It is a truth universally acknowledged that air travel with children is a complex scenario: its multiple moving parts require diligence and oversight. Air travel requires its own kind of planning – the likes of which can be both exciting and overwhelming. With every factor (ticketing, security, long flights) there is an opportunity for calm or chaos.
Here’s how we manage the “day-of” side of air travel to Walt Disney World – with a few tips and tricks that help bring the magic to life:
We take a family “selfie” every time we travel. Can you tell which photo was before our trip and which one was after?
1.) Pack Light.
I will be the first to admit: I am guilty of overpacking. I have resembled something close to a one-person-camel-caravan when I travel with my family. We have been known to wear our bathing suits under our clothes and our coats over our sweatshirts, all in the name of “saving space” in our already overstuffed bags.
I tend to be that parent who also plans for every travel scenario and natural disaster: rain, hail, snow, plague, swarm of monkeys — you name it, I have planned (and overpacked) for it. Backaches and belly aching were often the result. Every time we took a trip, my family complained about the bursting of bags.
No matter how many times I heard the words of wisdom, “Pack light,” I never listened.
My husband finally intervened on the grounds that I love to shop at Disney World. “Honey,” he said, “If you pack so much stuff you won’t have any room for the goodies you want to bring back.”
The fact of the matter is: We also need less stuff when we travel. Our trips are more about our family time and connection, than they are about our survival readiness.
Tip: When traveling to Walt Disney World, only pack what you need, and maybe even a little less.
*These SPF swim masks are a definite “NO” when it comes to travel necessities.
Walt Disney World has everything you need for any eventuality. The resort is (on the whole) a casual place with limited dress codes. One fancy outfit stands in for any formal dinner, and access to in-resort laundry facilities (both self-service and concierge-style) make it easier to pack less, even for extended stays.
While resort shopping can get a little pricey, services like Garden Grocer and Amazon PRIME offer delivery of everyday household items like groceries, diapers & wipes, sunscreen, snacks and drinks at affordable prices. This makes for easy planning and packing. You can schedule ahead and have items delivered directly to your Walt Disney World Resort, or you can order same-day delivery.
Packing less also saves money on checked baggage. And less baggage is something we all strive for.
2.) Bring your bag of tricks
We just told you to pack light and now we are telling you to bring a bag of tricks. What gives?
Well, the “Bag of Tricks” we are referring to is one that is more virtual than actual. Creativity is a major component, along with exercise, game-playing and a few candy treats.
Our “Must Haves” for long flights and layovers:
- Sketch pads with crayons, markers and pens
- Snacks like fruit leather, popcorn, & gum
- iPads loaded with movies, music & TV shows
- 1 (one and one only!) stuffed animal that can also be used as a pillow. Invariably we buy more “stuffies” at the parks, but I insist upon the “one only” rule on the way to Florida.
- One special treat candy that we do not normally eat or buy e.g. Sour Patch Kids and Twizzlers.
My kids pack all these things in their own carry on bags. They keep themselves occupied for the duration of the trip and play games like Hangman, Connect-the-Dots, and our family favorite, Ten-Second-Animals where each player has 10 seconds to draw out an animal and have their opponent guess what it is.
Air travel is a great time to get kids to learn old school-style games. You would be amazed at how engaging a round of hand-drawn Connect Four can be.
We usually have a flight with a connection, so we set up a base camp in the terminal close to our Orlando departure gate. We leave our luggage under the supervision of one adult family member and take time to walk around, window shop, and buy snacks or a small meal.
Ask any parent what it is like to change a diaper on a baby in an airplane bathroom? It is H-E-Double hockey sticks horrible. Even now that my kids are older, I make/ask my kids go to the bathroom – even when they “swear” they don’t need to. It keeps everyone happy.
My kids have come to associate Walt Disney World with sweet treats and fantastic rides. We know the haul of air travel is tough, so we loosen up the restraints on sugary snacks just before we arrive in the parks. Our girls pick a candy to bring on the plane, and if they are feeling gracious (and perhaps with a bit of coaxing), they may share a bit with their Dear Ole Ma and Pa.
Great Smartphone Apps like the charades-based “Head’s Up” work wonders for airport boredom. Nothing makes your kids laugh harder than to see their parent acting out the moves of a French mime or impersonating a hungry anteater while in the terminal. (The game also makes the time pass in long lines at the parks.)
3.) Pre Check = Calmer Parents & Extended Vacation Happiness
Nothing brings you down from the blissful cloud of Walt Disney World Magic faster than seeing the long, serpentine security lines at the Orlando Airport for your return flight.
We have a way to make that magic last just a little longer: It is called TSA Pre Check.
TSA Pre Check is essentially an expedited security screening. Applicants agree to get fingerprinted, undergo background check, and complete a brief interview. A fee of $85 per person is charged. It is valid for five years from the issue date and it is worth its weight in gold. Applicants who are approved receive a KTN – Known Traveller Number.
It saves a tremendous amount of time and allows you and your family to access shorter lines, the ease of a “shoes on” security experience, and there is no need to unpack or remove liquids, laptops, belts or light jackets.
When you are traveling with kids and what feels like everything but the kitchen sink, (car seats, strollers, luggage, life-sized stuffed Mickey Mouses, caramel apples from the Main Street Confectionary, etc.) TSA Pre Check can be a lifesaver.
Family members ages 12-and-under, are not required to have their own TSA Pre Check KTN when traveling with a parent or guardian who has a TSA Pre Check.
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
What are your air travel tips? What do you like to do to keep you family happy, healthy and well-occupied? I would love to hear your stories and if you suffer from over-packing syndrome like me!
Kristin is a food writer and social media manager in the great State of Maine. When she is not seeking out the next-best-thing-she-ever-ate, she is busy planning for her runDisney vacations and cooking with her family. She can be found at @kafcooks.