Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NBPM 18 - Travel Tuesday - Toddler Travel Tips

(c) 2008 Ms. Huis Herself at musenmutter.blogspot.com

Ok, I know I've posted about this before, but I'm going to collect some of my tips for traveling by air with kids right here in one place. I haven't flown (with or without child) for 19 months now, since we moved back from Ireland, but, hey, I figure I did it enough times, mostly alone with a toddler, that these might have some value to fellow travelers with kids. Plus, if we ever have any money left over from the House, I can keep these in mind for traveling with our own!

Plus, you know, NaBloPoMo filler and all...

In previous posts, I talked about some options for keeping your kids in their airplane seats,and here's a list of things I was packing in my carry-on traveling with a 23-month-old Pumpkin. I'd thought I'd posted more previously, but can't find it now. Oh well.

Ms. Huis Herself's Hopefully Helpful Hints & Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

Preflight Prep
Ok, depending on how completely tiny your child is, this might not matter, but for most of them, do a little pre-trip preparation by reading some simple kids' books about planes, trips, the airport, your destination, etc. It will make the airport, plane, and journey seem a little more familiar to them, and will give you a chance to talk about what to expect. Love your local library for this one or make a gift of a fun plane book to start the conversation.

When you're getting your tickets, ask where they're going to be. We were often put right near the bathrooms, which is a mixed blessing - more room, but more people standing in the aisles by you, which can be more noise. If you've got the first row of seats behind the bathroom, you've got lots of leg- and wiggle- room, but your stuff will all have to be stowed above your head for take-off and landing because you've got no seat in front of you to stick it under. Also, the tray tables in the arms aren't always as easily used as the ones in seatbacks.

Do a last minute diaper change(or trip to the potty) about 20-30 minutes before you expect your flight to begin pre-boarding. (Ask at the gate if you want to double-check that they will be pre-boarding families with small children and about what time that'll be.) Trust me - it's not easy to change a poopy diaper on the teeny-tiny fold-down diaper change spots in the airplane bathroom & you'll get serious stink-eye from the other passengers if you try to change a stinky anywhere else (on the floor, on your seats, etc.).

Cardinal Rule

Be nice to everybody around you - flight attendants, the people at the check-in desk or the gate, the security people, other travelers. They'll be a lot more likely to cut you some slack, plus sometimes they can help you out with getting your lap-baby her own seat, telling you if/where there's a play area at the airport (FIND IT! USE IT!), or maybe they'll just give you less evil-eye when your kid is acting up. Of course, be assertive, as needed, too, but politeness and a good attitude goes farther than you might think.

Carry-ons / purses / day packs
I think each adult in your group should have in their carry-on or purse, at a minimum:
  • one snack (cereal bar, etc.)
  • one new-to-the-kid gift- or tissue-wrapped small present or book
  • a largish ziploc-type baggie with a couple of napkins/tissues/paper towels inside it, and,
  • if appropriate, two diapers and a small pack (or ziploc baggie) of wipes.
Of course, depending on the length of your flight, you will need more of the above along plus a complete change of clothes for the child(ren), a small waterproof diaper changing pad, and at least a shirt for yourself, but just make sure everybody has those basics at a minimum. They don't take up much room, and you never know when you won't be able to get to a bag, or if you're traveling with someone else, which one of you will have the kid when there's a spill or spit-up, if you won't have seats together on the plane, if the line will be long and you need a distraction for your child, the meal service is delayed, whatever. This way you've got a snack, distraction, and clean-up available if needed.

Overnight diapers hold more and keep the little tushies drier - I'd only bother to bring those. While you can pick up additional regular diapers, wipes, etc. at your destination, pack enough to allow for delays and traveler's tummy issues. You can always make do with wetting paper towels for wipes, but you can't improvise a new diaper. Got a favorite diaper cream? Bring it.

Books / Toys / Activities
You're going to want some familiar favorites & some new ones along. If you've got some plane books or ones about your destination, bring those as long as they're smallish. Books with flaps, wheels, touch-n-feel, etc. are more fun than those without. Toys should be small and quiet. If it's going to be a night flight, consider a toy that lights up or small, dim flashlight for when they dim the plane's interior lights. Rummage sales, thrift stores, friends and relative with slightly older kids can be good sources for cheap or free new-to-you books and toys. Wrapping the new (or "new") ones, in gift wrap, tissue paper, or the Sunday comics makes them extra fun, plus you'll remember which ones they've been introduced to and which ones they haven't.

Practice up on some songs and finger plays, especially if you've got an under-two lap baby because you have to have them buckled in and on your lap for a LONG time for take-off and landing.

They're Going to Wiggle - Find a Good Place for it.
When you're at the airport before you leave or especially during a long layover, ask at the information desk or when you're checking in about play areas. (Also about family bathrooms, kid-friendly eating option, etc.) Take advantage of them! Kids NEED to wiggle and get some large motor skills exercise and have a chance to PLAY sometimes. Finding that play area will help you stay sane and give your kid a chance to run (or toddle or crawl) around someplace other than between the rows of seats at the gate.

If there's not a lot of time, or the play area is in a way different terminal, or you need to stay near/at your gate, try to find some space to the side or out of the way of foot traffic, mark out the boundaries with your carry-ons, jackets, or spread out a blanket, and let them get at least a little movement or stretching there where they won't be in the way, tripping over other people's suitcases, or, let's be honest here, annoying some already-grumpy fellow passengers. Just keep the noise level down.

On the plane, when you're not going to be in the way of a meal service or post-meal/post-movie bathroom rush, occasionally get up and move around with your child. Let them walk around a bit in the extra space by the bathrooms or go up and down the aisle. If you've got the first row of seats behind the bathrooms, you could have enough room for them to play on the floor right in front of your seats.

But sometimes they can't be moving around on their own!
I'm a big fan of leashes on walking-but-no-impulse-control-age kids for airports. You may think they look like you're treating your kid like a dog, but you know what? You have to take them out of the stroller to send it through security... which is also when you're trying to manage all your stuff and send it through the X-ray machine, take off your shoes, keep track of your tickets & ID, etc. And kids? THEY MOVE FAST! Leashes are especially priceless when traveling alone with a kid 'cuz you just do not have enough hands.

Definitely do an umbrella stroller, too, for fast walking to your gate, holding a napping child (oh, you lucky thing), or wheeling along your carry-on while your kid gets some exercise walking with that leash on. However, make sure you get a gate-check tag thingie for it - somehow we didn't get a tag one time... and never saw the stroller again. Which sucked, because I needed it for traversing the length of O'Hare. Fortunately we had enough time I could go right to the baggage help desk, complain (politely!), and get a new (cheap, but hey, that was fine!) umbrella stroller from them right then and there.

Kids have little tummies, no sense of timing, and sometimes food issues. Airlines are cutting back on meals and snacks and their timing sometimes doesn't work well with yours. Solution: lots and lots of prepackaged, healthy snacks. I know I mentioned in the carry-on section to each have at least one snack along, but seriously, bring as many as you can if you're going to be traveling for very long or you've got a fussy eater. Stick a box of raisins in your pocket, some cereal bars & fruit leather in your bag, package of almonds in your purse, whatever. You might be planning on having lunch during your layover, but your flight is late & suddenly you've got barely enough time to switch gates. Or you pre-board at 11, the plane finishing boarding by 11:30, you sit on the runway for an hour, then they won't be serving the meal until they reach cruising altitude, they start at the opposite end of the plane than you're on... you've got a starving kid and no food to your tray table until 1:30! Not a recipe for a happy kid!

Another option is to contact your airline ahead of time and request a special meal for your child, and maybe a vegetarian or kosher one for yourself. You see, special meals usually get served first! Granted, the one time I tried this, somebody messed up and the airplane was short like 5 kid meals from what they were supposed to have, so she had a regular one anyway. If you're getting regular meals, get one kind for yourself and the other for your kid; that way you've got more choices to offer them.

What NOT to Wear
Things that are tight, or difficult to change, or not comfy. You want layers of soft, easy to change, comfortable enough to sleep in clothes. Mix and matchable as much as possible with the spare set you've got in your carry-on (you DO have a set in your carry-on, don't you?), but comfort and ease are more important than matchiness. Keep in mind the weather at your destination, too, and do a light coat with sweater or bring hat, scarf, mittens, sunglasses, sun hat as appropriate. Also, airplanes get COLD up so high, so sweaters are good, especially if you've got germ-issues about the blankets or there aren't enough to go around.

Bonus Tips
You know how you're only allowed one carry-on and maybe a purse per person? And you've got it crammed full with all the stuff you need such that it's maybe a wee bit difficult to actually GET to some of it? Bring along a compact, expandable bag - like the reusable grocery bags that can zip or snap into their own pocket. Then once you're ON the plane, you can take the stuff you currently need out of your carry-on, stow that above your head, and use the now-opened-up extra bag to contain the toys and books that would otherwise be falling around underfoot.

If you're a germaphobe, well, you'll probably have along your child's own special favorite blanket anyway. Just tuck a spare pillowcase into your carry-on and you can cover up the possibly-skeezy airline pillow... or stick a sweater into it and improvise your own if they run out. I never did this, but it never bothered me much. I'm sure you'll have your own anti-germ-hand-gel-stuff along - just keep in mind what the size limits are on those and stick it in a ziploc to prevent spill-/goo-age.

Most importantly of all - keep a sense of humor and patience.
You'll need them. :) Good luck!

P.S. Have tips of your own? Please add 'em in the comments!!!

1 comment:

Syl said...

Don't bother packing your own reading material for the flight - you won't get to it.

Beware of beverages on tray tables - little feet tend to kick the bottom of the tray, sending your drink flying. This is why you carry extra clothes. I speak from experience.

With airlines charging now to check luggage, take only what you need. Purchase consumable supplies at your destination - diapers, wipes, formula, sippy cups, etc. If there will be gifts, pack fewer clothes and toys.

If there will be gifts, and with children there usually are, pack an extra, fold-able bag that you can also check. Even if you just put dirty clothes in it, it frees up space in your other luggage for new toys, etc. for the flight.