Top Travel Tips

Brace yourselves.  This is a long one!

People are always asking me how I manage traveling with small children, so, I decided to compile a list of my top travel tips.  I can’t take credit for all of these tips, because many of them were also passed on to me, or may just seem like common sense.  However, these are the tips that I would pass along, based on my own experience.  I hope you find these somewhat helpful for any future traveling you plan to do with the kiddos!

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Phase One:  Planning your Flight

1.) Kid-Friendly?

When choosing an airline, check out their policies for children.  Some airlines will offer a discount for small children, which might make purchasing another seat more reasonable.  In addition, a lot of airlines will fast-track families with babies (check-in, security, customs, etc).  When we flew Air France with Isla, we were fast-tracked through every line and checkpoint.  It made a huge difference in the ease of our travel.

2.) Baby on Board!

When you are booking your flight, make sure you request an infant bassinet, especially if you are traveling internationally.  A lot of big carriers have these clever little bassinets that actually hook into the wall in front of you (bulkhead seating only).  Because there will only be a few on each plane, you have to request those seats when booking.  Most online websites, like Expedia, don’t allow you to make this request online – so it’s better to book with the actual airline if this is something you want.  We had a bassinet when we traveled to Israel wih Isla (she was 7 months) and it was AWESOME!

3.)  Seat-Selection

Try to get an entire row for your family, with a window and an aisle seat.  If you are a gambler, and you only plan to book two seats, try booking the window and the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat unoccupied. If the flight is not full, it is very likely you will be able to use that middle seat without having paid for it.  In addition, when other travelers check which seats are available for selection, they are less likely to choose that middle seat.  Otherwise, always try to get seats nearest to the bathrooms, the bulkheads, or the emergency exits, for added leg-room.  However, it’s important to note that while these seats DO give you more space, they are also high-traffic areas, and it is usually colder in these seats as well because of the proximity to exits and doors.

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Phase Two:  How & What to Pack

1.) Organize your Carry-On…

Organize everything in your carry on in freezer-size ziploc bags. Have one for toys, one for food items, one for meds, one for extra clothes, etc. there is nothing more frustrating than trying to find a spoon or a soother in a carry on when your baby/toddler is crying!

2.) Ziploc Bags are your BFF…

As I mentioned previously – the large ziplocs are fantastic for organization.  You can also put your ipad/iphone in one and hang it on the back of the chair in front of you, using the food tray to hold it up, so your little one can watch shows (this is especially great on small planes that don’t have individual entertainment systems for each person).  Any size of Ziploc bag can also be used for all the extra garbage your baby is going to create in that tiny space you will be occupying.  And seriously – when the food cart is in the aisle, and it’s impossible to get to the bathroom to change your smelly baby – you will be glad for the extra ziplocs!

3)  Command Hooks…

For long flights and long layovers, buy a pack of Command adhesive hooks, and bring extra adhesive strips.  You can stick those suckers anywhere – on the plane, in the airport, on the back of the plan seat in front of you… the possibilities are endless, and I promise, there are countless reasons you might want to be able to hang things up (ie: sleep tent on plane or in airport, hanging up an ipad, etc…)

4.) Food & Snacks…

Pack TONS of snacks for your kids.  Not only is airplane food not very kid-friendly, but snacks also serve as rewards and distractions on long plane rides.  In addition – depending on where you are actually traveling to, those snacks might be what keeps your child fed until he/she is willing to sample new cuisine.  Travel friendly snacks include:  fruit roll-ups, indivudally-wrapped packages of crackers/small cookies, individual-sized applesauce, granola bars, trail-mix, dried fruit, and gummy candies.  Also – bring empty sippy-cups and spill-proof water bottles onto the plane with you. You can fill them up once you board and are a lot easier than trying to juggle all those plastic cups they hand out.

 5.) Bring that blankie…

Using a Command temporary adhesive hook, you might be able to rig up a little shade tent on the plane to help your little one sleep when the lights are on.  It’s also great to be able to spread it out in the airport so your little one has a chance to crawl around and stretch without being on the yucky floor.

6.) Nursing Pillows – not just for nursing…

If you are anything like me, you want to move as many people around the globe for as cheap as possible.  This means children are likely sitting on your lap/sleeping in your arms.  If you can, bring a nursing pillow. The shape fits perfectly on a plane seat and if you face it towards the back of the seat, your little one can sit in the center space and not fall onto the floor.  If you don’t have a seat for your baby/toddler, the pillow is great for when you are holding him/her and he/she falls asleep – it will SAVE your arms!!

 SIDE NOTE:  What NOT to bring…

If you have a small baby – DON’T bring a playpen or a travel bed for when you arrive at your destination.  A hard-shell suitcase works wonders for small babies! 🙂 Many hotels also offer complimentary cribs/cots for small children as well, and again, it’s often easy to build a bed using extra pillows, blankets, and couch cushions, if need be.

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Phase Three:  Travel Time

1.) Travel Fashion…

… an oxymoron if I ever heard one!  Chuck any notion of “looking good” when you get off the flight out the window and just plan to be as comfortable as possible.  Put your baby/toddler in layers for the plane ride. I have found that the temperature can really fluctuate and layers are easier than a full on change of clothes. Also better if there are spills – for you AND your kids!!!

2.) Baby on a Schedule…

In my experience, letting your baby stick to his/her normal sleep schedule is best.  Don’t try to keep your baby up later, hoping he/she will sleep on the plane.  This almost never works. It’s better to have a happy baby who’s awake, than a miserable overtired baby.

Let your baby drink a bottle during take-off and landing (or breast-feed), even if you’re worried his/her eating schedule will get messed up. Neither of my babies ever complained during takeoff or landing if they were drinking something. Gummy candies work well for small children.

 3.) Airport Cruisin’…

Buy a cheap, foldable stroller for in the airport in between flights, but make sure it has a few basics: drink holder, basket underneath, shade cover, etc.  When we travel Isla often sleeps in the stroller during layovers while we wander around the airport. Then she’s a lot happier on the plane.  If you have a baby carrier, like a Bjorn (or something similar), you can wear the smaller child and push the stroller at the same time.  In addition – those baby carriers are crucial for moments when you need your hands… which is basically all the time when traveling… checking in, security, customs, boarding, settling into your seats, frantically trying to gather up all your carry-on items in order to get off the plane…

4.) Long Layovers…

Track down a cloth highchair.  It’s basically a cloth contraption that attaches to almost any chair so your baby can sit and you can feed him/her. This is especially great if you don’t have a stroller.

5.)  All-Aboard…

When boarding for your flight, put your baby in a baby carrier so your hands are free.  Often, families with children are allowed to pre-board.  In my experience, this is a good thing.  I like the opportunity to get my family settled before everyone else boards.  However, if you have really active children, you may want to wait until the last possible minute to board the plane – especially if it’s a really long flight.

6.) Avoid a Deplaning Disaster!…

When preparing to get off the plane at your destination, don’t worry about trying to get off the plane quickly.  In fact, in my experience it’s better to be the last ones off the plane.  All of the people walking by are a fun distraction for your kids, and you won’t feel the pressure of anxious people waiting to disembark while you hold up the aisle with your many carry-ons and kids. In addition, the flight attendants are now free to help you disembark, and most will do so happily!

Phase Four:  Staying Sane on a Plane

1.) Activity Queen…

Pack lots of activities for your kids.  For small babies, pack soothers, teething rings, rattles, etc – anything sensory.  For toddlers and older children, some of the best travel toys I have come across include: mini-playdough, travel-size magnet drawing boards, flashcards, stickers, temporary tattoos, colouring books/crayons, and small surprise toys that your child has never seen before (ie: a new toy car, or action figure) which can serve as a distraction when nothing else is working.  And of course, there are a ton of options technology-wise.

2.) Techno Baby…

Don’t be ashamed to plug your little one in for a bit. If you have an iPad or an iPhone load it up with some great kids movies or interactive games. It may seem like a cop-out but it’s totally worth it, even if it’s just as a quick distraction to stop a crying baby.

 3.) Musical Chairs…

Kids get bored quickly on planes.  Heck, I get bored quickly on planes.  It might seem like a huge hassle, but if you have a toddler or small child, let him/her trade places with you throughout the course of the flight.  Isla loves looking out the window, but it’s better for her to be in a middle seat when she needs to sleep – and for a change of scenery, or if there are friendly people sitting across the aisle, let your kid sit in the aisle seat for a little bit.  You will all feel better having stretched and moved around a bit, along with that added bonus of a new distraction to entertain your child.

4.) Food & Snacks…

Remember – food and snacks can also serve to entertain, distract, and reward your little ones!!!  Try bringing a few special treats – gummy candies, suckers, etc.  Try to avoid really messy treats, like chocolate or jello, as these tend to melt and get all over everything.  And I do mean EVERYTHING!

Last but not least...

Don’t worry about what other people think; I was so worried when we went on our first trip and I never wanted Isla to cry (which is totally unrealistic!) ..most people really do understand! And most are even helpful. So do what’s best for your baby, not what the person behind you wants you to do.  At the end of the day, you will likely never see that grumpy passenger again, and remind yourself during tough moments…

“This too, shall pass!”

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