How we make the journey a little less tearful for everyone. My tips for happy(ish) toddlers and relaxed parents on any travel adventure.
These are my recommendations from personal experience - the first 3 being THE most helpful tips I can offer any parent traveling with little ones. Hopefully this goes without saying, but I do not pretend to have all the answers. Every parent has been gifted the power of discernment for their own kids. This is just what has worked for me and my girls time and time again.
1. Be the energy
I'm a nervous flyer. It's completely irrational, but I obsess about alll the things that could go wrong. I assume the pilot's tipsy, the plane's faulty, we're headed into storms, other planes...everything. I feel anxiety from the moment I wake up on a travel day to the second the plane touches down, but I never let my kids know or feel it. The older girls are perfectly aware these days, that when I look cool and collected, I'm actually low key dying on the inside. They just tease me and go back to reading Harry Potter. If I had allowed my fear to rub off on them when they were little, I'm sure they never would've enjoyed flying or behaved well like they did. Instead, I've always approached travel of any kind with a sense of calm, humor and flexibility, even if I had to fake it. Kids feed off of us, so do your best to be cool, even if it takes a couple glasses of wine (when I'm not pregnant of course) or a guided fear of flying meditation on takeoff like me. No seriously, they have those.
2. Don’t show your cards
A mistake I made when I first traveled alone with baby Kaela was pulling out all the goods too soon. It left her overstimulated with nothing to look forward to once she'd blown through everything. Save your best toys, activities, lovies and snacks for when you really need them and try to space out everything as much as you can. On this most recent trip to Arizona, we didn't let Harlow know we had a fully charged iPad with Frozen 1 and 2 preloaded until the final hour of the flight. It was perfect for when she started getting squirmy.
3. Bring newness
Target. Dollar. Section. New sticker books, activity pads, color wonder no-mess markers, characters, magnet kits, temporary tattoos...I've even been known to carry on those little sponge things that expand into shapes and animals when you dunk them in water. Seriously, it's just water. Ask the flight attendant for a cup and your kid will be entertained for at least 30 minutes. Pick the activities that are small, lightweight, can be lost and won't make a crazy mess. The key is that they're new, so the kids are excited to explore things they haven't seen before.
4. Book them a seat, if possible
This airplane seatbelt has been with me since Kaela turned 18 months. I first used it when we moved to Florida from Colorado and it never missed a flight until Kendall outgrew it. I can't even tell you how many moms I've turned onto this thing. If you want a better chance at your toddler sitting still in-flight, this is the most worthwhile purchase. Book toddlers their own seat if you can and strap them in with this thing. They much prefer to be independent, at least my girls did. The lap baby thing never played out well once my kids were mobile.
5. Avoid the nap time trap
Never has it worked out where my kid napped soundly on a long flight. If you're one of the lucky ones, I'm jealous. I just expect that my kids will be slightly out of character on the flight and won't take great naps with all the distraction and uncomfortable positioning. It's always worked better for me to travel during my kids' most wakeful hours (morning flights are my first choice because you're more likely to be on time and the kids aren't strung out yet). I'd rather board the flight when the kids are in a happy, playful mood because by the time you land and get situated in the car or hotel room, they'll be ready for a legit nap.
6. BYO drinks & snacks
Pack a variety of snacks, preferably some with protein and fat to keep your little ones from crashing. Behavior is directly linked to nutrition. Finger foods take longer to eat which doubles as an activity, so we bring things like cashews, applesauce or smoothie pouches, plantain chips and her fav, Three Wishes Cereal (code KMARIAS gets you 10% off your first order). Try to also reserve a comforting sippy you know they'll look forward to on takeoff and landing. It really does help with their ears. Kendall suffered from ear, nose and throat issues for years, had tubes surgically placed & removed multiple times for chronic ear infections...the whole thing. This one simple practice even helped her to equalize her ears better in-flight. Harlow loves vanilla almond milk like I love my coffee, so we brought 2 full sippies on but didn't let her know we had them until it was time.
7. Expect movement & messes
You are setting yourself up for a really miserable trip if you think your kid is going to sit still and not touch anything. My advice: approach things with a much softer, more tolerant attitude than you would a normal day. Expect that they will need to move and they will get crumbs everywhere. It's ok. Who cares what the person across the row thinks of you?! You'll never see them again anyway. Bring more sanitizing wipes than you think you'll need to wipe everything down when you first board. You can't keep kids from touching everything. You just can't. A change of clothes (or two) is essential too. If you need to walk up and down the aisle, do it. If you need to take a dozen bathroom breaks, do it. Now is not the time to come down hard on your kids, especially little ones who are too young to be reasoned with. Travel is a really great teaching opportunity, but it's also survival so try to strike a healthy balance for your own sanity.
No bullsh*t in-flight essentials:
snacks & drinks
an assortment of new, lightweight toys & activities
a tablet fully charged & loaded
extra comfy clothes and layers in case they do want a nap
wipes & sanitizer
If this post helps just one mom (or dad) feel more confident, prepared and calm on their next getaway, I will have done my job. Happiest travels and make it fun ;)