If there’s one thing that everyone looks forward to it’s taking a vacation! However, when you’re the parent of a young child, that excitement is also peppered with trepidation. Like many parents, I usually spend the week before a trip agonizing over how my child will behave on the plane and what I can do to make the flight more bearable. However, during my travels, I have discovered some great tips that work wonders for keeping my child entertained and happy during a flight!
1. Create travel tickets
My son loves having "adult" items like travel tickets. Whenever we take a trip, I always create several types of pretend tickets to serve different purposes. First, I start with one that looks like an airplane ticket that he can play with while at the airport. Of course, you could give them the real ticket, but I think we all know that’s probably not the best idea! Next, I create a page of smaller tickets. These are a great tool to help a child learn how long traveling will last and to create a little excitement on the flight. If your flight is 120 minutes, create six tickets and give them one every 20 minutes. After you give them a ticket, let them see how many are left. When there are no tickets left, it’s time to land! You can do numerous variations on these tickets such as altering the amount of time per ticket or adding a small toy or treat to each one.
2. Make airsickness-bag puppets
We all know that airsickness bags are kept at each seat (and we all hope that we will never have to use one!). Although these infamous bags bring to mind unpleasant thoughts of what we hope won’t be, they can actually serve an amusing purpose—airsickness-bag puppets! Since the airline already provides the basis for the puppets, all you’ll need to bring are the extras—crayons, stickers, feathers or anything else you think would be a good puppet accessory. Some of the fun paper bag puppets I’ve seen in the past include zebras, bears, cowboys, peacocks and even raccoons! Let your child’s imagination run wild! However, if you’re prone to motion sickness, it may be wise to check for upcoming turbulence before using all of the bags in your seat!
3. Create a prize bag
If there is one word that kids love to hear it’s “prizes!” Keeping a bag filled with prizes can be a very effective tool for entertaining children as well as a great incentive for good behavior. During the weeks leading up to your flight, stock up on inexpensive items as you see them. The dollar bins at Target are a great option, as is Party City, which offers tons of tiny toys and candies starting as low as ten cents! Fill a bag with just these items, and allow your child one prize from the prize bag when they are well behaved for a certain amount of time. The allotted amount of time can be completely up to you, but you may want to take into consideration your child’s age and the length of the flight. Last summer, I did this with my three-year-old, and he was allowed one prize for every 15 minutes he behaved. It was such a hit that when I told him we would be going on an airplane again this year, he immediately asked if I would be bringing the prize bag!
4. Create busy bags
If you’re not familiar with busy bags, they are just what you probably think they are—bags filled with items to keep your little one busy! These are wonderful tools to have, not just during flights, but any time that you need an activity to keep your child engaged for a few minutes. To create a busy bag, all you’ll need are Ziploc bags and the activities and items you’ll be placing in them. These bags can be as simple or as creative as you like. Ideas range from Legos and Play-Doh to such items as colored rice, matching games, coloring sheets and crayons, crafts and just about anything else you can think of! If you’re having trouble coming up with your own busy bags, check out the hundreds of ideas on Pinterest!
5. Create an airplane scavenger hunt
Airplanes can be full of new and exciting things for a little one, so why not make a scavenger hunt out of it? Your list can include literally anything you might see on a flight, such as a person wearing blue shoes, someone playing on a iPad, the captain of the plane, a red carry-on bag and so much more! You can create a list or make a more elaborate sheet with pictures if you have the time. If you’re pressed for ideas or time, check out this airplane scavenger hunt printable created by the Bird Feed NY.
6. "Shop" for their next birthday or holiday
What child doesn’t love pointing out toys they want? I know mine does! Pack a couple of toy catalogs or store flyers in their carry-on and let them "shop" for all the items they want for the next holiday or birthday. My son usually ends up circling 99 percent of the items in the catalogs, but not only does he have a blast doing it, it burns up quite a bit of time! Just be cautious with this one—make sure that your child understands they are making a wish list for an upcoming holiday and not getting any of these items immediately!
7. Wrap everything
Every child loves unwrapping gifts, so adding this element can help make any flight more enjoyable. Wrapping the items in the prize bag is a must, otherwise your child will end up picking the best items first and then lose interest in the prize bag. However, don’t stop there—keep wrapping! A fun trick is to wrap all of the busy bags and then put a little saying on the front to create a guessing game about what is inside. For example, if you make a busy bag filled with Legos, you can write something on the wrapping paper such as "When you want to build something." Have a bag with an animal craft in it? Perhaps it will be for "When you want to snuggle something," and so on. Another trick is to wrap a few special treats or snacks and every so often allow them to open one. Giving a little toy with each travel ticket? Wrap that, too! The extra ten minutes it will take to wrap those items will be well worth it when you see the added excitement it can bring.