Since the beginning, our kids have had no choice in accepting lengthy car rides. Living in the rural hills surrounding the Chesapeake Bay means that almost everything is at least an hour away. It makes for a quiet life, for which we are thankful, but also turns a trip to Target into an all-morning event. The distance also means that my kids are pretty flexible in the car. We decided this year would be the year we tested their flexibility (and my sanity) on other methods of transportation as well. So, we booked some flights. And I obsessively researched what to pack for a plane ride, polled friends about flying solo with two kids, and memorized rules for car seats on airplanes. I may have even looked at diagrams of the airport layouts we’d be traveling through.
This year I’ve taken three trips on planes by myself with two children. Four if you count our last trip that included a plane change. At the time of our first flight, my youngest was 10 months and my oldest almost three. On our most recent trip, they were 15m and just over three years. So, here are my failures and victories poorly disguised as tips and tricks for traveling with little kids. [The longest of our trips involving trains and planes was eight hours. These may need modifications if your trip is longer… or shorter… or your kids are older… you get the point.]
- Do not over-pack your carry on bag. Especially if you are traveling by yourself. I made a HUGE mistake the first flight we took and ended up a sweaty, irritated mess with angry marks on my arms from the weights of bags and car seats. If your kids are still in diapers, here is what I suggest:
- The number of diapers you would typically need for the amount of time between when you leave the house and when you arrive to your final destination, plus one. For example, our most recent trip was eight hours door to door. My 15 month old will usually go through 3-4 diapers in that amount of time, so I packed 5 (and a wetbag).
- One extra outfit. I’d suggest something one piece as it’ll take up less space and will be easy to find. I chose a cozy cotton zip-up footie sleeper. For my toddler, I packed a cotton romper. One piece clothing is where its at for efficiency.
- Wipes (duh). A brand new pack, so you don’t risk running out. If you cloth wipe, I’d double what you’d normally pack.
- Age-specific toys. But not too many. For a 3 and 1 year old I packed the following: color wonder markers in a small wetbag, 2 color wonder coloring books, a paint-with-water coloring book, two small cars, two Little People animals, a matching game.
- Snacks. Especially if you have kids with allergies! Whenever we go on an extended trip, I make an effort to buy and make special snacks for a little excitement and special treats. Traveling with two means double the snacks. I try to choose things packaged individually that still at least pretend to be healthful. Some of our favorites are the cheddar and leeks wheels and the nibbly fingers by Ella’s Kitchen and gummy bunnies by Annie’s Organics. However, if I’m being honest, being in a confined space like an airplane is stressful when your kid is upset and if it took Biscuit and Gravy-flavored Cheetos to quiet them I’d feed them mama-bird style with a quickness.
- A bottle of water. For you and for your littles. Or, you can usually grab one from a flight attendant. I find packing an empty kids’ Camelback or Nalgene bottle for the little to share that I can refill from my larger bottle works best. Also, having something to suck on helps with the ear popping and pressure changes.
- The right bag. I have yet to find the perfect bag that holds a moderate amount of stuff and is compatible with babywearing. The closest I have found is a Lands End tote bag. In fact, I have three of them in various styles and colors. On our first plane trip, I way over packed my large tote that doesn’t have a zip-top. Huge Mistake. HUGE. It was bulky, difficult to manage down the narrow aisle on the plane, didn’t fit under the seat, wouldn’t stay on my shoulder and was too awkward on the umbrella stroller. It was awful. But I learned, and on our most recent trip, I packed my medium, zip-top tote. It was as close to perfect as it gets without a cross-body strap. Use a bag that you are familiar with, can fit diapers and some toys and snacks, and you can wear comfortably while babywearing (more on that to come). Another helpful tip: if you can fit it in a small space, like under your car’s seat or in the bottom section of a kitchen cabinet with a shelf in it it’ll probably be a good choice. Something with lots of pockets is super helpful, too.
- Extra pacifiers (if you use them). For obvious reasons.
- A nursing cover, if you use one. Though I would suggest using a blanket instead, as the boning in some covers can make them difficult to compress and pack efficiently.
- Babywearing is key. I will have a future blog post about wearing through an airport, but suffice to say that TSA will allow you to wear your baby through the metal detector as long as your carrier does not have metal. I wore a Boba 3G with Baby A on the front and a Beco Toddler carrier on my back, empty since C is big enough to walk through the metal detector on her own, and TSA was very helpful. They swabbed my hands, helped me wrangle, and were pleasant every time. Also, strollers are a pain. They must go through screening, which requires them to be folded, and then checked at the gate, so refolded, and you have to load and unload each time. No, thank you. I used a cheap umbrella stroller the first trip so as not to risk damage to my good strollers and it was wayyyy more trouble than it was worth. I ended up wearing anyway and using it to not-so-awesomely transport my overpacked carry on.
- Wear flip flops. Easy on and off. Little kids are not required to remove their shoes per TSA. But you are, and sneakers are silly to have to try and tie while your kid is halfway down the terminal. Trust me, I know from experience.
- A Hipsack. This is pretty brand specific and I’m going to catch some flack for endorsing what is essentially a fanny pack, but honestly when traveling with two toddlers by yourself, its the best. THE BEST. It holds your ID, credit card, cash, your plane tickets/boarding passes/baggage claim receipts, passports, copies of birth certificates and extra pacifiers and hair ties. Everything you need immediately accessible without having to dig through a bag everytime.
It fits right under your carrier, is made from a woven wrap so its soft and flexible, and its just so pretty. I packed this with the items above, loaded the kids in the carriers, secured this beauty under the carriers, and away we went. I didn’t discover this magical product until before our most recent trip, so I was the fool digging through overpacked bags for these items. Sorry if you were behind me in line at security at Dulles, MCI or BWI the first half of the year… [Tekhni has not paid me for this. I bought my hipsack, it was not given to me. I really just love this specific product for traveling.]
- Car seats. So as a CPST, I am here to inform you that no matter the age of your small fry, you should secure them in the seat of the airplane the same way you would in a vehicle. Read: even though airlines allow babies to ride as a “lap child” or “infant in arms” when under the age of 2, children are safer when secured in an appropriate restraint. Like babywearing, there will be a blog post with more information regarding this in the future. Be aware that you will have to carry the seat to the gate, so allow for such. The seat will also need to go through screening like any other carry on item. Have doubts? Visit The Car Seat blog for the breakdown.
- Don’t forget your cell phone charger. This I also know from experience. It’s also good to have PBS kids app loaded or whatever program you are comfortable with your kid watching in case of mind-blowing epic tantrum.
- Pee BEFORE you get on the plane. When you are flying solo with two littles, using an airplane bathroom isn’t awesome. And for good measure, I always change all diapers immediately before boarding. Because changing diapers on a plane isn’t awesome either.
The differences in packing between my first and most recent travels via airplanes are extreme. The first time I flew, my babe was on a nursing strike, so I had to also worry about a breast pump and all necessary accessories, which changes the game significantly. I didn’t wear both rascals the first time, I had a stroller that hated me, I didn’t have documents ready on hand, I wore sneakers (gasp!), and all the other first-time-flying-with-kids mistakes. Like… every. single. mistake. Including forgetting to wear deodorant.
So. To wrap this up. Pack only what is necessary, charge your phone, take care of bathroom needs for all family members prior to boarding the plane, Hipsack it up, babywear and secure your most precious cargo in a child restraint. And, if possible, find some Cheetos for when it hits the fan.