I still remember the carefree days of traveling, pre-kids.
Waiting in the airport was barely a nuisance. I could check my e-mail, read a magazine, or strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler – all while sipping a hot drink and nibbling on a scone, decked out in fashionable garb from head-to-toe. Stopping in the restroom, I’d reapply my lipstick and then carry my tiny carry-on into the plane – where I could rest, write, or chat with my seatmate.
Flash-forward to today: I’m dressed in flip flops, jeans, and a t-shirt with my hair in a ponytail, a backpack on my shoulders, a baby in a front carrier, and a 3-year-old’s hand wrapped in mine. “Waiting” at the airport involves entertaining an active preschooler and a bored baby, while keeping a watchful eye on our mountains of luggage. In between bathroom stops and “I’m hungrys” and “I need a drinks,” we play peek-a-boo, make sticker cards, and make funny faces. The charade continues on the plane, until we arrive – tuckered out and zapped…just as our kids get their second wind.
Yes, traveling with kids is a whole different ball game. For sure.
Now, however, we are experienced travelers (ha!) and have learned a thing or two. Here are a few tips to help your vacation with little ones be a bit smoother and less stressful:
1. Book your flights early. The closer you get to your travel dates, the more expensive tickets will get.
2. Check in online the night before. The more time you can save at the airport, the better. Waiting in line isn’t fun – for you or baby. Keep in mind that most airlines provide a discount if you pay for checked bags online prior to arrival.
3. Don’t arrive at the airport too early. The current recommendation is to arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to your flight, but we tend to plan for about an hour – especially at smaller airports.
4. Wear flip flops or slip-on shoes. Unlacing tennis shoes at security is a hassle – for you and your kids. To save yourself time and stress, wear shoes that can be easily taken on and off.
5. Wear your baby in a carrier. I said it once and I’ll say it again: ERGO. My ERGO is worth its weight in gold. I wore my baby all through the airport in Tucson, Orange County, and Seattle. She was content tucked in close to me. I had my hands-free. And strangers were less likely to attempt to reach out to touch her little fingers and toes.
6. Bring an umbrella stroller. We opted not to bring a stroller with us on this vacation because we thought, “less luggage is better.” Logical? Yes. BUT we didn’t account for the fact that our 3-year-old is kind of like luggage herself. Especially when she asks pleadingly, “daddy, hold me” as we walk miles and miles through crowded airports. Umbrella strollers are lightweight, inexpensive, and you can walk them right up to the boarding deck.
7. Talk about the trip ahead of time. Quell any fears by discussing the trip in detail before it happens. We played “airplane” at home and had open conversations about where we would be going, what we would see and do in various locations, etc.
8. Pack wisely. For example, it’s wise to pack only enough diapers and wipes for use during travel. You can buy more at your destination. Also: it’s better to pack several small suitcases than one giant suitcase. “Digging” through a heap of underwear, onesies, sweaters, and socks every time you need to find something is less than ideal. It’s better if each person has their own bag – even the baby. That way, you can find things quickly.
9. Keep all important documents in one folder. Buy a brightly colored folder. Insert: flight itineraries, rental car reservations, hotel phone numbers, maps to each location, etc. Note that birth certificates/IDs are typically not required for passengers under age 18.
10. Pack an extra outfit for each child (and for you) in your carry-on. Do be sure you have an additional outfit (including underwear and socks for little ones) for every member of your party. If you’re traveling with a child, there’s a high probability that some misfortune will occur – a potty training accident, coca-cola spilled all over your shirt, a baby blow-out, etc. Be prepared.
11. Lollipops. If your child is of lollipop age, this tip is top-notch. Bring a half-dozen lollipops in your carry-on. Give your child a pop at take-off and/or landing. The sucking motion will help clear up clogged ears from cabin pressure and the pop will serve as a welcome distraction for a good solid 20 minutes.
Most importantly, try to relax, laugh, and keep your expectations reasonable. There will undoubtedly be trying and/or embarrassing moments, but the best way to handle them is with gentleness, grace, and a smile on your face.
YOUR TURN: What tips do YOU have for flying with babies + toddlers?