Momsicle asked nicely, so I’m interrupting my recent anxiety-inducing chat about bodily exams to share some of my tips for traveling with kids in tow over the holiday season.
Just the thought of being in an airport with anyone who still watched NickJr is enough to make most of us want to slip 3oz of Jack Daniels into our carry-on. Actually packing bags and flying during the busiest travel season of the year with the little buggers? This experience can, if done without ample preparedness, be about as pleasant as getting a thrombosed hemorrhoid cut off or spending a rainy Saturday in Chuck E Cheese*.
* Yes, I have actually done both of these and would rather do them again that “wing it” when it comes to traveling with my kids.
My Credentials as A Mom Traveler
- We live a 4(ish) hour drive from my mom and a 3.5(ish) hour flight from the in-laws.
- We go see both regularly, and have ever since my 1st kid was 2 months old (to the day).
- Our kids are 22 months apart in age, which means we’ve traveled with a Newborn Nursing High Maintenance Baby Girl and her Terrible Two’s Big Brother many times. If we didn’t throw in the towel then, we must be doing something right.
- We often travel around my husband’s busiest work periods, so I usually have to do all the prep myself, sometimes even having to meet him at the gate or fly (or drive) solo with the kids. Being outnumbered by sly, feisty children frightens me, so to survive I must be prepared.
- Our kids are now 3.5yo & 5.5yo and we have yet to forget them** or one of their lovies in another state. This in itself is a huge accomplishment
** Deliberately or otherwise
So now, let me get to the actual tips.
PREPARE TO PACK
I keep an ongoing packing list on my computer as a Word document in a folder titled “Travel”. Each time I go somewhere, I open the last time I did a similar trip, see what I packed, update it accordingly and save a new version of it. This prevents me from having to write a new list every time I travel. As the kids get older, their needs change (from bottles to sippy cups, diapers to Pull-Ups to underwear, etc). I can look at packing lists from when #1 was the age #2 is now to see what I brought with me to Grandma’s, the In-Law’s, a warm-weather vacation back then.
Here’s a basic version of what I use:
You’ll see I have a list of categories under each kid (and myself). Be super-detailed under each category. Like under “SLEEPING” you may not just need a PackNPlay, you may need the PnP, sheets, special blankey, sleep lovey, white noise machine, night-light, and so on. A favorite sleep tip of mine is to take the used pillowcases right off your kids’ pillows & bring them with you. When they lay down at night, they will smell the familiar smell of home and what they usually fall asleep breathing in at night.
Write your detailed list up once, save it, update it the next time you travel. This way once you get closer to your travel date, you can add things to your list as you think of them, print it out when it’s time to pack, and be less likely to forget anything.
The key to this working? Check everything off once you pack it, bring the list with you so when you’re re-packing to come home you don’t forget anything at the hotel/Grandma’s house.
This list seems a bit OCD, but kids are very distracting. A detailed packing list helps you remember all the important stuff, even if your kids are sitting in the suitcases as you pack them.
Go to Grandma’s house a lot? Ask her if you can leave some supplies there. A box with the basics like diapers, night-light, child locks, diaper cream, bath wash, monitor, a couple toys & books, some toiletries for you as well. Keep track of this in your newly-created “Travel” folder on your computer, so you know what you don’t have to pack as well.
Speaking of Grandma’s….
If you are staying at a family member’s house, ask if they could Pretty Please do a grocery run for you before you arrive. Mail them a list and a check so they can be immediately reimbursed for what they spend. You can have dinner and diapers waiting for you when you get there, and your kids will have their favorite foods they usually eat at hand making them feel more at home.
PACK IT UP
Your Basic Bags
Always check your airline for weight restrictions and bag limitations. The guidelines seem to change by the hour, so specifically ask how many items on top of your carseats and stroller you can check or gate check and how many you can carry on per purchased ticket. If you’re going with a “lap child” this sometimes allots you an extra item, so ask!
I love my JL Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag. We check our carseats/booster seats, and these backpack-style, super-lightweight bags make the process easier. A quick Google search showed me there are other similar styles out there. Find what works for you.
What to Carry On
I give each kid a full-sized backpack & tell them to choose some toys to bring. This decision-making usually is taken very seriously, and they usually choose stuff they really do actually play with on the plane (in the car, at the hotel/house…).
I bring one well-stocked bag of my own. This contents include snacks, DumDum lollipops for sucking during takeoff & landing to help their ears pop, a plastic handled grocery bag to hang on the coat hook & toss their garbage in (every 35 seconds), a fresh pack of antibacterial wipes to clean off the arm rests and their hands which will touch the floor/walls/head of the dude in front of them before eating previously mentioned snacks, and the usual stuff I carry with me at all times, like a good book.
IN-FLIGHT (or in-car) ENTERTAINMENT
My kids love movies. Love. Movies. Thankfully, lots of travel time works well with a love of movies.
So far my favorite movie solution is each kid having an ‘old’ iTouch*** loaded with kids’ movies and games, plus a pair of kid-friendly, lower-volume headphones so you’re not listening to The Incredibles ten times in a row. I found mine at Target, pink for her, black for him. The volume can’t go over a certain decibel, so they can’t accidentally hurt their ears. Plus when they each have their own, there’s no ear-piercing debate whether to watch Princess and the Frog (again) or Space Chimps (again). Ahhhh….silence.
*** Especially with people getting iPhones this year, I bet you can get a used iTouch pretty darn cheap. Plus you won’t be quite as mad when your kid drops it, as you would if it were your shiny new smart phone.
Once each kid packs his/her backpack with their toys, I add a few more items:
- A 2-pocket portfolio/folder with sheets of blank paper & a slim coloring book (from the Target $1 section) on one side, stickers and a Ziploc of crayons on the other.
- A couple snacks for them to choose from.
- Empty straw sports cup I’ll fill with water once we get past security.
- A big Ziploc of assorted tiny toys & games from birthday party goody bags, the Dollar Store, and the like. A few winners have been a deck of regular playing cards (matching colors & shapes! practice numbers!), mini MagnaDoodles, color-by-number books.
- Lightweight pajamas (airlines do lose kids’ luggage too).
- A favorite lovey.
HOW NOT FEEL LIKE YOU’RE RUINING THE FLIGHT OF EVERYONE AROUND YOU
Don’t forget that everyone was a kid once, and that cranky old dude tossing you mean looks probably was on the receiving end of the same looks 20 years ago when traveling with his own kids. So ignore him.
Remind your kids that in planes everyone sits really close to each other, so it is extra important that you follow the rules. Come up with 3 rules the kids have to follow on the plane, and remind them enough that they can tell you what rules they need to follow on the plane. It’s impossible expect them to be angels who don’t annoy anyone surrounding them the whole flight, so set your expectations and be clear with your kids.
I think we usually go with: Use your indoor voice (this covers No Fighting since my kids are unable to fight quietly), No Throwing, and Respect Personal Space.
If they do a good job on the plane, they should know in advance that they will get a treat after we land (a ring pop? new sheet of stickers? something you’re hiding in your bag). I’m all for bribing when it makes my life more pleasant in situations I don’t have much control over.
WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
As soon as I get in, I like to set up the kids’ sleeping quarters first. Once I know the kids can settle down when they are ready, I can relax. Your hosts don’t expect you to walk in the door ready to sit and chat, so take advantage of the fact that they are chatting up the kids and go get yourself a little unpacked.
Kids thrive on routine, so try for the most part to keep to their usual rhythm. If you work with them, they’ll be more able to work with you. New environments stimulate kids a lot more than they do us grown-ups, so try not to force them to assimilate to everyone else’s routine when they aren’t in their own element. When we’re dealing with a time zone change, I don’t make a big production out of it….I simply feed the kids their 3 meals and 2 snacks when they’re hungry as usual. If the family as a whole goes out for a meal when the kids already ate, I just bring along some distractions (coloring, etc). What’s important is that we’re all together, not that we’re all eating at the same time.
Finally, let’s talk about sleep. Sleep is restorative, so look at your trip as a whole and see when sleep is most important and when you and the kids can get it. Like, if you are traveling over Christmas and your parents reaaaaallly want your whole family at Midnight Mass, tell them that you’d love to do that as long as they don’t mind that your kid will be in bed at his usual 7pm time the night before and after, and will be going to Mass in his footsie pajamas. Reasonably compromise.
And make sure they have plenty of wine in stock. Compromise and wine. These are my go-to tool for successful travel over the holidays.
There’s nothing like getting back home from a trip, so do yourself a favor and prepare for that return home by doing a few things before you leave in the first place:
- Make sure you have laundry detergent. You’ll be doing loads and loads within moments of arriving back home.
- Don’t leave the house in udder chaos. Tidy up a reasonable amount before you head out, so you’re returning to a calm environment. Is there space for you to put all the bags down once you get back? If your flight is delayed, are the beds made, pjs set out, clean underwear in the drawers so you won’t be running around looking for your basics to get thru the next 24 hours?
- Order some groceries from Peapod or Fresh Direct to be delivered the morning after you arrive. This way you don’t have to worry about running to the grocery store right after coming home. The extra $10 or so in delivery fees/tip is absolutely worth it. (you’ll thank me for this one)
So those are what help me travel successfully with my family. If you found anything here particularly helpful or have a question, I’m happy to chat more! Just comment below & I’ll get back to you ASAP.
If you have your own travel tip or story to share, I’d love to hear it. Please comment below!
For more tales & tips, please go and see (no bag packing required):
momsicle (who is ‘hosting’ this Travel Tips event)
I forgot one more favorite tip of mine! I write up our names, flight info and cell#s in a Word doc and print a copy out for each bag. If the luggage gets lost, at least our info is easily accessible. This also goes into each kid’s backpack.