Traveling With A Toddler

Two months after giving birth we flew to New York City for my dear friend Carly’s wedding that I was in. Oh yes…two months post birth body with boobs the size of Texas in a sweet heart neck bridesmaid dress….hello cleavage (or more like Amazon tube socks). There was no way I was going to miss this celebration so as first time parents Mike and I planned for every scenario and prepared for our first flight with a kid.

Listen we have ALL been those people that board a flight and silently hope that your seat is not next to (or in front of!) the rowdy kid jumping over the chairs yelling at the top of their lungs….or the infant who’s crying seems to be inconsolable. I’m guilty of it. As a parent I now have nothing but sympathy for the other parent(s).

Lily isn’t even two years old and we have five trips under our belts ranging from quick trips to international flights and even a solo cross country trip (yes I’m that crazy for attempting). In between those flights are some loooong road trips (10 hours to Augusta…ugh) that have helped us become pretty good at traveling with a kid. With our flight tomorrow to Pittsburgh to visit Mike’s family I thought I’d share some tips we’ve learned and items that are a “must” when traveling with Lily.

Be Smart About Booking. Try and book your flight in advance to ensure that you get the seats together as a family and the ones that you want. First and business class are awesome, but to save money the majority of our flights have been in coach. We like to get seats either in the front of the plane or in the very back so we have easy access to drinks and are closer to the rest rooms.  Also a window seat gives your kid another source of entertainment before the flight, during and after landing. Check in online the day before and print out your boarding passes at home or at the airport. Try and plan the flight around your child’s naptime. When Lily was a baby we made sure that she was napping in flight and for that we would keep her awake until we boarded the plane. She would cry bloody murder since she was so exhausted, but eventually she would pass out. For my first solo flight of course I choose the longest trip possible from Florida to Los Angeles. For my sanity I paid extra for non-stop flights and flew the red eye. I was exhausted, but not having her sleep through one flight was worth the money and eye drops. For international flights give yourself plenty of time to get your passport for your child. To learn about obtaining a passport for a child under 16 read here.

Double Check All Paperwork.  This is a task you do even traveling solo, but sometimes in all the chaos of packing up the luggage and buckling in your kid you can forget to double check that you have all the paper work and identification needed. Make sure that your license is in the wallet or in the correct purse! To keep the stress low at check in and at the security check point we have one person in charge of all the tickets and photo id’s. This is usually Mike since I am holding the baby to walk through the security gate.  We have a small carrying case that has several pockets for boarding passes, luggage tags and ids that we take with us on every trip. This was a great gift from Mike’s company and you can get one here or here.

Be Prepared.  Make sure you have everything and then some in that diaper bag! Pack more diapers than you usually need. Murphy’s Law totally applicts to my life and with my luck Lily has gone through more diapers during traveling than she does while at playgroup! To save room in the diaper bag skip the wipe case and place your wipes in a Ziplock bag (you can carry more that way and it’s air tight). I have more on what to pack with printable list below.

Be Considerate. Remember that you were once that traveler sans kids so be understanding that your kid shouldn’t be hitting or kicking the seat in front of you. My good friend McKay of Oatmeal Lace Design had a marvelous idea on how to express sympathy for your fellow passengers in case your kid gets a little unruly inflight. McKay brought a few five dollar Starbucks gift cards with her on a flight to pass out to those seated next to her in case her son Beckett had a meltdown. Everyone loves a free treat and a Starbucks mocha or cakepop might just make them be more sympathetic to the next momma they sit next to in the future!

Stay Calm. Even though we might be organized and prepared for our trips I still get nervous and anxious. I don’t want to be the passenger everyone is praying not to sit next to. I hate that some people might judge me for whipping out an episode of Barney to keep her occupied instead of reading her a book or engage her in an activity other than tv watching. I hate it, but frankly I don’t care, because Barney and Elmo keep Lily happy…and that is all that maters! I just push those feelings to the back of my head, smile and stay positive for Lily’s sake. Babies and kids feed off their parent’s emotions so stay upbeat, happy and calm.

Now for the packing list…this is where my compulsive list making comes in handy. I have a word document that I turn to for every trip that keeps me organized and sane.  Going from a newborn to a toddler the list is always changing! For a printable checklist that I use for traveling click here.

For the diaper bag that you will carry on board again make sure you have more than enough diapers, wipes and a changing pad. Make sure you have a disposable diaper bag or a ziplock bag to store the used diapers in. Babies R Us sells cheap mini plastic bags that have a light scent to mask the odor. Make sure you have an extra Ziplock bag to store soiled clothes in case your kid has an accident and you have to change them. Double check that you have an extra outfit for this situation and you might want to pack yourself an extra shirt too, unless you don’t care wearing a shirt with puke, pee or poop on it!

Does your baby or toddler still use a binky when they sleep or to calm themselves? Make sure you pack an extra!

Planes can be cold so pack socks and a jacket for the little one and some for your feet as well. Remember to wear shoes that will be easy for you to take on and off during security check points! Roll up a small blanket or your kid’s lovey to keep them warm and soothe them.

If you are going to check your stroller and/or car seat at the gate get a travel bag for them. Luggage can get pretty banged up and so can your stroller and car seat so get a bag to protect them from being damaged. Tip: if your stroller has a drink holder, un hook it and put it in your carry on. We had ours broken off and Southwest couldn’t find it…whomp whomp! For some travel bags look here.

You can never have too many snacks and make sure to bring a water bottle for their sippy cup! Don’t count on just the small bag of pretzels that they pass out in flight and a small ziplock of goldfish from home. Remember Murphy’s Law and pack more snacks than you usually do. The one time you don’t bring enough squeeze packs or raisins is the time your kid will will act like you starve them at home. Easy items: raisins, a banana, apple (grab a plastic knife after you go through security), gold fish, cheerios, squeeze packs (mom’s best friend), animal cookies, grapes, popcorn, a cheese stick, puffs or yogurt melts. To make the trip seem special you could bring a special snack like some M&M’s! Another option is to check with your airline to see if there are special meals or snacks for toddlers that they provide or that you can purchase. Make sure you are fully aware of the TSA’s requirement on food and liquids (read here).

To help your kid pop their ears from the pressure of take off and landing bring their sippy cup or bottle. For those that are breastfeeding make sure you hold off right until you pull away from the gate and you know your plane is the next in line for take off before you begin to nurse. Once I made the mistake and caved to Lily’s crying before we left the gate. Our plane had to taxi a bit and she was done feeding before we took off. Luckily she didn’t have much of a problem with the pressure, but I learned a lesson. Also make sure you bring a nursing cover to be considerate of your neighbor. One of Lily’s teachers at MyGym recommended giving her a lollipop to assist with the pressure and I just so happen to have a few dumbbell lollipops for tomorrow’s flight!

Make sure you bring baby/toddler Tylenol and Motrin on board. We had given Lily some Tylenol the morning of our flight home from Puerto Rico. She had a slight fever and I chalked it up to teething. Thirty minutes into our flight Lily started to get flushed and her body radiated heat. She became lethargic and I was freaking out! I had packed the thermometer in her diaper bag just in case and she was at 103! We had Motrin with us and gave her some to help with this high fever. Turns out she was teething and had an ear infection…poor girl! Now I always travel with Tylenol, Motrin, and a digital thermometer. For precaution I also have a few bandaids, hand sanitizer and teething ointment for her gums. Again make sure all liquids are cleared by TSA.

Last but definatley the most important are the toys and books to keep your kid(s) occupied.  I always bring a backpack that is devoted just to keeping Lily busy (Mike and I’s laptops are also in there!). Make sure your iPod or iPad are fully charged to last the flight! Tip: check out Target’s dollar section for cheap toys. I scored one of Lily’s favorite books from there. Currently my Target had some Sesame Street board books, Christmas board books and some small pop-up books. You can’t beat Elmo board book for a buck. My Target also had tiny slinkys and other toys that would be perfect as stocking stuffers or as small toys for a plane! Another teacher from MyGym suggested that I keep the iPad hidden a day or two before the trip so she is excited to play with it again during the flight.

We are headed to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving and I found a giant Sesame Street sticker book and a water-coloring book from Target that will keep Lily busy for awhile! A good tip is to bring a new object for your kid to explore for the first time! Lily has used finger paints but never a water color activity book. Get the flight attendent to give you a plastic cup that you can place a small amount of water in and most water color books come with a brush attached. Letting your kid paint without worrying about getting actual paint everywhere gets two thumbs up from me! Bring a ziplock bag to store the wet work of art and wet brush when your little Picasso is finsished. I will give you an update when we get back to let you know how her in flight art session goes!

With our bags packed, triple checked (yes I’m a freak that over checks) and diaper bag full of snacks and toys we are headed off to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. Whether you are driving or flying I hope you have safe and problem-free trip and I hope you all enjoy this time with your friends and family!

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