As we waited in the security line, 2 hours into our 33 hours of travel, Juliana chatted with the family next to us. “We're flying to China! We live there! We're going to fly on THREE airplanes!”
The mother gave me an incredulous look. “Is that true?? I've been stressing about traveling with two kids across the country! How do you do it?”
I'm not a travel expert, but I do have an awful lot of experience flying with little kids. I stopped keeping track of Juliana's flights once she hit 50-something several years ago. Here are my tips for making travel (especially the ridiculous 24+hr variety) manageable.
Flying while Pregnant
...Don't do it.
But in case you, like me, try to fit multiple international trips into each pregnancy, here's what I suggest.
- Stay hydrated. Bring lots of snacks
- If still dealing with nausea, snack often, keep peppermints within reach, stock up on the air sickness bags, and may God have mercy upon you. You might still end up in the family bathroom puking in a trashcan while your child sympathetically yells, “Gross! Gross!” But most likely you'll survive.
- In the later trimesters, wear compression socks and move around often. It's not like you'll be sleeping anyway.
- Find out the latest date on which your practitioner recommends traveling and plan your trip for that exact day. Or earlier, if you like to take the fun out of things.
- Check individual airline requirements and restrictions for traveling while pregnant. Some recommend a note from your doctor or don't allow travel after a certain point. Having a letter stating your due date and current health is always a good idea.
- Don't read any stories about babies being born on airplanes. You don't need that stress.
Flying with Babies
….It's actually not so bad.
- Bring extra clothes for everyone involved.
- Before you get on the flight, try to make sure people have a good view of the cute happy baby so they can keep that visual in mind later when baby is not quite so happy.
- Consider whether a stroller or carrier (or both) will be most convenient for your travel. You can pile all your bags in a stroller and have a place to set baby down, but it's a pain in security and can get beat-up, even if gate-checked. A carrier means more weight for you to carry, but it's small and can be easier to deal with. Sometimes you won't even have to take it off at security, depending on how lenient the security officer is.
- For a small baby on a long flight, request a bassinet. It's handy for diaper changes and a place to set baby while you eat, and if you're lucky baby might even sleep in there! A bassinet also means you get bulkhead seating.
- A lightweight scarf works great for discreet nursing in close quarters. Less cumbersome than a nursing cover and doesn't shout “Hey everyone, check out my giant drape! I'm nursing!” but can provide some cover up. Baby can't pull it down, since it's around your neck. If baby hates being covered, like most babies, just pile it loosely on top of baby leaving the face clear.
- A button-up shirt (only buttoned at the top) over a pull-down tank top allows for great coverage even without anything else.
- If baby has started eating solids, make sure you bring what you need – including a bib and baby spoon. Once you hit finger foods: Cheerios. 24 hours worth of Cheerios.
Flying with Toddlers
…bless your heart.
- The generally accepted hardest age for travel is around 9 months – 2 years, when your baby/toddler is mobile and not old enough to be entertained long. Accept that it's just going to be hard, but that it will get progressively easier with lengthening attention span.
- Let your toddler be active whenever possible. Some airports have kid play areas where your child can play and older baby can crawl on less-dirty surfaces. Walk your toddler up and down the airplane aisles. Let him stand on the seat and look around.
- Bring lots of snacks. One day of eating a continual stream of goldfish or your equivalent nutritionally devoid entertaining food is not going to hurt your child, and snacks can ward off some of those mid-flight meltdowns.
- Meltdowns will happen. It's pretty much unavoidable. Your toddler is overtired and stressed and everything is weird, so try to have extra patience and do what you need to do. Sure, you might not normally bribe your way out with 500 goldfish, but these are not the usual circumstances.
- Don't entertain until you actually need to. If your toddler is happy examining the safety card or looking out the window and calling, “Airplane! Airplane!” 200 times, great. Let this continue for as long as possible. Look through the magazines, talk about the airplane slides, play with the window shade.
- Games of “hide the toy,” finger games, songs with actions, and tickle games can all be played in a small space.
- Bring extra clothes for everyone involved.
- If potty training, or recently potty training, put on a pull-up. You really don't want to go through your back up clothes with 20 hours left of travel.
- Put some little kid movies or games on your phone or tablet. Toddlers may not be interested in the movies on the airplane, or they may have trouble seeing the screen.
- If you are traveling with your spouse and the plane has rows of three, choose an aisle and window seat toward the back of the plane. That middle seat will be the last to fill up, so you might have an empty seat, especially helpful with a 23 month old lap child. If it does get filled, nobody in the history of travel has ever minded switching out of a middle seat (also worth trying in a row of four when you have three paid seats).
Flying with a Preschooler
One word: Movies
One word: Movies
- Congratulations, you have entered the golden age of movies. This is a big reason why Juliana (5) likes travel so much – getting to watch as many movies as she wants is one of life's great rewards. And again, one day of watching 4 movies in a row is not going to rot anyone's brain.
- Bring extra clothes for everyone involved. Really you should just do this whenever you travel. People throw up. Luggage gets lost. Someone spills an entire cup of coke on your pants. Make the space.
- Bring kid headphones. They are bulky and take up space, but the airplane ones often won't stay on, and my kids hate earbuds.
- Bring snacks. Your kid might love or hate the airplane food and you never know until that particular moment. Something known and loved (aka peanut butter sandwiches) can be a lifesaver.
- Two toys in the hand are worth 10 in the bag. We always pack extra activities and then end up using the two things that are in the diaper bag because they are reachable.
- Print out coloring pages ahead of time. Just search for “absolutely anything + coloring page” and you can find all sorts of custom things your child will enjoy. Put them in a folder and they can also be easily shared among siblings.
- Consider if your family will be split up between multiple rows and pack accordingly. Passing snacks and toys back and forth over seats gets tiring.
For further musings on travel with children, check out "The Wonderful Terrible Adventure"