Monday, November 30, 2015

Flying with Toddlers? Our Tips and Tricks to Make the Skies Friendlier

Air travel with little kids can be stressful. I have flown solo with one child probably eight times and have flown with three toddlers, two of whom are lap children, twice (with the help of my mom). I am about to embark on this endeavor a third time despite the fact that I still have a post-traumatic stress from the last time. What I have learned thus far is that traveling with one child is relatively easy and traveling with three is exponentially harder. I have also learned that it gets infinitely easier the older a child gets (for example, Isla, our three year old is a piece of cake. Our twenty month old twins? Notsomuch). Flying with three kids age three and under is no small feat but I am here to tell you it can be done and with some strategic planning, it can even go kind of smoothly. I am going to share my tips and tricks with you in the hopes that I save a few gray hairs from sprouting on a fellow momma's head.

Tips for Flying with Toddlers

  1. Pack and Prepare EARLY. I am a little nutso about preparation, and maybe with fewer and/or older kids you can be more "fly by the seat of your pants" about things. But me? I go through our travel day in my head like Tom Brady prepping for a Super Bowl. I envision every possible scenario from illness to blowouts, from hold ups to cancellations. I make a spreadsheet packing list well before we leave, strategically pack our diaper bag with everything we might need and try to be 98% packed at least 24 hours before we depart.  
    This is a spreadsheet/checklist that comes with Apple Pages (Mac's version of Word). Super simple.
  2. Baby wearing is your friend. I am a huge advocate of baby wearing. Whenever I see a mom struggling in the airport (or grocery store, or bank or anywhere) holding her young child/infant while wrestling for something else, I want to reach out and say, "Honey, there's an easier way!" Baby wearing is it. We bring our two Ergo Carriers for the twins, and it's much easier to throw them on our backs when we check the travel stroller. Most infants also sleep really well in carriers, so they are great for smaller lap babies when in flight. 
  3. Invest in a great travel stroller. This right here is what I am MOST excited about right now. We have an amazing double stroller to get our girls around the airports that is only slightly larger and heavier than a SINGLE umbrella stroller. Our Kinderwagon Hop is the bomb. It can be checked at the gate (at which point we 'wear' the twins) and will make getting from gate to gate and killing time during our layover much easier. When I travelled solo with our first, I learned that a baby carrier was amazing, but when we were delayed for over ten hours, I WISHED I had a small stroller to push her around in as well.
    Kind of crazy about this stroller. 
  4. Pay to check the bags. Just do it. Three kids and schlepping around your stuff? Insane.
  5. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. Food is your friend and when all else fails, a yummy snack will distract a child for a bit. They key is in EASY snacks, things that your little ones can hold and feed themselves. We have snack traps that we fill with cheerios or goldfish. We bring lots of "goo goos" (food pouches) and graham crackers are in our diaper bag. A few special "sweet" treats (organic fruit snacks) are also good in a pinch.
  6. Travel with children's dramamine. This could get me in trouble, but a little dose of children's Dramamine (for Isla 1/2 pill, for twins, 1/3) will knock your kids out cold. Sleeping children are quiet children and this little trick (that I learned myself just from sailing with the kiddos) works wonders for me. How long they will sleep all depends, but it will definitely chill them out. Melatonin will also work. (Note: I am not a doctor, please do your own research regarding drugging your children.)
  7. Invest in toys that will only be seen on the plane. If it's new, it will capture your child's attention, period. I bought a few new toys for the girls that will be big surprises when the "old" toys we have handy lose their luster. Hit up Target, the dollar store, wherever - but a few new things will certainly distract the littles.
  8. Travel with a spare set of clothes for each child. Most moms already know this trick, but it bears repeating. I will never forget the time I was flying home from St. Lucia with Isla. The taxi to the aiport was a solid hour of crazy island roads and driving and immediately when our taxi stopped in front of the airport, she vomited all over me and herself. I was grateful that I a) had layered and b) had a whole new outfit for her.
  9. Bring a few gallon size ziplock bags. These will be helpful in the aforementioned scenario and for diapers. 
  10. Enlist help if possible. I would feel confident (but not excited about) flying alone with my three girls when they are age three and over, but right now? Hell no. I am so lucky that my mom (a travel agent) usually flies with us and her extra set of hands has saved our day and my sanity more than once!
  11. Don't over-do it. Try not to overpack or bring too much gear in your carry on/diaper-bag because don't forget, there's not much room to get to all that stuff when it's jammed underneath you (or, worse! in the overhead compartment) and you have a baby on your lap. Try to be strategic about what you bring.
    We have always (knock on wood!) been lucky with amazing flight neighbors who love the girls.
  12. Burn energy at the gate. All kids are different and for two of my three, sitting still on an airplane is not that hard. But our Haven is a game-changer. She is a tornado - full of energy, smiles and noise. We try to let her loose when we can to burn off energy so she's not wanting to do it on the plane.
  13. Board as late as possible. "I can't believe they don't let mothers and kids board first anymore!" one mom lamented during our last flight. Me? I wait as long as possible to board because every minute that I don't have to try to restrain my kids sitting in an airplane is one more minute that they are better behaved en-route!
  14. Take a deep breath. No matter how experienced or prepared you are, traveling with toddlers can be stressful. Flights get delayed, kids get fussy, illness strikes and bags get lost. Take a deep breath and try to be mindful of the fact that you will probably never see any of the people around you again. "This too, shall pass."

The gear we're rolling with:

  1. Ergobaby Performance Carrier - I have tried many baby carriers and love them all for different reasons, but this carrier is our go-to. Great for bigger babies/toddlers and easy to get on and off. In a pinch, I can easily wear both my twins in these; one on front, one on back.
  2. Kinderwagon Hop Tandem Umbrella Stroller - this stroller is amazing. Light, compact and sturdy - I am seriously so excited to have it I cannot even begin to tell you. Perfect for traveling parents.
  3. Ubbi Tweat Snack Container - I love these snack traps, mainly because they have a lid so you don't end up with a bunch of cheerios in the bottom of your bag when the kids aren't using them.
  4. Kickee Pants Baby Girls' Pajama Set - I am kind of obsessed with this brand of kid's cloths. It's made from bamboo which not only makes it crazy soft, but they are also very thin and pack super small. Our girls travel in Kickee's and we have a spare set in the diaper bag just in case.
  5. Melissa and Doug Water Wow's - These are a fantastic travel toy. The pen fills easily with water and after a child colors the pages, they dry and can be used over, and over, and over. Mess free!
  6. VTech Touch and Swipe Baby Phone - because all kids are obsessed with phones. (This is one of the 'surprise' toys)
  7. VTech Click and Count Remote - because all kids are obsessed with remotes. (This is another 'surprise' toy)
  8. Fisher-Price Smart Stages Tablet - another engaging toy that is simple, entertaining and a (little bit) educational.
  9. Children's Dramamine - to take the edge off ;)
  10. Sailor Bags Back Pack - Every time we fly, this bag is our carry on of choice. Enough room to carry all the baby gear and then some, but not so big to be cumbersome.
  11. Mini Look and Find Books - these little travel books were recommended to me by a fellow twin mom. Lots of things to "look and find" in the pages to help keep older toddlers engaged.
  12. LilGadgets Children's Headphones - ear buds just don't really work for little kids and now Isla can listen to the games on our iPad or watch a movie comfortably. (This is Isla's "surprise" inspired by my friend, Genevieve, who got something similar for her daughters pre-flight)
  13. Melissa & Doug ColorBlast Mess-Free Books - another great travel toy, mess free coloring.
  14. Apple iPad Tablet with BUDDIBOX® Case - the iPad comes with us because we have loaded it with educational games with Isla. The buddiebox keeps it safe and easy for her to hold.
We also travel with a mini medical kit containing: Similisan ear drops (for ear aches and ear pressure relief), Children's Motrin, Children's Tylenol, a thermometer, Vicks Vapo Rub and bandaids. We also travel with other incidentals like: antibacterial hand spray, diapers, wipes, and pacifiers.

I hope this is helpful! If anyone else have any tried and true tricks and tips for successful air travel with toddlers, please share in the comments!
Our Sailor Bags Square Duffels all ready to go!


The Nurturing Pirate said...

For whatever reason, when mine were small, all my friends would ask about how I traveled with them. My #1 recommendation: change your outlook. In your day-to-day life, it's all about how *fast* can something be done. On a plane, you have all the time in the world - so take that time. Take as long as possible to eat a little bowl of Cheerios. That tedious game that they're not bored with, but you are? See if you can stretch it to 30 minutes. You have nothing better to do!

Unknown said...

GUM! Or crunchy carrots, or ANYTHING they can chew hard on - for all landings and take-offs. They chew on that and their ears will automatically pop, avoiding ear pain. Or, if you're still breast-feeding, keep your child distracted so that when the plane takes off or lands, your child is hungry and will nurse. The sucking action also pops their ears naturally. Of course, if they are starting to get ear trouble, breast-feeding, chewing gum, or crunching carrots (or apples, or whatever), will possibly avoid the pain. (from an American mother whose child was born in Malawi - hence, up to 47 hours door to door - YIKES!)

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Agatha Singer said...

Thanks for sharing your experience! I totally agree with you that it is really necessary to invest in a great travel stroller. It makes all trips much more comfortable and easier. One of the best advice I've ever gotten about flying with a toddler is to download their favorite show as well. It helps keep them distracted from the flight and entertains them a lot.

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William John said...

We recommend switching to the stroller seat in a reclined position once baby can support their head on their own, which is typically about three months old. Then, you can switch to fully upright in the stroller sky seat when baby can sit up on their own, typically between five and seven months.

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