Top Ten Tips for Tearfree Tot Travel

We arrived home from our vacation about a week ago, and I am still amazed at how well my children did. I expected meltdowns and drama, especially from the 3-year-old. But we only got smiles, excitement, curiosity, and perhaps a fuss here and there at the end (from the 1-year-old). I think a lot of it has to do with our kids’ personalities.

Hula Girl, the 3-year-old, is the incessant questioner. She is always wondering about anything and everything. And when she’s done wondering about what’s in front of her face, she thinks back to yesterday, a week ago, or even last Christmas, and asks us random questions about past times. “Mommy, when we met Mr. Chris and he was showing us houses, why did he drive a white truck?” (Folks, Mr. Chris showed us houses in May. She went to three houses that he showed us.) Needless to say, her mind was abuzz and quite occupied with all the things to see and think about.

Gelato, the 13-month-old, is just plain happy-go-lucky. He let us know he wasn’t too excited about riding in his stroller and car seat all day long, as he has recently learned to walk and wanted to try out his new skillz, but he was fine as soon as we got moving. He had a steady stream of snacks and he fell asleep pretty quickly once we got in the air or on the road.

Obviously everyone’s kids are different, so there will be some things that worked well for my kids that wouldn’t be so hot for every family. But some things probably have mass appeal. So without further ado and in no particular order, here are some ideas that worked for us.

  1. Glow sticks. My friend Jaclyn recommended this one to me and she is RIGHT. You can get these things from the dollar section in many major stores. Cheap, self-contained fun. All you have to do is rip open the wrapper, crack the stick, and give it a little shake. The only note here is to avoid using the blue/purple ones in daylight- they do not show up at all in the sunlight. Green and yellow glow brightest overall. We got several varieties- fat sticks, small “bracelets,” and even several smaller rods that connect and bend into a ball. Kids loved these. LOVED.
  2. Snacks. The key with snacks is to not give your children junk you wouldn’t normally give them. You don’t want an upset tummy on top of traveling stress. We stuck with apples, crackers, rice cakes, and granola bars. All organic. I did two types of crackers- one sweet and one salty. Honestly, the rice cakes and crackers were a bit too messy for my liking, but the kids were happy with the offerings. It really helped Gelato to be able to munch an apple during takeoff.
  3. Routine. We have a pretty regular routine. My kids get up at the same time every morning, and they nap and go to bed at generally the same times every day. They eat meals at the same times. Everything in between sleep periods and meals is generally in the same order. Give me a time and I can probably tell you what my kids will be doing at that time next Tuesday, within about 15 minutes. THIS HELPS TREMENDOUSLY when traveling. I scheduled our flight times to coincide with Gelato’s nap times so that we’d have the best chance of him actually falling asleep on the plane. He did, and other passengers were appreciative. We also stuck to our routine pretty much the entire vacation. We had two nights that were later nights than we expected. But we did not have severe behavior problems, with one notable exception- wait ’til you see the pictures of THAT one!!! HA! We were not stressed out, we were able to relax, and everyone had an enjoyable time because we knew what to expect. **I’d also like to point out that my in-laws are AWESOME and they respect and utilize our routines and schedules while we are visiting them. It really helps add to our fun and relaxation because we know our kids are well taken care of and they’re on schedule so they’ll stay at their optimum the whole time, too. It’s absolutely fantastic to have such support!!!**
  4. Surprises. Hula Girl was so surprised and overjoyed to be tasting her very first lollipop on our plane ride. We have never let her have candy really, so this was something she had truly been longing for. She always walked past the displays of the “World’s Best Lollipops” in stores and asked me if she could have one. I always agreed that they were pretty and looked good, but turned down her request. What a delight for her to open her backpack and find a pink strawberry shortcake flavored lollipop just waiting for her!!! (We gave it for her to suck on so her ears would stay clear. Worked like a charm!) Other surprises were things like a portable DVD player and an Elmo video, the glow sticks, and for Gelato, some small cars and animals he could play with.
  5. Pieces of home. Hula Girl had her blankies and Daisy, her bear, to sleep with. We also brought her Gro-Clock and her sound machine. Gelato had his sound machine and we brought one of his sheets to put on the pack ‘n’ play so it would smell more like home. We brought some of the kids’ favorite books and toys.
  6. Organization. I had a list that showed me every piece of luggage and exactly what was in each bag or suitcase. We carried on two car seats, a suitcase, and three bags. We checked two larger suitcases. My bag held all of Gelato’s plane essentials- change of clothes, diapers and wipes, snacks, water, and small toys- along with my own plane gear- a light sweater, my glasses (I never check these; I’d be lost without them), and a book in case Gelato fell asleep- and all our travel documentation- IDs, birth certificates, boarding passes, etc. Jonathan’s backpack held random electronic stuff like cameras and phone chargers, Hula Girl’s DVD player, a book for him, etc. Hula Girl’s backpack held her travel snacks, toys, and crayons. The carry-on suitcase had all our kids’ sound machines, Gro-Clock, and random extra things. Our checked bags held Gelato and Hula Girl’s clothes and Mommy and Daddy’s clothes. I was GLAD things were organized well. Plus I like lists.
  7. Plan ahead. Sounds like organization. But it’s different. And I was fortunate enough to marry into a family with a mother-in-law who indulges my whims and has a few of her own. Therefore we knew what activities we’d likely be doing, what we’d need for them, and what we definitely would not need to pack. We knew we needed lots of swim gear since there was a splash park nearby, but since we didn’t want to pack our (very expensive) sunscreen, we just had my mother-in-law get some in advance. She also got coconut oil and baby wash to make sure our kids’ skin was pampered and our clean clothes stayed that way on the flight.
  8. Talk it up. We made sure Hula Girl was SO excited to travel. We made it sound like an adventure for sure. We read books about traveling on an airplane and watched videos about going to the beach. We acted out scenes during which Daddy and I got stopped by TSA and were searched while we were getting to our gate. We reassured her that if TSA stopped any of us, none of us would get left behind. She practiced how she’d greet her relatives, and we talked about what to do if she couldn’t find someone she knew. (In case you’re wondering, we told her to look for a MOMMY WITH KIDS and ask for help. She can spell her name and she knows Jonathan’s and my phone numbers by heart. So that helps me feel more comfortable. We even practice “getting lost” a lot at home, just so she knows what to do and is SURE of herself in the event it happens someday.)
  9. …But don’t talk it up too much in advance. My daughter is a worry wart. (I have no idea where she gets it…) She gets VERY excited about things and she can’t sleep for DAYS in advance when she knows something is coming up. Therefore we did not tell her the exact date, but just kept conversation focused on what we’d do when we get there, and how great it would be to see Ama and Papa. We finally told her on the morning of our flight that THAT was the day we were going to see Ama and Papa. It definitely worked out for us.
  10. Expect delays and rudeness. When you’re traveling with children, SO much work goes into planning, organizing, corralling, carrying, and keeping everything (and everyone) together. Any task, from checking in to going through security to using the restroom to actually boarding the plane, takes about five times longer than it would if you were alone. And when you consider the bundles of energy and excitement who squirm and hop along with the massive amounts of luggage and the GIANT CAR SEATS you have to haul around… well… just know it takes a long time to get from here to there. At least 2 hours longer than you’d imagined at first. And other people are generally helpful… but some flight attendants can be downright snarky and rude. Especially the ones we flew with. We were interrogated several times on each flight- “Did you purchase tickets for your children? Are they supposed to be sitting there? Are your car seats FAA approved? I’m sorry, but I just need to SEE the approval sticker. I’ve never seen people bring car seats on the plane before. Are you sure you don’t want to gate check the car seats? Do you want to make sure to sit near the back so that other passengers aren’t bothered by your children?” And on and on. And do you know what?! There was NO NEED for them to be rude to us. We got in, we got out, our children were SILENT the entire flight (except for the one time Hula Girl burst out in a song from ballet class). Again, other passengers were very pleasant, offering to help carry bags and watch items for us so we could manage. But the flight attendants… wowie wow wow.
  11. BONUS TIP!!! Purchase tickets for your children. Even if you don’t do the car seat thing (which I am vehemently AGAINST but whatever), at least it gives your child AND you a bit  of room to stretch out. The other passengers will appreciate it. 🙂
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4 Comments

  1. Kristy said,

    September 19, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Like these tips a lot! I will come back to them next time we go on a trip. Even our 7-year-old would have fun with these…like the glow sticks. Unfortunately, #2 did not work for us last time. We kept the foods bland, because we had had trouble before, and still, there was an upchuck incident within an hour or two of our start. 😦 I feel bad for the little ones who get motion sickness – which is a lot of them, I think.

    That’s strange about the flight attendants! I’ve traveled with kids and car seats on a plane before and didn’t get those comments. And you’re right, it is hard to do and takes longer with all that equipment plus the kids, and people do have to have a little bit of patience. I also had other passengers offer to help at times (I was by myself and frankly, it was a little much just carrying everything and holding a little guy’s hand).

    • September 19, 2013 at 8:30 pm

      oh my goodness there is no way I’d do it alone. props to you!

      • Kristy said,

        September 19, 2013 at 8:36 pm

        It’s possibly one of the reasons Xander is so cautious these days about crossing streets, being careful, etc. When he was a toddler and I had him alone, I had to make sure he was safe, but he was a runner. Take him somewhere, put him down, and he was off into the distance. Made the airplane travel a bit scary. So I trained him by screaming at him one day when he put his little toes onto the street from our yard. I always used a calm voice with him (up to that point in his little life) but I purposely used a yell in this instance to scare him into never going into the road. It worked.

      • September 19, 2013 at 9:18 pm

        like button.


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