Family Travel

6 Air Travel Essentials for Kids

Travel, especially by air, can be plain boring for any of us. It can be particularly brutal for young children who aren’t equipped to sit still for hours.  However, after numerous flights, including a 16-hour flight from San Francisco to Sydney, I promise that you and the kids can do it. Mac and Miss V have helped me come up with a list of six air travel essentials just for kids.

Comfort Items

I’ll never forget having to take the kids and drive in the pouring rain and hail to the nearest store because Mac forgot his favorite stuffy.  Now, I make sure to double check that the kids have their preferred comfort items. Not only are these important for sleeping, but travel can present some new and, to your child, scary situations.  So, it’s important to have those little pieces of home, warmth, and love along for the ride.


We usually limit our kids’ screen time, but if there are screens on a plane, the kids get to watch just about as much as they want.  The free plug-in headphones or earbuds offered by the airlines aren’t designed for children.  Earbuds just fall out of tiny ears, and the on-ear models are too big for little heads. There are lots of options for kid-friendly headphones out there, though, some better than others.

Mac prefers the over-ear models that are made specifically for kids. They’re a bit bulky in his backpack, but they work for him on the plane. Miss V, sensitive to things that don’t stay in place or feel right, loves the CozyPhones we found for her. They’re lightweight, compact, and perfect for kids to wear and fall asleep in at 35,000 feet. Just make sure the little speakers haven’t shifted out of place before you put them on.


As you well know, children like to keep busy, and both Mac and Miss V agree they need things to do when we travel. Older kids may be content with a book or music, but younger children need more.

A while ago I read a suggestion to fill the kids’ carry-on bags with a few brand new activity items.  Not only are they kept entertained, but they also enjoy discovering each little surprise. 

The wonderful part is you don’t have to spend a lot of money.  I usually go to the local dollar store for coloring books, crayons, small puzzles, toy cars, cards and little games.  Dice are great, compact items that can be used in various activities including Race to 100, a game they may know from school.

We also have some compact, very kid-friendly card games that we can play together, like Anomia Kids and Spot It!. They’re great to have on hand for entertainment at restaurants, too.

Melatonin (or other Sleep Aid)

Sleep isn’t something the kids find important, but we parents know better. Whether you and your family choose melatonin (a hormone naturally released by your body to signal that it’s time to wind down) or another sleep or relaxation aid such as essential oils, it’s going to be especially important to employ these on long flights that span multiple time zones. 

According to a few online searches, melatonin supplements can help combat the effects of jet lag. Zarbee’s Naturals has chewable tablets for children aged 3 and up, but always check with your doctor before using any sleep aids.

For our last trip to Europe, I calculated when it would be nighttime at our destination.  Then, after the meal service, we took melatonin to ensure we got a little rest. The kids slept well, even if I didn’t.

Proper Attire

When choosing your travel outfits, the goal is to be comfortable on the plane and in whatever city you’re visiting. One of the keys to this is layering.

Airplanes are often cold inside. After all, the temperature of the air outside at 35,000 feet is somewhere around -50°C (-58°F).  On longer flights you will probably be provided with a blanket, but it’s still a good idea to have a comfy outer layer with long sleeves.

Whether we’re going somewhere warm or cold, I like to pack a light jacket, pullover or cardigan in the kids’ carry-ons.  They almost always need them at some point.


My kids were unanimous on this one, and I can’t blame them: Bring extra snacks.  Airport food is expensive, and they aren’t always going to eat the vegetarian pasta option offered on flights. (NOTE: Some airlines do offer special child-friendly meals, but you have to order them ahead of your trip.)

The best snacks are ones that you can save and use for emergencies throughout the trip if they don’t eat them on the plane. I like RX Kids snack bars, personally, because they’re almost indestructible; however, my children have recently decided they don’t care for them.

Prepackaged snack boxes or kits are another great option for travel. They might include a protein, grain, dried fruit and nuts, and a little sweet treat. You can put it together yourself or buy one, but definitely avoid anything that requires refrigeration.


When it comes to planning and packing for your next trip, just think, “Champs”:

Don’t try to squeeze it all into your own carry-on, though. Older kids and even toddlers can carry their own packs, at least for a little while. In fact, many prefer the independence and control that comes with being responsible for their own belongings.

NOTE: I have not received any compensation for my recommendations here.  I genuinely love the products, so I have provided you with direct links.

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