Traveling with a young child can be an anxiety-filled, flustering, humbling, frustrating experience.
This is especially true if you have connecting flights.
We have family and close friends in several major cities across the country, such as the Bay Area, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and New York. Nonstop flights from our Los Angeles home are easy to find.
But some other family members live in destinations usually requiring connections: Fargo. Madison. Boise (although we’re seeing more nonstops from LAX).
So if you haven’t yet traveled with little ones — or currently do but need some help making things easier — maybe this tip will be helpful.
When faced with a short or long layover, we almost always pick the long layover.
Now, this isn’t always feasible. As you know, we travelers must sometimes play the cards airlines deal us. Costs and schedules may not jibe with our budgets and calendars.
But we’re willing to pay a few points or bucks more for slightly longer layovers. Our trips and sanity are worth it.
When I say “short” and “long,” I’m talking 35 or 45 minutes versus two or even three hours.
Most people — especially families — would rather get to their destinations sooner than later. So many folks opt for short connections.
Every family is different. What works for my family might not work for you (and vice versa). Heck, between my wife and me, there are five siblings who have children. No two of our five families are exactly alike.
So this is what works for my wife, daughter, and me. We’re a little OCD, procedural, and methodical.
If you don’t yet travel with kids — or do but things aren’t going great — here’s why’s we encourage longer layovers over shorter.
When 40 Minutes Isn’t Really 40 Minutes
First of all, keep in mind that a 40-minute layover isn’t 40 minutes of free time.
That’s under an hour from the time your first flight arrives until the door shuts on your next one. You don’t want to miss your flight when traveling with children.
Forty minutes is sometimes tight for people traveling by themselves, depending on their travel habits, physical capabilities, and connecting airport size.
Lugging a diaper bag, stroller, kid (because kids don’t always want to sit in said strollers), and their carryon — in addition to your bag — will slow you down more than you think.
It’s no good being rushed. Here’s why.
Less Rushed = Less Stress
Many kids feed off adults’ energy. If you’re rushed and frazzled, that likely will rub off on your kid. And then they’ll freak out. Then you’ll freak out even more.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Traveling children may already be nervous because they’re in a new environment (i.e., an airport). And there are a lot of “new” people around. Or kids might be excited to explore. (More on that in a minute.)
Snapping “LET’S GO!” and huffing your frustration makes things worse. (Trust me on this.)
If your kid craves attention (as children are wont to do), they may continue their behavior, just so you keep your eyes off departure screens and your phone — and on them instead.
Mistakes, spills, trips, falls, etc., tend to happen when people rush. Avoid that.
Your Layover To-Do List
There’s a lot to accomplish during a layover with young children. This varies depending on a kid’s age. Babies, obviously are different than toddlers.
But you generally:
- Feed your child
- And not every kid eats when you want them to. (If mom is breastfeeding, there’s maybe some extra time involved.) I love my daughter. But she is the slowest. Eater. Ever. (Most people can savor the 18-course tasting menu at Joël Robuchon in the time it takes her to eat some yogurt and a couple of Goldfish crackers.)
- Change their diaper (at least once) or have them visit the restroom
- Kids may not go to the potty when you wish. This is when you realize why your parents insisted you “just try” when you were young.
- Change their clothes
- If you come off a long flight or are about to embark on one, a fresh change of clothes is necessary.
- Depending on any “bathroom situations” (i.e. messy diapers or accidents), you might have to change clothes twice.
- Change your clothes
- Kids don’t care if they spit up, vomit, snot, defecate, urinate, or other “-ate” all over you. (If you don’t think it’ll happen to you, think again.)
- Replenish milk (or other beverage)
- My daughter drinks milk like it’s going out of style. So we have to find a store, buy two cartons of milk (at a thousand dollars an ounce), pour one carton into her thermos for the flight, and let her drink the other in the airport. (We sometimes find milk in airport lounges. Just ask an employee if you can’t find any milk.)
- Prep snacks
- Kids can be demanding. So prep their snacks (and stock up on anything) before boarding.
- Prep strollers and car seats, if applicable
- If you have a lap child, that car seat you latched into their stroller is going to be gate-checked luggage. So is the stroller. (We recommend getting a car seat bag — most airlines sell them for, like, $10 or $20. And they’re better quality than the ones we got from Amazon.)
It’s a lot to undertake — especially during a short connection. Now, we’ve done most of it during the span of a 40-minute connection. The rest waited until we’re on the connecting flight.
But it sucked.
So we happily accept — when feasible, affordable, and practical — layovers of three hours. Why?
We’re More Relaxed
Again, not playing gate dash keeps us calm and in a better mood. Which makes a better trip for everyone.
I can’t stress enough the “less rushed” point.
Everyone Gets to Eat
More connection time means parents and their child(ren) all get a chance to enjoy a meal — or at least some snacks in an airport lounge or restaurant.
This is also helpful for parents who like (or, more accurately, need) to enjoy a much-deserved adult beverage.
Tire Out Your Kid(s)!
Longer layovers give you a great opportunity to tire out your child(ren) — and give them a break.
My wife and I take turns. One of us usually sits in a lounge and works (or chills out!) while the other hangs out with the kid. (I can see this becoming even more important for people who are self-employed or work remotely.)
For example, my daughter loves the play area in the C concourse at MSP.
She also enjoys running around empty (or almost empty) concourses and gate areas. And I love letting her.
Selfishly, I enjoy this opportunity — because I love airports and spending time with my daughter. So it’s a win-win! (And I get plenty of exercise chasing her around.)
A worn-out child is more prone to fall asleep during your flight. Or even while you’re ready to board. This is a great thing.
Experiencing the magic of travel with someone you love — especially your child — is truly fantastic.
But flying with kids isn’t easy. We prefer longer layovers to short — even if it means arriving later to our home or other destination. We’re more relaxed and less stressed.
It’s not always feasible. But when schedules and budgets permit, choosing a longer layover has never been the wrong choice for my family.
(P.S. I have one child. Parents with two or more kids: you have my utmost respect.)
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