In Alaska, the most common tourist shop item is a book called “When grandma and grandpa visited Alaska”, so that tells you something about the demography of the tourists. Yes there are some, very few, outdoorsy 20s but they are few and far between. Kids- there are almost none. So parents with toddlers in tow almost smile in recognition at other parents. So yes, after coming back from our Alaskan Adventure, I almost owe it to myself and to Baby Josh to write down what we do that makes him and me such happy travel buds, even in non-kid zones like Alaska.
My 17 month old son, (I don’t want to jinx it by saying aloud) is a phenomenal traveler. Even when I feel like throwing a tantrum, he holds his composure. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a social butterfly or bumble bee, he’s shy. He wants his Mama, often and much. But overall he’s a happy and fun travel companion. Our flight was over 10 hours long going into AK and the return journey was over 24 hours hotel-to-home… but he was so good, people in the flight said “we didn’t even realize there was a kid on the plane”. Compliments aside, you will always encounter a few terse glances, a few frustrated mean spirits who would love nothing more than take it out on you because you decide to travel with your kids….when we all know the act alone is difficult enough. But would you much rather leave your kid at home or with a sitter or with your parents? Nope. We just aren’t cut that way.
I will also add that my son is not effortlessly good. We have to put a lot of planning into keeping him happy and calm. Here are some things I do for long flights or trips.
- I nurse. Yes, I know, not everyone does or can andIwon’t be doing this until eternity, but for now I do and it is VERY helpful. No bottles to clean, fewer liquids to take out at security and the sanitation…anyone who has ever pumped know what I am talking about.
- Don’t forget your nursing cover
- Wear a nursing shirt/dress or a button down where feeding is easy and less conspicuous
- Window seats can be helpful
- You’ll be amazed by the number of people who are supportive of breast feeding, but always ALWAYS be wary of the gnomes who get offended. So be prepared with comebacks. Here and here and here are some hilarious ways, feel free to print this, laminate, share and giggle.
- For the plane:
- Try to preboard, many airlines won’t let you. But ask anyway, that gives you ample time to get things organized before your copassengers arrive.
- Ask for help with your luggage…I am 5 foot nothing and need that often and more often than not people are very willing to help me, especially when the flight attendants don’t.
- Let the kids/ babies get ample free/runaround time before you board. ANC has a great nursery/ play area, BOS has a small play area in terminal B and C.This article lists other play areas and fun things for kids to do in major airports. Where else have you seen play areas?
- Change the diaper if you can before boarding, that way you are good for a short-medium flight and might only need 1 change for a long (12-15 hour) flight
- Shoot for a window seat if you can get it, the privacy helps (see #1 above), so does the extra hand rest.
- For long international flights (especially for little babies) ask for a bassinet. My son was always too tall for it even at 9 months, but it’s great to have to store/stow the extra stuff while on a plane.
- Don’t underestimate the kindness of strangers (I have had absolutely random strangers hold down my nursing cover or hold my hot coffee, while I nursed my 9 month old baby in a middle seat!)
- What to pack:
- Lots of toys…and not the red huge truck and big plush bunny. Choose a variety of small knick knacks (when he was younger, it was ribbons and O-rings, a couple soothing musical toys, now it also includes relevant board books, tiny cars and our phones). When they are sticker-age and puzzle-age and drawing book age, move on to relevant interesting toys. Strike a balance between familiar and tried-and-tested and well-loved.
- Snacks: My son is a good/ picky/ adventurous eater rolled in one. He is after all my son. And like most kids, his appetite is unpredictable. That said, kids cry and act out when 3 major things happen: hungry, sleepy or bored. So prevent the first and the 3rd by carrying a variety of snacks that s/he likes. A full tummy will also make them sleep better and longer. Yogurt might just be the most widely available food item globally. Different textures and flavors but bottomline, if your kid eats yogurt, you’re safe food wise no matter where you go.
- Juice and water for 6 months and up… no matter even if he doesn’t drink it, you’ll need to when you nurse. Carry these fluids with you.
- Pack light and reconsider the carryon- If traveling with a second person, use one of those bungy cords that can tie your purse/handbag/diaper bag/ personal item to your carryon. Let the other person pull the carryons while you push/ carry baby. Leave your computer at home unless it’s a work trip. You will NOT be using it. If using a stroller, try to get one you can push with one hand. Or scrap it altogether and use a carrier. Think of it, pulling luggage with one hand and pushing a stroller with another is difficult. If traveling alone, it’s best to check in everything, except a light hand bag with no more than 3-4 appropriate toys, 3 diapers, 15 wet wipes, 1 lotion, water/milk/juice bottles, Baby medicines (Tylenol, Benadryl and whatever else your doctor recommends), small packs of snacks, phone, charger, cash and cards, passport/ID, keys. Wear a shirt/ dress/ pants with big, button/zippable pockets. Makes. Life. Easy!
- Trip planning:
- Choosing destinations: Enjoying things with him brings me to the topic of trip planning and choosing destinations. Even if go to a place like Alaska which isn’t necessarily a kid-centric place, we try to choose activities that he and we can both enjoy. That includes wide open and SAFE places to run around in, zoos and aquariums and aviaries (did I say he loves birds?) No, I don’t just go to the beach or just to Disney (he’s too young for Disney anyway), we choose crowded European cities, flamenco shows and busy espresso bars too, but in each of your daily expeditions, keep something in the day that would be exciting for him. My son likes music, so he actually enjoyed the Flamenco experience! He was 11 months old then. Also, research communities, are they kid-friendly? What demography are you going to be living in? The grandparent crowd in AK seemed conducive to having kids around us, so was most of Spain. I’ve read great articles on Paris and Istanbul being kid friendly cities too. Check them out and tell me how your trips went.
- Teaching him to enjoy the drive (or flight): My son loves “bus” and “moon” and “birds” so we make sure we spot them and enjoy them with him. That keeps him engaged and enjoying the trip. Soon enough he’ll be looking at the hills we are marveling at, until then, the moon is nice enough to watch out for. Also, he’s a good sport to have on a bird watching trip.
- Get him prepared for what you’re going to see, for example before heading to the San Diego Zoo I carried his animals books with me and he loved seeing familiar animals and spotting things on his own…he was only 16 months at that point.
- Screen time: I strive hard to be not that parent who’ll let them kid alone with their phone and go to do my own thing. My kid is a big part of why I travel. He’s not an inconvenience. He’s my company! So our use of screens is limited and only to make him happy/ induce sleep with music. While we reduce the amount of videos he watches at home, we do let him watch some videos especially interactive ones or kids music that we watch with him- the same songs he does in sing-along hour or in play groups. Sometimes off-screen Pandora helps to induce sleep.
- Lodging- Yes you can obviously choose family friendly resorts, but when there aren’t those options, clearly ask- do you allow kids? Do you charge extra? By talking about bring your kids, you’ll get to hear their sub-audible attitude towards kids and you can decide if it is the right place for you to stay. Of course, you are expected to respect everyone’s things and their space and their privacy and of course, good behavior is a must. But you don’t want to feel like you’re walking on eggshells the whole time. In our last few trips, to San Diego, NorCal and Alaska we got some lovely B&B experiences which are a great way to stay with kids.
- Baby-wear: I can not stress this enough. When you wear your baby, he is at eye level with the adult world and he feels more included and communicative. While we use strollers too, they are often left-out in them. Don’t give me the they are too heavy to baby wear. I know people who wear babies until they are 6 or 7. You don’t have to go to extremes, but wearing a 3 year old is not that crazy. Really. And so much easier on your arms! Also the carriers often double as my nursing cover! Clever! So go check out your local Baby Wearing International group and borrow a carrier (often $5 or less) then hike your way through national parks and cities alike and meander through arts fests like a pro. I feel so much safer with them tied to me than pushing a separate carriage around.
My 17 month old has by now been through 12 airports in 5 countries, stayed at 18 hotels/B&Bs and been on 7 vacations.
I remember the first time I traveled with J alone from Boston to Calcutta with a 14 hour layover in Dubai. I was freaked beyond measure. But we made it, thanks to innumerable articles found online, my friends like Basak who has mentored on all things, big and small without being preachy and my community who taught me to fix car seats and baby wear and my mom for urging me to nurse like a pro.
What else do you do to make your trips enjoyable with your kids?