Saturday, March 15, 2014

Leaving on a Jetplane: Traveling with a Toddler

Nothing has had me as anxious recently as traveling with a 2.5 year old. They are at the age where their attention span is at a minimum and their energy level is always on high. It really is the perfect recipe for disaster- if you let it.

 I read, planned, and replanned for our recent trip to Cuba. I'm not talking about a 1 hour flight. We were on an airplane for about 5 hours ( luckily with a short layover in the middle). But that doesn't count all the time spent in the airport which can also be a disaster. New sights to see, new adventures to be found for your toddler all can lead to new stressors for you as a parent. To top it off it was also our first flight with just the 2 of us. No extra set of hands to wrangle the little man while the other person worried with passports, luggage, and carry-ons. It was just me ( and Ethan).

But guess what? When all was said and done it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. We had a few minor moments but nothing worth stressing over. Want to know how I did it? Well lucky for you I've compiled a list of things that helped us survive and make it possible to even enjoy our trip.

  • Tell your child what is going to happen before the day of.- Think about it if someone were to put you in the car and take you to do something you had no idea about would just always just willingly jump into it without any hesitation? Of course not, so why would we expect a child to do just that?  I started talking to Ethan about flying a week or so before our trip. Things like we are going on an airplane to visit Daddy. That we would need to be safe and wear a seat belt on the plane and would have to make sure we stayed together and held hands at all times. By the day of our flight it had been spoken of so much that it lost the "fear of the unknown" factor and was something exciting to explore together.
  • Pack only the essentials in your carry on. -This might be different from the whole " pack lots of things for your child to do" train of thought, but let me tell you why- for a young kid you really don't need but a few things to occupy them. The more you pack, the more you have to carry and Lord forbid you do have a toddler meltdown in the middle of the airport. Do you really want to have to juggle a kicking, screaming child with your giant carry-on bag and 50 million toys. No.  If you pack the right things then you don't need a lot. I strongly recommend if you have a tablet to load it up with a couple kid friendly movies and games and then just a small handful of other toys.  I packed my Kindle Fire ( complete with Ethan's 3 favorite movies) toy train, and a doodle pad. That's it. On the way home I didn't even bother throwing the doodle pad in the carry on because he had no desire to play with it. Ethan had his lovey that he goes nowhere without and then I had my wallet, passports, and my camera plus a few small things like medication. That is it.

  • Allow plenty of time. This should be pretty obvious but leave early and give yourself plenty of time so you don't get rushed.  Our flight left at 6 am and we were at the airport by 345. Yes it was early but we were able to get through checking in and security before it got busy then we had time to relax and explore the airport ( or Ethan's favorite, ride the escalator 50 times). I saw people get there long after us and they had to run around like crazy. Just don't do it. Its better to be too early then too late, you can always find something to do while you wait.
  • Dress comfortable.- Not just you but your little one too. Since we were us so early I left Ethan in his PJ's and just threw a pair of shorts in the bottom of our carry on. Plus when we left Norfolk it was 30 degrees and would be 90 when we got to Cuba.  As for me I wore slip on shoes and layers that way I could peel off my cardigan when it got too warm.
  • If you can get a seat away from other people- Or at least nobody directly in front of your toddler. That way if there is seat kicking, table opening, and screaming there won't be anyone right in the path of "destruction".  On our flight home I asked for seats away from people and since the plane was only half full we had a full 3 rows between us and anyone else so we could stretch out and play without feeling like we were disturbing others.

  • If you can't get away from others welcome their help ( if they offer). Yes there are those people who aren't fans of kids on airplanes. There is nothing you can do about them but ignore them and know you will never see them again so if things go south its not the end of the world. But for every person who has an issue with kids there is at least one who is willing to lend a helping hand. Little old ladies who give you a friendly smile or a parent traveling without their own kids can be a huge help because they tend to be extremely understanding and good sports about toddlers and play.
  • Know the airline you're flying with. Do they provide in flight meals? What about their breast feeding policy ( if you still are)? Its better to know these things ahead of time. I didn't pack lots of snacks because we flew United, and they tend to have in flight meals and snacks. So why bother loading myself down with more stuff when they will provide it for us anyway?  We had full bellies and a happy kiddo who was content on eating a sandwich and watching his movie.  
  • Think of your child's schedule- Is your child the type of kid that once they are awake they won't fall back to sleep ( therefor a 3am wake up like we did would make for a cranky kid?) Or will they fall asleep and take their naps anywhere?  Ethan will definitely sleep where ever he is so I used that in my favor with an early flight to Cuba and a naptime flight home. Within minutes of take off both times he was asleep. No he didn't sleep the entire flight, but a sleeping child=a happy parent. Especially on a plane.
  • Just go with the flow- I love to stick to a schedule but our schedule was thrown out the window on flight dates. Why? Because it just isn't realistic. Things happen and you have to adapt to different situations. If you kid has a melt down? Deal with it and move on. If other people give you grief? Let it roll of your back. You will NEVER see them again. All you need to do is worry about you, your child, and making it to your destination safely.  Who knows when you loosen the reigns a little you may even realize you are having a little bit of fun. 

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