Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Travel With Toddlers...My Experience & Tips


I just returned from my first time attempting air travel with a toddler, and since I have so many other mommy readers, I thought I'd share my experience for those of you who are interested!

We flew from Minnesota to Arizona, which is about a 3.5 hour flight or so...coupled with a 2 hour drive from the airport to our end destination. I seem to have a surprisingly angelic child, however, I did find that there were several things I did along the way that may be helpful to other traveling mommies.

I have been researching and purchasing travel baby gear for the last 2-3 months in preparation for our upcoming overseas trip to Paris, and got a chance to test some of it out on this "dry run" to Arizona. You can so easily spend a fortune on baby travel gear, but some of it is really worth it to give you a little extra sanity, and you can easily find many of these items on Ebay or Craig's List. Keep in mind that not all things work for all children or all parents, but as for my own experience, here are a few things I highly recommend...

The Sit-n-Stroll.

Making this purchase cut down on our "stuff to lug around" and made the whole airport ordeal much easier. It looks like and functions as a car seat, but then when Mommy pushes the magic button, voila...a stroller. We were the envy of every parent lugging a car seat and stroller through the airport. It fit through the security scanner when laid upside down, and it not only wheeled our little guy right to the plane, but down the aisle and right to our seat, where it transformed back into a safety seat for our little traveler to the airplane seat. No more dragging around a clunky car seat or waiting for your checked stroller at the plane door!

(By the way, a little sidebar here...it boggles my mind that the airlines are required to secure down every person and every physical OBJECT on an airplane for safety, yet it is not required to secure a child, our most precious passengers at all. If you can at all afford to purchase a seat for your child rather than taking them as a "lap child," please do so!)

We then wheeled our way off the plane, then collapsed to function as a car seat in Grampa's truck, all without unbuckling the little passenger. Genius. Pure genius. I saved $60 getting it on Ebay, although without a warranty because I am willing to live dangerously if it saves me a few bucks. I found an extra large binder clip to come in very handy to keep the sun shade back when it was not in use. Otherwise, it wants to stay open all the time. It does not have cup holders and all the fancy storage areas of a larger stroller, but you can get accessory bags to hang from it separately. My little traveler spent many hours in it, and even after finally returning home, wanted to keep climbing into it on the living room floor just to sit. So, I'm guessing it's as comfortable for him as it looked!

Phil & Ted's MeToo Traveling High Chair.

It folds down to like an inch high. It weighs 2 pounds and holds up to a 40 lb child. When our suitcases were too full to add any more, we still had room to lay this high chair on top before zipping it up. Keep in mind it won't attach to EVERY table, but it worked great for us at Gramma and Grampa's house and several restaurants. I bought this to use in Paris after hearing that high chairs are hard to come by in restaurants. With something so small and portable, why not bring your own? Then you don't have to look at that white goo caked into the nylon straps of the crusty restaurant high chair and wonder what food item it once was or how long it had been chewed before being smeared into those crevices. I used some canvas left-over from an old project to sew a simple "envelope" to slide the whole thing into. This is one thing I think they should add if they were to make another generation.

The TRAYblecloth

This is a really cool little thing for several reasons. 1) It gives your child a clean surface to eat and play on, sliding over the airplane tray table. 2) It folds up tiny so it does not take up much room. 3) It can serve as entertainment for older kids by placing things like a tic tac toe board on a piece of paper under the clear cover, acting like a whiteboard (comes with markers). 4) It holds more stuff. There are pockets that come in very handy, even when the tray table is up. We had my little guy's tray table up the whole flight and still used this for things I needed to grab quickly and didn't want to fish for down in the dark, grimy depths of those seatback pockets. It is my firm belief that whatever is used to store barf bags should not be used to store my baby's utensils. It also worked perfectly to hold my video iPod in the center pocket, in front of him but out of reach, without covering the screen.

Phil & Ted's Traveller Bed

 I'm a fan of the pack-n-play, but NOT for lugging through an airport. I don't know who Phil and Ted are, but they sure do know a thing or two about taking excellent adventures with kid stuff. We didn't use this in Arizona since Gramma had a crib, but have a few times around home, and it will serve as our crib every night in Paris. It weighs less than 6 pounds and folds down to 24" long, fitting inside our larger suitcases with room to spare.

Baby Wrap
My little guy outgrew his Baby Bjorn, and I really didn't want to haul along my big Kelty Kids' backpack on a plane. (I got one at a garage sale which worked great for our hike up north, but does not fold down small for plane travel.) So, I turned to wraps for something more portable.

You can get a Moby Wrap for around $40 (link above), or you can make your own for a fraction of the cost, which is what I did (photo above). Basically it is just a huge piece of fabric. Depending on the kind of fabric you get, you may have sew a zig-zag stitch on an edge or two, but otherwise it just involves buying some fabric and cutting it. I also affixed a tiny iron-on patch to mine to make it easier to find the center. I got instructions to make a wrap HERE. Some people say to use cotton jersey (t-shirt material) and some cotton gauze. I went with the latter. The link has some great visuals to help you find the right fabric. I also found a great YouTube video showing you how to use it and after watching it and practicing a few times, you'll get the hang of it. It's a lot of fabric to maneuver, but most people find it to be the most comfortable option for your back. Here we are on our hike...it was actually a little chilly and windy this day, but the gauze is a very light and breatheable fabric for hot days as well:

The Hotsling (above) is another good option. It is much less fabric to maneuver than the Moby style wrap and perfect for those occasions where you'd rather not look like Obi-Wan Kenobi. But, I find the Moby is more comfortable for longer hikes on my bad back. I brought both on my trip.

Of course you need to keep your little one entertained the entire way...it's in everyone's best interest to keep baby happy on the flight, even if it means waiting on him/her hand and foot for a while. Here's what seemed to work for me when it came to keeping my guy distracted from the fact that he was spending hours upon hours strapped down...

Mommy's Bag of Tricks

I found a small zipper pouch at a thrift store for $1, and limited myself to it's capacity on toys. I then collected various small toys at thrift stores and a few new items as well. (some shown above with Amazon links) It was fun to collect small items, and I found I only needed 2 toys on the flight out while he napped most of the time...maybe 4 on the way back. The trick was to find toys that were small and that he had never played with before. I found some fun light-up toys (with no sound effects out of courtesy for our fellow passengers), which were extra fun when it got dark. Don't overdo the toys...remember, you'll probably find some fun souvenir toys along the way, and your child will no doubt draw minutes and minutes of entertainment from some things you've never expected. (like plastic cups, magazines, spoons, etc) Yes, every MINUTE counts!

I have a video iPod which was wonderful for airplane entertainment as well as bedtime.
I got these kid sized headphones from Amazon:

I wasn't sure if my 13 month old would keep headphones on his head, but once he figured out that's where his favorite music was coming from, he actually used them! The key was the content on the iPod. I have many home movies of him growing up on my iPod that I make via iMovie, and he loves to watch himself (and other babies) on the screen. I just slid the iPod into the center pocket of the TRAYblecloth (above) and it was in perfect view. My little guy doesn't really watch TV much at home so this was an extra special treat. You can also download free podcasts that work great...I recommend "Vintage Tooncast" for a bunch of old (& very politically incorrect) cartoons.

Most children have a favorite blankie or toy, etc. Don't leave home without them. My little guy had a couple and I tied one with a shoelace to his stroller/carseat strap so it wouldn't get lost. I also packed an un-washed sheet, the one he slept on the night before we left, which made Gramma's crib smell like home.

My little guy has a mobile in his crib that he likes to fall asleep to every night that plays music and looks like an aquarium with fish, lights and bubbles in water. (scored at a garage sale for $2) Not wanting to clear out a square foot of our suitcase to lug it along with it's 4 heavy D batteries, I came up with a creative idea that worked great. Before the trip I took my camera and filmed his mobile running, then dropped it into iMovie, copied and pasted it a few times so it would last about a half hour. I exported the little "fishy mobile" movie, complete with it's own music, to my iPod. I purchased these portable speakers for about $6 from a seller on Amazon:

My video iPod then became an instant travel mobile. I folded open the speakers, set the iPod in it, and played the fishy mobile sound and movie just out of reach from his crib. Not only did it give my little guy some comfort of home, but the little LED light on the speakers and the backlit iPod screen worked as a great nightlight while it played.

Every mom worries about her little one's safety. It's our job, 24-7, and it only gets more stressful when you leave the safe, babyproofed coccoon of home. I read many books on traveling with kids and found some good tips for babyproofing, like bringing along a roll of masking tape to cover outlets. This works particularly well for international trips, when your American outlet covers won't fit their outlets. Also, binder clips and rubber bands can work well to tie up cabinets and curtains. If you're staying within the US, it doesn't hurt to throw a handful of outlet covers into your suitcase if you have room.

Mommy I'm Here Child Locator

I just can't bear to put a leash on my child, so I opted for the Mommy I'm Here Child Locator. If you'll be taking a toddler in hand through crowded places, this will hopefully not be used but will set your mind at ease if nothing else. You attach the little bear to your child and if they get away from you in that split second you aren't looking (it happens to the best of us), just push the button on your keychain to let out a loud beep. We didn't use this in AZ but I got it just in case for our overseas trip. Look for a possible review of this after that trip!

First Aid
Don't forget to pack along a standard first aid kit. Other items that are good to have on hand for babies are some infant Tylenol, thermometer, nasal aspirator, and whatever else your child has used in the past for his or her ailments. I also picked up some child's EarPlanes, and some homeopathic Calms Forte 4 Kids for the plane. I didn't use the EarPlanes as I didn't think he'd keep them in, but I hear they work for older kids. Don't forget some Orajel, Teething Tablets, or whatever you use for teething comfort, as well as a medicine syringe for dispensing any liquid relief.

Pacifier Clips

I've been using these pacifier clips since our little guy was born. On our trip, though, we also used them to attach toys to his carseat/stroller. The end opens with velcro so you can use it to secure many items...even a sippy cup handle, and the clips are nice and strong.

Reuseable Juice Box

I got one of these and used it all the time. It's small and square which fits well into a carry-on, and you can pour any beverage into it with the option of sealing it off to use later. We took this to every restaurant too as it causes less mess than those restaurant kids cups (which always have the annoyingly large adult straws). I don't believe it's BPA free plastic, so I wouldn't use it every day of his life, but for a trip it worked great.


I read many books on traveling with kids, and found "Travels With Baby" to be the best by far. By the time I finished it, I had pages of notes on products to check out, tips, things to pack, and websites to visit. Most of the other books I checked out were geared at older kids, but this one was full of great info for traveling with a BABY. So, it's the only book I'm recommending!

I hope some of these items and tips will be of use to some of you...if not, then I've just wasted a ton of time writing! I'd love to hear your comments if any of you seasoned travelers have had any other good tips or recommendations. I'm sure I'll have more unexpected adventures ahead with our overseas trip and can always use more advice! :-)


Heather - Dollarstorecrafts.com said...

Wow! A huge blog post full of good info! Some of those products look really useful. I haven't taken my kids on a plane yet! Kinda dreading that! We want to take them to Austria to visit their grandparents... wonder what tricks you will need for a 12 hour flight to Paris?

I have never heard of the Stroller/carseat combo - genius! The smaller pack&play thing seems great, too.

You are a great mommy. Sounds like your boy was well taken care of on his trip!

Gretchen Fleener said...

Yeah, I don't blame you for dreading plane travel with kids! I sure was too, but with grandparents across the country, it was bound to happen eventually. When my hubby surprised me this past Christmas with a trip to Paris using all his frequent flyer miles, I went back and fourth between excitement and sheer panic. But, doing tons of research and taking this "short" flight first has really eased my mind! I will certainly post any other tips I come up with from our Paris flight...I have a feeling the trip out will be okay as it's overnight and he'll hopefully sleep, but the return trip may be a different story!

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