(I am going to go ahead and bullet-point these tips, since I am nerdy like that and bullet-points make me feel organized. So, here you go! Oh, and I'm including a few pictures that I took with my phone.)
1) Plan For The Day You Return. Yes, this is a biggie for me. Before we leave, I'm already thinking of what is waiting for us when we get back--dance class, school, bible study, etc. It's important to realize you will have traveled with kids and life is going to be ready for you to hit the ground running when you get home, no matter how tired you might be. Make it a little easier on yourself by freezing some lunches, laying out clothes to wear the day after you get back, picking up the house a bit, and stocking the freezer with some frozen pizzas. Even if your kids do great on the trip, you will be tired! Kids who are great while traveling means the parents did their part, too. (And kids who freak out on trips give their parents a run for their money, and thusly the parents will be extra tired. If you think your kids might freak out on your trip, freeze a cake. And don't share.)
2) Make A Packing List. I type out a list and after the items are packed, I highlight them. I'm painfully thorough with the listing. In our case, we have to pack swim stuff, too, like, say, puddle jumpers. Have you ever tried to pack a puddle jumper? IT TAKES UP THE ENTIRE SUITCASE. But our girls love to swim with them, so, they come with us. Think through what a day will look like on your trip, morning to night, and make a list of everything you think you will use. If you know there will be a washer/dryer available, go easy on the clothes. I always overpack clothes and I always regret it. Oh, and to pack our clothing, we lay our shirts flat and pile them in one stack, and then roll them up, jelly-roll style. We do the same with our pants/shorts, too. It's a space-saver. Even for those of us who overpack, ahem. Also, think of any medicine that you might want to bring with you, that may not be readily available at your destination. For example, we have unexpired prescription ear drops and eye drops that our kids have needed at various times, so we throw those in our bags. There's nothing worse than waking up to a kid with a goopy eye. Especially when you are a few thousand miles away from home. And your doctor.
4) Get Creative. First, repeat after me: It's okay if your kid zones out on the iPad while on the plane. It's okay. You aren't a bad parent. Even my most die-hard we-don't-own-a-TV friends will say that on a plane? Anything goes. It's for a short amount of time (all things considered). Their brains will not melt, they will be okay. BUT, if you don't want screen time, or if you want to have a little variety, or at least postpone inevitable screen time, some crafts and activities are good to have on hand. For us, this includes small puzzles (make sure the finished product is small enough to fit on the tray-table on the plane), coloring pages and crayons (I printed tropical fish/coral reef/colossal squid pages for the kids, to fit the theme of our vacation...or they can color the barf bag), a necklace craft using dental floss and Cheerios (BIG hit with Lydia), building blocks from the Target dollar aisle, and lots of stickers. I packed Scotch tape to tape the coloring paper on the kids' trays and included a small stack of their favorite books, too. Also, packaged snacks are fine to take with you in and out of the country, so keep that in mind. They will frown upon unpackaged fruit. And illegal parrots. When you're packing fun things to do, remember that there could always be a flight delay that requires more time in the airport than you anticipated--activities and snacks aren't just for the plane ride!
5) Make It An Event. My kids have all flown a few times, but we still build it up and make it a really big deal. We lay out "nice" (but comfortable) clothes for day we fly. For the girls, this means cute sundresses, and for Cub, it means a cotton polo shirt and comfortable shorts. For us, we're trying to send the message to our kids that flying on a plane is something that grown-ups do, and it's a privilege for them to experience it, too. "Nicer" clothing helps to communicate that, and also helps to define our behavior expectations for them on the trip. International trips require lots of lines--security, customs, security again, customs again ... so we try to prepare them. While we were going through customs, we explained to the kids what was going on--Aruba needed to let us out of their country so the United States could let us in, for example--so they could kind of get a grasp as to what was going on. Also, the past few times we've flown, our kids haven't had to take off their shoes while going through security, but, just in case, slip-on shoes or sandals might be a good idea!
Have a lovely day, friends!