Traveling with Toddlers

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I’ve written about how much I love traveling with my kids before, but recently, I’ve had a few people ask me about what I do to make travel smooth, so I thought I’d give a little insight. I honestly think traveling with kids is so much fun, and yes, it’s not perfect. There are hiccups, but it really does make things so much better. I’ve found that people are kinder to you when your small children smile at them. We’ve literally seen people who had the biggest frown on their face light up when seeing the kids smiling and giggling and cooing at them or when Sofie strikes up a conversation. And generally, if you encourage your children to be polite to the people around them, and you apologize when your child is wailing from the change in cabin pressure, people are not going to be jerks about it.

If you plan on traveling with your kids, my advice is to start them while they are babies. We flew with Sofie for the first time when she was 6 months old. She’s flown at least 3 times per year since then (if not more). When she was 9-month old, we took her to Europe where she visited 7 different countries. She was getting her first tooth, going through a regression, and the first flight was 9 hours long. And she did great.

Here’s what you should bring with you:

  • Tylenol or Motrin for teething.
    • We keep a bottle of either one of those in a reusable pouch with a plunger always in the diaper bag, my travel bag, and my purse. We never leave home without it. If you’re not into that kind of medicine, pack what you would usually use for the teething pain.
  • Snacks and a reusable water bottle.
    • I have a lot of mottos. One of them is always be buying nightgowns, but that one doesn’t really pertain here. The other one is always be bringing snacks. Always. Kids seem to be hungrier on planes. We try to feed them before getting on, but it never fails that they are hungry. I like to bring oatmeal bars, things with a little protein, some treats, and probably Annies bunnies or goldfish.
    • Once we get to the airport, we always head to Starbucks or a fastfood place that will give us ice water in our resuable bottles.
  • A Bottle, Pacifier, or a way to Breastfeed.
    1. During Take-off and Landing, you want the babies to be sucking on something to deal with the change in pressure. Sofie used to nurse during these times until she stopped nursing, and then she sucked her thumb. Henry never liked to and much prefered his pacifier. He also loves to drink water. He drinks water all the time, so we fill his bottle with water when we get to the airport.
  • Your stroller. And here’s why.
    • Even if your kids don’t want to sit in the stroller at the airport, it’s a great place to shove a bunch of your stuff that is definitely getting heavy at this point. We keep Henry in the stroller until Sofie decides she’s too tired, and then we swap them. It might be a good idea to get a double, but at this point, I’m happy with my little Silvercross Jet. It folds up and can be placed in the overhead bin, but we usually just gate check it.
  • A carseat Bag.
    • We finally invested in one, and it is a game changer. Sofie’s carseat weighs 28 pounds, and it is awkard to carry. The carseat bag is a backpack and completely eliminates all the burden. We literally carry it from the car to the check-in, check the carseats and bags and forget about them until we land. It’s so easy.
  • A blankie for each kid and a travel pillow for the airplane.
  • Movies downloaded to a small device with headphones.
    • Sofie has a pair of Puro Headphones. They fit over her ears, are a fun color, and she will wear them without complaint. These are a must because even kids have to wear headphones on the plane.

TSA Pre-check. Need I say more? It’s so helpful, especially because I fly with all my hard drives, film that needs a hand check, laptops for Ben and me, phones, cameras, and all the diapers you can imagine. I don’t want to be taking everything out of my bags, taking my shoes off, etc. When you have to do all the extra things, you forget about your film, and things go through the scanner that really shouldn’t. One time I even left Henry on the belt and he went through the x-ray. I’m just kidding. I promise. I’m not that absent-minded.

Let’s talk about activities. I am not an activity person. The best you can get from me is some crayons and a coloring book. I have too much stuff to pack to bring all the plane activities. If you are planning to bring them, great! But I prefer to just give into some screen time. And, just to put this plainly, this didn’t work for us until Sofie was at least 14 months old. She couldn’t have cared less about TV and movies until then, but she did love to look out the window, make babbling conversations with the flight attendants and review the safety brochure.

We always try to fly at times when the kids will either be wide awake or will fall asleep. We tried flying with them in the evening, and it was a mess. Something about flying at that time makes teething worse. It makes crankiness worse. They would not fall asleep. Now we fly in the morning or at noon. They tend to either fall asleep or act happy.

Get excited about flying in front of your kids. I love to fly, but I do have anxiety about take-off and landing. I usually just hold Ben and Sofie during that time and make it a fun thing by showing Sofie what we are flying over. The more excited I act about flying, the more excited Sofie is about flying.

When we get to the airport, we try to let Henry walk around a bit. We don’t sit down much before we get on the plane because I don’t want to hear any complaining about being too tired of sitting. If we do find a place to sit, we are usually eating some nuggets or reorganizing our bags. We bought Henry a pair of shoes, and even before he could walk on his own, we will have him walk around and get some exercise.

We always board when they call for kids so we don’t have to worry about banging into people along the way. I let Sofie go in first and pick her seat. We take up a whole row now, so she can sit in any of the three in our row. She always picks the window seat. I also wipe down the seats with a baby wipe before we all sit down. If there’s a tv in the back of the seat in front of us, I try to let Sofie start on a movie. She doesn’t get any screen time the rest of the day, so keep that in mind. For the rest of the flight, she will watch her movie, look out the window, “write” in her journal. We play a lot of games like patty cake and atal matal tetooleh (a Persian duck duck goose type of game that is hard to describe in writing. There’s a chant, a pat of the legs, the person who is tapped at the end of the chant is out. Anyways. We do it on the plane). We highly encourage naps. And there is lots of snacking that happens. It is what it is. My kids will eat decently the rest of the time, so I don’t worry about it. And generally, we try to pack things that are mostly healthy.

If there isn’t a lot of turbulence, and the flight is just getting miserable (Henry fidgeting or fussing), we’ll get up and walk him to the back, change the diaper, walk him back to the front, take Sofie to the potty if she needs it. If the kids both fall asleep or Sofie is watching a movie and Henry is asleep, Ben and I will catch up on the movies we haven’t had a chance to watch or didn’t feel like renting. We just watched Ford vs. Ferrari, and it was really good, by the way.

Everyone’s experience is different, and if you don’t like any of the advice I’ve given, take just one thing away, flying with kids can be really fun. It’s a matter of you being excited, getting them excited, and starting them early so they can get into the routine. If you can get to a place where you know exactly how you’re organizing everything, who is rolling which piece of luggage, and different things to distract kids on the plane, it can be a great experience.

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