Survival of the Quietest: Flying With Military Kids

Military families arrive at Travis Air Force Base, California, on flight from Japan. Airman 1st Class Michael Battles/Air Force
Military families arrive at Travis Air Force Base, California, on flight from Japan. Airman 1st Class Michael Battles/Air Force

OK, maybe I'm bragging here, but thanks to being stationed overseas, my daughter has been to 27 countries in six years. TWENTY-SEVEN. Considering I have only one child, this is fairly easy for us to accomplish as a team. However, I see plenty of two, three or four-kid European families doing the exact same thing. I guess we've gone native.

Friends have asked me "how do you travel with a little one with ease?" The thing is, you don't.

The good news is that travel is a finite time, two hours in an airport plus one or more hours on a plane. Travel can be painful, I get that. No, travel between points A and B isn't pretty with a little one, even the easiest of little ones. But you will survive, I promise. You will never see the people who give you the stink eye about your whining child again -- and if you do, treat them to ice cream for their trouble. 

But really, who cares what others think? Sitting on the plane in silence is boring. Giggling, whining, silly, crazy kids spice it up, or so I've convinced myself.

We've been in this military gig for five years now, living in the European Union and traveling with a little one the entire time. I don't have a method, per se, but I do have a series of tricks I've used. I like to think of managing an 18 months-to-3-year-old as akin to having your very own drunk uncle, only one that you can pick up and put in time out. Here are my tricks:

1. iPad for movies. The iPad can be your best friend. I am not a fan of electronic babysitting, but all bets are off when it comes to traveling. Load shows beforehand that your child will enjoy en route. We loaded television shows, as the attention span of a toddler or young child is similar to that of a goldfish. She'd watch a show for 20 minutes, play, then watch another. But be sure to get a set of headphones, the type that allow you to regulate the amount of sound and test before. You don't want little ear drums blown out. KidzGear makes inexpensive headphones with decreased output for children.

2. iPad for books and music. I've loved being able to read books to our daughter via the kindle app on the iPad. No more hauling around a ton of books. My back thanked me.

Think about also loading music onto the iPad. Why? Because a sudden impromptu dance party in the middle of the airport or plane is always a good idea. Our daughter danced her way through many an airport, as did I. Remember, you probably won't see these people again and they'll appreciate the soothing sounds of Katy Perry over wailing. 

3. Get jumbo crayons. The regular ones tend to break easily. Nothing causes a tantrum from your mini-drunk uncle more than a broken crayon. Bring both coloring books and scrap paper. I taught our daughter tic-tac-toe as we flew to the USA one year. And made paper dolls. All with nothing more than crayons and paper. You can also preprint paper doll templates.

4. Bring a ball of yarn. Jacob's ladder, friendship bracelets and teaching kids to tie shoes can all be done with yarn. Jacob's ladder always ends up being 45-60 minutes of fun for the entire family. The staff on the flight will have something capable of clipping the string for you. You can also use the string to hang paper dolls up on the seat back in front of you.

5. Snacks. Buy four times the snacks you think you'll need. I know this sounds like I'm overdoing it, but your destination might not have the snacks your child prefers. Quite frankly, they're putting up with being on a plane/in a new bed/with all new sights. The least mom or dad can do is to haul their favorite comfort foods. Snacks have proved critical during hop on/hop off tours and long car rides between locations.

6. All-in-one blanket and pillow. Airlines don't always have pillows or blankets to hand out, and you never know when a nap is going to happen with a little one. 

Do you have any tips to add?

-- Shelby is an Army wife stationed in Germany, a mother and public health professional. Follow her at

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