Over the past four years, we’ve taken 14 major trips with our child. From an overnight trans-Atlantic flight to Europe, to a day-long journey to Japan, to a quick airplane ride down to Los Angeles, we’ve run the gamut of “traveling with kids” scenarios and survived quite happily despite our girl’s motion sickness.
The key to kid-carting success is to plan as many flights, train trips, bus rides, or car outings around naptime or bedtime. If this isn’t possible, bring an iPad.
Elodie took her first big trip when she was two-months-old. It was her debut. We took her back East to meet our family and get acquainted with the thick air of summer in New England and New York. It was a breeze. Why? Because when babies are this small, they do nothing but eat and sleep. I nursed her and held her the entire flight and she was light as a feather. Sure, she probably wailed her head off every now and then, but what are you gonna do? Some people bring scratch tickets or other little gifts for their seat mates, but I say don’t sweat it. We were all babies once.
Tip #1 for traveling with an infant: bring a pillow to support the baby’s body and your arm while breastfeeding/holding her.
Tip #2 for traveling with an infant: bring one disposable diaper for every hour of your flight, and make the dad do all the diaper changes, since the mom has to do all the feeding. If your child is in cloth diapers (like ours was), do not bring them on your trip. Carrying a garbage bag full of soiled cloth diapers through the airport is not the way you want to travel — even if there is a big beautiful washer/dryer at grandma’s house on the other side.
Airplanes are usually equipped with a handy changing table that you pull down over the toilet, making diaper changes in the air a cinch. It also helps break up the flight a little bit. What’s more exciting than checking out the airplane bathroom?!
Tip #3 for traveling with an infant: bring a couple changes of clothing.
When Elodie became mobile, flying got a lot trickier. Keeping a one or a two-year-old entertained on a 9-hour flight takes some serious energy. Just after Elodie’s first birthday, we flew to Berlin for the summer. I brought nine small *new* toys, wrapped individually in crepe paper party streamers (one for each hour of the flight), plus a couple old favorites, and a handful of small, light books. This seemed sufficient. She was still napping twice a day, which helped too. Though all this preparation is actually better purposed on the daytime flight back to the States. The flight from New York to Berlin is an overnight one, so we did our best to snuggle up together and sleep. For the most part it went pretty well. We sleep together at home so sleeping together on the airplane felt normal for her. Since we bought a seat for her, we had three seats for the three of us. Elodie and I laid down together on two seats (window & middle), while the dad slept as best he could sitting up in his own chair. Bonus: the dad let me put my feet up on his lap!
Tip #1 for traveling with a toddler: bring many toys, books, diapers, and be prepared to expend a lot of energy creating finger puppet shows, singing songs, reading stories, etc, etc, in that over-exuberant voice that takes up about three times as much energy as your normal voice.
Tip #2 for traveling with a toddler: buy them their own seat if you have the funds. If they’re two-years-old, you’ll have to do this anyway. We flew from Paris to Bilbao right after Elodie’s second birthday. Getting her in her own seat for takeoff was horrific. We had to hold her down so she couldn’t squirm out of her seatbelt while she screamed her head off. It was one of the most stressful moments of my life. if you ever have to deal with this, simply close your eyes and repeat your own private mantra until the seatbelt sign goes off and you can hold your toddler on your lap again. This behavior will stop eventually (once she gets used to Tip #3). I think it happened twice for us.
Tip #3 for traveling with a preschooler: bring lots of fun snacks and candy. Elodie was used to nursing during take-off and landing since she had been doing it since infancy, but since two-year-olds have to sit in their own seats, she couldn’t nurse anymore. What could be better than breastfeeding? M&Ms. Now Elodie knows that every time we get on an airplane. She gets M&Ms.
Tip #4 for traveling with a toddler: do not bring their car seat. This will drastically decrease the amount of space you have for playing or stretching out.
Tip #5 for traveling with toddler: breastfeed or bottle feed during take-off and landing (if under two. If over two, they need to be in their own seat of course.)
Tip #6 for traveling with a toddler: bring a couple changes of clothing.
TIp #7 for traveling with a toddler: bring many different types of snacks.
TIp #8 for traveling with a toddler: if you’re going to go the Benadryl route (drug them to get them to sleep), test it out at least a couple weeks before your flight. We did not do this, and the Benadryl had the opposite affect on her, making her extra hyper for the 10 hour flight from Paris to Dallas. I will never do this again, and do not recommend using over-the-counter medications to try to get your child to sleep.
Confession: I tend to go overboard with preparation. On every flight I’ve taken with my child, I have always brought too much stuff. Traveling with a lot of stuff can add extra stress to your experience, but if you can pack it all efficiently, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Imagine running out of things to do on the airplane?!
Last month we went to Japan. The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo is 11.5 hours long. It was the longest flight Elodie or I had ever taken. And it went by without a hitch.
Tip #1 for traveling with a preschooler: make a friend onboard. Better yet, scope out the scene at the gate before boarding and zero in on any kids. Once you’ve spotted one or two that might make a good mate for your little one, sit near them and let the natural kid-socializing stuff ensue. For our 3-year-old, no one is cooler than a 4-year-old, except maybe a 5-year-old. We were lucky to be sharing a flight with one. Not only was this older girl traveling alone with her mom, she had twin baby sisters at home. I think my meaning is clear here. This mom, accustomed to taking care of twin babies plus a 5-year-old, must have felt like she was on vacation on an airplane alone with her older child. She showed incredible generosity by welcoming my 3-year-old into her simplified two-person world at the back of the plane — rows and rows behind us. Suddenly, we were on vacation too.
Tip #2 for traveling with a preschooler: bring a favorite stuffed animal, buy a new toy at the airport, bring a new coloring book and exciting new markers. Use these preoccupations earnestly, BEFORE RESORTING TO THAT MOST WONDROUS TOY/BABYSITTER OF ALL (see Tip #3)
Tip #3 for traveling with a preschooler: bring an iPad. Fill it with your kid’s favorite videos. Maybe add a new app.
Tip #4 for traveling with a preschooler: fly an airline that caters to children. Virgin America offers a child’s boxed lunch for purchase, which Elodie adores! She dreads flying other airlines because she really wants that boxed lunch! (Even though she doesn’t actually eat the food, at least she gets some toys and a box with pictures on it that she can color). Do any other airlines offer kid-friendly meals or activities? Please share in comments if you know of any.
TIp #5 for traveling with a preschooler: run your kid around the airport before the flight and if luck is on your side, she’ll fall asleep at take-off. Elodie always whimpers and fights a little bit when she has to get in her seat and put her seatbelt on. But once she’s settled she gets her M&Ms and I hold her head against my body, or in my lap, which helps with her motion sickness. The last two times we’ve flown, she fell asleep as we were lifting off. And I was free to actually READ MY OWN BOOK! It was heaven.
Tip #6 for traveling with a preschooler: bring your own portable potty. Ever since she turned three, Elodie has refused to go pee-pee in the “black” toilet seats they have in many airplanes.
Now that my daughter is almost four, I feel like I can board a plane calmly and happily. I know she’ll be able to entertain herself for decent intervals by coloring or playing with her cars, and if all else fails I’ve got my trusty iPad. There’s only one thing that can put a knick in my cool, calm, collected state. Turbulence. Luckily we’ve only experienced bad turbulence once with Elodie. Our flight back from Tokyo was pretty bumpy. Thankfully, since bumpiness can lead to barfing, she slept through it all.
I’ve got my fingers crossed for smooth sailing next month when we embark on another epic flight (San Francisco to Berlin via Stockholm). We take off in the early evening, so if all goes well, we’ll have dinner onboard, maybe watch a few videos, read some books, brush our teeth, change into pajamas, and sleep.
Tip #7 for traveling with a preschooler: always hope for the best.