Do you cringe at the thought of riding in an enclosed space with your child for an extended period of time? Does the thought of juggling a squirmy toddler while trying to use a bathroom the size of your freezer stop you in your tracks? Well you have come to the right place. Cast those fears aside, people. It’s time to take the plunge and book that flight.
Okay, so that was rather bold considering I recently experienced the unpleasantries of traveling with small children first hand. But nonetheless I’ve gotta say it isn’t as bad as you think. (Unless you are a bit disillusioned and don’t think it will be bad at all. Perhaps you were even planning on bringing a novel aboard?). Will there be whining, spilled drinks, soiled clothing, moments of under your breath or in your head cursing, obnoxious fellow passengers dispensing parenting advice, missed naps, whining, eating too much sugar, emergency bathroom runs while the fasten seatbelt sign is illuminated, plugged ears, whining, and moments of regret…? Yes. But when the destination includes seeing loved ones, visiting a new place or getting away with your little family it will be worth it all. Sometime, after you’ve settled in and taken a scalding hot shower to wash every last bit of airplane madness off of your body you will be glad you made the trip.
The disclaimer here is that I am not a professional traveler and have only traveled with my children, not yours. And, I am not at all experienced with long car rides, though some of this may apply to those too. You may chuckle at the following, fist in the air shouting “rookie” at the suggestion that this list would be at all helpful. Again, all kids are different so this is what I have found helpful in my experience so I am sharing. I figure I will just give a list, let’s be honest I’m sort of a list/top ten blogger at times, of what I’ve found to be sanity saving while traveling. I can say that I have traveled alone with one, two and three children and we have all survived. Happy trails! (is that even accurate for air travel?)
1. Portable DVD players make everyone happy. Seriously. If you don’t have one, borrow one. If your kid doesn’t normally watch movies or videos at home, it’s even better because it’s such a decadent treat. Go to your local library, update your Netflix queue, or borrow some new videos from a neighbor. There is nothing better than busting out a surprise new episode of Kai Lan at 30,000 feet to the delight of the under four footers in your gang. You may feel like it is “cheating” or want to prove that your mothering skills are so advanced that you do not need the help of modern technology to entertain your children in an enclosed space for hours at a time. If that is you, I applaud the effort, but worry about the cost of your post-flight therapy. Don’t be a hero!
2. Color wonder markers! How genius are these bad boys? Markers that only show up on paper? Amazing. If your little tot wildly swipes the arm of the gentlemen in seat 34A, who by the way had hogged 98% of the armrest, put one of his feet into your precious foot space and generally oozed into your seat for 90% of the flight, have no fear. There won’t be a purple line on his cardigan (though you may wish it were so). Such a great product, especially if you are traveling alone in a middle seat with a toddler on your lap.
3. Snacks. Forbidden treats, a good protein source and something with a good crunch for the descent are a must. I am not saying buy lots of candy, because believe me you will regret that when the sugar high hits and your kids have no possible way to run it off. This is a great time to buy those prepackaged crackers you’re usually too cheap to get or splurge on dried blueberries instead of raisins. Whatever your kids are into and works in your budget. And whether it is a sandwich, some cheese or nuts make sure you have some protein in the bunch. Also, you CAN bring boxed juice or milk when traveling with kids! Not an entire case, but I have gotten one box each through Seattle, Phoenix, Boston, Houston, Miami and Orange County airports in the last two years. And the crunchy snack is crucial, especially for the more “intense” children in the bunch. Plugged ears can ruin even the best of flights so be prepared. The minute you feel a slight descent bring out the crunchiest thing you have. Ration it as you go so that they don’t eat it all in five minutes. I have found apples, carrots and cheese crackers to work really well. You can also have them drink something if they are sippers- mine are slammers so that doesn’t work for us. And a really great treat? Ring pops! The plastic ring part actually keeps little hands cleaner than your average lollipop on a stick. I am a big fan.
4. Don’t bring your entire home in a carry-on. Travel lightly! What? I know it sounds crazy, but simplifying your packing is important. When I first started traveling with children I brought WAY too much stuff and each time after the flight I realized that half of it was untouched. It is stressful enough trying to wrangle your children through the airport and adding that extra thing, or extra ten pounds only makes it harder. I agree that if you are bringing a toddler with a short attention span you want to make sure you have variety when they blow through five toys in one minute, so be strategic. Pack skinny paperbacks, lightweight toys, and things that smoosh.
5. Extra clothes for your children and for YOU. This was learned the hard way. You know there is a good chance your kids will mess themselves along the way, but remember that more often than not their mess finds its way to your shirt and pants as well. Throw an extra shirt in, even if it’s just a t-shirt, because in the event that your child does in fact vomit on you five minutes into the flight, you will be very glad. And you will smell much better.
6. Utilize the flight attendants! After using the bathroom with a baby sitting above me on the “changing table” (those things are a JOKE), and my toddler standing in between my legs I had a revelation (and seriously how is wiping supposed to happen when you cannot move your arms?) Those two flight attendants reading People magazine and munching on salads just outside the doors, having completed their beverage service, have arms that work and no escape route. Why, oh why, did I not hand the baby over to them for the two minutes I would need to use the lavoratory? Actually if I did manage to get some childcare at 10,000 feet I would probably spend more like 20 minutes in the bathroom. Anyway, don’t be afraid to ask! Most likely they will be happy to hold your babe for a couple of minutes.
7. Ignore any fellow passengers who are unpleasant. Glares, stares, loud sighs, large men who steal your armrest, the young lady alone in the row in front of you who reclines her seat and slams into your few feet of space without a second thought, and anyone dispensing parenting advice…these are the little land mines around you, each poised to detonate at any moment. When I was flying alone with the three kids for the first time, our flight was delayed. This meant that my baby boy was screaming when we boarded the plane because I wanted to feed him on board so he would pass out and sleep. I made a point of speaking to him in a loud voice as we squeezed through the aisle saying, “I know buddy, Mommy will feed you as soon as we get to our seat,” so fellow passengers would know the screaming would soon end. As we got to our row, there was a couple with a baby directly in front of us. Daddy in the aisle seat, Mommy in the middle and the babe resting comfortably in her carseat by the window. As we literally exploded into our row, the mom shot me an evil look and began vigorously rocking the carseat (though the babe had not even made a peep). There was no look of, “Oh girl, I feel your pain,” or offer to lend a hand. You know how challenging that two parents to one child ratio can be. (HA!) I then made it a point to take my time to settle the girls and get the boy on the breast. And I may or may not have accidentally bumped the mom’s seat a few times in a passive aggressive attempt to fight back. I’m not saying. All of this is to say that it is ok if your children fuss, laugh loudly, cry, or spill things on the plane. This is not a private jet, this is flying with strangers. You have a right to be there and to allow your children to be children. If you try to make them act like adults to please those around you it will only make you even more miserable and closer to tears. So be strong and don’t apologize. I have a feeling the couple in front of you will be able to find some time to read their novels in peace when they arrive at their beachfront condo. 🙂
8. Bring a magazine. Just in case there is a moment when your children are absorbed in a video and the babe is asleep in your lap you will have something to look at that that doesn’t come from the seat pocket in front of you. You could go for a book if you are courageous, but that could be annoying if you actually get into the story just to be sucked back into the reality of the flight. A magazine with short articles can give you five minutes of escape without commitment.
9. Make sure that whoever is meeting you on the other side comes into the airport to meet you. I know it may sound excessive, or you are trying to do the hero mentality again and say ” I can handle it” but really? It is probably going to cost you what, $5 in parking costs and is totally worth it. I’m to the point where I cannot physically manage three children, three carseats, a stroller, carry-on, and luggage on my own. I am not an octopus. Plus the sight of my mom or dad, or other friends’ faces when walking toward the baggage claim is almost magical. It’s like the finish line. You pass the baton, or children, to the grandparents and sail into the sunset.
10. Wear a backpack. Leave your diaper bag at home and opt for a backpack. Much easier to carry and manage.
11. Have your children wear backpacks. I searched long and hard for backpacks small enough for my girls. When we pack them before the trip, I have them try them on to make sure they aren’t too heavy. They usually have one or two special “friends,” crayons, a book or two and a small snack. It is a huge help and manageable for them. I would say to try it as early as two, depending upon your child’s size. This frees up your bag as well, which is great.
12. Bring empty kid cups. I love the take and toss straw cups. I stick one in each of the girls’ backpacks and then we are set when the beverage cart comes by. Airplanes do not always have tops for their cups and there is no way I want my children to have an open cup on a flight. How many of us adults spill drinks on flights? (maybe it’s just me). Your kids can fit the cups in their bags, they aren’t heavy, and they work really well.
13. Let them run. After you pass through security (possibly one of the most challenging things of all) let your children move. Obviously you need to look out to dodge fellow passengers, but it is okay to let your kid have a few moments of movement before boarding.
14. Wear your baby if possible. I used to always bring my stroller to the gate, and if you are traveling with your spouse or another adult I still would, but if you are alone and your baby isn’t too big, wear him! You have to take the child out of the stroller, fold it down, and lift it up onto the x-ray machine and it is a PAIN. Especially if you have a baby who is in a carseat snapped into the stroller. Misery. On my last flight with the three kids I wore a backpack, my baby boy in front and that was all I had. It was wonderful. Even with the addition of diapers, wipes, burp clothes and a blanket for the baby I was traveling at my lightest. Going through security was the easiest yet. And really people, is there anything that babywearing can’t fix?
15. Buy yourself a latte. Maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it works for me. Basically get yourself a treat. A little something that will give you energy and motivation.
Well I think that is it for now. You CAN do it! Here’s hoping your summer includes some fun trips and moments to make lifelong memories with your family.