Last year our family traveled home (aka Hawaii) for Thanksgiving. I finally took the plunge and for the return flight back to the mainland (i.e. Texas) flew solo with my three kids. I figured that since they were older, and by older I mean 2, 4 and 6 years old, it couldn’t be that hard. You can be the judge of whether that was bravery or just sheer stupidity. By a wish and a prayer, we survived and people even commented on how “great” the kids did [pats self on back]. So if you are flying out of town this holiday season, here are some tips on the things you should do when traveling with babies and toddlers. Head on over to my previous post to find out about the things that don’t work.
Strollers & Baby Carriers: When we traveled with a baby & two toddlers, finding a way to keep track of them while waiting in long lines was a high priority. A light weight stroller, or in our case a tandem stroller, was a game changer. Initially we used a Joovy Caboose Graphite Stand on Tandem Stroller because we could push all 3 of our kids at once with one in the front, one sitting and the other standing in the back. The problem was that pushing all three kids at one time can get heavy and steering can become difficult. It also takes longer to go through security since you have to put everything through, but just breathe. It won’t kill anyone if they have to wait and if the people behind you are in a rush, just let them go ahead of you.
A baby carrier also allows you to be hands free and if your child is like mine, will easily fall asleep when strapped in that thing. The only inconvenience about wearing your baby is that you have to take the baby out when you go through security or during take-off and landing.
Car Seats & Accessories: As mentioned in the previous post, car seats can be a hit or miss. They can be really handy during long flights, however, they can be pretty bulky. If your child is older, it may also be more like a jungle gym that they’d rather climb on than sit in. If you don’t plan on taking your car seat on board, you can check it in right up until you get to the gate. If you want to protect your gear, you can use a car seat travel bag. There are all different types from ones with padded straps to just a simple gate check bag. We’ve used both and they protect you car seat from getting scratched or damaged.
We also used a car seat cover to keep things quiet and cozy once the baby fell asleep. There are even some that double as a nursing cover, which is brilliant if you are trying to travel light.
Just remember that if you bring on a car seat, you’ll have to purchase a full price seat. You can also check with the attendant at the gate to see if the flight is full or not. Most are happy to accommodate families with small children and will let you take the extra seat if one is available. It’s like the saying, “happy wife, happy life”, only it’s “happy baby, happy everyone on the flight”.
Snacks (Disclaimer: invest in Ziploc): When you are traveling with a baby, snacks consist of either your boob or a bottle. If you breastfeed, a good nursing cover can be helpful. If your baby isn’t used to nursing with a cover on, it may be more of a tug-of-war as you’ll be fighting to keep her covered while she’s trying to flash everyone. Sitting in a window seat, as opposed to the aisle, also gives a little more privacy. I also used an inflatable travel nursing pillow, which was compact and super easy to use.
If you formula feed, be prepared with extra formula in case your flight is delayed. I would measure out the amount of formula I needed in a Ziploc and added extra for a least 2-3 additional feedings. Keep in mind you’ll need formula not just for air time, but also for any time in the airport including layovers. I would also bring 2-3 bottles. Once we got through security, we’d get bottled water (ask for room temp ones) and pre-fill the bottles with water. All I’d have to do is add the scoops of formula when it was time to feed. Then, we’d rinse them out and repeat for the next feeding.
It’s also a great idea to feed your baby during take off and landing to help with cabin pressure changes or give them a pacifier.
For our older kids, I’d make a snack bag and put those in their individual backpacks. Lightweight and sugar-free are my guiding principles. Things like freeze dried fruits, crackers, fruit strips, raisins, and granola bars work well. I also pack an inexpensive, plastic sippy cup with a straw, so they can suck on it if their ears start to hurt.
Toys & Prizes: In addition to packing a few of their favorite toys that will keep their attention for a sustainable amount of time and not take up too much space (i.e. toy cars, dolls, stuffed animals), we also bring these mess-free toys:
- Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow!. These books are great. Simple for toddlers and no mess! Once they finish, let it dry and they can use it again and again.
- Imagine Ink, Crayola Color Wonder coloring books: These coloring books use invisible ink, and so there’s no mess. I prefer the Imagine Ink ones because it only uses one pen and has an attached pen case.
- Wikki Stix: These are like reusable pipe cleaners (which are also great) that stick together.
- Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Activity Books: Sticker books that come with reusable stickers that can be used on different scenes. It’s compact and has a carrying handle. Perfect for travel so things don’t get lost.
- Mini Play Doh: These are smaller containers of Play Doh and I usually pack about 2 different colors my kids can use.
- Buckle Toy: All my kids loved this buckle toy. It literally kept my kids entertained for hours as they buckled and unbuckled this toy.
Another thing that works great are prizes! Next to Christmas, my kids look forward to opening these little trinkets. I use these as bribes…yes, I buy off my kids in exchange for good behavior at 35,000 feet in the air. I usually get something from Target’s Dollar Spot or the dollar store. My kids also enjoy opening blind bags like Hatchimals or Shopkins.
iPads: I know this can be a controversial item. So you do you, and I’ll do me. Despite it being referred to as “crack for kids”, it gives me a few peaceful moments as I fly the friendly skies. Some airlines allow you to have access to hundreds of games and movies if you download their app or you can rent entertainment players. Some planes even have screens on the back of each seat.
Make sure you have a protective kid’s case and also kid sized earphones for your iPad. LilGadgets has headphones that have a shareport (so you don’t need a splitter) and they also fold up so they don’t take up much space. A portable multi USB charger is also essential if you need to recharge your devices.
Extra Change of Clothes & Diapers: Bringing an extra change of clothes, especially when your kids are small and more accident prone, is a must. Spit up, blow outs, and spilled snacks…no problem! I put my extra clothes in a Ziploc bag, so that if a change is necessary I put the dirty clothes in that to contain the mess and/or smell. I usually pack pajamas with the hopes that it will make my kids think its time to go nite-nite. For my son, I also brought his fitted crib sheet since it was impossible to get him to fall asleep on my lap. I put the sheet over the seats and he would lay down and fall right asleep.
There was also a period of time when I had to bring two sets of diapers. I used the same principle as packing formula and put enough diapers for the flight plus a couple extra in a, you guessed it, Ziploc bag.
Diaper Bag & Roller Backpacks: So what do you put all this gear in? I opted for as big of a diaper bag that I could find that would still fit under the seat but was also lightweight. After researching different bags, I settled on the JuJuBe Be Prepared Travel Carry-on/Diaper Bag. It had lots of space to hold everything and only weighs 3 lbs.
When our kids got older, we got them their own roller backpacks so they could haul their own stuff. I’m all about raising independent kids!
Breathe: Just take a deep breath and relax. Just like everything in life, it’s just for a season. Remind yourself that this too shall pass.
A quick tip to passengers who fly on the same flight with families of small children…
If kids were well behaved on the flight, take time to tell mom and dad at any point during or after the flight that they did a great job. Words of encouragement can give parents such a confidence boost, especially when they’ve just spent the whole flight trying make their kid’s flight (and yours) as enjoyable as possible. Also, offer to help put a bag in the overhead bin, switch seats, let a kid sit on your lap to look out the window when landing or even carry a screaming baby. Small acts of kindness can go a long way.