Our son was 5 months old when he flew his first trip across country with us to visit grandparents. How was it? Hair-raising.
Over the coming years, we learned a few “tricks” to making travel with Luke way easier. I hope that some of these ideas may spur more comfortable and/or enjoyable travel for you and yours.
Take it leisurely getting to and going through the airport.
My wife likes to arrive to the airport 30 minutes before a flight. I’m on the other end of the spectrum. What we realized traveling with Luke is that parental stress leads to kid stress. So we started arriving to TSA at least 1 hour before our flight time. If mom/dad/parents are calm(er) at the airport, so will the kid (usually).
TSA PreCheck and CLEAR are your friends.
As a long time road warrior, I slimmed down my packing so that I could blaze through the airport. Not so as a parent. So much to carry “in case”. By having TSA PreCheck, 90% of the time we are able to get through security without having to remove shoes, laptops, iPads… at airports that offer PreCheck and is an option. CLEAR is a paid service that validates who you are via biometrics and typically gets you to the front of the TSA line in 26 airports across the country. Look back at #1: if TSA PreCheck and CLEAR can reduce some parental stress, Toddler Tania should be happier.
Take 3x the food you think you’ll need.
I used to travel solo with a spare granola bar and a bag of Twizzlers. But when we starting flying with Luke, the food and snacks needed their own bag. Why? Sometimes Luke just refused to eat Veggie Sticks (that he loved the day before, go figure) and only pretzels and dried mango would do. And, while I can survive a 25 minute delay pulling into the gate, when our toddler needed to eat, snacks were required STAT.
Pack extra clothes (and diapers) in large ziploc bags.
Once, flying to NYC with Luke to meet my wife, I got down to one extra diaper. When our flight starting circling JFK, I thought to myself, Okay, my sweatshirt could do, just in case. Kids getting sick (or having a blow out) on a plane is a bummer for everyone around. But it’s worse if Little Larry doesn’t have spare clothes. Pack extras in zip locks so you can swap out clothing and bury the odor and nastiness away in a sealed bag.
Carry extra clothes for you in case of an accident.
We thought 3 year old Luke would enjoy watching the take off camera on our 16 hour flight from BKK to LAX. He did for about 1 minute and then barfed everywhere. I ended up wearing a tablecloth for most of that flight as my shirt and pants were puke encrusted. A spare t-shirt and sweats/yoga pants could make the difference between comfort and total embarrassment.
Take 2x the formula you think you will need on the plane.
Luke and I flew a short hopper from LAX to the airport near Yosemite. 1 hour gate to gate. Grandma was waiting for us on the ground at Mammoth/Yosemite airport. Imagine our delight turning to horror when the pilot aborted the landing and headed back to LAX. (We literally could see grandma sitting in our car waiting for us as we flew away). Unprepared Paul only packed enough formula for the one way journey. Luke wailed most of the way back to LAX and I almost resorted to giving him a beer or soft drink — the only beverages available on the flight.
Book a suite if possible.
I can’t count the number of nights that my wife and I quietly sat in the dark in standard hotel rooms waiting for Luke to fall asleep. We quickly discovered that some hotel chains e.g. Embassy Suites offer low-cost two-room suites. We would put Luke to bed in “his” room aka the kitchen/living room on the pull out sofa and retreat into the bedroom and quietly enjoy our evening. Booking suites literally saved our sanity. And to be clear, we didn’t go all Bougie and get opulent Suites with a capital S, we went lower cost suites at chains that catered to families.
Bright colored clothing for airports.
My travel sensei Jason would dress his toddler daughter in bright colors so that IF she wandered away, she would be easy to spot. My heart barely survived the few times I turned away and Luke ran for the windows to check out the planes. Wish we had thought of dressing him brightly to find him easily in the crowds.
Electronic entertainment saved our souls.
Oh how I dislike Caillou, the insipid four year old bald cartoon character, but our son LOVED him and he would delight in watching him and Thomas the Tank Engine for hours. At first, we carried a small DVD player and then graduated to a tablet so he could watch programs and we all could enjoy our trips. I’m not saying you MUST travel with electronics for your kids and acknowledge that tablets etc for young kids may not be suitable for all families, but for all three of us, his iPad was a game changer.
Pack new toys as presents.
The dollar store is your friend. Buy one new toy for each hour of flying and then wrap each as a present. During each hour or so of the flight hand Little Larry/Lucy a wrapped gift and he/she will likely marvel at 1) a present, 2) something new to play with and 3) the ability to make a mess unwrapping the gift. Luke very happily played with his 99 cent store cars for hours on planes.
There are countless best ways to travel with your toddler. IMHO the more you slow down getting to and through the airport and prepare for plane trips (that will inevitably be 1.5x the amount of time that you planned), the more content your kids and you will likely be. Enjoy the journey!