(photo by Masada Siegel)
Taking a red-eye flight was no way to end a glorious Hawaii vacation with my nine-month-old, but it was the only nonstop and I figured everyone would go to sleep. Ah, how wrong I was! My little guy, who just had started walking, was so excited that we were not only awake the entire flight, but we spent it walking up and down the aisle.
Having little ones is a game-changer. After having traveled solo for months at a time, where I could follow any whim and not plan if I didn’t want to, my travel style has been turned completely upside down, but for all the right reasons.
So, while I always pack lots of extra food and supplies for my little guy, who’s now a toddler, I’ve learned to pack light for myself. Everything needs to be multipurpose. For example, my go-to travel uniform consists of a wrap-sweater because I use it as a baby blanket, and many friends use it as a nursing cover-up. Also, because it’s attractive, it can dress up a simple outfit.
Part of the travel experience is keeping your kids entertained. The best compliment I got recently was when a woman two rows behind me exclaimed, “What, you have a toddler with you? I had no idea. Thank you for making this a pleasant flight for all of us.”
Truth is it helps to be extremely prepared with planned activities, as well as making sure your little one is excited about the journey. A happy kid makes for a pleasant flight for all. Prior to our trip, I gave my son his own luggage, a super-cute airplane-themed rolling suitcase that also turns into a backpack. He loves it and constantly drags it around with him. I find it helpful for him to feel as if he is one of us, and part of the adventure.
I always pack a number of toys – they all must be useful both on the long flights and at the destination. I never leave home without our Bubzi, a stuffed owl that plays lullabies and projects stars on the ceiling, as it helps with sleep. Another lightweight item to bring is the Cinemood, an ultra-light three-inch portable projector that can be used just about anywhere with a flat surface, as its preloaded with lullabies, books and kid-friendly content. Be sure to pick up kid-safe headsets that protect little ears; Buddyphones are especially good on planes to help drown out the noise, too.
Traveling with a toddler has its ups and downs. On a recent trip, my son, who has always disliked cribs, was sleeping in a bed. Even though he was right next to me, he still flew off of it in the middle of the night, leading to a bruised up nose and an upset mom. There seem to be a million tiny situations that need to be thought through, some as simple as piling pillows all over the floor around a bed.
I’ve also learned that the details matter, such as keeping my little one out of the sun. While I tan easily, my son is blond and fair, leading me to explore a million different sunscreens, many sticky, which led to complaints. While we do use sunscreen, I’ve heard conflicting reports of how useful they are and how bad some of the chemicals are, so I finally changed my travel stroller to one that has on oversized canopy, as extra protection.
A sturdy stroller is also important because you can place your bags in it and my son can walk alongside me or even push the stroller. I’ve realized, the more active he is in the airport, the more tired he will be on the airplane. I always research the airport we are flying into, to see if there is anything to see, such as an aquarium, museum or viewing deck, so as to keep everyone entertained.
However, being organized takes a lot of effort and, while I try my best to keep everything in its place in my diaper bag, sometimes I don’t. I’ve had to dig around for my wallet, plane tickets and all sorts of odds and ends. Usually, a box of milk or other liquid slips my mind and then security zeroes in on me.
Even with a baby in tow, I have been patted down on every single flight I have taken with my son. Security is in no rush and generally don’t care if you miss your plane. On my last flight, I had to run through the airport holding my son to make it in time.
Traveling with a toddler certainly keeps you on your toes, but isn’t that why we travel in the first place, because we want to have new experiences? So, while the getting to the destination is part of the journey, my best advice is to try to enjoy the ride.
Masada Siegel is an award-winning journalist and photographer. Follow her at @masadasiegel and visit her website, masadasiegel.com.