With our families on either side of the country, we travel a little to see our loved ones. Most of it has been driving a few hours here or there but we’ve taken a couple of flights as well. It’s interesting how each phase of parenting brings about new challenges and is different enough that it feels like a new experience. That’s how flying with the kids has been for us. Maybe if we did it more frequently it would become a more natural habit. But with this last trip I picked up some tips for travelling with toddlers that I’m sharing today.
Stephen’s maternal grandmother’s side of the family has a reunion every five years or so. He went growing up but unfortunately, we’ve missed the last two because of my gall bladder and then starting a new job. Which means, the kids and I have never been before. I was a little apprehensive about taking two flights to get to our destination and only be there for 2 full days, but I’ve read up a bit recently on how you should focus on experiences vs things in life and we decided we really wanted to make it work. I’m so glad we did! Here are some of our tips for how we made our trip a breeze:
1 – If you bring a car seat, check out this strap that can connect it to any stroller.
When we traveled back to Utah last year, I was paranoid about renting a car seat from the car rental place because I’m strict about car seat safety and I don’t trust that it hasn’t been in an accident or properly cared for. To combat that, I had my mom meet us at the airport with car seats and that worked out well. This trip though, we didn’t have that option. I also didn’t want to check a car seat. Again with the paranoid thing, I know that people do it all the time but I didn’t want to risk anything. Even if you are in a slight fender bender some car seat manufacturers recommend that you replace your car seat because the force of a crash can damage the plastic and make the seat not function properly. I’ve seen what’s happened to my luggage before and how much things get tossed around so I just have this thing about not turning over our seat to be mishandled and question the safety. Maybe I’m being overly cautious but that’s for sure one area I’d rather be that than unsafe with my most valuable loved ones.
I did some research about bringing a seat on the plane and ways to travel in the airport with a car seat. I found this strap that is made for connecting the seat to the back of a rolling suitcase and that the child can sit in the car seat while you wheel around. I liked the idea of not having to carry the kids but didn’t want her feet dragging or the weight of the suitcase pulling her down. Plus we weren’t bringing a rolling suitcase to carry on. So I did what any sane person would do and obsessed about it for a while and came up with a creative solution. I ordered the strap and then bought a slim and cheaper car seat. When it arrived, I took our strollers, one is an umbrella stroller and the other is a small one that folds in half, and set the seat in it. The seat fits sitting to in both but would have easily fallen out and was not secure to put a child in. I took the strap and looped it through the seat belt strap hole in the back of the seat, buckled it around the back and then connected the anchor to the back. I pulled it snug and then moved the seat in different ways to make sure it was secure. We had her sit in the seat and I walked the stroller around the driveway to test it out. Now this strap was not made for this but after trying it we felt comfortable giving it a shot. I’m not an expert on that safety so if you decided to try this yourself, be sure to do your own research and make your own decision on the safety for you and your family.
It really helped to have our backpacks on and the kids in strollers so we could run around and get to our flights. If we would have had to carry a car seat, it would have been a lot more cumbersome. We checked the strollers at the gate and then brought the car seat on the plane and locked it in her seat. Since it was slim, it was really easy to sit next to and actually she was better able to sleep because she could lean her head to the side and have support. I wasn’t super concerned with the airplane seat belt safety but having a seat for her did feel safer and was positive on a number of levels. After each flight, we carried the seat to the stroller and strapped it back in. It worked awesomely and I was a bit impressed with myself, which is why this was my number one tip!
For our son, he has reached a weight were we could use a booster seat with him. We still uses the bigger, convertible seat they both have but we decided to get a travel booster seat for him on this trip. It folded up and stayed in my backpack so we could use it in the rental car. That worked well too. He could have used the booster on the plane but really there was no reason. We also brought his stroller and just used it as normal for him. This trip was probably the last time we will have our son in an umbrella stroller, he is getting too big! I’m sad about that but excited too.
The great thing about the way this worked is that we didn’t have car seats for my car because we use the other car as the main family car and mine is a commuter car for work. When my daughter moved out of the infant seat we put her in our back up convertible seat so we’ve never had extras after that point. We are frequently moving car seats around when we do things separately with each kid so we now have seats for that car. All of this was still cheaper than renting a car seat with the car rental! Totally worth it to me.
2 – Pack snacks
I had been reading about all of the flights in Arizona that had been delayed recently and people sitting on the tarmac, in the planes for hours waiting to be able to take off. This gave me some anxiety. My husband and I don’t do well without eating, ya know we get hangry, but the kids are even worse. I was determined to have some things to grab and be prepared. My husband packaged everything in individual zip locks and had a bag of each snack ready for each child. It was awesome. We also got stuff we don’t usually let them have, like skittles and M &M’s as well as some crackers and muffins. This helped us not have to spend a fortune on things in the airport but excited the kids with the “special” treats. Plus we always had something available for us if we were starting to feel hungry ourselves.
3 – Triangle crayons
My kids love to color and I found these triangle shaped crayons that don’t roll so it makes it really nice when travelling to not have crayons rolling and falling all over the place. They can be used in the house too, which we always find crayons in random places from them rolling off the table so they’re nice to have on hand.
4 – Bring a device or books (or both)
I’m not the type of parent who doesn’t give their kids devices. If you are able to keep screens from your kids and keep them behaving well, that’s so awesome and great for you. I think having some distractions on hand is a great travel plan and also not revealing all of your toys, books, and other distractions at once is helpful. Pull them out one as a time, as you need them.
For us, it just works sometimes to use a device for distraction. We also wanted to travel light so having a tablet keeps things light and condensed. My kids love their Amazon Kindle tablets with the kid’s padded cases and since they hardly get to use them, they are always excited when we pull them out. That excitement and distraction really helped us all stay comfortable and busy on the airplanes. You can pre-load them with books, games or even movies.
Since I work in communications and marketing for an IT group, I’ve become more sensitive to the IT world and introducing things like coding to my kids to get them comfortable with computers and see if they have a knack for technical things. Plus I try to have things be educational for my kids, not always but usually we try to go for that with our device use. We recently started using this Code-a-Piller app from Fisher Price on the tablets and it’s such a great intro to coding and my kids LOVE it. Something to try out if you wish!
5 – Headband Headphones
These were a last minute Amazon Prime purchase. I found $5 kids headphones for our flights last year but one of the pairs stopped working and they were pretty clunky and hard to keep on our kid’s heads. I found these super cute headband headphones and they worked so well. They were cute, which made the kids excited to wear them and they had volume control to keep the levels down for the kid’s ears. Simple to maneuver and just a really great purchase.
6 – Be prepared
Having things planned and well packed makes me a much more calm and focused parent. I thought through our travel and made decisions based on challenges I thought we might encounter and I planned accordingly. I made sure our stuff was ready and easy to go through security and that we had the things we’d really need but not too much that we were bogged down with extra bags and weight. It makes the experience much smoother.
7 – Be flexible
When I’m prepared, it’s easier for me to be flexible and avoid being super flustered. I know I’m covered and I have done what I can to keep us all organized so when something pops up that throws a wrench in our plans, I can better run with it. I have this approach in other areas of my life but it really helps us when travelling. I firmly believe that kids can sense your emotions and feed off of that. If you are a nervous wreck, your kids are going to be feeling that and not be very relaxed themselves, which helps no one. Try to have a plan but go with the flow when things aren’t working exactly. You’ve got this!
Overall, our kids did amazingly well. I think the thorough planning and thought that we put into it, really helped it be a smooth ride. But it’s interesting how different my kids are, even from a year ago. They are much more independent and both could have done without the strollers but they were helpful. It was just a really fun family trip and I’m so glad we got to go.
One really funny story of our one incident in the airport. On the first plane we had a middle and window seat on the same aisle and both sides of the planes. My son decided he wanted to sit by my husband. Our plane left at 5:30 am, which meant we were up at 3:30 am. My son fell asleep, which is unusual for him in the mornings and in general he doesn’t really nap at all anymore. The flight was short and he woke up just after we landed. I think that startled him and he started looking for me. Other passengers had already started filling up the aisle and he couldn’t see me anymore. I could hear him calling my name but he couldn’t see me. This seemed to freak him out. Once it was our turn to get off the plane, my daughter went with my husband and I was going to walk with my son. He was so upset and thought I had been ignoring him. He needed a hug and some reassurance but we had a plane full of people behind us so I said we had to go. He grabbed both arm rests and stood blocking the aisle and screaming. I had to pick him up and hold him over my shoulder to get him out of there while he was kicking and screaming.
We got the kids strapped in their strollers and then had to book it to catch our next flight. The layover was tight and it was in the Atlanta airport, which is huge. We ran and took a train and ran some more, all while my son yelled. We made it to the flight and he was in full tantrum mode. My husband went on the plane with our daughter first and I scooped him up to comfort him but we had to get on the plane. We were the last ones on and about to take off. If you could have seen the faces of the other passengers on that plane as we boarded. It was a general sense of dread and “oh no, not this flight”. I moved quickly down the aisle bumping into people along the way as he continued to yell and kick. He started screaming “I HATE DADDY. AND I HATE RESEARCH!!!!!!! I AM NEVER EVER DOING RESEARCH AGAIN”. What the? I looked at the passenger nearest to me hoping to laugh with someone about it, but nothing, still dread looks. What was my kid talking about??? We got to our seat and got settled in. We had a chat about what happened and why he was upset and it was all as I suspected. Within 5 minutes he was calm and was quiet the rest of the flight, much to everyone’s delight.
I still keep laughing about the research thing. Where did he get that? The kid watches a lot of nature shows so maybe that. A few days after we got home, and it was no longer a fresh and traumatic “thing”, I asked him if he knew what research was. He responded, “it’s when a guy researches to make sure the plane is safe”. He was referring to going through security. They detected liquid in my bag from our wipes so they had to search my bag. He was getting a little anxious about it in the moment, so I got down to his level and explained what they guy was doing, who he was and why it was important. It was a one minute thing in our trip and that’s what he was referring to many hours later in his tantrum! It was slightly amusing in the moment but it’s hilarious now and a story I’ll probably remember for ever!
Other than that, the trip was awesome! We took some time when we arrived earlier than everyone else and explored Kansas City and especially the cool Science City.
We loved seeing our family and just relaxing. I turned off my work email, gasp! We played at the pool, took naps, had good food, laughed and played, it was awesome!
We realized there was a 7-11 close by and stopped for a Slurpee! I grew up with those things and didn’t realize they are the gold standard in the frozen drink category. We don’t have any in our state or even ones surrounding us so we were all excited to stop and get one. It was just a fun little stop and is becoming a “thing” when we travel. I love it!
The day we left, we stopped for lunch on the way to the airport. We were pretty pooped from all the late nights and action. We sat down and were just being us. When my husband got up to go to the restroom, the couple sitting behind us got up to leave. The woman turned back and approached me. She said she didn’t want to bother us but she just wanted to let us know what a pleasure it was to sit by us and that she loved the way we talked to each other and to our kids. She said she could tell we really loved each other and that we were doing a great job as parents. She got a little emotional and then just said, it was just special and she wanted to be sure we knew and then she was off. It was funny because the kids were not behaving that well and I happened to be looking something up on my phone when she approached me. Things I usually find that get judged by a passerby so it was really nice of her to see past that and hear the things we were saying and how we talked to each other. There is so much judgement in life, especially in parenting by other moms, parents and strangers passing by so it was just really sweet of her to do and say what she said. It was the icing on a really wonderful trip.