Having recently returned from a trip across the country, I’ve encountered lots of tantruming children and desperate parents. Though this time I went solo, I thought I would share some suggestions for making travel less torture, especially with toddlers. While it’s impossible to predict any one trip, here are some dos and don’ts for your next family adventure.
Don’t overpack. What is it with this notion that to travel with your kids you need eighteen carry-ons and four diaper bags? Yes, unexpected things can happen, but if you overburden yourself with baggage, you’ll have less hands available for your kids. And you know what? No toy, gadget, doohickey or snack comes close to your presence for your kid.
Don’t forget to check your stroller at the gate. Most flights require that you bring your stroller to the front desk for a tag, so they can stow it for you during your flight. People tend to forget this, and then there’s chaos at the gate as you’re boarding. By the same token, don’t bring your gargantuan Maclaren; opt for a smaller, lighter model for easy carrying.
Don’t freak out. It’s terrifying when your kid is the one screaming on the plane and won’t stop. No amount of preparation can prevent the unexpected, but a moody, defensive parent does nothing to quell your upset child’s tantrum.
Hit the jump for more tips on traveling with your toddler.
Don’t worry about other people. Yes, for whatever reason, people like to inundate you with their opinions when you show up on a flight, and their kids never acted out like that. Even though the blue-haired woman reading the Harlequin two seats over keeps glaring at you and rolling her eyes, just try to focus on getting your three year old to sit down and eat something. That said, be nice to the flight attendants. They may be your saving grace.
Do pay attention. Maybe this goes without saying for most of us, but I recently witnessed a woman who had her nose buried in her magazine while her two year old was spitting on people. Finally, someone had to inform the woman of her child’s behavior. But if you let your kid hang backward over a seat, they’re bound to leak from somewhere, y’know?
Do pack a few good gadgets and toys. And make sure they’re within easy reach. iPhones and iPods make remarkable distractions. As do cars and toys big enough not to fall down under the seat and roll thirty rows back. My personal favorites are travel Pocket Etch A Sketch and the Fisher-Price Doodle Pro Tag-Along Blue. Mess-free entertainment!
Do bring an unseen “surprise” for good behavior. If your kid is food-motivated, or toy-motivated, work with that. I gave our son a set of cars for good behavior during our flight to California last fall and it totally distracted him from the bustle of the flight. For about fifteen minutes, anyway.
Do utilize the lavatory. If your kid won’t stop crying, or is tantruming–as mine once did–the lavatory is a great place to go. Cold running water and a quieter environment (for you and the rest of the passengers) can help you to calm your child, and focus them. And most come equipped with sanitizer, too!
Do prepare them. Sure, children aren’t adults, and you can’t always reason with them. But even young children benefit from preparation. Tell them stories about airplanes, and describe to them everything they’ll see. Show them a map, and trace your route. You’ll be surprised how much they can understand!