Raising children a few states away from family warranted a brazen attitude towards traveling with children at a young age, and often alone. My oldest took his first flight at nine weeks young. My second earned his wings at eleven weeks, (with 2 1/2 yo brother in tow). My mom has always offered to fly to me, to then turn around and help me fly to her. I always declined her help, because I knew the more I flew alone with my children, the easier it would get. And it did. Dexter flew on nearly 20 flights in his first year of life. Although they were mostly short one-hour flights from Chicago to Minneapolis and back, each trip was another notch in our solo mom-baby travel belt. On the trips that my husband was able to join us, I found myself asking him to stay out of my way during my flight-boarding process because I had my routine down so methodically that I couldn’t risk any break or interruption to throw off our flying ju-ju!
I am often eager to share my tips for flying with toddlers and babies, because the easier that first trip is, the more likely you will be to do it again and I strongly encourage those with small children to travel, travel, travel. If you have the means and time you will never regret the incredible memories made as a family that travels.
- Do a Mental Walk through in the TSA line and boarding the Plane. I plan out every step through the airport in my head before I get there to roll play the best case scenario. Example:
When I approach the conveyer belt in the TSA line, I’m going to keep baby in carseat until the very end. I detach the baby’s carseat from the stroller and set it on the ground. Send the stroller through, then shoes and jacket (I wear easily slip on/off shoes for one less step) then my bags, then lastly, I’ll take the baby out and fling the carseat on the conveyer belt, then on the other side, I will do it all in reverse, so the baby goes in the carseat first (placed on the ground, not the belt!) so that I maximize hands-free time while baby is strapped safely in carseat. I do the same with boarding the plane- if it’s cold in the jet way, I break down the stroller and put it in the travel bag, and carry it down the jetway to drop it off. I carry the baby/carseat in my other hand. Lay out the carseat travel bag and car seat on top of it. Remove baby and I can pull the travel bag up and over the carseat with one hand and leave it in the jetway. People often stop to help at this point anyway, but I’m already half-way done so I decline. Side note: while shopping for strollers while I was pregnant with my first, I went to Buy Buy Baby and tried out a whole lot. My main motive was a stroller that I could travel with on my own, including breaking it down one handed and carrying it down a jetway with a baby on my arm. Here are all the travel items I have used for the last 4.5 years Stroller (mine is actually an older version that folds vertically and is no longer available): Carseat that clicks into stroller, Umbrella stroller travel bag, car seat travel bag.
2. Use a Crossbody Bag
A back-pack seems like a great idea, until you have to stop in your tracks, flip the bag around the the front of your body, hold with one arm and dig with the other. A pretty tote with a fancy design and a couple pockets for bottles seams like a chic-mama way to travel until the first time you bend over to tie your shoe, or pick up the cup your baby just threw out of the buggy, or bend down for any reason and the entire contents of your bag spills out, or the whole thing just slips off you shoulder. At that point, I’m already sweating, and that seemingly minor annoyance is enough to push me over the edge. I have had the BEST luck with a crossbody bag of any size. Bonus if it has multiple pockets on the outside for easy access. You only need one free hand to slip in a pocket for passports, phone, ID, wallet, tissue, etc., leaving your free hand to hold baby, hold toddler’s hand, or hold your phone while you’re checking your seat assignment to make sure no one’s moved in next to you! Here are a few I love : Gophers, blackout bag, Petunia Pickle Bottom, this is the one I recently bought by Gucci and its magnetic closures are so convenient for one-hand free digging.
3. Time to Board: set the expectation for what’s ahead
With an older (2y and up) child, I would set the expectation before we board of what’s going to happen: the need to be quiet and respectful of others’ space, and since I tend to use fear tactics with my kids, if anyone acts out I threaten them that the pilot will come back to their seat and kick them off the flight. (Hardcore, I know.) The first thing I do when I get on the plane is reach for my sani-wipes (alway packed in an outside pocket or on top of the load for easy access), and wipe down every surface that my children will be touching. I learned the hard way that small children will inevitably get sick or get pink eye within a day or two of arriving at our destination because of plane germs. Once I started wiping down our surroundings on flights, these instances decreased dramatically. I then encourage the kids to look out the window (we are a window seat family as opposed to aisle seat). I’m not sure if this works better for boys than girls, but we can kill a solid 15-20 minutes watching other planes, buses, and trucks while taxiing, stalling the need to reach for the iPad, books or toys. Getting them excited to look out the window during take-off and landing also eats up a good amount of time.
4. Distraction, Distraction, Distraction
Sticker books, window stickers, flash cards, dollar store toys wrapped in tinfoil (takes longer to open) given every hour on long flights, mini memory card game, Ipad with linking headphones- see ours here- (this will only work if your child watches any shows at home. They are unlikely to be fixated by iPad if they’re not familiar with it.) I have been recycling the same 4 episodes of Sesame Street on flights for 4 years and my 22m old and 4.5 yr old both enjoy watching them together on flights. Snacks are a MUST, especially for a busy toddler. Little ones 18m+ will need a snack in their hands to keep them fixated longer watching something and to keep hands busy so they don’t grab the IPAD.
5. Dress Like a Boss, and Be Cool
I’ll never forget the best piece of advice I received from my cousin before the first time I flew alone with my kids, “dress cute, dress your kids cute, and people will jump at the chance to help you.” It makes sense. If you look like a stressed out mom who can’t be bothered to put herself together a bit for a flight, just rolled out of bed with hair in a rats nest and leggings and sweatshirt, people are likely to stay far away from that potential train wreck. However, if you dress comfortable but smart, you will “trick,” other passengers into thinking you know what you’re doing and people will be attracted to your confidence, and be willing to help (especially ticket agents when you’re looking for an open seat for your free lap infant!) Dressing smart boosts your confidence, other’s confidence in you, and in turn positively influences your children to be calm and confident on the flight. If you are stressed, your kids will be too by proxy. Try and remember to keep calm and cool in particularly hectic situations on travel day and your kids will follow suit. My go-to travel outfit is a T-shirt and jeans (or really nice black leggings for 4+ hour flights) with a blazer and trainers or flats. I dress my boys comfortably but cute in a matching sweatsuit/tracksuit (see above) like this one (layers because planes are cold!) and PLEASE PLEASE make sure your children are wearing socks and comfortable/warm shoes. I can’t tell you how often I see kids in shorts and sandals and babies in carriers with NO SOCKS or shoes! Planes are drafty and cold, even in the summer (blowing A/C!) and cold feet will make anyone irritable no matter what situation they are in!
I could go on and on about traveling with kids! What questions do you have about kid/toddler/baby travel? Comment below!