Traveling with children can be a challenge, even for people who do it all the time. There are a million things to think about, plans can change at the drop of a hat, and babies and small children can be notoriously unpredictable with their needs and wants. While being a travel nanny is incredibly rewarding, it also requires energy, enthusiasm, a positive attitude, and the ability to be flexible. Most importantly, travel nannies must be able to show initiative and take charge of the children’s entertainment and wellbeing every step of the way.
Whether you’re brand new to traveling with children or just looking for a few new tricks to help flights go more smoothly, Westside Nannies got the scoop on how experienced travel nannies do their jobs with ease. Here, Donna Robinson, a Texas-based nanny and founder of The Traveling Nanny, and Emily Barrett, the New Jersey native behind Nomad Nanny, share their best tips for making sure each and every flight with children goes off without a hitch.
The biggest challenges with flying come from not being clear on expectations, says Barrett. Before you fly, make sure you know exactly what parents expect, including things like whether or not you are in charge of packing bags for the children, if you need to schedule a car service or handle other details for your arrival at your destination, exactly when you are on duty, and whether the children should follow “at-home” rules—like screen time limits—on the plane.
Whether you are packing the bags or the parents are, don’t forget the essentials: snacks or feeding equipment, toys and activities, headphones, and—for the smaller ones—an emergency change of clothes and/or diapering needs.
Robinson recommends that children have a small backpack with a few books they enjoy, art supplies like crayons and a sketch pad, and any devices they’re allowed to use. For a baby, both Barrett and Robinson recommend having everything you need within reach. “I pack, or tell my parent to pack, two zip-lock bags each with a diaper, change of clothes, and wipes,” says Robinson. “…A zip-lock is easy to get out by touch and you have everything you need. I stress the extra outfit for obvious reasons! And I ask them to put some baby toys they like into another bag that I can grab by touch.”
To make packing even smarter, notes Barrett, choose items that are multi-purpose. “Everything I bring doesn’t just have one purpose,” she explains. “Like, if it’s a story book, I like to bring one with stickers or something to do. Or, for snacks, a lot of times I will bring Cheerios and I bring string, so first they can make a necklace out of it, then they can eat it.”
Get Creative With Toys and Activities
Activities should be age appropriate, but also unique. Barrett says some recommend bringing a few new toys or activities that are individually wrapped and opening one every thirty minutes or every hour. But, she notes, it’s also good to bring a familiar toy or stuffed animal so children don’t feel overwhelmed.
Younger children can bring figurines that can be used to make up and act out stories or a sketch pad with a glue stick and some scratch paper cut into shapes to make their own pictures, suggests Robinson. For older children, a Lego board glued to the top of a box of Lego bricks can provide hours of entertainment.
If you are traveling with two children, bring a splitter for their headphones so they can both watch a show together, adds Robinson. “A cheap splitter lets you put two earphones or more into one unit,” she explains. “Make sure the parents have decent kid earphones, and if you are not sure, bring your own kid earphones with you.”
Babyproof Your Travel
Babies require even more prep than other age groups. Barrett recommends babywearing at the airport if you’re traveling with a young baby, so you can be hands-free. She also recommends bringing a scarf or t-shirt that smells like the baby’s mom so you have it to use as a comfort item if the baby gets upset during the flight.
For feedings, Robinson says either bring pre-measured formula and some bottled water for mixing on the plane, or frozen breast milk that can be reheated by asking for a cup of hot water on the plane. It’s also a good idea to bring a lightweight travel stroller and a car seat. “I make sure they [parents] understand the car seat has to have an FCC sticker of approval,” says Robinson. “I make sure they understand a car seat needs to have a window seat based on airline safety issues.”
Get Active at the Airport
If you’re traveling with toddlers and preschoolers, Barrett says, get them as active as possible before the flight. “I’ll bring a tiny ball so they can kick it, throw it, whatever,” she says. Or, a balloon can be blown up in the airport to play with like a ball and then deflated prior to boarding.
Barrett also recommends looking up play areas at the airport ahead of time and keeping the children off of electronic devices, since they’re likely going to be using them a lot on the plane. For older children, Barrett says she sometimes designs her own Airport Bingo game, so children can look for certain things are you move through the airport. And even babies can get their wiggles out. “Bring a sarong or scarf and lay it on the ground so they can crawl around,” Barrett says.
No matter what, say Barrett and Robinson, don’t lose your cool, because children will feel your stress and anxiety. And if you’re concerned about other passengers? Don’t be. “They’ll see a baby on the plane and be stressed already,” says Barrett. “Just don’t worry about them … Ignore the other people. Just be the best you can be.”