Today’s post comes from Faye over at http://www.FromFaye.com and I couldn’t be more excited to have her guest post here. She is Girl Mom to three little cuties, blogs, and does all kind of SuperMom things like birth her kids at home, use chalk paint on her furniture, make giant batches of homemade iced coffee from scratch, and keep green plants alive in her house (anyone who can keep their children AND plants alive is wayyyyyy up there in my books). I met Faye about 10 years ago, but re-connected with her over social media and blogging about 2 years ago. Her blog is full of DIY posts, thoughts on motherhood, home decor, travelling, party planning, Mom Style, and real life. She writes in a way that will leave you laughing/snorting into your coffee and her instagram (@FromFaye) is one of my favorite accounts to follow. She lives in the sunny state of California, and is an expert on flying with small children (SHE FLIES WITH THREE CHILDREN WHO ARE UNDER FOUR YEARS OLD, PEOPLE), so I knew she had lots of wisdom to share when it came time for this post. Thanks for sharing all your rad Mom Skillz with us, Faye… you make me wanna be brave (and now Nichole Nordeman’s 2005 hit single is stuck in my head).
If the thought of boarding an aircraft with your toddler or baby makes you want to become a hermit for the next ten years, then this post is for you!
Five years ago before I became pregnant with my first daughter, my husband and I made a cross-country move from Atlanta, Georgia to Northern California. When we did that, coast-to-coast air travel became something we had to do about every six to nine months. Not only for my husband’s work, but also to stay connected with my family.
We have made the trip probably eight or nine times (I lost count) over the last several years, each time adding a kid for the ride, sometimes in my belly and sometimes out. It’s a five to six hour flight, sometimes with a layover, sometimes non-stop. Depending on what city we fly out of we may have a ten to twelve hour travel day with multiple vehicle switches and luggage transfers.
This last trip we flew with a four-year-old, a two-year-old and a nine week old infant! Not to brag, but I’m kind of a ninja at the on-lap diaper change. I have lived and learned the few things the hard way when it comes to navigating airports and flying with kids. So…here are ten tips (aka, ALL MY SECRET FAILURES) that may just make your next flight a little less stressful.
1.) STOP STRESSING OUT THAT YOUR KID WILL CRY OR IS CRYING! First of all, you stressing out will only make them cry harder and louder, mama. Stay calm! We don’t want mama crying too! Your little one is a person, and despite what people might think, they are not a machine with a mute button. When someone purchases an airline ticket, they have just signed up for the risk that they will be seated next to a crying baby or rambunctious toddler. Or multiple of the aforementioned in various combinations. It’s called not owning a private jet, mkay? The reality is you’ll be traveling with exactly two kinds of people: 1.) Parents or grandparents with kids who are totally in the same boat and will be relieved to see some other people’s kids crying, spilling juice cups, and and kicking the backs of some seats. 2.) Solo travelers with glossy new magazines, loaded iPods, ear buds, and room on their seat back tray for a glass of wine. You can see why I have no sympathy for snark from solo travelers. (I saw some article on Pinterest with some parents who were handing out apology notes and swag baggies to fellow passengers around them. Pssssh no. Order some wine and read yo’ glossy magazine, lady.) The fact is, your child is stressing you out more than anyone else. What is a major stress to you is a minor blip to someone else. Cry spells usually last for only about five to ten minutes at a time and typically do not cause the pilot to nose dive the air craft. Also, the keep in mind you’re not on a plane to make friends and you’ll never be seeing any of these people again! Fortunately, in my experience, no one has been anything other than super kind and sympathetic (and at times even shamelessly wistful) when they see a mama traveling with little ones.
2.) Take one personal item per person onto the flight. Don’t try to do extra carry-ons. This will make your life SO MUCH EASIER. Flying with kids is not the time to save $25 on not checking your bag. First, you’ll have enough crap-ol-a to keep track of in the airport without adding to the pile. (Strollers, baby carriers, water bottles, actual children, etc.) One item per person ensures that you won’t end up leaving anything behind. Two times in the chaos of boarding, we have forgotten carry-on luggage at the gate! On time we had boarded the plane but were able to run back and retrieve the bag we left at the gate. Another time we were out of luck and my friend had to go to to the airport, retrieve the bag from lost and found, and UPS my kid’s clothes and diapers to me overnight. In the case that your bag actually makes it on, you also do not want to be giving yourself an aneurism trying to jockey for an overhead bin to shove your carry-on in while seating kids and juggling All The Other Crap. There are literally only two places to herd kids to on an airplane: a seat or the aisle. Just keep that in mind when you think you’re going to save money bringing three carry-ons! When we travel, I take a diaper bag and sling, David takes a backpack with our electronics, and each girl takes a backpack with a change of clothes ands snacks. We board and go straight to our seats. For everything else…pack out a huge ol’ suitcase and check it!
3.) Tag and identify as much stuff as you can before you leave the house. Names, addresses, phone numbers, red yarn, yellow ribbons, orange flags. No one wants to be losing a kid’s luggage! Doing a full luggage ID job in line at the ticket counter is a recipe for meltdowns. (TIP TO SELF). Last time, I filled out nine different ID tags for all of our stuff when we were in line while my girls were crying to go potty. I have never remembered to do this before hitting the ticket counter, but there’s always next time!
4.) If you want to make your flight, work backwards! Calculate for things like LINES. Think about navigating parking garages, long lines at the ticket counter, waiting for elevators (you won’t be able to do the escalator), security, long bathroom lines, lines at food places and time for getting on and off plane trains. Then add things like nursing, diaper changes and an extra twenty minutes for unforeseen emergencies. Bathroom breaks are scheduled and mandatory on our itinerary. At every possible turn we do a mandatory group potty break. I bribe with fruit snacks when I need to. If your little one is afraid of public or airplane toilets, a foldable kid’s potty seat is great to take along. At times I have also made them wear Pull-ups as a back-up or whipped one out of my bag when it seemed like a kid just couldn’t bring themselves to go in the public restrooms. Because we can’t always wait twenty minutes for the stars to align so a kid can go! (We sit in the very back of the plane so we have quick access to the bathrooms and avoid the awkwardness of trying to find a place to stand in line.) The Flight Tracker app has been our life saver, helping us remember exactly when our flight takes off and giving us up-to-the-minute information about delays.
5.) Entertaining kids on flight should be SIMPLE. SO simple. Burn your Pinterest “cutesy activities for travel with kids board.” I have done this many ways and at the end of the day, you need two things: Snacks and an electronic device (something per kid is nice). Everything else just falls on the floor, gets lost, and becomes your nightmare to keep track of. Airplane time is treat time for our family. With our kids, we are MILITANT about not allowing them to use iPads or electronic devices at home. (Not so much with TV, but we are working on it). That way, it’s a huge novelty on the plane. It’s a grand scheme. We load the devices with games and movies, hold them off until about an hour or so into the flight, and then let them go to town. Don’t blow your wad waiting at the gate or taxi-ing in the runway unless your plane is delayed or something. I also pack 3x as many snacks as I think we will need. When traveling, snacks are purely for entertainment. I buy special treats like granola bars, trail mix, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies and fruit snacks. I parcel them all out in little baggies and put them in their individual back packs and pull them out at regular intervals. Instead of toys, we also do talking/singing/stories/silly games when we need to. About the only exception to this would be a lovey for naps. And to be honest with you, once mobile, my kids have either not slept at all or only taken short thirty minute naps on planes. So pretty much come prepared for them NOT sleeping on a flight. Think of sleep as a bonus. The eight to eighteen month stage is probably the most difficult to keep entertained because they want to move around, but aren’t old enough to care about being contained with screen time. My best tip for that age is a plastic cup from the flight attendant. (A seasoned flight attendant introduced this idea to me and it works for at least an hour every time!)
6.) Baby gear…I always get a lot of questions about gear. Carrier or stroller? Umbrella stroller or full twin? No gear at all? I like traveling light in my most aspects, but as far as gear, I prefer both a stroller and a baby carrier. The carrier gives me free hands and a way to put a baby to sleep on the plane. (They are so easy to stuff in a bag or stroller basket.) The stroller gives me a place to put tired or slow toddlers when we need to hoof it down a terminal. I have traveled twice before with feverish littles and having a place for them to lay down and sleep when stuck in an airport was a major life saver. It’s also nice to have a rolling device to throw bags on and hold things like drinks. Our twin City Select with glider board breaks down into multiple pieces, so it’s a huge ordeal to tag and disassemble at the gate, but for me it has always been worth it. Alternatively, I often see parents with loaded umbrella strollers, which I think is a great option if you can get away with something smaller. If you bring your stroller to the gate like we do, the airline will want to tag every piece with a hot pink tag so they will know to bring it up for you when you de-plane! You’ll also have to break your stroller down at the end of the tunnel so it can be loaded below. (Ours in twin mode is like four pieces when broken down). This can be awkward and we always clog up the boarding line during this drill, (which really stresses my polite husband) but hey, everyone will live.
7.) BE SO AGGRESSIVE. (Which also stresses my polite husband) I have learned the hard way to be aggressive and ask lots of questions to airport personnel. The airport is not a time to worry about if you are inconveniencing someone by asking if you can go in front of them. It’s also not a time to wait for someone to tell you what to do! As soon as I get to the gate, I go straight to the ticket counter. I tell them I am traveling with kids and a stroller. Do they want to tag my stroller? When do we board? Can I stand right here until it’s time? I do it every time. Procedures for families can differ slightly between airlines and whatever agent happens to be on duty that day. You’ll be surprised how many ticket agents will look at you like you are an extraterrestrial and have to call another ticket agent to find out what to do with you! When it’s boarding time, we walk right up to the front with our entourage, saying things like “Oh, excuse us, ma’am, we need to get to the front.” Don’t be the last one to board, it’s not fun.
8.) If you are doing an infant in arms, make sure that you bring a birth certificate. Yep, some overly responsible ticket agents will want to ID the age of your infant to make sure you are not sneaking on a small two-year-old. Last time, I did not know this because apparently I’ve never had a truly responsible ticket agent before! I did not have Evy’s birth certificate and he threatened to make me buy her a ticket. Until he looked at her and had to let me go on account of she was obviously NINE WEEKS OLD.
9.) TSA Precheck…GET IT. It’s $80 and a morning of boringness at the TSA office in your area, but so worth it, especially if you travel a couple of times a year and/or with multiple small children. You can literally walk right through security with a loaded stroller, liquids in your bag, laptops, shoes and jewelry on. Kids under twelve can go with you under your pass. The TSA has relaxed a lot about things like removing kid’s shoes, but this was still a huge help for me not to have to put all our stuff on a conveyer belt and break down the stroller. (No matter how relaxed I am, my kids get super anxious with the process of their stuff being taken away and scattered at the end of a conveyer belt. Don’t we all though.) Once approved for precheck, you will get what is called a “known traveler ID number.” You have to add this number to your ticket at the time you purchase it! Otherwise, you will not be able to use your pre-check. Tip 9 learned the hard way.
10.) When packing for the airport, think less in terms of cute Pinterest activities and more in terms of things you would not want to be stranded without for 12 hours (or however many.) Aside from snacks and electronic devices, here are some of the necessities I always bring: changes of clothing (full changes for kids, shirts for parents), medicines like Motrin for fevers and ginger chews for nausea, a family water bottle (yeah, yeah, we share germs), tissues, wipes, light sweaters, and a light blanket. (I am very blessed that none of my children have motion sickness, or we would be in trouble!) These are all things we have used a lot in airports. Funny as it sounds, bringing my Kindle and some chocolate has also helped me keep my morale up when traveling! I can read something interesting on short breaks when kids are sleeping or being entertained with a movie.
Well, then. There you have it!
I suppose this post kind of shoots down some people’s romanticized hipster ideas of “not slowing down their lives for kids” or “showing their children the world at a young age” or “seeing the world with their little ones skipping about at their side”. (I mean not that I’ve ever thought those things.)
In all seriousness though, don’t let it bring ya down! Travel with kids isn’t a vacation (it’s taking a trip), but it’s oh, so worth it. The look on my parent’s faces when we step off that elevator at Hartsfield Jackson makes it worth it every time. Practice makes perfect! The more you do it, the easier it gets. I hope these hard-earned tips will help you enjoy your next flight with kids!
SAFE AND HAPPY TRAVELS!