Eight Tips for Traveling with Little Kids
Tip #1: Pack in advance
The number one tip I found to be most helpful is BE PREPARED! Does staying up all night the night before I travel help me? Weirdly, yes because I feel so much calmer during the chaos of travel. Have I learned not to procrastinate? Sort of, but I know I'm getting better at it every time I travel. This last time, I started my kits 2 days before since I had made my packing lists a week before and had already finished packing 3 days before. Huge accomplishment for me because I really do procrastinate when it comes to packing.
Tip #2: Understand and acknowledge your kids
The 2nd most important thing (well this could be a tie for 1st)- listening and knowing what's going on with your kids. I've found that my kids behave well on planes because I really focus on listening to what they are feeling and observing what's going on with them. Does this always work? Definitely not, I've had my moments where my daughter cried for almost 2 hours while I had to have my son watch episodes of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood to handle a flight. I've had to accept help from strangers so that I could attend to my son's bathroom adventures (when traveling by myself).
But what I learned and knew was that timing and listening made a big difference, especially with toddlers and babies. Why was my daughter screaming? Over exhaustion. Why was my son upset? He wanted my attention because I was solely focused on my daughter. Looking back, I realized that some things you can't control. However, what helped with my 2 1/2 year old son at the time was acknowledging how he was feeling. Telling him "I know this isn't fun hearing your sister cry and not having me to do fun things with you. I want to do fun things with you too! This is hard isn't it?!" Once he heard me acknowledge his feelings, he perked up. And I learned to ask for help (not just from strangers) but from my 2 1/2 year old. I told him, "as soon as I get Chase to sleep you will get special mommy time." The key - follow through. He started watching his shows and I was able to focus on my daughter.
Tip #3: Prepare activities
Having activities to keep your kids entertained can be very helpful. I got Ryder his own carry on- I'm obsessed with Trunki Travels' rolling car carry on. I got the yellow cab (Ryder loves cabs ever since visiting NYC) and I fill it up with activities. The carry on also comes with an attachment where a parent can pull the suitcase while the child rides it. It’s great because he uses up a lot of energy riding it all around the airport.
I put the following items in the carry on:
- Activity Boxes
- Start with a plain metal lunch box (most of these items I got from amazon or my local arts and crafts store).
- Use a green lego base- make sure it is big enough and you can just measure/cut to fit the top of your box. Use a glue gun to secure it on the box
- Get some legos and put in a sandwich size Ziploc (that tends to be enough)
- Add a bag of beads and pipe cleaners, which were the perfect thickness and apparatus to string the beads- stringing beads really helps with fine motor skills (specifically the pincer grasp), colors, counting, and of course entertainment
- Get foam magnets and put those in a ziplock bag (open the lunch box up and you have a magnetic board.)
- Next up is car tape (which looks like a road). Simple but so amazing! I match this with some cars by Plan Toys- good quality and small enough where they don't take up too much room.
- Then I add some stickers (which can be placed on the bottom of the lunch box)
- Playdough, finger puppets, a small slinky, stamps, a small sketch pad, and this cool crayon that is basically 5 crayons in one (found at a local toy store).
- Also temporary tattoos were a lifesaver for me coming home- this kept Ryder busy for almost an hour. Granted his arms and legs were completely covered, but hey whatever gets us through a flight.
- Melissa and Doug puffy sticker activity books (love these!)
- Munchkin snacker cup and fill with large Pom poms- they love taking them in and out.
- Extra cars in a ziplock bag
- Pegboard with pegs
- Change of clothes
Aside from all the activity in the carry on, you can also ask the stewardess for 5 cups. Think of as many ways you can to entertain your little one to make it interesting for you. My daughter Chase likes to stack them up and down, and decorate them with stickers. You can also use them to play peek-a-boo, cover your nose and say "where’s your nose?", pretend they are crowns, etc.
If all activities fail to entertain them, I have an iPad filled with pre-approved shows/episodes. I love Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow.
I also pack an extra ziploc of different legos, stickers and play dough for the plane ride home (these go in my checked luggage). Those are the items that tend to get lost/destroyed.
Tip #4: Prepare snacks
Snack boxes are also key. Now it depends on time of day, length of flight, and how nice the security agents feel that day for certain items. I love the Innobaby stainless steel snack plate with plastic lid. It's not bulky and has 5 separate compartments to let the child choose and be empowered. I typically fill these with items that aren't too messy for a child, such as:
- Seeded crackers
- Berries or melon
- Sliced grapes/tomatoes
- Homemade muffins
I bring the hummus separately. I've been stopped a few times about my hummus, almond cream cheese, you name it. However, when I calmly explain that these items are for my children and they have special diets and I'm happy to have them test the items, they typically let it go. I've also found that being gracious and understanding of what the TSA agents have to deal with on an everyday basis is super helpful.
I also bring snack size ziploc bags of my ICE snack bags (in case of emergency😉) filled with:
- Sweet potato chips
- Almond crackers
- Dried fruit
- Sandwiches with sunflower seed butter, a drizzle of honey, sliced bananas, and a sprinkle of hemp seeds (so I know they are getting some protein). This time I used Lundbergfarms red rice and quinoa stackers.
Tip #5: Prepare meals for longer flights
If traveling on a longer flight, then I pack separate lunch boxes for actual meals. For Ryder I like the PlanetBox Easy lunch box. It is big enough to support his appetite, has separate compartments, and seals nicely to where items don't shift. The only con: it's a little heavy but still worth it, in my opinion. The one I use for Chase is the PlanetBox Eco-Friendly lunch box. It's small, compact and has 3 separate compartments and is big enough to support her appetite.
I like to fill these with items that aren't super messy. I used Tolerant red lentil pasta, steamed broccoli and peas. I also gave Ryder some leftover vegetarian chili because he specifically requested it. My kids like the pasta plain but it's super easy to add sauce or grated cheese or nutritional yeast, etc.
How do I store all of the food? Well, I bring a cooler rolling bag and line the bottom with ice packs. Stack snack plates/lunch boxes depending on when you will use them so it's easier for you to pull them out. You can also slice some grapes and freeze them in snack-size ziplock bags and use as ice packs too.
Finally, I bring a rolling carry on bag with all of my extra snacks and toys for Chase (books, cups with lids, finger puppets, doll figures that bend).
Tip #6: Pack gum
Gum is such a treat if they don’t get to have it at home. Chewing gum can help with avoiding ear pains due to the change in altitude on planes. Plus, it’s fun because they never get to have it. However, sure your child is old enough and able to understand that they can’t swallow it.
Tip #7: Make your kids a “ticket” in case they get lost
Once you are at your destination, if you are going out with your little one there is something important I do. I take a business card from the hotel and write my cell phone on the back as well as any allergies. I tell my son, if he ever gets lost, to find someone wearing a uniform and to say he’s lost and to hand them the business card. I also review with him what I mean by uniform and tell him to go into a store. Luckily he’s never had to use this but he liked having his “ticket” in his pants pocket whenever we went out.
Tip #8: Bring window clings
Last thing! Window clings are great for the window seat (which you should always get for kids), and also hotel windows or when staying with friends. They peel off easily and they are entertaining for kids!