, which means researching the exact requirements for your country ahead of time. Most of the European countries we traveled to didn’t need much more than the US requires, which is a health certificate within 10 days and proof of rabies. Argentina, however, required so much more and it involved days of work, so definitely be prepared.

A little hard to pack with Rico Suave hanging out in all the bags

(17) If your dog is going under the plane in cargo then you won’t have much to do, but we travel with our dog under our seat. Just like with the kids, make sure to bring plenty of toys and some food and a travel bowl for feeding, especially if you have connecting flights. Bring training pads so you can take your dog to the bathroom during the flight or in the airport. My old dog was able to hold her bladder for an entire flight, but my new dog is a puppy and I took him to pee a few times during our most recent trip from Argentina.

If your dog starts to whimper or you think he might be scared, I’ve found that putting him on my lap under a blanket works wonders. People rarely ever notice that I even have a dog, let alone that he’s on my lap.

So those are my tips for a successful trip. Good luck, safe travels, and if all else fails, have some wine!