Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Witch Mom's Tips to Traveling With a Toddler

As a new mom, I turned to many people and websites before this trip for traveling tips. I was unsure what the airlines were going to do, what gear I would actually need, and how my child would react to the new places and people we were going to encounter. I encountered contradicting advice in so many places, that I often had to guess what would work best. Some of my guesses were right on (after all, who knows Rowan better than his parents?), some I was wrong about. While my tips may not work for everyone, I wanted to share what I learned on this trip!

Air Travel:
1. Buy an extra seat if at all possible for your child (even if they are under 2), rather than assuming that only the adults will have seats and the child will be on a lap. While a newborn would do fine in a Moby wrap for the flight's duration, a toddler would be a melty screamy mess that way.

Find out in advance if the plane has two or three seats in your row. Our first flight was optimal for a family of three- three seats, so we could sandwich Rowan between the two of us. The second leg was not too great- two to a side, so one of us was out of his sight, causing him distress. He did not like that. Even if you cannot control the seating with your choices, you can prepare mentally and strategically for what is ahead.

2. Do not bring the carseat onboard- gatecheck it. Many people swear by bringing the carseat on board and strapping the kid in it for the duration. That would not work for us, at least on this trip- here is why: We were not only flying to our destination, but doing two quite long car trips after. Rowan dislikes long jaunts in the carseat anyway- this would have created instant meltdowns by the second leg of the trip. Additionally, the seats on an airline are so crowded anyway- and carseats are so bulky. Maybe if we were smaller people that would be OK, but I want as much space as possible. So the 3 in 1 harness worked so much better for us.

I hate the carseat!
3. Bring a non-stop cavalcade of healthy snacks and new small toys. The airlines have a ridiculous 3 oz. limit on liquids (which limit many brands of squeezer snacks- the only one I could find at 3 oz or under was Ella's Organic Kitchen. The were labeled by their colors: "The Red One", etc.). But they do not have a similar limit on solids. So we bulked up on organic yogurt drops, Trader Joe's fruityflakes, Cheerios, and of course, Goldfish Crackers. (Goldfish are Rowan's favorite, and he will do anything for them.)

4. Bring a 3 in 1 harness that folds up (link above and below). This was a great investment which we will use and keep in the diaper bag from now on. It is a small package when folded up, but flips out of its carrying case to create a harness for seated children. You can attach it to a big person chair, a high chair or shopping cart with no restraint belt, or even your own lap.

5. Make friends with your seat neighbors from the start. On the first flight, we allowed Rowan to charm his neighbors as early as the gate, while we were waiting to board. You can suss out who likes cute kids and who is a curmudgeon pretty early on, even before you are on board. You can determine who has kids themselves and is likely to be sympathetic if your kid melts down. While you cannot control who surrounds your seats, you can control which direction your kid focuses hir attention on. We sat behind two mean young women who scowled at Rowan from the beginning (even before he banged on the tray attached to one of their seats- ha!)- but behind us was a kid loving lady who made silly faces and played peek-a-boo. Guess which way we allowed him to face when he needed to stretch his legs?

Bedtimes went out the window!
6. Plan your trip for as few layovers as possible, or at least strategic layovers. Red eye flights can be the parents' friend. Of our options, we chose a outgoing flight with only one layover, which occurred at dinnertime. We ate dinner during our stay at the airport, then shipped out and hoped he would fall asleep during the second leg. Our trip home was boarding right around bedtime and was a red-eye- deliberately.

7. Find out in advance whether the airline you are using allows families with small children to board early. Ask for special boarding at the gate if you aren't sure. Most will allow that. Don't feel bad about asking for it- it is actually better for all passengers that anyone who needs extra time goes first, to keep logjams in the aisles from happening.

Car Travel:
1. Bring your own carseat, don't get one from the rental companies. Even though it is tempting not to have to schlep a big thing like that in addition to all the other stuff- don't skimp. Make sure the seat is packed in a well-padded bag so the cargo people don't damage it in transit. I considered renting a carseat from the car rental company- for about 10 minutes. When I asked the car rental folks what the carseats were, they could not tell me what make, model or year of manufacture. They would not guarantee that they had never been in an accident. Not a good sign, frankly.

2. Snack cups, sippies, bottles, and small toys on tethers. Rowan chucks his items, then has remorse. Not always can mama or papa reach it in a moving vehicle. The tethers like this one allow him to keep his items.

3. Travel at night if possible (So a toddler can sleep away the travel), or break up the trip for small trips of 3-4 hours with hours off driving in between. Map a course that takes longer, but makes daytime travel bearable to short attention spans.

4. You may need to be backseat company for your child. Sometimes, it is unreasonable to have both adults in the front seat and have a rear-facing toddler alone in the back. Plan to spend time back there.

5. Music is your friend. Remember to bring your kids faves on an iPod or CDs. It soothes the savage toddler!

We brought an umbrella stroller which was used mainly in the airport. It was gatechecked before we boarded. I found a great bag for just that purpose. The rest of the trip, it stayed in the rental car. But it was worth bringing it for the airport alone.

We brought a carseat, which was thankfully checked for free as baggage- it was not counted against our allowance when we flew on an airline that charged per bag it did not count as something to pay for.

We brought a 3 in 1 harness (we used this on the plane and on a booster at Nanny's house in lieu of a highchair), which straps to a seat or a person's lap to keep a child restrained.

We brought a walking harness and leash, which is great when your toddler needs to get their ya-yas out and is tired of the stroller, but you need a little more control- like in a crowd.

We brought an Ergo baby carrier, which we used when Rowan was too tired to walk on a hike, but a stroller would not have worked on the terrain.

We also brought a few of his favorite toys. Since we were visiting grandparents on the second leg of the trip, we knew there would be gifts. So just a few to get us through worked. These were in addition to small toys for the airplane (which he had never seen before). When he gets older, I plan on getting him one of these.

Boopy in his tent
We brought the Booper Tent, which we are working on getting him used to for trips, overnights and camping. While he never slept in it, it folds so small that I fit it in a suitcase. I hope that he'll get so used to it and seek refuge in it later. It was worth bringing it, even though he only played in it.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I would have discovered that 3-in-1 harness when my son was younger! This is a fantastic post. While we have yet to take our children on a plane, we do do car trips. We are big fans of overnight travel (or setting out right before naptime.)


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