I’m a chronic over packer. You just never know when you'll have to wear that one outfit that you didn't need to buy and had nowhere to wear to, and that goes with nothing you currently own… but who knows, this trip may just be the time to break them out. But having a toddler who comes with his own load of gear has made me reevaluate the essentials from the non-essentials. And lets be honest, an extra free bag for your toddler is great for packing those extra tops you just can’t bear to leave behind. In my defense, I do somehow always find a ‘reason’ to wear my overpacked outfits on our trips. Packing the bags is the first battle, the second battle is surviving the flight. My little one has been making international flights since before he turned one (oooo dahling). We've been on many long haul flights (8+ hours) since our families are spread across the world, so I’ve had to come up with a game plan for how to manage the flights. Here are my top tips.
Time your flight
If possible I always plan a flight that takes off just before his nap time. If all the forces combine it just might ensure me an hour to an hour and a half reprieve. Of course this is not always possible. But, it does help. I have had my mini-me sleep for three hours cradled on my chest during a 10 hour flight. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but I loved the extra snuggles (side note: take a bathroom break before putting them down for a nap #realtalk.) But if you're lucky, once they wake up from their nap, a good chunk of the travel time will have elapsed, they’ll generally be in a good mood, and the rest of the flight time can be spent eating and playing.
Pack snacks…lots of snacks.
Have liquids (bottle/boob/sippy) or fruits prepared for them to drink/nibble on as the flight is taking off. Drinking while climbing altitude can help with the pressure buildup that often plagues little ones. This can make or break your flight, if the pressure builds up on the start of the flight you may be in for a loooong flight. Having a drink/bottle/snack ready for your little one just before takeout and landing is ideal to keep the cries at a minimum.
Blueberries have become my holy-grail when traveling, and I haven’t taken a flight without a pack of them. They’re the perfect distraction for infants/toddlers mastering their pincer grasp, and they force your little one to chew and move their jaw which helps with the cabin pressure build up during takeoff and landing. We've taken them on every flight and fortunately we’ve never had any issues with cabin pressure or earaches. Also, the extra bit of antioxidants from the blueberries can’t hurt when considering all the germs and free radicals on the flight. Be sure to pack a variety of snacks for every other hour of the duration of your flight. Some of our favorites are pouch snacks like apple sauce (encourages a sucking motion to help with cabin pressure), cheese sticks, crackers, apple slices, and the bane of my carseat’s existence…goldfish crackers.
Know the travel benefits
Most airlines will let you check a stroller and carseat at the departure gate an no additional cost (be sure to check with your airline carrier). If you check your stroller and carseat at the gate they’ll typically be waiting for you as you deplane, which makes a quicker exit out of the airport, especially if you've only packed carry-on. Having a stroller waiting for you at the gate exit is perfect, nothing is worse than that long trek to baggage claim with a toddler who has been anxious to walk and run around and yet still chooses to dawdle along while
talking to all the strangers. The last thing i’m generally in the mood for after a long flight, particularly when I’m just ready to crash in a hotel bed. Also, if you have one, I highly recommend carrying your baby carrier with you onto the plane, perfect for the times when your mini wants to be held but you have to manage carry-on luggage. Also, if you don't have one, a carseat travel carrier is great for running though the airport, as well as protecting your child seat from getting damaged of exposed to germs during transit. This carrier by Brica is our favorites because it has compartments that you can sneak extra bits of luggage into.
Now that my little one is older we load up a few of his favorite iPad games that don’t require internet. When he was younger we would download a few sensory games, but now we include games that teach him his numbers and alphabets, and since he’s nearing three years old (where did the time go!) some of his favorite cartoons like Thomas the Train and Bob The Builder (side note: raise hands if you’ve ever caught yourself humming along to those theme songs while at work, they're so darn hard to get out of your head! Worse than Adele’s Hello). Pack a few of their favorite toys. Tip: try not to bring toys that are too small or hard to spot in the dark, nothing is worse than having to awkwardly stoop down and track down missing toys that have rolled three rows back. Now that our son is older we pack a new surprise toy that we break out if he begins to have a meltdown or get restless on the flight. Fortunately this has never happened, but its good to feel like you have another ace up your sleeve.
Use your surroundings
Make a game out of everything available to you. We would use empty drink cups and make stacking games out of it, or let him practice pincer grasp with twisting water bottle caps, or practicing putting little things inside the bottle. It sounds silly, but it beats lugging a backpack full of toy trains onto the plane (which we’ve also done), while also helping with motor skills. If there are other kids on the plane, make friends. Nothing like a precocious toddler to force adults to not be antisocial. There is something to the solidarity in that look that one mom gives to the next, saying “hang in there just one more hour until landing”.
Be prepared for the unexpected
Have a change of outfit prepared for at least 1/3 of the length of the plane ride. 10 hour flight = 3 changes of clothes. Trust me I learned this the hard way. Also, have a spare top for yourself packed away in your carryon. Accidents happen, trust me—I also learned this the hard way. But at the end of the day, don’t stress mama. If your mini has a meltdown on a flight don’t allow it to take away from the experience. At the end of the day we’re all just creating memories, and when you look back on all of this in a few months or years time you’ll laugh about how much you overpacked, and perhaps even cry a little about how big you munchkin has gotten, and it will all have been worth it.
What are some of your favorite travel tips?