Recently, my very generous in-laws took our entire family on a trip to Punta Cana.
We have four children.
I’m not going to lie. When my husband first hung up the phone after speaking to his mom and told me about their plan, I immediately told him we couldn’t possibly go.
Keeping four children alive every day is a challenging task, even at home. I asked him to thank them for their incredible offer, but we wouldn’t be able to accept. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of taking this circus somewhere incredibly far away and totally unfamiliar. The idea terrified me.
Luckily, my husband was able to talk me down from my initial panic. After painting lovely pictures of our children playing in the ocean and frolicking in the tropics, I was sold. Sort of. He called his parents and said we were in.
With four children who had never been that far away from home, and had never been on a plane, planning was essential. I reached out to fellow parents and friends who travel regularly with their children.
Even the receptionist at my chiropractor’s office had some amazing tips. I put many of them to the test and even picked up a few of my own along the way. Here are the ones I found to be the most helpful:
Aside from my obsessive polling of everyone we knew and perhaps the occasional stranger in a grocery store check- out lane, I also did some research.
I checked the travel.gc.ca website for any travel advisories as well as entry/exit requirements. I checked with our airline to find out how many pieces of luggage we were allowed per person as well as the weight restrictions.
I also researched what could and could not go through customs. Two of our four children take medication daily. As long as prescription medications are in the original bottle and have the pharmacy label attached and current, they are fine.
Depending on the age of your child you may need to bring a car seat with you on the flight. Not all car seats will fit in the seats and the airline can tell you how wide they can be. We actually purchased a Cosco Scenera Next seat just for the flight. It’s very basic and fit perfectly in the plane seat. It also allowed our youngest child to feel more secure and provided a comfy place for her to snooze.
You know what’s more fun than securing passports for six people? Literally anything. However, they are required and if you don’t have them, the sooner you do it, the better.
If you have never obtained passports for your children you will also need their long form birth certificates. In recent years this has become a box you can check when registering your child’s birth online, but older children may not have ever received one. I learned this the hard way.
Luckily you can also pay for rush service if you find a birth certificate is missing or was never ordered.
If you are travelling with a blended family, the simplest thing to do is obtain a letter of permission from the other parent stating that you are allowed to take the child on the trip. If this isn’t possible because the other parent is unreachable or not involved, bring custody documents showing your custody of the child. If applicable, I would also recommend you bring the child’s long form birth certificate as well as your divorce certificate and/or marriage certificate. Basically, any documents that will quickly and easily explain name changes and parentage if asked.
One of the best tips I received was from a mother of three who told me to buy a postman’s style bag to carry through the airport rather than a purse. Create a file with each child’s name on it and put the corresponding documents in each one. It makes going through customs much easier when everything is organized and at your fingertips.
One of my biggest concerns was the potential for our luggage to be lost. I packed a backpack for each child as carry-on luggage. The backpacks each contained two sets of clean clothes, a bathing suit, pajamas, and a sweater. I put the clothes in large freezer bags that sealed. This way, even if our luggage was lost, we would have clean clothes for at least two days and the kids would still be able to enjoy the pool without a costly trip to the store at the resort.
And, since none of our children had ever flown, I also packed an empty plastic bag in each pack. Vomit happens.
I also packed Gravol, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, allergy medication, band-aids, Polysporin ointment as well as the ear drops and drops for pink eye. I had no idea what would be available if we needed it, and kids are magnets for disaster.
We used every single band-aid I packed and most of the Polysporin ointment. The six-year-old needed the allergy medication the first night we were there thanks to a strange bite. And of course, we also packed sunscreen, bug spray, and some aloe lotion.
Airports are the perfect combination of tantrum-inducing, boredom-causing and temper-losing triggers for children and parents alike. So many lines, so many rules and so much waiting. I am not going to lie. It’s miserable.
Prepare your children ahead of time as much as possible. Explain that there will be very long lines and they will have to wait. Let them know that they will have to walk through some funny machines and that their possessions will also have to go through a machine to have a picture taken. Three of our four children are very anxious and I found that the more I explained in advance, the more ready they were to handle it all.
Look for the lines that are specifically for parents with children. They do move faster and you will be loaded onto the plane first. Also, it’s easier to be surrounded by fellow parents who are also trying not to lose their minds. Did you know that there are people out there who regularly travel with their kids? I know, I was also shocked. But those folks know their way around an airport and are quick to help a newbie travel parent out.
In those backpacks that I packed for each child, I also packed an assortment of little toys and small books that they had never seen. Things that are easy to hold onto and fun to fidget with. I also packed some children’s magazines according to each child’s interests. We never buy magazines so they were something different and exciting. And yes, we did bring tablets.
The older children already had their own devices, but for the little ones we found second-hand tablets on-line and loaded them with their favorite Netflix shows before we left. You can download shows on Netflix for free for thirty days.
For the takeoff and the landing we had gum for the big kids to help with the ear pressure, but our littlest travellers are not gum chewers yet. A fellow mom had recommended using suckers. You can buy the sugar-free kind at your local health food store, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and bought Ring Pops. They worked like a charm and as an added bonus they provided excellent leverage for good behavior while getting through the flight. I had four kids on an airplane… don’t judge.
And snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. Crackers, Rice Krispies squares, fruit snacks, anything to keep them chewing and to avoid spending approximately one million dollars on the treats they are pushing on the snack cart while in flight.
We returned from the trip with the same number of children we left with and those children now have memories that will last them a lifetime. It was a total success. And if this overthinking, over protective, worrier of a mom can do it, you can too.
Even with a pack of kids in tow.