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Traveling With Littles: Share Your Tips, Please?

Photo from Fly For Fun on Flickr.

I’m really looking forward to writing some hopefully helpful and informative posts about traveling with toddlers when we return from our trip, but right now I’m in brainstorming mode and would love to hear from you!

If you have tips or tricks for traveling by air or by train with toddlers, I would be so grateful for them. I’m looking forward to our adventure, but know that the long flight with a four-five months pregnant belly and a busy toddler on my lap will be no walk in the park. We start with a flight that’s about three hours long, followed by an equally long layover. Then it’s a 12+ hour flight followed by a layover of a bit more than an hour, then another hour+ in the air and forty five minutes or so in the car. Once we’re settled in, we’ll probably be enjoying at least one long train ride, but probably more. I’m expecting that we can find some ways to enjoy it all!

Here’s what we’re planning so far…

Annabelle’s grandmother sent her an adorable little backpack that I plan to fill with fun and novel things to do and some interesting snacks. At this point, I have collected a sticker book, an eye spy bag, and a few new books to read. I’m planning to make some fun and simple activities using lightweight materials like felt, and of course to bring along some art supplies. Fortunately I have a box of those on the way! I’m thinking there is no more appropriate time than this to introduce (organic and gelatin free) fruit snacks, and I’m brainstorming to come up with some other snack ideas that will be both tasty and interesting. Would love easy ideas for portable meals, too, as it has been years since an airline actually had the vegetarian meal I requested when I got on board, so I need to be prepared.

I’ll bring along our lavender essential oil and put a drop or two on my Mei Tai (the intended napping place) here and there, when we’re in need of a bit of calm. Sleep anywhere but the bed has been tough, so I’m thinking of trying Hyland’s Calms Forte and/or Valerian Super Calm or Chamomile Calm. I’m thinking of bringing some dried lavender flowers to make a weak lavender tea during the flight as well.

Packing light and wearing comfortable shoes and clothing (plus a change or two for Annabelle, just in case) are in the plans, as I know it will be a challenge to handle all of our stuff and Annabelle at the same time. I had good luck when Annabelle was an infant, with talking to the attendants at the gate before each flight, just to let them know I was traveling with a baby and would be so grateful if they thought another seat assignment was available that would make things more comfortable for everyone. I will try that again! Of course I did the same over the phone already, but sometimes there are better options just before the flight.

Here are some questions…

I am trying to decide on the best carry on bag. I hate my current purse, and have been swearing I’d throw it out and get a new one for months. I may get a new, large and easy to organize handbag, use my diaper bag, or go for a small bag on wheels to cut down on the number of things I have to carry on my person. I’m thinking the latter may not be the best thing, because it will have to go in the overhead and I want easy access to toddler entertainment throughout the flight. Do you have a specific bag that you find is both comfortable to carry and easy to organize items in? Have a specific carry on game plan that works well for you?

I’m struggling with the question of whether or not to invest in a stroller now. I definitely plan to bring along my current favorite carrier, but as pregnant as I’ll be, it would be nice to give my back a rest. I certainly don’t need to be weighed down by extra equipment, however, and it could be hard to manage a carry on bag, a stroller, and a toddler – even if said toddler is in the stroller. I was glad I didn’t bring a stroller when we traveled in the early months, but I’m trying to figure out the safest and most comfortable solution for keeping Annabelle with me at this stage. It’s tough since I can’t guarantee she’ll even be willing to sit in a stroller without loudly protesting. What do you think? Stroller or no stroller? I’m intimidated by how many options are out there, too, so if you have a particular stroller you love, let me know! I thought about buying a $15 umbrella stroller, and donating it along the way if it ends up not working out, but I’m not sure where I would do that.

The most common suggestion for toddler entertainment while traveling seems to be movies. While these are something I typically like to avoid, I’m totally fine with introducing them on an airplane. There really is no option besides sitting still for portions of a long flight anyway! The only option I have for movie viewing, however, is my laptop, and that’s a heavy item to lug around airports with us, nevermind the fact that I’ll have to worry about charging it (and both of my layovers are outside the US, so I guess I’d need a converter!) and taking it out to place it in a separate bin for security. Seems like it may be more trouble than it’s worth – especially since I don’t know how Annabelle will take to movies anyway, and we don’t own any DVDs, so I’ll have to purchase some specifically for the trip. Any thoughts? Is having movies totally worth the hassles I’m concerned about, or would you leave the laptop in the checked bag?

I would love to hear from you on other things you’d bring along, your favorite clothing choices for traveling, snack ideas, and anything else you have to offer!

24 Responses to Traveling With Littles: Share Your Tips, Please?

  • Laura says:

    Hi Melissa, I don’t know whether you know “counting coconuts” or not but Mari-Ann posted about traveling many hours some time ago. It might be inspiring, so I append the link here.
    Sorry not to have the experience to recommend anything…
    Laura
    http://countingcoconuts.blogspot.com/2009/09/activity-kits.html

  • Ali says:

    I travelled from Germany to Canada and back when I was 5 months pregnant and my oldest was almost two. I took a small folding stroller all the way to the airplane door, I didn’t want to carry her in her carrier for that long. I had one carry on bag, and I hung it over the stroller handle so it wasn’t too hard to manage. Don’t forget to pack and extra shirt for yourself! My daughter spilled her drink all over me and I didn’t have one, so had to make due with a lot of napkins. I had a portable dvd player with me, and luckily they didn’t make me take it out at security. Last time I went, I had a small netbook which worked well because it was light. Some airlines have the in seat movie screens which usually have a couple of kids movies and mine watched those over and over. The airline also gave out free coloring stuff, which was good. We flew at night, so the kids slept a lot. We had a deck of cards, which the kids played with a lot and some small books. My daughter also had a small dall and some clothes which she played with a lot. I don’t think she used most of the rest of the stuff I packed. I don’t really remember what snacks we had, dried fruit and rice cakes and crackers and things like that. Oh, and during layovers, i would recommend letting your daughter run around and climb as much as possible. One airport had a Mcdonalds play area, and at one, the kids climbed on some empty seating.

    • melissa says:

      My daughter is nearly 2 as well, and I’ll be 5 months on the return trip, so your scenario is very similar – I love the suggestions! Hadn’t thought about the fact that the stroller could be useful for carrying other things if I end up with Annabelle in arms or in the carrier. Good point!

      I had not thought of packing extra clothes for myself either. Such a helpful suggestion! Thank you, thank you!

  • Rach says:

    Ooh, I haven’t flown long-haul. But B loved looking out the windows on our last flight to Ireland. And we often use public transport as I don’t drive. Honestly it is fascinating for them. And A is such a sociable inquisitive girl she will probably love it, once she sleeps.

    But here are ideas
    1. Bag: My ju ju be all diaper bag is really light and comfy and great compartments. Mind you I got it really cheap on ebay. Have a cross the body bag to keep your hands free.
    2. Light Change of clothes/top for you – not pleasant to travel with sick on your top. Wear something with pockets. Maybe change her into her pyjamas to cue sleep time if it is a night flight.
    3. I’d get a cheap umbrella stroller and practise with her beforehand. Or try a friends before you buy. If it comes to it you can wheel your stuff in the stroller and carry her! Or how about a Trunki http://www.amazon.com/Trunki-Melissa-Doug-Sunny-Orange/dp/B003H7HUHO rather than a stroller. She can ride on it.
    3. Lots of fiddly snacks (pumpkin seeds, raisins, even linseeds?) to take up time
    4. Window seat so she can look out
    5. Board last to maximise running around time
    6. Tire her out at the airport, walk walk walk or evn bring a beach ball to blow up
    7. Blanket/pashmina and small pillow
    8. A large empty bottle to fill with water
    9. Something for her to eat/drink for take off/landing – mind you you can just nurse
    10. Lots of walks up the aisles and trips to the loo to wash hands?

    Have fun!

  • Rach says:

    Sorry i forgot to copy and paste this back into the comment as I tweaked it a little:-
    Re laptop – do you have a smartphone? You could download child apps onto it or movies.
    11. Childsize earphones and practise beforehand

    • melissa says:

      Your suggestions are excellent, and I love the simple encouragement – I think you’re right that there’s so much to see, she’ll be fine! I hope that I’m right when I suppose my attitude going into the trip will set the tone. If I’m relaxed and excited, she probably will be, too, and with all this great advice to prepare me, how can I not be? I’m sure there will be challenges and meltdowns, but I see no reason why we can’t just have fun together.

      No smartphones here – my cell looks like it came straight out of the year 2000 ;) The techiest thing I have is the Kindle. Maybe I’ll see how she responds to children’s books on there! Adding earphones to my list, too … will look for some of those this weekend :)

  • Anna says:

    I think a buggy of some kind is essential. Even if A hates it and you only use it at the airport it will be absolutely essential. Unfortunately, airports are not toddler friendly and if you are doing this trip without your husband then there will be times when you need both your hands and your attention on what you are doing, You simply won’t be able to manage if you are also trying to keep Annabelle standing right next to you. A cheapy one will do!

    Other than that my only other area of help is food. Have more than you think you will need because the potential for needing it when there is none available is huge! Pack it into little pots – even if you have to use plastic and make some of it fiddly – raisins and little crackers, as they keep littles occupied for a while. Also – don’t forget that you can’t take much water on board!
    good luck!!!

    • melissa says:

      Thanks, Anna! I’m going to look into strollers this weekend. I will definitely bring my wrap along as well, which will allow me to put Annabelle on my front or back and be hands-free … I’m just thinking I may want a bit of personal space and a break for my back at points, too, since we’ll be up close and personal during the flights :) I’ll see what they have on island, and how Annabelle responds to being buckled in.

      Love the idea to put snacks in small individual containers. That will be easier than trying to have large bags of several things within reach all the time!

  • Luscious.lea says:

    I have a spirited child so sitting still is a hard enough feet at the best of times! When we fly I make sure I have my iphone loaded with kids apps and movies, a small new toy or two, snacks, pencils and paper, stickers, his plush toy plane and a spare set of clothes. That will usually keep him entertained for 10 minutes…….

    • melissa says:

      Haha – I love how realistic you are! :) I definitely want to look for a toy plane now!

      • Luscious.lea says:

        My son has been on at least 12 planes (that I can think of on the top of my head) he’s been flying since 8 weeks and a few times I’ve done it without husby along to help with the distractions.
        His plane is a Qantas toy, I let him pick one new toy in the airport shop before a flight, of course he picked the most expensive item in the shop! lol

  • I have a lightweight string backpack that I like to use when travelling. I just put the things that I will need most during the flight in it, then keep it by my feet. The rest of the stuff (i.e. extra clothes, or maybe things for the layover or next flight) goes in the bigger diaper bag. (Hopefully the string backpack can fit in the bigger one, too, but there was a large stuffed duck that Gus got for Christmas in its place this last trip!). I find this really useful if sitting in the bulkhead seat, because you can’t keep anything at your feet during takeoff, and this way you only need to grab one small bag out of the overhead and it has all you need. Also, if you are in the bulkhead seat where the infant cots are, some cots secure onto a fold-down table, which is really useful for play and storage during the flight. It does make it a bit harder to stand up, though!

    Make sure you have wipes or some sort of towel handy during meal times. With two people in those small seats, it is all too easy to knock food or drink over.

    Many airports have some sort of children’s area, so it may be worth finding out which gate it is at before going. Watching the planes drive around the airfield and get loaded with baggage/etc can take up a lot of time, too!

    • melissa says:

      I love the lightweight backpack idea. I’m thinking I must have something like that somewhere, and it would work great along with a wheeled carry-on if I end up needing one.

      Oh, and wipes! I’m going to add those to my list! I have never noticed a children’s area in an airport either. I will definitely look for that in advance! :)

  • Kel says:

    Love the idea of a string backpack to keep in the diaper bag! When we travel, we use large Land’s End tote bags as our carry ons, and I carry a large crossbody purse. I highly recommend crossbody! Makes it so much easier to carry. Most airlines will let you gate check for free EITHER a car seat or a stroller, so be aware of the rules. You can also check the car seat for free so that you don’t have to haul it through the airport. I like to wear comfy jeans or yoga pants, two layers of shirts, slip-on shoes, and a baby :) If you have a smart phone, an iPod touch, an iPad, anything like that, you can load movies or toddler apps to help you out. If you have a digital camera that takes videos, that can be fun to play with– tape the toddler saying something or making faces, and play it back. Endless amusement. Pack spare clothes and spare underwear for everyone in case your luggage doesn’t arrive with you.

    • melissa says:

      Great ideas! Thanks so much! Your travel attire sounds just right for me. I don’t have any of the techie gadgets on your list … if you know anyone at Apple, you can tell them I write a mighty fine review article ;)

  • Lyle says:

    Good luck with the trip, it should be fine. If not, we’ve all been parents of “those kids” at one point or another. Do try to be as hands free as possible. A crossbody purse is great. The times that I have travelled, my 2 year old didn’t want to be carried or in a stroller. I ended up getting a small backpack with a “leash” to keep him near me at critical times. (The leash became a must after one trip where check-in was moved to a very busy parking garage and I had 2 large suitcases and toddler to handle) For toys, a slinky is nice and compact. Introducing some finger puppets to play out a favorite book also worked well (we used The Very Hungry Caterpillar). A stack of nesting paper cups and paper for to use as blocks. Otherwise, there are many things at the airport that are very attractive to a toddler. Staircases, watching the airplanes land and take off, pushing luggage on wheels, putting the food tray up and down, playing with all the buttons on the seat, open and closing the window shade. Of course, stories about what to expect are free and lightweight. Oh, the snacks are great at take off and landing (chewing helps with the pressure changes). Good luck with everything. I have never travelled long distance but a friend who has said the thing that affected things the most was the person sitting next to her.

    • melissa says:

      Slinkies and finger puppets are brilliant! Those are two suggestions I have never heard and I love them! Paper cups and paper for building is also a great, lightweight idea. Thank you!

  • I’ve done a fair bit of travel and long haul flights with my now almost two year old. We live in the Isle of Man (near UK) and are from Vancouver, Canada. We’ve been back twice since moving.

    I hate to say it but… movies really do help with the long flights. My toddler likes to move and see things, can be quite distracting if it’s ‘sleep’ time for the rest of the cabin. While most of our long flights have had in-flight entertainment units, I found my toddler didn’t know/like what they had to offer for cartoons. So I loaded my laptop with the only show he really watches (The Backyardigans). Keeps him sitting and happy for quite a while.

    The other thing, you can’t have too many snacks! My son rarely eats much of the meals they provide on the long flights. Handy to bring some fruit, raisins and whatever else he’s into.

    Good luck! Those are some long flights.

  • Oh, re: stroller. I’ve been bringing a small collapsible one but when we have tight connections or are going through Heathrow (what a nightmare) I keep it folded up and put my son on me in the Ergo carrier. You can lose a lot of time waiting for elevators if you have your child in a stroller.

    I also ditch my handbag and bring a backpack. Essential for getting around quick and easy.

    • melissa says:

      Thanks so much for your advice. It sounds like you’re a seasoned traveler, so it helps a lot to know what has worked!

  • My post on tips for flying with toddlers is going up tomorrow/Monday ;-) And don’t worry about the pregnant belly ;-) I was just short of 6 months pregnant for our flights this week and Baby had plenty of room!
    Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama recently posted..A Quick View of the Business of the Black Market (LINKY)My Profile

    • melissa says:

      Thanks, Charise! Your post is great, and it’s comforting to know that your belly didn’t make seat sharing too difficult. I’m looking forward to our trip that much more now! :)

  • Terri says:

    Hey Melissa – sounds like you have really good ideas already and fab advice in the comments. I did a post on my top 10 travel tips after traveling alone with my 2 year old & 10 month old on a transatlantic flight with total journey time of 21 hours! http://onelovelivity.com/childofnatureblog/ten-top-tips-for-traveling-with-young-children/

    As for the stroller I’d definitely vote yes. I didn’t have one on the outward journey as I wasn’t sure the first airline would let me bring it. I used a second-hand stroller during my time away and then bought it through coming home thinking I could leave it if I wasn’t allowed but I was and it made life soooo much easier. Granted the kids didn’t want to stay in all the time but it was great for having all the bags underneath too.

    Happy travels – I look forward to your post after you’ve made the trip.

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