Monday, April 21, 2014

Have Kids, Will Travel

I did not set out to a be a mother who specialized in travel with small ones, particularly travel of the international sort. I don't really like flying, and I probably did it half a dozen times by the end of college. Fast forward to my present motherly self and I've probably logged 50 or more flights, many of them with children, in as many years as I've been mothering them, which isn't all that many. I'll tell you right now, it doesn't get any more pleasant the more you do it, but it does become more tolerable and certainly more predictable, as in, "I predict that one will freak out at 30,000 feet approximately 90 minutes into our 4 hour trip." And then bing bing bing, you're right! And your prize is a 400 calorie deficit and sweat-soaked underwear after wrestling a bear cub on a sugar high in a confined 12x12 inch space.

But it's not all bad. There are some practical tips a mama can employ to make sure the skies are, if not friendly, than at least not prone to profanity laced rants from fellow passengers aimed in the general direction of your offspring. Promise. Sorta.

The first and foremost rule of flying with children is thus: be prepared, be prepared, be prepared. You will lose a paci in the toilet of the airport restroom. Better have another (of darling's preferred brand, or else) ready and waiting in your purse. Cringing at the thought of paying $14 for a chemical-laced cheeseburger at Chili's, Too in terminal C? Load that diaper bag down with string cheeses, rice crackers, goldfish, fruit leathers, and any other low-sugar, moderate-carb portable snacks you can think of. Kids and babies aren't subject to the same idiotic stringent TSA regulations pertaining to food and drink, so pack it in!

Nursing and bottle feeding mamas, you're in luck! You can bring bottles of breastmilk, preprepared formula and formula powder through security with no difficulty. You will be asked to open the liquids and allow a TSA agent to dangle a test strip over the substance to screen for, well, I'm not sure what, but it's perfectly reasonable to bring an entire day's worth of liquid sustenance for your little one though the metal detectors. Which reminds me…

Wear your baby and/or carry your toddlers. If you have more toddlers than arms, form a human chain and (politely) defer the nekid screeners in favor of the more reasonable metal detector/wand waving/crotch grabbing pat down option. Sure, it's a little sketchy to have someone outside your marriage groping you in public, but not as sketchy as putting little baby brains through the big 'ol imaging scanners. At least in my opinion. (Note: if you're baby-wearing you'll be asked to approach the chemical testing agent at the end of the conveyor belt with open palms so they can swab you for bomb-building chemicals. Because baby wearing.)

Does your child have a lovey? Do you fear losing it more than you fear losing an appendage? Good. Bring the lovey, because it will ensure the best possible conditions for sleep during flight, and for all that is good and holy, keep your eye on the bunny. Maybe even tie the bunny to your child's backpack so that he can wear his baby, too. Maybe tie a double knot.

Have each child pick out a treasure trove of $5 worth of crap from the Dollar Tree or Target's dollar spot to fill his special airplane bag with. We use a single toddler-sized backpack which both kids share, but those ubiquitous drawstring bags that seem to multiply like rabbits in the front closet are good options, too. Forbid the child to touch the contents of the bag until takeoff, and talk up the bag like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus reproduced and the bag is filled with the result of that joyful union. Also, more goldfish crackers.

We have a "one toy in, one toy out" rule on the bag, so there is always lots of trading out and opening and re-opening and guess what, you're already halfway across the Atlantic Ocean!

Which is in a different time zone…

So, melatonin! We adults use this to regulate our sleep cycles almost as soon as we land, popping a pill before bedtime and not taking much of a nap to ensure that the first night of sleep in a new time zone actually occurs at night.

Don't forget to pray for your travel and during your travel, either. Sometimes simply taking my rosary out of my purse and pulling it into my lap is enough to distract a fussy 2-year-old who is over his treat bag, over the laptop, and over this never-ending period of restrained travel.

A few more parenting life hacks:

  • Bring all your children for an ear exam the week before you fly, symptomatic or not. Better safe and on antibiotics than sorry and screaming at altitude.
  • Put your 'potty trained' preschooler in a pull up. Just do it.
  • Bring a spare onesie, tshirt/shorts combo for each small passenger in your carryon
  • Take your stroller all the way to the gate and make sure the airline 'gate checks' it if you'll need it during a connection, during which time you will pile it with children and carryon baggage and race across an unfamiliar airpot in record time.
  • Bring enough snacks. Or a fistful of twenties.
  • Carryon your laptop charger if you have a connection. Trust me.
  • Download some actual movies to your physical hard drive. Netflix don't stream in the stratosphere.
  • Run races up and down the terminal and in the gate area. Choose to board first if you have carryon that needs to be stowed and you're worried about space. Board last if you have nothing but a baby on your hands and you have assigned seating.
  • Let the flight attendant/random old lady/friendly business traveler hold your baby while you pee if you're flying alone. There's nowhere for them to run if kidnapping is your fear, and they are secretly dying to hold that little cutie. 
Finally, relax. Yes, it's stressful to travel with kids, but it's stressful to travel period! And nobody on your flight booked a spa treatment when they shelled out for their ticket, either. Everyone on board is entitled to a safe, somewhat sanitary and (probably not) timely transport to their final destination. Nothing more. If your kids freaks the freak out as soon as the captain turns on the fasten seatbelt light, well, better luck next time…but don't let the anxiety of the opinions of your seat mates distract you from your real task at hand: disarming that inconsolable baby. Remember, if it's not your kid screaming and clawing the setback table this time, then it'll be someone else's. Purgatory.

And enjoy that glass of wine with with your tasteless, sodium rich dinner. You'll need it, comrade.


  1. I will have to share this with Rob since he's flying solo with James next month. Also, you can bring plain old cow's milk in a sippee cup. I have done it a gazillion times because it's impossible to find anything but over-priced skim milk in the terminal.

  2. Super helpful tips! We're flying from Seattle to Orlando this summer, which I'm pretty sure is the farthest you could possibly fly in the continental US. I've wasted so much mental energy over the last several months strategizing about how we'll cope.

    Prayers for you guys this week. I hope it's an amazing journey!!

  3. Very timely--I just started reading your blog and am gearing up for an international flight with my husband and our 9 month old daughter in a couple of weeks! Been very stressed out about it but trying to just be calm and prepare. Just out of curiosity, did your boys engage with watching a movie at that age(and if so, any particular recommendations)? I'm not sure if she really would for more than a few minutes but then again I haven't really tried it.

  4. Love it! I've traveled with my daughter several times in her 9 month post-womb existence and all of these tips are so true. I have been blown away by how kind others are when a cute baby is involved.

    Fun story: I once boarded a plane with a fully dressed baby, wrapped in a Moby. I deplaned with a baby only in socks and a diaper, Moby in sealed plastic bag. The extra outfit was in the carry-on above the seats! It's a good thing everyone loves naked babies!

  5. I once flew solo with 3 kids, 22 hours, from the middle east back to the U.S. Not anything I care to repeat, but not a nightmare either. It's doable - and you've got this!! Beside - Italy, cappuccino, JPII..., etc., etc..!!

  6. I completely agree with all of your suggestions, although I have only flown with my now almost three year old we have flown seemingly a million times. My suggestion is to bring a new book for littles, something with a lot of pictures, like a Richard Scarry book. There is a lot to look at and point out, and the novelty of something they haven't seen before + lots of stuff to look it usually will buy you a few minutes. :) Also, crayons (but you be in charge of crayon distribution because it both kills time and prevents crayons from going all over the place). Don't be ashamed to give them the in flight magazines either.


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