Written by Foundling Guest Blogger, Stephanie Kearns, Director of Business Operations
As our family gears up for our 4th trip and the first of the upcoming holiday season with our not quite 2 year old, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about traveling with a young one. I’ve heard every secret in the book to keep kids calm, distracted, and even asleep while traveling on a plane. These tips below apply no matter how you travel but some are tailored to a plane trip specifically as this is the most limiting way of travel and no parent is ever quite ready for what might ensue on your adventures!
Activities – I’ve chosen to limit the amount of screen time my child has while in transit to any destination and at home. I’m overly sensitive to the idea that a young child’s brain hasn’t quite developed to properly process the screen defined activities available. However, this is absolutely the easiest and fastest way to calm and distract a child so many parents rely on this in a pinch and I’m one of them. I want to offer some alternatives that give you similar levels of kid satisfaction without the guilt.
- Stickers. Listen, I don’t know what it is about stickers but they are pretty much the best thing in the universe according to kids. Our house is proudly littered with (easily removable) stickers. They are easy to pack too. Bring a small composition book and pack of stickers and count on your little one being occupied for a while. Create adventures on each page using different themed stickers. Don’t splurge for the $5 pack of 12 stickers at Container Store, grab the bulk options at a party supply store or the clearance bin at Target.
- Silly putty – unlike playdough which can be too sticky and fall apart more quickly. Silly putty is sturdy and easier to hold. You can make shapes and stand the newly created objects up on the tray table or car seat tray.
- Books – don’t underestimate the power of books in transit. Board books are usually easier to carry and there is less chance of a page being ripped out. Toddlers are in the development phase where the idea of repeating the same book over and over again is exciting for them as they recognize the next page before they see it. This can be exhausting on parents to re-read the same book 100 times but stick with it, try voices and sounds and prompt your child to fill in the blank with words so they can contribute to the story telling.
Products – There is no perfect travel product collection but there are some pretty great options out there to make things a little easier. I’ve travelled with and without my husband and when I was without him, some of these items were lifesavers! I have personally used all of these products.
- Ok this first one is a little pricey but if you are a regular traveler you will not want to live without this! Sit n Stroll car seat http://lillygold.com/ This is a super easy stroller with retractable wheels that easily store inside the unit with one handed action. This is most appropriate for 0-1.5 but I know they are coming out with upgraded designs for a little older and new colors. The cushioned material is easily washable, and the option of being able to pop your baby out of the rental car while fast asleep so you can run into a restaurant and grab a bite adds some extra adult time to your trip! You can also install in a plane seat if you can swing the extra ticket price – splurge if you are flying solo with a kiddo.
- The is my favorite option for kids between 22-44 lbs. It is a seat belt mechanism that is used with the existing seat belts in plane seats (THIS IS NOT FOR CARS!) http://store.kidsflysafe.com/ Bonus: they have a separate product to serve children and adults with special needs. Super reasonable and with the frequent Buy Buy Baby 20% off coupons, it’s a steal!
- Portable high chair. I recommend 2 different options. One that stands alone and another that fastens to any dining chair. This first is the Ciao Baby Portable Highchair, it works like the foldable park chairs that you can buy at your local bodega during the summertime. The other is the Munchkin travel booster seat. The second one gets mixed reviews online but I found it to be the best of the options with a 3 point harness and storage compartment in the seat giving it double use when not being used as a chair.
Planning – Try not to drive yourself or your loved one crazy. If you’ve decided to travel with a child, embrace it and get to a place where you feel relatively comfortable so you can reduce your and your family’s stress. Just own that you WILL forget something but as long as it is not your child or significant other you can pretty much buy anything you could possibly need!
- Booking travel at the right time, on the right day for the right price is daunting! Here’s the thing: You will not get the perfect plan in place so stop agonizing and save yourself some cash to use for a special treat at your destination by booking the cheapest at a reasonable hour! Traveling can dramatically change the nap hours of your child so don’t count on the perfect hour on the plane where they will drift into sleep. This happened once for us but due to all of the other travel discomforts she was cranky the rest of the day!
- Airport arrival time: check in and load up do require more precise planning on the day. You don’t want to arrive too early as you’ll be sitting in the airport for too long. Just go with the average suggestion time by the airport. Print your boarding passes before you get to the airport. Airport security are usually a little more lax when you have a kid cause they can see you coming a mile away and want you to get through fast. Have your stuff in hand before getting in line and take a deep breath. It is just travel with a kid, not the bar exam. Note: airlines don’t let parents with small children board early anymore but if you have to install one of the devices above, talk to the attendant and they usually allow you to board early.
- Hotel stay – try to find a room that mimics your set up at home. If your child sleeps in a separate room attempt to locate a hotel that has a door separating rooms to establish the same patterns. I recommend a hotel with guest laundry – no matter how much you pack, puke, spills, messes are even more frequent on vacation. Murphy’s law.
Embrace the mess, love the mistakes and support each other. Happy travelling!