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You know what’s more stressful than traveling with kids? Traveling with kids during the holidays. Our kids are out of their routines. They’re faced with unfamiliar people and places. They’ve got to wait in long lines and eat weird foods. Heck, aren’t these the very same things that make adult travelers so irritable and impatient? And us poor parents are stuck in the middle, trying to balance our kids’ needs with our own sanity and the comfort of everyone around us.
So how do you avoid the wrath of fellow travelers who think getting stuck next to children is a fate worse than flight cancellation? Below are four mistakes parents make during holiday travel, plus tips and strategies to get you through it with confidence and grace.
1) Not Turning Down the Volume
Kids are LOUD. Between babies screaming, toddlers tantrums, and preschoolers infatuation with being heard, kids have kind of earned their reputation for being disruptive. That’s why so many adults cringe when they see a little one sit down next to them. And that cringing is what makes parents want to tell off those adults who don’t remember what it’s like to have young kids or to be a young kid. Ugh, so rude!
But knowing our kids are loud enough to make us, their parents, want to hide in the airplane bathroom, maybe we should stop being defensive and start being proactive. Because really, the most annoying parenting mistake we can make when our kids are too loud is to do nothing. When people see a kid having a total freakout, disrupting an entire terminal’s worth of travelers, and their parents are just quietly standing by, that’s when you make enemies.
- Board prepared with a baby bottle, nursing cover, or bottle of water. Flying can be torture for little ones with sensitive ears, so be sure your child can drink something to help their ears pop.
- Remind kids in close quarters with other travelers to use their “inside voices,” and show them how quietly to speak by responding to them in a whisper.
- Pack those headphones you’ll need for your kid to watch all 18 episodes of Caillou on that long-haul flight. No one wants to be subjected to that whiny voice a moment longer than they absolutely have to!
- Stay close. When all else fails and your kid is in full meltdown mode, stay with them. Watch for signs they are calming down and praise them. And show everyone around you you’re on top of it.
Of course, you know nothing you do is going to make your baby stop crying when his ears ache. Obviously, you can’t tell your four-year-old to shut up with the questions all ready. But if you show everyone you’re at least trying to do damage control by bouncing or shushing or distracting, you’ll buy yourself a lot of good will.
2) Not Checking Your Over-Sized Footprint
Have you ever been in an insane rush, jogging through the airport before the doors close to a flight you cannot miss, only to be stuck behind some completely obnoxious, self-absorbed group that’s oblivious to your dilemma? Hey parents, that’s us.
We’re usually so wrapped up in our child-size dramas that we don’t even notice we’re in the way. We stall the security line folding up strollers and shuffling kids through metal detectors. We derail boarding with gate-checked items. We delay food counters with special requests, orders that keep changing, and questions about ingredients.
If you don’t want to be those people, look up every once in a while and think about how your family’s footprint is affecting everyone else. Sometimes that means we let others go ahead of us in line. Sometimes it means we step aside to allow people to pass us. And sometimes it means we do what we need to do and offer everyone a heartfelt apology at the end.
- Bring a backpack for your child, not a suitcase. Don’t be that person letting your four-year-old drag a child-size carry-on through a busy terminal, disrupting the flow of traffic.
- Look for family restrooms. No one other than parents with young kids should be using them, and these are the people who actually understand that your two-year-old doesn’t poop on command!
- Break out your baby carrier or that streamlined umbrella stroller. Don’t bring your oversized, hard-to-fold, impossible-to-navigate jogging stroller for travel.
3) Not Curbing the Carry-On Insanity
One of the craziest things about traveling with kids (especially babies) is the amount of stuff you have to bring: diapers, spare outfits, snacks, and toys. Instead of cramming it all into a carry-on suitcase you won’t be able to access or a diaper bag so wide it’ll whack people when you squeeze past, pack everything into a backpack. This leaves your hands free for lifting children, pushing strollers, and holding little hands. Next, pack separate, child-size backpacks for older children, with their own change of clothes and a few surprises to hold their attention.
- Use the carry-on sizer at the gate to make sure your backpacks fit under the seats. You’re not going to want that thing in your lap the whole flight, nor would the flight crew let you keep it there anyway.
- Bring some fun activities for the plane, train, or car ride, but nothing with small pieces, nothing that stains, and nothing that rolls. Triangular crayons? Yes. Non-washable markers? No. Magnetic puzzles? Yes. Exploding confetti dolls? No.
- Pack yourself an extra t-shirt when traveling with a baby. Rolled up in your backpack, it’ll take up very little space but, boy, will you be glad you have it when you’ve got vomit running down your back!
4) Not Concealing the Ick Factor
Did you hear the one about the mom who brought a potty onto an airplane and let her child use it during the flight...in the aisle...in full view of all the other travelers? Gross!
Parents get totally desensitized to their kid’s yucky stuff, because we have to! It would be damn near impossible to care for a baby if you were totally disgusted by drool-soaked bibs, spit-up stains on your shoulder, little snot-crusted faces, and an occasional blowout diaper. But we can’t forget these things totally make strangers gag.
When we’re traveling, we’ve got to keep all our kids’ bodily functions concealed as best we can. If something would’ve grossed you out pre-kids, then rest assured, it’s going to gross everyone else out too!
- Make sure diaper changes and toileting are done behind closed doors, where no one’s going to see your kid’s backside or anything that comes out of it.
- Speaking of closed doors, explain that even though your child can fit under the divider between restroom stalls, they absolutely should not visit with your neighbor. Adults demand privacy.
- Clean off tray tables and armrests with a baby wipe before deplaning. No one wants to stick their elbow in the remnants of your kid’s last snack.
- Nurse uncovered at your own risk. Breastfeeding is 100 percent NOT gross or offensive in any way. But, we’ve all heard those horror stories of moms getting chewed out for nursing in public. Better to bring a cover-up or dress in layers so you don't get kicked off your flight over a tussle with another passenger.
When we’ve got to take this whole gig on the road, things can get tense. Our parenting and our kids’ behavior are on display for a bunch of short-tempered strangers who have no time for these four familiar faux pas. Thankfully, with a little preparation and a dose of self-awareness, we’ll all get to our destinations with some holiday spirit left in our hearts.
Sarah Davis, EdD, and Evie Granville, MEd, are the “Modern Manners for Moms and Dads” moms, known everywhere as Evie + Sarah. Often referred to as "Kate Middleton meets Kristin Bell," the real-life best friend duo shares refreshingly realistic advice on all those “what the h**l do I do now?” parenting moments that come with having babies and toddlers. This is not your grandma's etiquette! For fabulous advice sure to get you thinking (and laughing) check them out here www.evieandsarah.com.