The holidays are approaching and that means travel plans are under way. Last year the Minchin family took a 5 hour flight to visit family for Thansgiving, traveling with a two year old (and one on the way) so you better believe I was looking for tips for keeping the stress to a minimum. Here are the top tips for traveling with little ones:
1. Travel light
Toddlers and babies have a high gear-to-body-size ratio, so you have to carry a lot of junk when you go anywhere. Juggling your carry-on, diaper gear, stroller, toys, sippy cups, snacks, tickets, ID, shoes (through security), your luggage, your kids, and the car seats can be way too much to keep track of. Think really hard about what you need to bring to stay sane for your three day visit to Grandmas house, and consolidate or do without the rest. You can probably get by feeding your baby or toddler in your lap, instead of bringing a portable high chair, for example. There will be plenty of things to entertain him at Grandma's house, not least of which will be all the family he hasn't seen. Leave room in your suitcase because Grandma and everyone else are going to be sending toys, presents and clothes back with you. If you have presents to bring you might want to consider shipping them ahead of time just to save yourself the hassle, and nowadays you have to pay for your luggage anyway.
You don't have to lug car seats through the airport for your toddler or small child. There is an awesome product called CARES Child Aviation Restraint System which creates a 5-point safety harness for your toddler using seatbelt-like straps that fit in your purse. It's approved by the FAA as a safe alternative to a car seat for children age 1-4. You can check your car seat with your luggage and pick it up at the end of your flight, or if you rent a car you can also rent a car seat eliminating to need to schlep your own car seat around at all (this is what we did and boy was it a relief). It was easy to use, and while watching the DVD that comes with it (to demonstarte how it works) we discussed "the rules" with our two year old to prepare him for flying on a plane: staying in his seat, using his quiet voice and keeping his seatbelt on. It is a little pricey but if you consider that it can be used until he is about 4 years old, and that it spares you from carrying car seats through the airport, it is a pretty good deal.
3. Bring cheap entertainment
My biggest concern was keeping my son entertained on such a long trip. Like many moms I was afraid of being that family on the plane with the screaming kid so I scoured the web for tips from other parents. You never know if there will be in-flight movies appropriate for children, and looking out the window eventually gets old. The best idea that worked like a miracle was to buy several cheap, small, *quiet* dollar-store toys and wrap them like presents (I just wrapped them in colored tissue paper in case security wanted to check them out). Whenever he started to get bored I would give him a special present from the bag (I didn't let him see that I had a bag full of presents, I just kep surprising him which was part of the fun). He still talks about the presents he got on the plane and can identify each one today. I also downloaded several episodes of Diego and Blue's Clues to my iPod nano, and brought coloring books, markers and puzzles, all things that are light, flat and compact to fit in the diaper bag.
4. Load up the diaper bag
Here is one area where you will want to bring more than you think you need: More diapers, wipes, snacks and change of clothes than you plan to use. You never know if your baby and toddler will take turns being sick, if your plane will be delayed and even grounded for several hours without letting passengers off, or if the flight crew will run out of food. Be considerate and bring scented waste bags for disposing of diapers in the tiny airplane bathrooms. You can use these to collect wet clothes, spitup cloths, and garbage generated by your little angels, because you know the flight attendants will not come by to pick it up. Grandma will thank you for it too.
Share your top tips in the comments!