This is a conversation I have with new mama friends about once a week. We are travelers in this family, and we almost always take the boys with us wherever we go. We have made tons of mistakes over the last few years (including once putting our three year old in the car in his jammies and forgetting his shoes before a five hour flight), but we have learned from them and we have really streamlined the process.
And it is a process. But, oh, it is so worth it. I believe that in order for kids to be good travelers that they have to travel. (Same goes for eating out – how can they learn appropriate behavior if you never take your kids to restaurants?) You have to expose their little eyes and minds to new places, new cultures, new food, new people, new ways of doing things. The more they learn that the world is big and different, the more accepting and patient they will be in life.
It begins with the before you go preparation. Seriously, trust me. This will save you money, time, and stress.
Try as much as possible to book flights around nap time, that way they will zonk out on the flight and you can read the Real Simple that you’ve been carrying around for three months. Otherwise, just know and surrender to the fact that you will have children with energy cooped up for a few hours. Unless you are flying Southwest (which we have grown to love and highly recommend if a possibility), be sure to choose your seats ahead of time online, or worst case, call the airline. The one and only time that we did not pre-book our seats, they put Graham by himself about ten rows behind us. He was nine months old at the time! If you are a family of three, that is easy – book a row, or two and one. If you are more than three, like we are, we have found the best family seating is two and two, ideally in front/behind each other. Such as: 14A and 14B & 15A and 15B. It’s pretty inevitable that they’ll want to look over the seat for peekaboo and this way they can look at their brother or accidentally pull their daddy’s hair. Plus it’s fun if they want to switch seats mid-flight – they can just hop over to mom or dad.
I can’t talk about flying with kids without adding that it may be hard. It probably will be, in fact, even if all flights are on time and the sun is shining. But do the best you can, try to keep it easy-breezy and fun for the kids so they’ll enjoy traveling, and ignore that crabby lady giving you the stink eye. I swear she’s on every flight! Instead, look around for the helpers if you need one (there are always other parents and kind folks nearby to help) and accept the compliment from the random stranger when they tell you how well your children behaved.
2) Car rental
Are you going to bring your own car seats? This is a tricky debate in our house. Bringing your own car seat when your child is an infant is definitely the way to go, especially if you have a snap-n-go type stroller base. You can bring the car seat on the plane for added safety and comfort. Once the kids are bigger and in toddler seats, getting them in and out of the car is more cumbersome, and then you have to decide whether to carry them through the airport and gate check them, or risk checking them in with your baggage. I mean, have you ever seen those YouTube videos of car seats being thrown around? Yikes.
If you do not want to schlep your own toddler car seats, you can easily rent them from the rental car company. Even though you can request infant, toddler, and booster seats online, I recommend you call the local rental office (ex: Avis at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport) and inquire about the brands and ages of their car seats. I can tell you right now that you will not get a Britax Boulevard, more likely a Cosco brand. In our experience, they are perfectly fine, easy to install, and often brand new. We have, however, had one experience where the car seat was old, stained, and the straps were all twisted. I politely asked for a different one, and then asked again, until they offered us a car seat that I found acceptable. This is your child’s safety – so be polite yet firm – until you are completely comfortable with the car seat. The other “con” to this route is that the rental is not inexpensive, and if your trip is long enough, you will pay more for the rental than it costs to buy your own car seat.
Either way, if you do decide to bring your car seats, you definitely want to buy this backpack-style carrier. You do not want to buy the roll-y carrier because you do not have an extra hand to roll it. We tend to bring our own car seats if it is a week or longer trip, or definitely if we are traveling out of the country, and we do check them in with our luggage. We’ve had good luck so far and no damage, and I credit the padded carrier for protecting them.
Call ahead and ask about their baby/child programs. Some hotels may ask what you mean by this, but the good ones? They know. They ask YOU how they can be helpful and stock your room with kid friendly bath products (shampoo, lotion, etc.), bring in a crib all made up with crib sheets and blankets, deliver high chairs and snacks, provide turn down service with little stuffed animals, even baby proof your room.
4) Ship ahead supplies
For any trip a week or longer, I always ship ahead a box of supplies, from my favorite, go-to, cannot live without Diapers.com. You know about Diapers.com, right? It includes a whole family of stores now, from Soap.com to Casa.com and one of my favorites: BeautyBar.com! You can buy almost anything you need for any aspect of your life from them. But back to Diapers.com. Diapers, of course. Wipes. Snacks. Books. Sand toys! These things are heavy and bulky, and they will ship for FREE directly to your hotel (or wherever you’re staying). It is simply brilliant. (Note: be sure to call ahead to the hotel and make sure you know how best to address the package so that it will be easily located once you arrive. (Eg: TO Candace Luxe, Guest arriving 6/29/2013)
5) Snacks and Activities
Even though you can ship ahead the majority of these items, you do need to pack a steady stream of distractions for your travel day. I like to pack a combo of standard and new snacks. The good ol standbys that you know they’ll eat (our favorites are Plum Organics pouches, Trader Joe’s snack bars, raisins, and sliced apples) along with a few crazy treats that they usually don’t get. For us, that means snacks with Dora or Mater or some character on them. Quiet toys to engage them are kind of hard to find, so we usually stick with activity and coloring books. The last time we flew we took one of those Crayola color-free marker packs and our big boy had a blast. Without a doubt we charge up the iPad and fill it with a few shows and new apps, and be sure not to forget the kid headphones! We have a set for each boy. Not only are they small for their baby heads, but more importantly they have volume control so they can’t blast out their ears.
So that’s it! The next steps are simply to relax and enjoy the time with your family…and save some energy knowing that you have to do it all again to return home…
What are your must-have travel accessories?
Author: Candace Thomas