Oh, I’m excited about today’s post!
Over the last 10 years of blogging, I would say that the most common questions I receive every day are about these four topics: adoption, faith, food and traveling with kids.
I don’t think a day goes by when someone doesn’t email me and ask for tips about traveling with their kiddos. When they do, I always send them to this post that I wrote four years ago about traveling with your kids. Lately though, people have been reading that post and politely emailing me back and asking for an updated post because a. my kids are now four years older b. my family has had even more experience traveling c. I now have four kids to travel with instead of two.
So, today, I’m going to share my favorite tips, tricks and ideas for traveling with kids…updated for 2017.
Okay, first some disclaimers (because I always feel like I should put disclaimers in posts like this):
1. I’m going to repeat many of the tips from the previous post because I think they still work, and I still use them.
2. I’m going to brag on my kids a bunch here in a second, but that’s okay because they’ve earned it, right? Just because I don’t want to seem too obnoxious, let me share a short list of posts I would write where I would NOT be bragging on my kids:
Getting your kids to flush the toilet.
Getting your kids to shut the back door every time they come in and out (why is that so hard to remember???).
Getting your kids to remember to make their bed.
Getting your kids to put up their own laundry (p-lease, they would leave it in piles on the floor for years).
Getting your kids to hang up their wet towels.
Getting your kids to have good attitudes about homework (it’s like pulling teeth most days)…which leads me to…Getting your kids to not be a total spaz at the dentist.
Getting your kids to not touch each other in the car/yell at the others for singing too loudly.
Getting your kids to actually get dressed and brush their teeth the first time they’re asked and not the 105th time.
See…I’m going to have to refer to one of YOU to write those posts because the Shull kids cannot hang in any of those categories (and many more that I’ll leave unnamed).
3. I know I’m not the only one with a lot of experience traveling with kids, so I hope you chime in too! Please comment and share your favorite traveling tips please!
4. This was a fun post to write because I’m including a lot of pictures from when my babies were little, so I was able to walk down memory lane a bit as I wrote.
5. Most of the tips are about airplane travel because that is what most of the questions are about. I have a few road trip tips, but this post is primarily about flying.
Whew! Enough disclaimers? One more thing before our tips…it’s the “why do you travel so much with kids?” question that always comes with posts like this, so here are my thoughts…
Growing up, my parents made sure we always traveled together as a family. My mom and dad thought it was very important for Sean and I to travel at a young age, to learn about different cultures and people and to know that the little bubble we live in here in the Dallas area is not representative of the entire world. My parents also wanted us to travel together as a family unit because it made us really close. When you remove everything but your little family (the distractions of phones, friends, TV, and such) and go out on an adventure together…it always brings you closer. So, when I married Andrew, he really hadn’t been anywhere, but he understood how important traveling was to me, and it’s something we have made a priority in our marriage and with our kids. Whether we’re taking a big overseas trip or a road trip in Texas, it always brings us a little closer, it always teaches us something, it typically involves some crying and maybe a few “what in the world are we doing moments”, there are always a bunch of laughs and one of us (cough, cough ME) almost always throws up. It’s a good old-fashioned vacation 🙂 .
TRAVELING BY AIR
We love traveling by air because that almost always means you’re going somewhere nice and far and COOL!
Okay, I have no clue why this pic is blurry…but here’s the deal: we learned quickly that if your kiddo is under two, they almost always are able to fly for free (or if not free, a very small fee)…so what do you do when you have two babies under two? You buy two tickets to somewhere far off and take those babies with you…because how often can a family of four fly for the price of two? Five month old Smith and 21 month old Kensington were on their way to Amsterdam in this picture 🙂 .
Tips for flying with babies:
1. We like to travel with two umbrella strollers instead of one bigger stroller that holds two babies. Umbrella strollers are easy to carry, pack up, load on planes, put in cars/trains/buses, take up less room in your hotel, allow you to separate if you want to and each only have one child, sometimes, if you’re going to dinner or not going far, you can only take one and not both, they take up less room in restaurants, they’re less expensive, so if they’re lost, stolen or damaged, it’s not as traumatic or damaging to your wallet, kids aren’t right next to each other and constantly touching…we’ve found two is better than one.
2. We try not to travel with a car seat…and I know this one is controversial, but for us, it helps to keep our sanity. We really, really, really try not to have to check our own personal car seats at the airport because they’re expensive and the odds of them being damaged are kind of high, we already feel like we’re carrying enough stuff to move to the other side of the world, so it’s nice to not have to also carry/lug around a car seat too. We have checked them before and when we do, I buy a big heavy duty bag from places like Home Depot to wrap them in before they’re checked to help make sure they’re not damaged. That being said, the majority of the time, we either rent car seats once we land (car rental places rent out car seats) or we line up transportation before we leave that includes car seats. We have found that doing these things helps keep our hands free at the airports and keeps our nice car seats at home…at home (all safe and sound). This takes a little planning in advance (you should line up both renting a car seat or finding a car service that will include the proper car seats before you depart). On the plane, the airlines have always accommodated us with either lap belts made for holding a baby in your lap (if they’re under two) or special lap belts for smaller kids in their plane seats.
3. On long flights, contact your airline in advance and try and get seats that include access to a crib on the plane. That’s right, I said a crib. On a plane. Many larger planes that are traveling long distances have certain seats that have access to this snap on bassinet type thing they can adhere to the wall in front of you seat for your baby to sleep in during the flight. These seats book up quickly, so make sure you ask well in advance. In my experience, these seats do not cost more, they’re just limited, so you need to ask when booking your flights.
Kensington’s first flight. She was 5 months old…we both look nervous. And my hair color is a bit off…but that’s just a side note 😉 .
Baby Kensington at 7 months old on a flight to Hawaii. She looks just like her daddy here 🙂 .
I’m sure we forgot something on this trip. No matter how much you pack, you will always forget something. The good news is…everywhere you travel on this earth has babies…so, even if it’s not the same brand/style of whatever you love, you’ll be able to find something similar, right? The minute I realized and accepted the fact that I would probably forget something and yet, we would still survive, it became easier. As Elsa would say, you just have to let it go sometimes and hope for the best.
Two babies, two strollers, one big adventure.
Tips for Flying with Toddlers:
So, my kids never cry when we travel. Ever.
These are my tips for traveling with toddlers.
1. You just have to practice. As silly and simple as that sounds, in my opinion, it’s the best way to raise little travelers. It’s just like anything, the more you do it, the better you become at it. Kensington and Smith are fantastic travelers. Right now, they’re 7 and 8 and they can get from the parking garage at the airport all the way to their airplane seat without annoying me one time. #winning They handle security by themselves, they carry their own bags, they know how to be quiet/behave/stay close by/help with their younger sisters/etc. They’re just really good travelers…because they are seasoned travelers. But they were not born seasoned travelers, they had to become them over time. People always email me and say “how do I get my kid to behave on their first flight” and my answer is besides the obvious: bribery of candy/gum/toys/colors, there’s a good chance they might not behave on their first flight…but that’s okay, most kids don’t! They don’t because they don’t know how/haven’t experienced it/it’s all new to them/they’re frightened/they’re bored/they’re restless/they’re over-tired/blah, blah, blah…in my opinion, it’s okay to expect a learning curve with flying with kids…but I do think the more you do it, the better they become. It just takes practice.
2. Speaking of bribery: it works on a plane. We always bring little things to pull out during the flight to keep our kids’ attention (not so much now, but we did a lot when they were much younger). Things that work for us are fruity/gummy type candies (because they eat chocolate candies too quickly…things like Starbursts and such take them longer to unwrap and eat), suckers (again because it takes them longer to enjoy a sucker), sticker books, coloring books with crayons (not markers because markers get on clothing and you drop and lose lids), small toys like Hot Wheels and Shopkins or else Barbies work well too (just don’t even bother bring Barbie shoes or you will find yourself on all fours by your seat searching for one), books where you have to search for things (because it takes longer for you to flip the pages when they’re trying to find Waldo or whatever kind search book you have), and of course, electronic devices with headphones like iPads are great too.
3. Always bring a blanket. Planes are notoriously too hot or too cold, and if it’s cold…nothing is cozier than a blanket from home. We always pack one blanket for each kiddo and often a neck pillow too. Airplane naps are the best kind 🙂 .
4. Airplane rides are not the time to be “the best parent ever”. I’m all for making sure my kids behave in public by enforcing rules and high expectations…but on a plane, if giving them a pacifier, a piece of gum, letting them hold my sunglasses, play with an empty water bottle, tear pages out of my magazine is going to keep them quiet and content…I allow it and forgo my normal standards. You’re just trying to survive. Repeat that to yourself: Survive, survive, survive. On the way home from China this last time, Madeley put Teddy Graham-like cookies in a cup and them dumped them out and started over again for about two hours…and you know what? We gladly let her because it kept her quiet and content for two hours. Survive.
5. Before the plane takes off, when people are taking their seats around you, APOLOGIZE PROFUSELY to them. Seriously, this might be my best tip in this post: apologize, apologize, apologize to the people around you and they will LOVE YOU. We always say, “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry you have to sit here near our kids. We know how much that stinks. We are so sorry!”…and you know what they ALWAYS say? “We love kids! We have grandkids/kids/nieces/godchildren at home and just love them. How old are you kids? They’re just so cute! Etc, Etc, Etc.” If you acknowledge upfront that sitting near small kids on a plane isn’t ideal, people become very sweet and don’t seem to mind nearly as much when your kid is crying/kicking/being loud in-flight. This tip is gold…I promise.
Flying to Denmark with this little toddler cutie.
Tips for Flying with Bigger Kids:
Nothing says family fun like arriving at the airport at 4:30 AM!
My big kids never complain about traveling and are always smiling and happy. #yeahright
Traveling has become so much easier now that my toddlers are big kids. Even four year old Ashby is pretty self-sufficient at the airport! Here are some of my tips:
1. Let them pack their own carry on bag…and don’t micromanage it. My big kids get one carry on bag for each trip and I let them put whatever they want inside. They always have to bring it downstairs and let me look it over to make sure it’s TSA approved. I used to micromanage what they had inside, but now, I just let them put whatever they want inside. “Really Smith, you think you need one plastic fork, four Hot Wheels cars and a scarf? That’s what you want to take? Okay.” I mean…it’s their bag, their time to spend on the flight and if he thinks he can entertain himself with a random assortment of nonsense, then so be it. When he says he’s bored on the flight, I’m going to say, “I didn’t pack your bag” and go back to reading my book. However, it’s funny how when they pack their own bag of randomness, they rarely get bored. It’s amazing what they can do with that odd assortment of things. So, let them pack their own bag.
2. Make them carry their own carry on bag. My big kids know that they have to carry their own carry on bag, so if it weighs 500 pounds, they better carb up before the trip…because I’m not hauling it around. If they’re old enough to carry a backpack to school and keep up with it all day and return with it every night, then they’re old enough to keep up with a bag at the airport.
3. Pack snacks. This tip could be for all ages…pack snacks and then when you think you’ve packed enough, pack some more. Popular plane snacks for us are trail mix, protein bars, granola bars, baggies of cereal and goldfish crackers. My kids have to pack their own snacks too. This way, when they’re hungry, they can dig around in their own bag and get what they want, when they want it.
4. My big kids like to bring their iPad on flights plus books to read (with little reading book lights because it’s easier for them to see than the overhead light), word searches, crossword puzzles, and coloring books.
So…you’ve landed with your kids…now, how do you combat jet lag???
My kids never get jet lag.
They’re never tired/exhausted/worn out from flying. #maybeimwrong
Next week, I’m going to do an entire post on my sleep routine on a flight. I told Erika one time about it, and she has been insisting I blog about it ever since. I should probably write a book about it…I do a dang good job sleeping on a flight 🙂 . So, I’m going to save sleeping on a plane for next week…but as for jet lag, in my opinion, there are several guaranteed ways to help you fight it off (you’ll probably still have it…but these tips help).
1. For the love of all things holy, DO NOT TAKE A NAP WHEN YOU LAND. Period. End of story. Do not. When you land, you must immediately catch up to where they are in their day. If you’re lucky enough to arrive at night, then thank your lucky stars and go straight to bed. If you land first thing in the morning (I’m talking to you United States into Europe flights!) then you have to persevere. That’s what you do…PERSEVERE. When we land with our kids, we really try and get out that day and do something active to keep everyone awake until bedtime. If we’re outside in the fresh air, walking, moving, seeing things…it’s really not that hard (plus, they’ve slept on the plane…more on that next week). If you (or they) nap, then everyone gets all screwed up and no one is tired at night.
2. Drink a ton of water. Water helps us fight off jet lag. We drink a lot on the flight and when we land. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
3. Stay active! We don’t sit down or else we fall asleep. We go explore and check things out. We move.
My road trip section is going to be shorter because honestly, it’s less complicated. We take several road trips every year and find them just as much fun and good for family bonding as big overseas trips. We love a good road trip 🙂 .
I always bring these items with me when we’re on a road trip or when we fly. In my carry on bag, you will always find:
1. Baby wipes (even if you don’t have a baby, bring baby wipes)
2. Lots of plastic grocery bags. They hold everything from trash to vomit. #sogrossbutsotrue
3. Gallon sized freezer bags. They hold dirty diapers, soiled clothes…anything leaking that you don’t want to just throw away.
4. Small baggies to corral crayons, small toys, buttons that fly off…whatever it is, a small baggie will hold it.
5. Chewable Dramamine, cough drops, breath mints and gum
6. For younger kids, a change of clothes
Just like with air travel, in the car on road trips, we bring the kids blankets and pillows. We also let them each pack a carry on type of bag filled with whatever they think they need to entertain themselves in the car.
When traveling by car, we love to leave either really early in the morning or later at night. For us, the worst thing we can do is allow our kids to get a full night of sleep and then when they wake up, put them in the car for the day. THEY ARE SO RESTLESS. We really prefer leaving around 4:30ish AM so that they sleep a bit when we first get in the car or later in the afternoon/evening (again, around 4:30ish PM this time).
We have also learned that it’s better if our kiddos don’t play games on iPads, read, do word searches and such in the car because those things tend to make them sick. (They get that from their mama.) The funny thing about being car sick is that it sneaks up on you QUICKLY, so we try and avoid it at all cost. Usually in the car, they watch a movie, play with toys that they’ve brought with them or we’ll do some sort of car game (we’ve brought car bingo before and that’s easy for them to do).
So…I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include some things, but I think that’s enough for one day.
I have a few other posts on traveling coming up:
How we survive really long flights.
How we prioritize, save and plan for future trips.
Now, it’s your turn. What are your best tips for traveling with kids? Please comment and share below! We all could use more tips, right?!