Traveling with two kids two and under is definitely a challenge. Here are some things I learned or observed during my trip. I wrote these on the way to South Carolina, and I’m editing to add a bit of return-trip wisdom.
I planned ahead and packed a cooler-lunchbox full of healthy snacks for the trip. Deli meats, 2 kinds of cheese, bell pepper sticks, and carrot sticks. Perfect! … For me anyway. So far, Anneliese has eaten about 10 pieces of cheese, asked for a banana, and asked for other snacks we don’t have (pretty sure she wanted dried fruits and veggies. She LOVES them.)
Lesson learned? When traveling with Kids who Know What They Want, It might be wise to pack less, and just pay 15 dollars for exactly the right snack in an airport shop. I’m sure we could have gotten a $4 banana at the airport Starbucks. Now I’m trying to eat lots so my bag will get lighter. I’m not joking.
Anneliese eating some of her “mix” — dried veggies, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. She loooves it.
Return-Trip Wisdom — However… if your flight is delayed (with you in the airplane unable to go to a shop or restaurant) because of weather, and everyone on the plane gets hungry and buys all the fruit/cheese trays before the attendant gets to your row, and you end up missing your next connection and staying overnight in the airport, it might be good to have some food with you. On the return trip, I had a lot of dried snacks (homemade dried fruit, and dried veggies, nuts, etc) and a couple of apples. I’m REALLY glad we had those.
2) Kids Under Pressure
Everyone says to give your kids something to suck on or drink during takeoff and landing. Joey just had a pacifier and did great. Anneliese is old enough to understand more, so I told her, “When the plane takes off, your ears might feel funny, but that’s ok! It’s just because we are going into the sky!”
For some reason she thought it helped to “wipe” her ears with a burp cloth when they started to feel the pressure changes. I celebrated with her, “Yay! We are in the sky! My ears feel so funny! Do yours?” worked like a charm.
3) Contents Under Pressure
When the plane gains altitude, and the air pressure in the cabin changes, your no-spill straw cup is GOING to leak. Remember when you were a kid and you blew into your Capri Sun straw, and the juice just shot out at you until it was gone? And how there was nothing you could do except drink faster? Same deal.
You can make it stop by unscrewing the lid to equalize the pressure. After that, you’re good to go, as long as the plane has leveled out. You can prevent the fountain from occurring in the first place by loosening the lid during ascent. Just remember to tighten it again afterwards, or your “no spill” won’t mean a thing.
4) On Ice
When TSA wants to inspect your breast milk, frozen milk in a solid state is exempt. You don’t even need to remove it from your bag. Awesome! As far as the liquid stuff goes, they are allowed to test it to make sure it isn’t anything scary… But since mine was in bags instead of bottles, they didn’t because they didn’t want to risk spilling it. (I packed one empty bottle in my carry on).
In short, the breastmilk issue was …a non-issue, as it should be. If a TSA worker is giving you a hard time about yours, ask to talk to a superior or another agent. It should be no big deal. Babies gotta eat too.
5) In Hot Water
Speaking of babies needing to eat… Once we reached cruising altitude, Joey was getting hungry, so I poured some milk into a bottle for him. I asked one of the flight attendants for some hot water to warm it in. He brought me a cup partly full of hot water (so, room for the bottle) and the milk was warm in just a couple of minutes.
Plan ahead by taking a narrow bottle that will be able to fit in the cups! My slim no-name bottle was perfect, bit my wider Nuk bottles wouldn’t have fit.
6) For Your Entertainment
I packed a few things for Anneliese to do on the plane: stickers to affix to paper, a coloring book and twist-up crayons, 2 books, her baby doll, her thin gauze blanket, and her iPod (my 2nd gen iPod touch) loaded with her favorite apps, music, and videos of her dad reading stories to her. On our first flight she only really wanted to use the iPod. But the second flight was longer and she also asked me to read stories, played with stickers, and colored. On our third flight, she spent almost the entire time playing peek-a-boo with her blanket.
These things don’t have a lot of pieces or take up much room, so our return carry-on entertainment will be similar (though I’m swapping out color wonder markers and paper for the crayons and coloring book.
Arm and leg warmers, a blanket, her “tiger-phones” (tiger headphones), ipod, her baby, and a piece of ham. It can’t get much better, can it?
Return-Trip Wisdom — On the way back, I packed her things directly into my carry-on bag, rather than in her mini-backpack. The backpack itself takes up room and she wasn’t interested in carrying it at all. This saved me some space, weight, and annoyance.
7) It’s a Piss-tery
You know how you’ll hold your toddler on the toilet seat and you can hear their pee hit the water? Yeah, that doesn’t happen in airplane lavatories. There isn’t any water, and the white noise of the engines masks any “tinklinig” that may occur. So when your toddler asks you to take her to the bathroom, there’s no way to know if she’s done ANYthing. It remains a mystery. Or a piss-tery.
At least until, 5 minutes later, your toddler is frantically asking again, “Go potty? Go? Potty???”
Which leads us to…
8) Potty Trained, My Butt
She actually did a great job holding her pee until the plane landed and we could find a “Differnt? Baffroom?” But after that? I put a diaper on her. She doesn’t need that stress. I hate airplane toilets too, and MIGHT consider an adult diaper the next time I have a 4+ hour flight. Almost.
I think the title of “potty trained” should be reserved for people who will pee in any toilet necessary and available in their situation, when the alternative is wetting oneself.
9) Family Style
One more about pottying, and then I’ll stop I swear.
Look for family restrooms in the airport (ask anyone who works there, and they’ll point you to it). Even if they’re a bit farther to walk, they’re worth it. Imagine the biggest handicap-accessible stall ever. With a (generally) cleaner floor, a diaper station, a comfy bench, and even (I hope you don’t need one) a shower. There’s room for the stroller, everyone can take turns using the toilet, you can rearrange your carry-on contents, refill water cups, change diapers, and so forth. In relative privacy.
In a long travel day filled with strangers less than a foot away from you, 5 or 10 minutes “alone” can be great for recharging.
10) Wide Load
I forgot how narrow airplane aisles are. Like super narrow. Good luck if you just had a baby and your hips are still as wide as a Mack truck. Be prepared to sideswipe about 16 other passengers, even if you are being careful. Lots of “pardon me”s and “sorry”s!
On the way back I’ll try to consolidate into one bag… It’s just too much width to have a backpack on AND a diaper bag over my shoulder. Even if I end up with back pack + purse, that would still be better.
Return-Trip Wisdom – Yeah, one bag (the back pack) was way better.
11) Child’s Play
I brought about 4 small toys for Joseph. They all fit into one pocket in my bag. And there they remained. Really, a baby this young (5 months) only wants to be snuggled close, fed, smiled at, kissed, and changed.
The toys can go in checked luggage for times that lack stimulation… Travel is PLENTY exciting already for the under-1 crowd.
Return-Trip Wisdom — I checked Joey’s toys for the return trip, and we didn’t need them at all, even overnight in the airport.
12) The Kindness of Strangers
If people weren’t so NICE, my travel with the kids would have been nearly impossible. By which I mean there would have been a lot more struggle, possibly some (more) tears, and definitely not as much of the “fuzzy wuzzy” happy feelings.
So a big THANK YOU to:
- The USAirways man who waived my over-weight luggage fee when we were leaving Fresno.
- The wonderful (tall!) European man in First class who helped me by carrying my backpack down the aisle and putting it in the overhead compartment.
- The “Modern Grandma,” Cindy, who was my kismet seatmate on our first LONG flight. It was so wonderful to chat with her, and she also held and played with Joey (and Joey napped on her for a while), talked with Anneliese, watched the kids while I went to the bathroom, and so forth. She may have been the highlight of my travel!
- The older couple who sat with me, waiting for our delayed flight in Charlotte, and who made sure we got on the airplane safely and early (since it was one of the ones you have to go out on the tarmac and climb up the super-steep stairs for).
- The flight attendant who carried Anneliese down the super-steep stairs from the plane in Charleston.
- ALL the flight attendants who helped me warm Joey’s bottles, and who were pleasant to me and the kids. (Only one or two seemed to wish babies were never invented.)
- The Hertz rental guy in Charleston, who grabbed my bag from the carousel and took it all the way to my rental car for me, and put it in the trunk.
- My sister Julie, who met me at the airport after midnight to bring me the kids’ car seats, and took care of the kids while I installed the seats in the rental. She also did a little grocery run for me so we would have breakfast foods in the condo, and followed us back to the airport for our return trip so she could take our car seats back.
- The kind and patient TSA workers in Charleston, and the stranger (airline worker w/a badge, not random traveler) who held Joey for a second so I could get my sling situated (I did have to remove it because the rings set off the metal detector).
- Laura and her husband, who sat behind me on our first two return flights. They waited for my gate-checked stroller with me in Charlotte, and ran to our connecting gate with us. Laura insisted on holding my back pack while we raced two concourses away. Once on the next flight, Laura helped me a bit with the kids, and held Joey while I changed Anneliese’s diaper (see above re: potty training). When we landed, they waited with me for my stroller again, and made sure I had a plan when my connection was missed in Phoenix. They also gave us a chicken salad for dinner. So sweet of them, and it was nice to not feel alone in the chaos of everything that happened.
- The cheerful staff at the Phoenix Starbucks in the morning, who honored my birthday coupon even though it had expired.
- I’m sure there was a nice person during the last flight too, but since it was after our overnight stay in the airport, I don’t remember specifics.
13) The Tree that Bends –
The tree than bends does not break in a storm. Stay flexible… as much as possible.
Yes, on our return trip, we experienced a weather delay which resulted in a missed connection. We stayed in the airport overnight in Phoenix. It was so bizarre and exhausting. (I would have gone to a hotel if any of the shuttles were busses. But they were all just large vans, and I don’t feel comfortable borrowing questionable car seats — which is why I bought my own car seats for the trip, and my sister brought them to us at the airport.)
Anneliese was amazing though. I told her, “Tonight, your stroller is your bed! Isn’t that funny?” and reclined it as far as it would go. One of the US Airways ladies gave us a couple of travel pillows and blankets. I put one of the pillows behind Anneliese’s head, and covered her with her frog blanket.
She slept for a few hours, waking now and then, disoriented. She would startle awake and ask, “Get down? Get down!?” I reminded her her stroller was her bed tonight and it was okay. I’d pet her hair a little and she would drift right back to sleep.
Joey drifted in and out of sleep too, nursing and snuggling. I lay on my side with my head on my backpack, with Joey in the ring sling oriented so he was laying on his back. I had one hand on Joey , and my other hand on the stroller. We were in the US Airways customer service area, which is usually manned but has a few hours when no one is at the desk.
I was nervous about the safety of falling asleep in the airport with my kids, but after the last flight of the night the airport got very quiet, and was almost deserted. Now and then, I would see a janitor or a security officer. I drifted to sleep, waking to check our surroundings now and then, or to comfort Anneliese or Joseph. After a few hours, flight attendants started arriving to get ready for work, and the restaurant across the hall started bustling with pre-opening preparations. Anneliese woke up and I decided to walk around a bit and stretch my legs.
We moved to a different area, and Anneliese played with her new markers. She got down and danced a little, never straying too far. I found the Starbucks and got myself a drink, plus some hot water for warming up Joey’s second to last bottle. Nearby was a play area for kids, and Anneliese had a lot of fun with it.
And after many hours, we got to board our plane and go home.
Sure, I cried a little. Who wouldn’t? But I think Anneliese’s overall flexibility and calm demeanor in the face of utter chaos was of course partly her personality, but also partly “following my lead.” I stayed calm, tried to make a game of things, and for the most part, served as a model of composure. Things could have gone much worse.
Have you ever traveled alone with your young kids? What did you learn from the experience? Do you have any words of wisdom or tips to share?