Having recently made a cross-country trip with a three-year-old, I feel qualified to offer a few tips.
When travelling with a preschooler:
Pack as many toys in the carry-on luggage as you can manage. A toy computer, books, favourite videos, stuffed toys and play doh work well. (Security may have a conniption over the play doh if you don’t include it in your liquid and gels baggy. You can get it in small containers- less than 90ml – that will work out.) If your child has a favourite sleeping toy or blanket, make sure it goes onto the plane with you. Trust me….you will want it!
Let your child help you pack before leaving. Pick out clothes together. It will make the child feel part of the process and you won’t end up packing an outfit the child has decided is just not what s/he wants to wear anymore.
Talk about the trip in the week before departure. Describe the airport, the plane, security. The fewer surprises the child faces, the fewer melt-downs you will experience.
Give yourself lots of time so you aren’t rushing from gate to gate or stewing because of the line-ups. If you are calm and relaxed, your child will likely follow your lead.
Most airlines offer only drinks and snacks during the flight. It’s a good idea to take some munchies that are more nutritious than pretzels and cookies. Mini muffins, granola bars, cheese and crackers, or trail mix are all easy to put in a purse or backpack to carry on.
Plan for playtime at your destination(s). Try to find a playground where the child can run off energy and stress. Limit the amount of site-seeing you do so you aren’t dragging the child through too many new experiences in a day. An over-tired and over-stimulated child is not a pleasant travel companion.
Get as much rest as you can whenever you can. If you are over-tired, you won’t be a pleasant travel companion either.
Keep the child hydrated. Offer water or juice often. This helps keep his/her energy levels up and may prevent constipation.
When you get home, don’t plan too many extra activities for a day or two. You will all be jet-lagged and will need time to readjust.
Good luck!! 😉