Paris, Alaska, Canada, Amsterdam and several flights to Florida—almost all before their third birthdays. While I had visions of my toddlers reclined in their seats, sipping chocolate milk as they tapped away on their tablets, our jet-setting has been anything but smooth. As a well-traveled parent, I’ve learned a few tricks to keep the tears (both theirs and mine) from overflowing every time we hit the road.
1) Don’t let them see you cry
Kids are parasites—they feed on your emotions. Do what you need to keep perspective and a smile on your face. I drink a glass of wine before take off, because the only thing worse than an upset child is an uptight parent. Keep in mind you will never see these passengers again. Chances are they have kids or grandkids and probably feel sorry for you. On our nine hour, red eye flight to Paris my kids refused to sleep. Nick (my husband) and I took shifts manhandling them and walking them around. Like a job, we carve out specific times that one of us is on duty. With three kids under the age of 5, it gets tricky but we set a time and pass the baton while the other one gets a breather.
2) Give them an inexpensive, portable adventure.
For the same reason you like to travel, kids enjoy experiencing something new—just on a smaller scale. I hit up the Target dollar bin and put different items in clear bags (stickers, snacks, small figurines, play dough). Every hour, or when needed, I swap out a bag for something different. Other lightweight travel toys in my arsenal include reusable sticker books (Melissa & Doug), puzzle books and hidden picture books (Highlights).
3) Borrow, don’t bring.
Carting around crap for three little bodies takes up an insane amount of space. I borrow everything I can from the hotel, condo, cruise ship or rental car company. I am still amazed at what they can have ready when you arrive: Pac-n-plays, cribs, car seats, swim diapers, snacks, bottled water for formula, toys for the pool. Call the hotel, and if they have one, talk to the Kid’s Club. If you’re worried about germs, bring a pack of Clorox wipes and your own crib sheets.
4) TVs, tablets and testing!
I’m not big on screen time, but that rule goes out the window when we travel. I bought 85 dollar Amazon tablets for our last trip to Florida. The plane had wifi but it wouldn’t stream well. Fortunately, I had purchased an extra memory card and downloaded shows and apps before we left. I also put the devices in airplane mode to ensure they would work on the plane. Some airlines have built-in TVs, so keep your credit card handy and pack a kid’s headset.
5) Pack extra, inexpensive clothes for everyone.
My son is a barfer without warning. On a prop plane to Nebraska he covered himself and part of me in leftover lunch. The baby leaned over his sister and released his entire bottle before we departed for Florida. It happens, so wear and bring extra clothes that you don’t mind throwing out. I use Carter’s clearance sleep sets for the kids. They come in short or long tops and bottoms and don’t take up a ton of space. I also pack these items in clear, zipper bags so they are easy to grab.
I can see the fear in everyone’s eyes when our family of five gets on an airplane. Praying—pleading—please don’t sit by me. With a smile on my face, I introduce the kids and myself as soon as we sit down. Because it’s a lot harder to hate someone you know by name.
People think we are nuts and maybe we are for towing our clan on business and family trips, but my daughter and son still talk about climbing the steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower. They remember riding the carousel on the peer in Scheveningen Beach, Holland. I still have nightmares about pushing strollers on cobblestone roads, but I imagine those will fade and we’ll book another trip soon.
What are some of your favorite memories—good or bad—and ways you make the best of traveling with the littles?