I often joke that we are the Pope Traveling Family circus because I have to travel extensively for my work and I often take my children (and my husband) with me. Airplanes and hotels can actually be a lot of fun even on a work trip because all the usual rules (well some at least) can go out the window and instead the kids can splash water all over the bathrooms, have chicken fingers for every meal, go on adventures with Mommy around the hotel room corridors and even come with mommy to work! As a result I actually think my oldest would travel more often if he could! And really, with unlimited chicken fingers who wouldn’t want to travel all the time?
If you’ve ever seen us at an airport, I’m usually hauling far too many things with way too many snacks but we make it work and usually have fun doing it. I have to admit however, I do have one completely crazy town “mom habit”. I know it is irrational but it doesn’t look like I’m getting over it anytime soon so I just deal with it and by deal with it I mean I have surrendered to the idea we will always have more stuff to carry than we need.
Now what is this irrational habit you ask? I hesitate to admit it but here we go: When I pack food/Milk/Water for my boys I always have enough in my hand luggage (note “hand” luggage and not main luggage as need to be able to access) for 3 days so that if the plane was to crash or the train to de-rail or the car to break down in the middle of nowhere, I have enough food for them until rescue comes.
Believe me it troubles me that I only have supplies for 3 days and it also troubles me that I know little about hunting and gathering but this is as far as I let my little paranoid “mom habit” go! Now that I’ve admitted this I want you to promise me to please NOT do the same, it’s simply not healthy! Instead follow these far more useful, tried and tested travel tips that I have picked up over the last few years:
- When possible book flights that coincide with nap times and if going long distances pick nighttime flights. If you want your child to nap make sure to follow the nighttime or naptime rituals as much as possible: Pajamas, teeth brushing, stories, milk etc.
- If your child is old enough try role playing the travel portion of your trip. Show them on a map where you are going (JR has a huge world map on his wall and it has been really helpful for us to explain where we are travelling too or if mommy or daddy have to travel away for work….that way he knows where we are). Role play and explain the ride to the airport, the check in, the security and why we take our shoes off (don’t’ go into so much detail your child will be anxious but just enough to explain it is to keep everyone safe), seatbelts on the airplane, the buckle up light, the take off, the flight attendants etc. It really can make for hours of fun play time and makes them more familiar for the trip ahead.
- Although vacations should be fun and a little different to the daily routines try and stick as much as possible to the normal routine when travelling so you child doesn’t become excessively tired or hungry. This is always a recipe for disaster but if done in a confined space such as an airplane it can be impossible.
- Leave plenty of time but not too much time. This is a fine balance and if you are travelling for the first time with kids leave much more time than you think you need until you have figured out how long it takes your family to deal with check-in, customs, boarding etc. I usually like to arrive at the airport between 1 ½ and 2 hours before the flight leaves for domestic travel add an hour for international. Anymore time than that is too much for us and any less can be rushed and panicky.
- Many airports have security lines dedicated to families. Make sure to look for these as they are more accommodating a patient.
- You can travel with liquids as long as they are milk or formula but make sure to make the security personnel aware and they will do a separate security check on them.
- Don’t check your strollers until you get to the gate. They are very useful and if you child doesn’t want to use it as the airport is a very exciting place for any little one, then you can use it to push your hand luggage around. Also, baby carriers can be very useful for travel as it leaves your hands free. If your stroller is a car seat with base then you won’t need to rent one at the other end. If you are not travelling with a car seat then make sure to rent one when you rent the car and double check with the car rental company to make sure it truly is on the reservation.
- Stock up on new toys. I suggest one new small wrapped toy every hour of the flight. That way there is the delight of opening a present and then getting to know what is in side. Make sure there are not too many little parts as it is easy to lose pieces while travelling.
- Make sure you stock up on organic, naturally sweetened lollipops (most pharmacies and supermarkets sell these now) so that your toddler can suck on them during takeoff and landing to help those ears. If your child is not old enough for a lollipop then make sure you have a bottle ready or pacifier for them to suck. Believe me I am not a lollipop fan but many of one’s usual rules really do need to be relaxed while travelling especially this one as it will relieve what could be very painful ear pressure for your wee one.
- Teach your child to respect the people around them. Don’t let them kick the seat in front of them or constantly play with the tray table. For toddlers this is a perfect opportunity to teach them about how their actions impact those around them.
- Turn off the air when you get on the plane. The less of this air blowing on your child’s face the less likely they are to catch a germ from the flight in my opinion. Also, if you are concerned that your child will be putting his or her mouth on the seat arm rests, tray table etc..then wipe down the area with disinfectant wipes. I am not a germ-o-phoebe at all, and believe in the theory of developing antibodies, but if you saw how much Wells likes to lick the arm rest you’d understand why I do this!
- Make sure to bring snacks (just not three days worth!). Food at airports or while travelling in general is not very good and you should be sure that your child has enough of the food he or she is used to so that hunger and irritability doesn’t set in. Plus eating fun snacks (especially ones that they don’t get to have often) is a great way to pass the time. Also, there is rarely an adequate place to clean bottles on flights or in airports so make sure to bring enough supply of clean bottles, nipples and pacifiers (pacifier clips are great) and teething toys if you need them.
- Be sure to pack an extra change of clothes for the airplane in case of accidents. If your child no longer wears diapers then use pull-ups in case you are stuck on the runway for a long period of time unable to use the bathroom. Also, airplanes can get cold so bring an extra layer of clothing/blankets.
- Always bring a padded changing mat and zip top bags for dirty diapers. Many airports and airplanes still don’t have adequate changing facilities and you may end up changing a diaper on your lap (ignore the stares).
- Forget your TV policy and let your children watch as much as they want on the airplane TVs. If you are able to bring a portable DVD player, iPad or smart phone then definitely do this. I especially like the iPad as there are many games, drawing applications and other activities so it’s not a constant marathon of cartoons.
- When your children ask how long the trip is or how much longer if you are delayed, try and quantify in terms they’ll understand. Such as “three of your favorite Dora the Explorer episodes” or “as long as your Toy Story DVD” or “the same time as it takes for us to walk to school”.
Now even with all the tips sometimes travel can still be stressful. There can be delays, children can decide not to sleep, and the list is endless. In moments of complete despair when it feels as though everyone is looking at you and of course offering completely unhelpful advice, just try and take a deep breath, remember you’ll be at your destination soon and if you can pull some lip gloss from your bag, smatter it on your lips and smile at the craziness of the situation