The plane is barely off the ground and the relentless "I'm hot!", "I'm hungry!", "I'm bored!" leaves you thinking "I'm done." Surviving long flights with kids is no piece of cake. Boredom inevitably results in major meltdowns - the last thing you need when you are 10,000 miles above sea level. It's moments like these when you wish your airline included a complimentary babysitter to keep your kids entertained. Until then, here are some tips to make your next plane trip as painless as possible.
1. Lose the technology limits. At home you may holler to turn off the TV or put down the Nintendo DS, but when traveling, give your kids (and yourself) a break. Don't feel like you are a bad parent for letting your kids spend their travel time staring at a screen - it is often the best way to keep them occupied and happy. And it doesn't all have to be mindless entertainment. Educational handheld games (for example, the LeapsterGS from LeapFrog) and downloadable audio books are more intellectual options. Here's a tip: Make a run to the library before your trip and pick out some DVDs, CDs, or audio books. It's free and your kids will be excited by something new.
2. Go old-fashioned. Do not underestimate the power of the tried-and-true. Think back to your own childhood travel games and try old standbys like 20 Questions, Geography or Travel Bingo. Another source of old-fashioned fun is a classic board game like Sorry, Clue or checkers, which all come in travel sizes. You may be surprised by how much your kids will love these simple amusements so don't be afraid to drop the DVDs and start a rousing game of I Spy.
3. Surprise them. Purchase some new toys to reveal the trip. These surprise amusements do not need to break the bank. The simple act of running to the dollar store for a couple of new playthings can go a long way. Think a cool action figure, the latest edition of a comic book or a new teddy bear. The novelty will engage your child and prolong the period until the next "Are we there yet?"
4. Get creative. For the artistically inclined child, a sketchpad alone could be enough to occupy them for hours. Let their creativity reign free. Or engage their artsy side by asking them to capture the passing landscape or draw their own version of the family home, complete with their favorite (and much-missed) pet in the front yard. Pack craft supplies like paper, string or aluminum foil so kids can create crafts, play cat's cradle or mold a foil sculpture. And remember, a simple coloring book - perhaps featuring their favorite Disney character - rarely disappoints.
5. Pack snacks. No matter what toys you have in tow, your child will not survive the trip on an empty stomach. Fueling them with their favorite snacks will keep them engaged in whatever activities you brought. Do not rely on plane food or rest stop snacks. Picky kids will turn their noses at the unfamiliar fare, not to mention the selection will mostly be junk food. Bring healthy options from home like PB&J, granola bars and fruit - and a few sugary treats for emergencies couldn't hurt either.
6. Buy an activity kit. Activity kits are the simple solution to backseat boredom. Rather than cramming a bag full of games, notebooks, crayons and craft supplies, simply buy a kit which has it all. Activity kits come with pages of coloring, mazes, puzzles and car games - enough to keep your little one content for hours. TravelKiddy and Klutz are the best places to find fun activity kits that will make your next family trip pain-free.