1) PACK LIKE YOU MEAN IT
I can’t believe how many times I have started packing and had conversations with myself where I debate the necessity of something for my child: do I need the nail clippers? what about the thermometer if he has a fever? should I take the noise machine? what about extra diapers? Well here’s the best answer: it depends. Mostly, it depends on what type of mom you are. I need to feel like I have everything at my finger tips. If I suspect Hanly has a fever and I don’t have his Infant Tylenol or digital thermometer, I panic. If we start to run low on diapers, I become very annoyed that I have to take time away from vacation to go to the store. If he sleeps soundly with his noise machine at home, who am I to mess with that routine? In short, I have found that I have only regretted the things I’ve left at home, and I’ve never regretted anything I’ve packed (even if it means checking an extra bag). But that’s my parenting style, so you need to assess what is going to make you feel best. Are you a “more” or “less” kind of traveling mom? 😉
2) KID-FRIENDLY TRAVEL GEAR
Take your car seat/booster with you for easy transportation once you arrive at your destination. Some car rental companies offer car seat rentals, but there’s no guarantee what condition it will be in. We bought one of the safest car seats on the market, so you better believe I’m making my husband lug that thing with us wherever we go. The wonderful thing about taking your car seat, is that airlines will check it for free. We use this bag to make sure it’s protected in transit, and because it’s a backpack, my husband can carry it while rolling suitcases, etc. We actually converted some of our good friends into using this traveling bag and now they’re spreading the word, too. It’s amazing!
Gate check your stroller. When we first flew with Hanly at 12 months old, we thought it would be really sensible to buy a cheap travel stroller so we wouldn’t stress about damaging our nice stroller. Fast forward to the wheels getting bent, the stroller not working properly, lack of storage space under the stroller that is crucial when traveling, and no cup holders (I’m sorry, but being at the airport by 5am with a toddler and a full day of travel ahead necessitates high levels of caffeine consumption). Now we know better and we travel with a proper stroller with the aforementioned luxuries. My favorites from UPPAbaby and Graco (on major sale right now).
Huge tote for the win. I use my Louis Vuitton Neverfull as a diaper bag, and I love it because it holds more than any other bag I’ve ever purchased. It is aptly named and NEVER full! The thing I love most about it is that it has a wide opening, so I can easily see everything I need as I run through the airport. Also, with airlines limiting the number of carryon luggage, this one is definitely the most bang for your buck. It’s definitely a splurge, but it has saved me over and over!
3) MANAGING THE AIRPORT
There are a couple of strategies to making the airport more manageable.
Lately, we have been paying for upgraded seats in “comfort” sections of airplanes (most airlines offer something along these lines). Honestly, we have found Delta the best airline to fly! Not only do the upgraded seats give you and your traveling companions more legroom on the airplane, in most airports it means you can go through the First Class/Preferred security check line (without having to pay that rate). For our home base of Seattle, that translates to bypassing a massive line each time we check in for a flight. The only airport in which we haven’t been able to use this to our advantage was Oahu – they have one line for everyone, so we just had to deal with it.
We always have snacks ready because standing (or sitting in a stroller) in line can be very tedious and boring for a little one. We’re fairly lucky in that Hanly is a social guy and likes to make friends with all of the people around us. However, even chatty guys need sustenance so we make a beeline for a coffee shop as soon as we pass through security. In fact, food deserves its own section, so…
4) FOOD, FOOD, FOOD
I cannot emphasize this enough. We bring enough snacks to feed a family of 8, even though we’re only a family of 3. When blood sugar is low, the crankiness escalates for all of us. We always pack Plum Organics Mashups, goldfish pretzels, Happy Baby Yogurt Melts, and Beech-Nut Bars, and these cool rice cake sticks. If I’m being honest, I also give him anything they serve on the plane because he tends to think their snacks are pretty intriguing. He eats a vegetarian, organic diet 94% of the time, so I’m ok with splurges when traveling; it’s all about survival people!
5) TECHNOLOGY IS YOUR FRIEND
I know some people are much more strict with screen time and won’t allow their children to use electronics (totally your prerogative – more power to you!), but we have a traveling mantra: rules don’t apply. We do whatever we can on that one day to make sure everyone is happy and entertained. If that means 60 minutes of screen time, I just don’t worry about it. We offer so many other options for entertainment, but asking a 20 month old to stay in his seat for a 6 hour flight is just brutal. So, we use this Fire Kids Edition Tablet because it’s amazingly kid friendly (parental controls and subscriptions to games, educational apps, TV shows, and books) and comes with a case that’s easy to grip. Not only that, but they offer a 2-year worry-free guarantee (meaning: if your kid breaks it, they’ll replace it, no questions asked). We used the AmazonTV and Netflix apps to download episodes of Sesame Street, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Daniel Tiger; the Cars movie and Moana; and I even threw a movie for myself on it in case Hanly nodded off to sleep on the plane (I never watched it, imagine my surprise).
If you’re able, purchase new toys to bring out as meltdowns start to creep up. I’ve seen this suggested everywhere, and it’s for a good reason! Every time Hanly would hit the point of feeling cooped up, we’d break out a new toy (e.g., toy car, activity books), and voila, meltdown averted!
Dressing in layers is essential for comfortable travel. I tend to run cold, and I need more layers than my boys. I actually have started traveling with a blanket so Hanly and I can cuddle up and snooze (or just warm up if needed). This is my favorite! However, even on a freezing airplane, after wrestling and wrangling a toddler, I usually need to lose a few layers. Also, our destinations usually have contrasting climates (like the time we went from snowy Oregon to hot/humid Miami, and then up to rainy/cold Baltimore). Layers mean we can all adapt.
Bring back-up outfits for everyone traveling in case of spills, vomit, blow outs (reality isn’t always pretty – sorry). We learned this the hard way on a long flight from Baltimore to Portland, and boy do I wish I’d had an extra shirt for myself. Hanly of course had another outfit in the diaper bag, but mama was out of luck. Never again!
7) ACCOMMODATIONS MATTER
We prefer to stay at Airbnb or HomeAway residences so that we can put Hanly to sleep in another room and still enjoy the rest of our evening together. We recently stayed at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa on Oahu and shared a hotel room for 6 days/5 nights and by the second night of sharing that kind of space we were left wondering what had driven us to make such a silly decision. (Random plug: the resort was amaziiiiiing and we will definitely be returning; we’ll just be sure to reserve a one- or two-bedroom unit with a kitchen). All this to say: think about the type of environment that works well for your family, and try to mimic that even when traveling. Are there too many stairs for the stroller? Loud clubs/restaurants nearby? Are there multiple rooms (going to bed at 7pm with a toddler is not always the most fun) or kitchen access (especially if you have a little one using bottles).
8) ENJOY YOURSELF
Even with all of this preparation, things are going to go wrong, kids are going to throw fits, and you’re going to feel tired. But travel brings the most wonderful memories and connects you as a family in a way other activities can’t. Follow your little one’s lead and break into a dance when you hear music at the airport, eat the extra snack on the plane just because it tastes good, stick your toes in the sand even though it’s “messy.” Soak up the moments; having kids doesn’t mean the end of traveling, it just means doing a little extra planning.
These are just the things we’ve learned (the hard way) over our past 11 flights as a family. Do you have any tips to pass along? Or maybe even any places you think we should visit next? Time to fill up the passport!
XX – Kate