“You’re kind of like a circus,” says a lady, as we pass her from the parking lot.
“Wow-wee! Now that’s the way to travel!” an older man tells us as we stand in line to check our luggage.
“I gotta get me one of those!” yells a woman as we head toward security.
I’ll admit it. We do look a little strange as we enter the airport with our stroller, car seat on wheels, and accompanying luggage. But we’ve done it so many times, it seems normal to us. Summer holiday is here. For us, summer holiday means travel: by plane, train, or automobile! But mostly, we travel by plane.
Knowing my children are frequent flyers, I am usually asked logistic questions from my mom friends. I like to start every conversation with this caveat, “Every family is different, but this is what works for us…”
So I present to you a couple of my favorite answers to my mom-friends’ questions, which includes our favorite entertainment and travel gear. As I mentioned, we mostly travel by plane, but much of this could be used no matter how your family chooses to travel.
This is not a sponsored post. It just includes products that my family uses and enjoys.
How do you keep your preschooler and toddler entertained while traveling?
I have the same backpack that I pack the same way every time. That way I know where everything is just in case there is a meltdown. This is what I include:
Something to keep little hands busy
My son’s first airplane ride was when he was sixteen months old, exactly the age when toddlers DO NOT want to be seated. As we were traveling per my husband’s business trip, we opted not to buy him a seat. I had a hard time figuring out how I could keep his wiggles contained on our laps! Then stickers entered our world. If I had enough stickers, he would spend a two-hour flight solely positioning them on sheet after sheet. We kept the same notebook for several trips, so it was fun to see how developmentally he changed the way he placed them based on his spatial awareness. As he got older, we moved on to educational sticker books. Our latest sticker book was a Spanish one where along with sticking stickers, he also learned some Spanish vocabulary. As for my one-year-old daughter, she isn’t quite dexterous enough for stickers, so pulling off post-it notes does the trick.
Something for imaginative play
Finger puppets are my go-to here. Small, easy to replace, great for imaginative conversations and stories. My toddler really likes playing with these! Flashcards are another small item with great variety. We opt for animal flashcards where my preschooler can play multiple games like compare and contrast two animals or guess the animal. It’s also great for my toddler to practice naming the animal, or as a family, we randomly pick a few cards and then create a story about the animals chosen. The options are endless.
Something to doodle on
We love our magnetic doodle board. We play all kinds of games with it: pictionary, collaborative art, writing practice. And the nice thing is there are so many types, you can get different sizes depending on how compact you need it to be. Another doodle toy we like is Melissa & Doug’s Water Wow. They work okay for travel, as you do need to fill the brush with water before the fun can begin (which can be difficult if you’re driving or on a bumpy plane ride), but I always pack them because they work really great at restaurants, too. Inevitably, when we travel, we will end up at a restaurant at some point, and although the crayons and coloring sheet given at most restaurants is kind, it’s not very sustainable, as they are usually a one-time use item, and they don’t capture my preschooler’s attention for long. The Water Wow, however, with the colored pictures that magically appear with water, entertain for at least as long as it takes to bring the food.
Something to read
I used to pack books, but they were bulky, and my son would be heartbroken if they got misplaced. So I started packing magazines. They are light, thin, and we’ve had the opportunity to gift them to other traveling kiddos. (Thanks, Aunt Star, for gifting a magazine subscription for Christmas!)
And headphones–for when the travel day just doesn’t end
One of the worst plane rides I remember is when we were in front of a little girl about the same age as my son. My son was happily doing one of his activities, but the little girl behind us was struggling. Her parents finally found a solution for her: watching videos of herself on a tablet. Unfortunately, her little laugh was even more high pitched on the video. And it was loud enough for the back half of the plane to hear. It was just too much for my ears, and I ended up getting a headache. But, I get it. I, also, have given my child a phone or tablet to distract. Even if I think my son won’t need it, I pack kid-sized headphones just in case. The size is just right for little heads, and the decibels minimal for little ears. I’ve also started packing a headphone jack splitter, in case I want to listen in, too!
I always include enough diapers and wipes, extra clothes for the kids (and myself–can’t believe how often it has come in handy), snacks, and IDs. (I used to bring birth certificates before my kids had their own passports.) But here are a few other things I refuse to travel without…
FAA car seat document
I’m a big fan of The Car Seat Lady blog, and I love all their posts on airplane travel, especially the one explaining FAA regulations. I agree that my children are definitely safer and more comfortable when our air travel includes car seats. The only time I had trouble with a flight attendant denying me the right to use a car seat was the one time I didn’t have a copy of the FAA document outlining the procedure for domestic flights! (Needless to say, we haven’t used that airline since.) So now, for me, it’s as important as having our tickets.
Go-Go Babyz Travelmate (adds wheels to your car seat)
Since we bring my son’s car seat on the plane with us, we LOVE using this product that clips onto a car seat and turns it into a stroller. My son can ride it all the way through the airport to his plane seat. The latch does take a few tries to get used to because of the ratchet mechanism, but it’s great to use! Maneuvers easily and it’s compact!
Grayl Water bottle
Before I found this water bottle, I was paying the exorbitant airport prices for bottled water. But buying one-use plastics is not sustainable, and as I’m continually cultivating my mindful spending habits, I knew there had to be something better. Although there are different versions that basically do the same thing, I like this water bottle because it’s easy and fast. I filter the tap water and then pour it into my kids’ bottles with built-in straws because it’s so important to keep those kiddos hydrated and their ears popping!
When we travel to see family, it’s usually a couple days here, a few days in the next location, and so on. Our suitcase was often a mess! Enter packing cubes! I love how I can pack specifically for exactly what we’ll need each stop, so I don’t need to rummage through the whole suitcase. Something to keep me organized while traveling? Definitely a must!
Wouldn’t it be easier just to travel without the kids? Is it really worth it?
Yes. It would be easier to travel san kids, but then some of my family would never see my children, and my children wouldn’t get to experience new cultures, tastes, and experiences! Yes, it can be exhausting. But the more you do it, the easier it gets. (Or maybe you’re just so tired that you don’t really notice! Either way, you somehow make it through!) Having the right gear for your family can help, but having a can-do, adventurous spirit is the best foundation when planning travels with kids.
Here’s to your next travel adventure!