We took our first vacation with "Kaitlin the Toddler" last week and boy did I learn some lessons. Some were good lessons and some were bad. I'm here to share a few with you in hope that you can (as always) learn from my mistakes. The last time we flew with Kaitlin was back in December, when she was barely seven months old and not even crawling. I won't say the flights were impeccable, but they sure were easier since she couldn't move independently. Now that we have a squirmy, walking (running), knows-what-she-wants toddler, flying is a whole new ball game.
1. Pack a few, well thought-out, key toys - I knew that we were going to have to bring some toys with us but I didn't want to have to check another bag with just toys in it. Luckily, the items that Kaitlin is most interested in at the moment are fairly small. I grabbed a few wood blocks (for her to stack and throw), a couple of water/bath toys and a couple of animals from her Little People Noah's Ark. I put them in a plastic toy case (that she happens to LOVE to play with, for some strange reason) and hid them from her a few days before the trip. The same goes with books. I chose a couple of key favorites that wouldn't get me in trouble with the luggage scale and hid them in my suitcase a few days before the trip. That way when I pulled each item out during our trip she was super excited to see and play with them.
*These Indestructibles books are PERFECT for traveling as they are super thin and weigh virtually nothing!*
2. Buy a couple of new toys - New, or at least new-to-your-baby, toys can be super exciting (ie attention grabbing) for little ones this age. I bought two new toys and introduced one on the flight to Jackson Hole, and saved the other one for the flight home. The first toy was a "grab-and-go" set from Michaels which included crayons, a coloring book and stickers. Turns out Kaitlin is too young for the coloring part (she just wanted to put the crayons in her mouth) but she had a grand old time with the stickers (which, also, ended up in her mouth). She was even mildly amused by watching me color. The second new toy I bought was this Melissa and Doug Reusable Sticker set. I had heard through the grape vine that reusable stickers (vinyl stickers) were highly entertaining to toddlers and boy were they ever! This kept Kaitlin busy and entertained for over an hour, which in toddler-time is virtually a lifetime. Amazing!! My only complaint is that it's quite large. I wish they made one that was half as big. Luckily my husband and I were sitting together, otherwise our neighbor would have had vinyl farm animals all over her seat. I'm on the hunt for a smaller version of this - if you know of one please let me know! And by the way - please don't feel like you have to spend a bunch of money buying new crap for your kid. If your friends with kids the same age have some different toys than what you have, and are willing to trade or let you borrow for the length of your vacation, this is just as good! Even better really since you won't have to spend any dough.
3. Utilize the in-flight entertainment - And remember, what may not be interesting to you might be SUPER EXCITING to your toddler. We let Kaitlin play with the safety manual, SkyMall and airline magazines during all four of our flights (I know...I still need another drink just thinking about it) and they kept her very entertained. And shockingly enough, the most entertaining toy was an empty beverage cup and three napkins that I crumpled into balls. She played with it for nearly a half hour taking the napkins out and putting them back in. Again - a half an hour in toddle-time is pretty much a whole year, so - SCORE! And of course, if your flight has personal TVs stick a pair of headphones on your baby and let them watch a cartoon! Who knows if they will keep the headphones on, but they are likely to watch the cartoon. We didn't have individual TVs on our flights (ahem, UNITED, ahem) but I am definitely going to do this when I fly jetBlue next month. We don't normally let Kaitlin watch tv, but on a special occasion (wait, special for who??) a few minutes of TV won't hurt your kid and just might save your sanity.
4. Take advantage of the kindness of strangers - I was pleasantly surprised at how nice people were about Kaitlin's behavior during our trip. I am not one to be overly apologetic to strangers about my kid - she is, for the most part, well behaved but yes she does throw tantrums, especially when she hasn't slept in 8 hours. She is 14 months old, what do you expect? But I do feel bad when she is shrieking in someone else's ear. I nearly kissed a guy sitting in the row behind us when he started playing peek-a-boo with Kaitlin during one of our descents. She had been getting particularly fussy and then all of a sudden she started laughing and smiling. When I thanked him he said, "Don't worry about it! I have kids of my own, I know how it is." And much to my surprise we heard this over and over again throughout our trip. Another family let Kaitlin blatantly watch their Duck Tales movie over their shoulders (and subsequently drool and laugh in their ears). They didn't say one word to us, though it should be noted that their youngest (maybe 3 years old?) was throwing an EPIC tantrum during much of the flight. Maybe we got lucky. It seemed like all of our seat-mates and surrounding passengers have or had kids/grandkids and were so gracious about interacting with Kaitlin (or at least not complaining about her). And I should be giving Kaitlin some credit too - even though we had a couple of meltdowns she was a great traveler and was super smiley to everyone she met.
5. Bring supplies, lots and lots of supplies - this also holds true for traveling with an infant, but make sure you are OVER prepared with diapers, wipes and food. I packed 10 diapers for Kaitlin in my carry-on and thought that it was excessive. She ended up using 8 of those diapers by the time we made it to our hotel. Suddenly 10 didn't seem so crazy. I brought 2 packs of wipes, medicine, a change of clothes (for her) and a TON of food and snacks. I'm not saying that you should pack everything but the kitchen sink (ok, I kind of am) but definitely over-pack on certain items that you know you won't be able to buy inside the terminal (diapers, wipes, certain snacks/food, etc). You might not end up needing them, but it's pretty much a guarantee that if you don't over-pack them then you'll definitely wish you had. Some snacks and food that got us through the trip include peanut butter sandwiches, bananas and endless amounts of cheerios!
6. Fly during nap awake whenever you can - I have heard many times that it is best to fly during your child's nap time. That way they will be tired and are more likely to fall asleep during your flight. I have also heard that you should fly during their awake time so that they aren't cranky and overtired. Here's the thing - your kid either sleeps during a flight or they don't. Just like your kid either sleeps in the car or they don't. In the end, it doesn't really matter when you fly (or drive) because they will either sleep (if that's the kind of baby that they are) or not (if that's the kind of baby that they are). My child will.not.sleep unless she is in her crib. Trust me, four flights and endless hours in a car during a week long vacation and I can tell you she slept exactly 30 minutes (in the car) during ALL forms of transportation. The girl just won't sleep unless she is in a crib or pack-n-play. And unless you are flying on a private jet (and if you are - Hi! Do you want to be friends?) you likely have to be at the airport 2+ hours before your flight anyway, which combined with actual flight time pretty much guarantees that you will be traveling - at some point - during an inconvenient time. My advice - get the best flight for your needs and then just grin and bear it. Travel days will probably suck. Have a strong cocktail waiting for you at the end of your journey and then focus on the FUN you're going to have on your vacation!
Do you have any tips or tricks on how to travel with your one year old or toddler? I would LOVE to hear them! Leave a comment below so we can all share and *hopefully* find some success!
Many of you might have noticed that I left off using an iPhone or iPad to keep your toddler entertained, which is pretty much the easiest no brainer solution to traveling with a toddler. I only mention tactics that worked for us and we don't let Kaitlin use either of these at the moment. The only thing I will let her do on my iPhone is look at photos (she LOVES to look at pictures of herself). We almost bit the bullet for the trip home and were going to buy some toddler apps and cartoons for the iPad, but Kaitlin proved she couldn't be trusted just yet. I was letting her go through pictures on my phone and when it was time to put it away she threw an EPIC tantrum. We knew there was no way we would be able to let her play with the iPad without her going nuts when we tried to take it away. We decided it was better to suffer without the iPad than to create a monster. And I'm not saying that your kid is a monster if you use an iPad or tablet with them. Many kids do just fine playing a game or two and then calling it quits. You are the lucky ones as that is not my child ;)