Friday, December 21, 2012

An Oldie But A Goodie: Preparing to Travel with a Toddler

My oldest son (almost 4) has travelled by plane twice, the last time shortly after his second birthday.  Today we'll be boarding a plane again, on our way to visit family in El Salvador.  Luckily for us, our neighbours have out of town family visiting for the holidays, and they'll be house sitting for us while we're gone.  The last time I prepared to travel with a toddler I wrote a post about how I hoped to make the trip a smooth one.  I revisited it again while preparing for this trip and found that most of it is still pretty relevant almost two years later.  There are some differences of course, most notably that this time we're also travelling with a 4 month old, so there are more things to consider. 

I'm re-posting that original post here with some photos thrown in, and at the end I'll make note of some of the changes I've made to accommodate an older child, and how we plan on handling a baby on a plane as well.  I hope there are some ideas in here to help make your travel go smoother as well!

Preparing to Travel with a Toddler

As I've already mentioned, we're leaving on a family vacation to visit my in-laws early next week.  This means long waits at the airport, a 5+ hour flight, line-ups at customs and a 45 minute car ride to the in-laws' place with a 2 year old in tow.  We need to be at the airport at 4am.  Oh yeah, and since the airline can't accommodate his food restrictions, it also means breakfast, snacks and lunch need to be prepared in advance.  I know I'm not the only one encountering a similar situation, so I thought I'd share some of the ways I hope to keep my son occupied, fed and happy on our trip!

General Travel Preparations

1- We bought him his own plane seat.  Since he's over two, it was mandatory, but when we took him on a plane as a baby, it wasn't and we didn't.  We got lucky on the way home that there were extra seats, but the way to our destination was cramped, uncomfortable and tiring.  It's more expensive to buy an extra seat for a baby, but I would recommend it.  Besides it being safer for the child, it gives everyone more room to spread out and makes activities such as eating on the plane much simpler.

2- We're bringing his car seat on the plane.  Again, not mandatory, but safer than a lap belt alone.  I'm hoping that the familiarity of the car seat will help to put him at ease, and that he'll be willing to sit still for longer periods of time.  I'll let you know how this goes. 

3- Stroller:  I wish we had bought one of those frames that you can attach the car seat to for the airport, but we procrastinated and didn't get around to it.  So we'll be taking the next best thing, our umbrella stroller.  I'm not thrilled about having to check it at the plane door because it takes longer when getting off, but the convenience of it is worth it to me.  This one is similar to mine.

4- Backpack/Tether:  I thought long and hard about this before I bought it, but safety won out over all other considerations.  My son isn't going to sit in his stroller the whole time, and he can bolt across a room so fast that strangers have often commented in amazement at the speed of such a little kid.  We bought a Tigger harness that looks like a backpack, and the tail is a little leash that will keep him from being able to run off unattended.  He LOVES the backpack.  We'll see how much he loves being unable to run away!

5- Thomas Mini Suitcase:  He loves anything to do with that little blue train, and the suitcase is small enough to be carry on luggage.  We filled it with activities for him to do on the plane.  Ours has a different design, but it essentially looks like this.


I read somewhere that it's always a good idea to bring activities or toys that your child hasn't seen before, and I thought this was a great idea.  Since I didn't want to buy ALL new toys, I started making some things "disappear" about a month ago, and they will magically "reappear" on the plane!  Here are some types of activities I think work for his age group:

1- Toy Cell Phone:  He loves to talk on his phone, and we can pretend to call just about anybody from up in the air.

2- Travel Activity Tray: It attaches to the car seat.  This way I can attach it once we're in the air, and I don't have to worry about the seat tray not reaching or being at the wrong height.  He can use it to play or eat on.

3- Toy cars/trains: Small enough that I could pack a few and rotate them as necessary.  Cheap enough that I don't care if one gets lost under the seat or gets forgotten at the airport.

4- Magnetic Drawing Board with Water Marker Board on Reverse: He can colour, erase, colour, erase, colour... you get the picture.  This one isn't the same, but it gives the general idea.

5- Story/Activity Books: A few stories he loves, and a few new ones.  He loves to lift flaps, press buttons, feel different textures.

6- Sticker Books:  I don't know what it is about stickers, but they can entertain him for ridiculous amounts of time.  I bought a book with 300 stickers for less than $5.

7- Teddy Bear: He loves talking his bear through situations.  He practices the bed time routine and reassures him that he'll be back soon, he rubs his back, etc.  Hopefully this attachment will help keep him calm and occupy some time while he makes sure his bear is comfortable.

8- Paper and crayons: Speaks for itself I think.  He can draw his Grandma a picture to give as a gift!

Meals and Snacks
This part is the most critical.  He'll have to eat breakfast, lunch and snacks from home.  Here's what I plan to bring.

1- Fruit: blueberries because he eats them one at a time, and it takes forever.  Sliced strawberries and whole bananas.

2- Packaged dried fruit snacks:  He thinks they're candy, but they contain nothing but fruit.  The packages are the perfect snack size.

3- Frittata: This dish tastes great cold, and can be sliced and eaten almost like a piece of pizza.  This will be breakfast along with the fruit.

4- Gluten Free Crackers: He eats these slowly, and if I can get my hands on those little packets of jam they'll taste even better.

5- Fish Sticks and Baked Fries with mixed vegetables:  Not the most practical meal perhaps, but fish sticks are his FAVOURITE right now, and I know he'll eat them without a fuss.  We have a thermal lunch bag, so I'm counting on it to keep them in good shape.  I'm hoping they'll reheat them on the plane, but honestly, he'll eat them cold. 
2012 Update:
He's old enough now to sit through almost a whole movie, so we caved and bought a portable DVD player and some kid friendly earphones.  I let him pick out a few videos that he likes and then threw in a few that are new to hopefully keep him interested for longer.  He also has one of those pen reader things that read a book for you as you tap it on the page.  His is called a Poingo, and it also comes with earphones, so  he can enjoy "reading" his book without bothering everyone else on the plane.
He no longer likes Thomas, but Lightning McQueen makes him happy, so I got him his own rolling backpack that he's already packed with his favourite toys. 
And the 4 month old, you ask? 
This time we're not bringing a stroller because one of my husband's relatives there has one that we can borrow while we're gone.  Instead, I'm going to carry the baby in a carrier through the airport to keep my hands free.  We have two suitcases, two car seats, a baby bag, my son's carry on and another carry-on.  For a girl who moved to Paris for a year with only two suitcases in tow, this feels like we're bringing the whole house, but such is life with two kids!
We're bringing soothers and bottles on the plane to help with relieving the pressure in his ears, and we've packed a few little toys to entertain the little guy with.  He picked today to get sick, so I'm crossing my fingers that it's better and not worse in the morning.  He'll be dressed in layers, and I've brought cream for his skin, because it can get dry in an airplane, and that can make babies uncomfortable. 
This trip is a special one for us.  My husband's grandfather is turning 90, my brother-in-law is getting married, and this will be the first time my husband will be celebrating Christmas with his entire family since 1996.  We're also meeting our nephew, who is six weeks younger than our baby, for the first time.  I'm looking forward to celebrating and enjoying the warm weather!
I'll be posting while I'm there, so please check for updates.  Happy travels!

1 comment :

  1. What a great resource! I'll definitely reread this before our next trip. It's funny, the first plane trip we ever took as a family my daughter was almost 4 and my son was about 4 months! Luckily it was a smooth trip and hope yours was as well :)