I think this post is pretty long overdue. Every time we go on a big old trip that approaches the twenty-four hours of travel landmark and wipes us out for a while, I think to myself Self, you need to write down some tips about traveling with children, first because other people could benefit from your mistakes experience and second, because you will probably need to go back and read those tips again in six months or so. When we got back from this most recent trip to Scotland and a friend asked me for traveling advice, I decided I would finally put my fingers to the keys on the subject.

Ready to dive in?

{Look! Getting ready for the Bear’s first ever trip to South Africa…}

Travelling Tips for Anybody

I’ll start with some tips that have a wider breadth of application — I know not all of you dear readers are likely to be toting a toddler on your next trip to Vegas.

  1. Pack Light :: “I really, really regret packing light for this trip.” — said No One. Ever. Especially if you’re lugging your kid’s gear along with your own stuff, but even if it’s just you, you will appreciate the easy stroll up to the check-in desk or slipping one reasonably sized bag into the trunk of the car.
  2. Plan Ahead :: You really will save yourself a heap of backache and headache while you’re away if you give some good thought to the clothes that you are going to put in your suitcase. As much as I hate it, planning outfits really is the easiest way to make good choices. Think about how you can get multiple wears out of what you’re packing so that you’re getting more bang for your packing buck. Although I almost always regret not throwing one or two things in the suitcase, it is often the case that even if I’d thrown an extra ten things in those hectic five minutes before our departure, I still wouldn’t have chosen the items that I end up wishing I had on the trip.
  3. Pack Early, Go to Bed :: Staying up late the night before a long trip to pack is just plain silly. Plan a slot of time a few days before the trip to get the bulk of your packing done, then you’ll just have to grab the toiletries and stuff you use every day the night before/the morning you leave.
  4. Remember the basics :: Don’t forget comfortable shoes for your travels. Pack toiletries into something that closes/zips so that a little leak doesn’t get your whole bag soggy. I think the travel size containers for shampoo, etc. are totally worth the 50 cent price tag.
  5. Use Trial and Error :: Don’t be afraid to try packing more than one way to see how things fit.
  6. The airplane is the desert :: No, seriously. Do you know what the conditions are at 30,000 feet? They’re so dry it’s like the desert. So pre-hydrate before you hop on and then re-hydrate continuously throughout the flight. If the flight attendants aren’t dropping by with water, get up and get some. You need it. Your kids need it. It will help you feel better on the other side.

There are some more great tips on packing here.

{Arriving in Amsterdam last month…shew-whee, tired!}

Good Travelling Starts at Home

  1. Forgive the lecture, but if your kids can’t sit still at home, do you really expect them to do it in the car or on an airplane? In preparation for your travels, pay attention to how much your kids are listening and obeying you. You might need to spend a little extra time training them in the way they should go before you get going. Make it fun — build a pretend car or airplane with chairs from the kitchen on the floor in the living room. Use your normal belts as seat belts and practice focusing on a sitting-still activity for an hour… get your kids excited about the fun they’re going to have, flying on an airplane, or riding in the car.
  2. Practice the sermon before you hit the pulpit: Find some sitting-still activities that actually work for your kids. DO try this at home. Practice getting small children to sit in your lap for a while if they’re going to be lap-kids on the plane. Bring a pair of headphones that fit your kid’s ears. The ear buds they pass out on the flight don’t stay in wee ears. Ever. Even if your headphones don’t work on the flight system, you can use the headband-style headphones to hold the ear buds in place.
  3. Get strategic with those carry-ons :: Are there books that always engage your toddler? Would a new sticker book, some stamps and a stamp pad or a colouring book keep your child entertained for a good wee while? A kiddie laptop that has a heap of games on it or downloading a few kiddie movies onto your laptop or iPad are sometimes very worthwhile investments. Don’t count on in-flight entertainment to take care of this for you — sometimes it’s broken and sometimes you’re on a flight with one screen per twenty people and the in-flight movie is Thor. #Thathappenedpeople

We are That Family has a Mega-Tip List for Road Trips right here.

{A Nursing Pillow like The Boppy can really help a baby sleep nicely on your lap. Look at that teeny-tiny Bear!}

Especially for the Small Ones

    1. Count Diapers, Add Extra :: A flight delay once stranded my sister and she was down to the last diaper. A fellow passenger was kind enough to hold her kid while she went to the bathroom to scoop the poop out of a slightly soiled diaper so that they could make it the rest of the flight. I’ve never seen diapers for sale at Duty Free, and I am pretty sure you’re not going to find them on that cart the flight attendants push down the aisle. Make sure there are extras in your carry-on! You just don’t know what’s going to happen when you travel, so be prepared.
    2. Pack Extra Clothes for the kids AND you :: You might not be likely to spill juice on yourself, but it’s twice as likely your kid’s knee might find its way to his tray table, or yours. Baby spit-up… a juicy diaper… I don’t need to go on. Just put a little something extra in the carry on, for everybody.
    3. Cabin pressure changes :: This is specifically an issue for babies and very young children. You know how your ears sometimes have trouble equalizing when you’re changing altitude? That hurts baby’s ears even more. If he or she likes a pacifier/binker/dummy, try your best to remember to give it to baby specifically at takeoff and landing, and other times in between. Nursing, sucking the thumb or giving baby something to drink are alternatives that can help keep the ears equalizing as the plane rises to cruising altitude or makes the descent.
    4. Throw out the schedule (sort of) :: Sometimes the staying on schedule will help keep your baby happy during a long trip, but other times, it just isn’t going to work. Don’t stress too much about the fact that you’re getting off-schedule if you’re the scheduling type — the fact that you are stressed will make your kid more stressed. And if you’re changing time zones, you’ll have to re-work the schedule on the other side anyway. If they will sleep, let them sleep!
    5. Snacks. Are. Awesome. :: We kind of throw out the eating rules when it’s travel time, too. I will not fight with my kid over eating Delta’s vegetarian pasta. If he wants the dinner roll with some butter and that’s as far as we get, great. I’ll save the cheese and crackers when I pass in the tray and maybe he’ll eat those later. Pack plenty of extra snacks, because when all else fails, passing the fifteen-month-old who’s hollering in the backseat M&Ms one at a time might just save the day. {Did I ever tell you that it was about 11 hours on the road to get from our place in Gordon’s Bay to the Hubs’ folks in Bloemfontein?}
    6. Happy makes happy. :: I hope I’m not the first to break the news to you. You’re a parent now, and with little ones, your preferences kind of come second. Communicate with your spouse about how you can take turns or do shift duty with the kids. {I’ve seen spouses fighting on airplanes about who should be watching the kid. Tweren’t purty.} Know that it is very possible you will not get to watch all of, or even part of, a movie on the flight, but that’s okay. Because you, and all the other passengers, will be happy that your kids are happy. So go ahead and absorb this present reality — by the time they hit three or four they might watch movies and be very low maintenance — but until you reach that golden point in time, make peace with the possibility that you might not get to dive into that vacation book just yet.
    7. Grab that Bassinet :: You know those funny holes on the walls where the plane is divided up into sections,the ones right in front of the bulkhead seats? A lot of airlines have little cots that fit into those holes, or strap onto a table that folds down from the wall. It is DEFINITELY worth asking the airline if you can reserve the bassinet seats as soon as you book your flight, if you have a baby that even just *might* sleep in there for a little while. You’ll be thankful you don’t have to hold them the entire time! Ask when you make a reservation, ask again when you’re checking in… ask the flight attendants when you board… it doesn’t hurt to keep asking if you don’t manage to snag those precious seats right away.
    8. Perhaps consider one of these! (FlyeBaby Hammocks — has anybody ever tried this? I am thinking it could be a very worthwhile investment if we are going to travel early on with wee Collie #3.)

The Sermon in a Nutshell: Thinking through your travel schedule, being prepared, communicating with travel companions — even the small ones — and planning ahead are really the keys to a successful trip. If you are able to drive while the kids are sleeping or take an overnight flight where they’re likely to be flat out asleep for seven or eight hours, great. Even if it’s the case that you have very little control over the travel schedule, just being mentally prepared for what’s ahead is usually a big help. It might even prevent you from the sudden realization that you’ve suddenly growled – aloud – at the airport security agent who is just doing her job, and just asked you to take the shoes off of your eighteen-month-old while you’re juggling folding down the stroller to send it through the x-ray thing and trying to keep an eye on the other two bags that you’re toting along as well. Not that I personally know anything about that. Ahem.

Have you spent any time traveling with children? Have any tips to add to the list? Please leave a comment!



Other Helpful Links:

The TSA’s website has a big section devoted to Travelling with Children — this is where you’ll find regulations about bringing juice/breastmilk/formula and other stuff aboard.

This website is all about Flying With Kids. Who’da thunk it?