If you live in a different state than your immediate family, traveling with your children is inevitable. Having done this for the past five years, I like to consider myself a professional. Some may not agree with my traveling tactics, but they are most likely the same assholes sitting next to me on an airplane thinking, "Dear god, shut that kid up. If you can't control your children stay home."
I want to start by saying, you are a superhero. You can do anything you set your mind to. If I stayed home because traveling sucks as an only parent with three children, I would never leave the house. Will it be a nightmare? Most likely. Will you get to your destination? Most likely. Will everyone still be breathing when you get there? Most likely. Mentally prepare yourself for the absolute worst experience and it usually doesn't seem that bad. May the odds forever be in your favor. The advice I'm about to give applies if you have one child or three. If you have more than three, you are bat-shit crazy and should probably just stay home.
1. Packing: Pack as light as possible. Some of you may be thinking, "This chick is an idiot. That's not even possible when you have kids." Keep reading. Most likely, you will be staying with a family member. Get online and start shopping and shipping. Diapers, formula, baby food, etc. It takes up room in your suitcase and it just makes sense. Buy and ship a standard pack n' play and stroller to keep at your family's home. We basically just narrowed packing down to clothing. Kids go through like five outfits a day. Let's face it, they are animals. Choose five sets of clothing and pajamas for each child (and yourself if you have a shred of self-control). Do laundry while you're on "vacation." If you're a princess and have an issue with your kid wearing the same outfit twice, then enjoy your traveling nightmare. Pack all that shit into one suitcase. I don't care if your check-in bag is 200 pounds over weight, one suitcase! It is worth the extra money to save yourself the trouble and allow you a spare hand in the airport.
One carry-on bag. Total. I have three boys, ages five and under. I take one back pack for all of us. Yes, I am even including your purse in this one bag. Let's be honest, your life stopped being about you the second you had your child, so swallow the last shred of pride you have left and ditch the purse. In my back pack I have just enough to get me from our home to the destination (about 7-8 hours of travel time). I pack five diapers for each kid, a soft package of wipes, one bottle and a traveling formula container (if you are breast feeding, you just saved yourself some space), a few books, a sticker book, coloring book with a few crayons, a Ziploc bag of trains and cars, snacks, meds., and an extra pair of kid pants (someone will shit themselves during this journey). If it doesn't fit into the back pack, put it in your suitcase. If it doesn't fit into your suitcase; leave that shit at home.
2. Let it go. However organized, healthy, and structured you are at home; this is not the time to be a martyr. Give your kids whatever they want to make things go as smoothly for you, them, and the people stuck traveling with you. Once through security, buy their favorite drink. About thirty minutes before the flight, I give the kids a dose of Tylenol to help with any ear pain they may have on the flight. Then we start kid Cross-fit. Find an empty space (hallway, walkway, empty gate next to you), and tell your kids to run as fast as they can to the wall and back. Repeat until they can no longer run. Take one final bathroom break and diaper change before boarding. Do not board until the very last minute. When you find your seat, put your back pack on the floor... do not store it in an overhead bin! Get the kid drinks out and store them in the seat pocket in front of you. Do not give it to them until the plane is literally leaving the ground. Kids chug drinks like a frat boy chugs beer, so it will be gone fast, but it will keep their ears from popping on the way up. Once you're up; take a deep breath, order an alcoholic beverage, and pray to Jesus that the worst is over. I have traveled with children sober, and also under the influence of alcohol. The latter is always better. Just order the damn beverage; don't be a hero. When the plane is descending, give them gum, lollypops, or a pacifier for their ears popping. When you land, hit the bathroom and change diapers. Grab your one suitcase and car seats, and go curbside!
Congratulations, you just survived with kids on a plane.
I do not encourage giving your children medicine when they don't need it...unless you're traveling.
If you are traveling during the holidays and acquire gifts while there, ship it home. Once again, worth the money for an extra hand. You only have two (or less); plan accordingly.
If you are traveling with one infant (and that is the only child you have with you), forget the stroller. Throw their infant-ass in a baby bjorn. If they fall asleep while you're waiting for the flight; hit the bar! The only rule involved is that you don't get so drunk that you can't care for your child, and under no circumstance can you fall down.