Tips for traveling with toddlers
A friend just e-mailed to ask me for advice, as she is taking her then 13-month-old across the country for Thanksgiving.
I researched the heck out of forums etc. when planning for our trip, and our flights went fairly well, so here’s my advice:
—Plan for delays. On our flight to CA, we were delayed on the tarmac for 45 extra minutes, which stressed me out because Jamie wouldn’t fall asleep until he had the white noise of the plane in flight. On the way back, we were delayed for an hour in the terminal but they wouldn’t tell us how long the delay would be, so we spent the whole time not knowing if we should feed them, or get them to nap, or what. On the cross-country flight, I prepared for probably three days worth of delays, and it allowed me a lot of peace of mind.
—Bring your carrier (bjorn, ergo, whatever) with you. Even though she has her own seat, if you have to bounce her in the galley like I did to get Theresa and then Audrey to sleep, it’ll be easier on your back if you have a carrier.
—Distractions come already built in to the plane! The seatbelt. The tray table. The emergency laminated card. The magazine she can rip to shreds. Bring some toys, but I brought too many.
This is what I brought on board that helped:
- toys that attached to the car seat so a) we didn’t have to use bag space, and b) they couldn’t throw them on the ground.
- lots and lots of snacks: cheerios, blueberries, cooked carrots and broccoli, banana-oat pancakes, falafel (I wouldn’t do this at home but I shamelessly used snacks to keep them happy, even when it was not officially snacktime).
- bottle (if you’re still nursing, no need for that)–we didn’t use it on the trip to CA, and Theresa had a really hard time with the descent into Seattle. We did use them for the cross country trip, and there was no screaming due to altitude change.
- a couple of favorite toys/books, and a couple of new ones for intrigue.
- layers (gets cold or warm on planes), and an extra change of clothes (some parents even bring an extra shirt for themselves in case they get vomited on; I did not bring an extra shirt nor did I need to).
- more diapers than you think you’ll need, and diaper cream if she is prone to diaper rash.
- empty ziplocks for poopy diapers and/or poopy clothes. I changed Jamie’s poopy diaper in his car seat during takeoff. Audrey had a blowout and I had to change her clothes at SF airport.
- changing pad for the plane bathroom changing table, which is surprisingly spacious given how tiny the bathroom footprint is, but is also hard plastic. Also, they can reach a lot from the table (the soap dispenser, etc.) so be prepared to be fast. Theresa threw her toy on the floor, so that had to be ziplocked for sanitizing later.
- a cover blanket to drape over the car seat to keep out light and add a sense of familiarity when you want them to sleep.
- a lovey if she has one, and pacifiers if she uses them.
- hand sanitizing wipes (we used them after each meal).
I was really stressed about them not wanting to stay put for so long, because they love crawling and walking etc., but I think they are used to the fact that they don’t get out of their car seat once they’re in it, so we tried to keep them strapped in as long as possible. Once they came out, though (like for a diaper change), they went back in without a fuss. I think it didn’t occur to them that they could crawl on the floor.
For the layovers, maybe some shoes so her feet/socks don’t get gross (speaking of gross, ours were crawling in the terminal area at SeaTac, and I was tracking the girls. I gave my attention to Theresa for a moment, and when I turned back, Audrey was licking the carts used for large amounts of luggage. Yuck.). Logan Airport has a play area that’s padded with tunnels and spinny things and I think every terminal in every airport should have three of them. It was a great way to work out the wiggles.
Finally, and I forgot to add this in the e-mail, chat with your seatmates before the flight. Some will be friendlier or more talkative than others but it made me feel so much better on the westbound cross-country flight to know that the guy sitting next to me replied to my pre-apology with, “Don’t worry. I have a two-year-old.” The guy sitting next to Alan said, “I’m one of nine kids. This is nothing.” It was important to establish a positive relationship early on because we had to make them get up a lot so we could get into the aisle.