Don’t freak out! Layovers happen, even if you have paid your travel agent top dollar. The combination of layovers and children seem to increase the anxiety level for parents, but a little planning, flexibility and resourcefulness will minimize your uneasiness and, frankly, keep you sane. Keep in mind, just like dogs can smell fear, so can your kids. Little ones are very perceptive in times of stress, so remain calm, collected and be prepared. So, hunker down, be savvy, and make the layovers and unexpected delays part of your family adventure.
1. State of Mind. In the words of a wise 6-year-old, “You need to chillax.” You have no control over when the plane boards, but you do have control of your emotional state and your chosen emotional state can directly affect your child’s perspective on airport layovers. Breathe and embrace the moment, after all you are spending time with your family. Be assured that you are prepared for this moment and so live in it.
2. Stake your Claim. In airports, space is limited, so think strategically and claim your spot. Find a group of seats for your family, bearing in mind that some are better than none. If possible, find a place that can visually stimulate your children, such as facing the center of the airport’s action or a window overlooking the airport traffic. You may want to lay down a travel blanket on the floor, so your child can visualize the play space and respect nearby neighbors.
3. Food. Take this time to sample the local cuisine or eat a healthy snack. Visit a café, the food court, or if you have time, sit down for a family meal in one of the terminal’s restaurants. Make health choices. Remember that junk foods can make your child’s blood sugar unstable, creating a quick energy boost abruptly followed by the inevitable public meltdown. This is the embarrassing, out-of-control behavior you don’t want to happen among the confined presence of other irritable travelers.
4. Boredom Busters. Travel already has entertainment built in, but the words, “I am bored” will inevitably rear its ugly head. Bring plenty of activities, such as favorite toys, coloring and sticker books, reading or picture books, simple art projects, card games, or travel-sized board games that will keep your child engaged and entertained throughout the journey.
5. Technological Aids. Technology is your friend on travel days! Depending upon your child’s age and interests, allow your child to escape into the world of technology. The options are plentiful: ipods, DVD players, handheld video games, interactive books, computer educational and learning games. Just be sure your options have a silence button or headphones, so that your child’s entertainment doesn’t become your neighbor’s nightmare.
6. Exercise and Movement. On travel days, you spend most of your time sitting. Children respond to inactivity with fussiness, tantrums and often tears. Take advantage of a layover and move your bodies. Get up, walk around, visit a store, buy a snack, and go on an impromptu scavenger hunt. Play a game of traveling I-Spy in the airport terminal. Moving is very natural for a child, while adults tend to seek stationary positions, so embrace the energy of your child during layovers and move your body.
7. Leaving the Airport. In the event of a flight delay or an incredibly long layover, you may want to venture outside of the airport and sample some of the city’s sites. Research the city beforehand and know what museums, parks or sites you can see in the limited layover time period. Depending upon the city, you may want to take a train instead of a taxi to avoid getting caught in traffic. Do keep in mind that if you are in a foreign country you need to budget time for passing through customs and immigration. Enjoy leaving the confines of the airport and go on a family adventure.
8. Know your Airport. There are some great places to land with a tot in tow, as airports are beginning to cater to their smaller travelers as well. A kid-friendly oasis or hands-on interactive exhibit may await your traveling tyke at your next airport. For example, Boston Logan International has a Kidport in Terminal C that features a model airplane climbing sculpture and a baggage-claim slide. My favorite kid-friendly airport is Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport that caters to its little travelers with slides, miniature play areas, Legos, cartoons and educational computer games.