Well folks - we made it! The girls and I just finished our 4th roundtrip flight in time for their 2nd birthday! And since then I've gotten a few fb messages/emails asking for some tips on flying with small kids. Soooooooo, I figured I'd consolidate those emails into one blog post. I am by NO MEANS an expert on this... but we've managed to make a lot of mistakes and learn our way around airports so I figured I'd share the wealth.
I'm going to try to organize this, but there are a lot of variables. You could, like me have twins, or you could just have one baby! So I want to specify some things for my twin mamas out there. Also, age plays a huge factor & whether you're flying alone or with help. My flights with my 4 month old twins and my flights with my almost 2 year olds looked completely different. So I'll try to specify some age appropriate tools too!
Without further adieu... 7 tips to flying with young kiddos.
1. Perspective is EVERYTHING. Y'all, can we just get this out there... Flying with kids under two is W.O.R.K. But, it can also be a fun adventure! Sometimes our expectations can completely skew our actual experience, so I think it's really helpful to walk into a travel day with healthy expectations. Expect that there will be stressful moments, but you can and will get through them. Expect that your child/children will indeed act like CHILDREN. You know your child - try to anticipate & buffer stressful situations for them. But even when those situations happen, be a beacon of grace, because let's be honest... our airports could use a few more gracious people... Can I get an amen?
Also, try to enjoy it. I promise... it really can be a fun adventure (even the yucky parts)! Is the day going to have it's low moments? YES. Is the day going to have some fun moments? YES! Are you going to need to be well prepared? YES. Is it going to be an adventure? Absolutely. Does it matter what strangers think of your parenting skills? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Kids sense our mood and our anxiety, so the calmer we can be for our kids... the better. Keep your cool and make up your mind that YOU CAN DO THIS & it's going to be a GREAT experience at best and at the worst well... after delays, lots of crying, spit up and poop... you'll eventually get there safe & mildly sound. So it's still a WIN.
2. Pack Lightly. LESS IS BEST. Moms of Twins out there... I'M TALKING TO YOU. It sounds crazy, but yes... pack lightly. I recommend 1 carry on bag per adult. Which means... yes, if you're traveling by yourself, I recommend carrying on only one bag EVEN IF YOU HAVE 2 KIDS. Not one bag and a purse... JUST ONE HUGE BAG. Hear me out, you don't have the arms to juggle children and multiple bags. Just get a really large bag and stick to it (I used this massive bag by Stella & Dot and it was AWESOME). You'll thank me when going through security or when you're trying to get your kids situated on the plane and are sweating like a banshee trying figure out which bag to put above you and which items you need out of both bags to keep with you and the person behind you is sighing loudly and you're holding up the entire plane. (Learn from my mistakes people...).
Now to the issue of getting checked in and getting your bags checked. If you are checking more than 1 bag and are flying solo... ASK FOR HELP. Ask a friend or family member to help you get to the airport and get your bags checked in. I'm SURE there is someone who is dying to help you out. We Americans tend to be too prideful and don't want anyone to help us out - I HEAR YOU. A little piece of me dies every time I ask someone for help... but that piece that is dying... that's self-centered pride y'all. And that's a good thing. Let someone into your life and allow them the opportunity of lending a helping hand.
Now for the good stuff. The packing list for your carry on:
Important documents (Id, money, birth certificates)
Bring a baby carrier. I preferred wearing my babies rather than pushing them when they were small. I used the Moby Wrap like it was my job & didn't bring a stroller until the girls out grew carriers and I flew by myself with them.
1 empty juice cup or bottle per child if they're done nursing.
If you're nursing, bring your nursing cover & minimal supplies. If you're pumping... God bless you. It's not ideal to pump in an airport bathroom or on a plane, but twin mamas, you'll probably be doing that if you're nursing and have a longer flight. This might be the only exception I would make to bringing two bags if you're by yourself. Bring a small bag with all pump supplies, etc.
Enough diapers for your travel time & then some extra (in case of layovers/delays), wipes, other changing essentials, etc. If you use cloth diapers, you might want to use disposables for the day. I've done both - and disposables are easiest. I've also just carried two of these around to fill with dirty cloth diapers... and honestly, it's doable for a shorter flight, but I wouldn't if I was going on a longer flight.
2 change of clothes per child (also pick comfy clothes that are easy to pack & easy to diaper change in)
A small freshen up bag for you (mascara, mini toothbrush, deodorant, chapstick, tylenol) - don't forget about you! And seriously don't forget the deodorant... the amount of sweating you will do while wrestling your kids.... WHEW. Just bring it.
A few age appropriate distraction toys/items: stickers, a book, coloring book, a loved stuffed animal, pacis, blankets, iPad, etc. Again - less is best. Don't overpack. Just assess the length of your trip & your child's age & attention span and adjust accordingly.
Any medications needed for you and your kids in an extra little bag.
2 extra ziploc bags (good for dirty diapers, dirty clothes, etc.). Not a necessity, but helpful & they don't take up space.
Snacks. I'll hit on that later, but leave room for some food.
3. Feeding your baby/babies. Alright. Here's where we're gonna get age appropriate. When the girls were little, we brought milk with us and fed them. You can bring breast milk & formula on flights. Here is a helpful resource on that. Be sure to notify TSA before going through screening that you have milk. They are usually very gracious and helpful to folks with little ones. We made sure we brought enough for meal times AND for take off and landing. You can bring a mini cooler (like an insulated lunch bag) to store it. I brought some frozen milk and some thawed so we would have some fresh. Also, don't be afraid to ask a starbucks or a sandwich shop for cups of hot water to warm bottles in. I've done that many times and purchased a bottle of water for myself (nursing mamas gotta stay hydrated!) and everyone was SUPER gracious. When the twins were little, I never flew alone because you can only have 1 lap child. So, I kept all milk supplies and pump in one back pack and then the packing list above in another bag carried by either Ben or a grandparent.
Everyone is different, but for me it was more difficult to breast feed the twins in public because I fed them at the same time and we took up a lot of space. Double breastfeeding just isn't ideal in public settings especially not airplanes. SO, we gave them bottles - which is what I recommend for twin mamas - and then I pumped in bathrooms, cars, etc. You do what works best for you - a lot of my friends with 1 baby like to nurse them during take off and landing, and I think if I had only 1 that's the route I'd go as well so I wouldn't have to worry about pumping.
Once the girls were older & off the boobs, we brought empty bottles/juice cups so we could avoid the hold up at security and then bought juice/milk/water near the gate.
Also, once they were on solid foods we brought a stash of their favorite snacks AND a few special snacks that I knew they'd LOVE. The girls LOVE COOKIES. like... They're obsessed... so I made some chocolate chip cookies the night before and broke them out for crucial situations. If you bring a few novelty items like suckers, cookies, their favorite fruit or snack, it's a great distraction tool! The same can be said for a toy or ipad game. We don't let our girls play on ipads all day, but when we travel we will break an ipad or iphone out and have a few games/shows on it that they LOVE. It's about survival people - all you anti-technology folks can skip that part and just substitute it with their favorite book. ;)
4. Be aware of potential stressful "hot spots" during travel & develop a plan. There were 3 points of stress for me. Security, boarding, and getting the girls & all of our crap out of the plane. Again, here was my overall plan: Don't rush. Take your time. Stay calm. Look for helpful people. Plan for it to be a little chaotic, but try to be as thorough & systematic as possible. I promise, in the end, it will all be fine.
When you're planning out your trip. Think ahead of some of the "spots" that could stress you out (it's different for everyone) & then develop a basic game plan. Know that in a split second that plan can go to pot and you'll have to be FLEXIBLE, but if some of your main parts of your plan are "Don't rush, Stay calm, Be organized, & Press On" you'll be fine.
If you're a twin mama traveling solo with toddlers, here is my advice to you. Purchase these back pack harnesses. I know... I know... Sounds HORRIBLE. I used to mock people with kids on leashes. And I'm not gonna lie, I overheard some people say "Are those girls on leashes?" YES. YES, THEY ARE & YES, THOSE ARE ALSO SWEAT STAINS COMING FROM MY SHIRT BUT MOVE ON PEOPLE... THIS ISN'T A FREAK SHOW (or maybe it is). But when you are outnumbered and are keeping track of a stroller, a HUGE bag, all sorts of other random junk AND TWIN TODDLERS... these will be life savers. Just go buy them. You'll thank me later.
5. Forget what other people think of you. Listen closely and repeat after me: It doesn't matter what they think. Say it again. Now Say it louder. SCREAM IT. When you get stared at by the 40 year old business man, I want you to repeat that to yourself in your head. When the flight attendant gives you a dirty look or makes a comment under their breath about kids, twins, babies, etc. I want you to say it again. When the other mom with kids makes it look easy... I want you to say it again.
Most people will be kind and gracious, but there will be a few who aren't. And how quick are we to notice the few and let them haunt us? Mama, you are doing your best & that's all that matters. Children are a blessing, not an inconvenience - and no matter how much our society defies that truth we must fight back and fight back with joy. So when you look around and feel judging eyes for traveling with your children, I want you to hold your head up high & scream loudly at yourself (preferably in your head) It does not matter what they think! I am a mama and it is an honor and privilege that I get to raise these children and travel with them today. And then press on. Have fun. And keep on doing what you gotta do to get your family from one place to the next.
Now... Some specific suggestions for the outnumbered mama. Alright mama. You're by yourself with two children. I've not done it with two kids with differing ages under 2, only with 2 kids the same age. So I'm sure I'm lacking something. But for the mama with twins, I don't recommend flying solo until one child can walk. Sometimes life happens and you do what you gotta do. But if you can wait or have someone fly with you (after all you can only have one lap child so you're paying for 2 seats anyways), DO IT. Once at least one of your babies is walking, I think you're in the clear to fly solo & it's a fun adventure so you should try it! Here are my tips especially for you.
- Keep them in the stroller as long as possible. I know it's counter intuitive, but if you can keep your babies contained... do it. If they absolutely hate the stroller, this might not be an option for you. But in my experience, the longer you can keep them contained the better. Again, I recommend one of these children's harnesses (monkey buddy, back pack) for those situations.
- Keep them moving. I have busy children who don't like to sit still, so if you end up with a lot of free time before boarding, I don't recommend straight chilling by the gate. Take a walk with them, keep pushing them in the stroller, find out if your airport has a great children's play area (The Nashville airport does FYI).
- If you have a stroller (which I recommend with two), make sure you get a tag at your gate for it to be put underneath the plane. Do this FIRST when you arrive at your gate.
- Change diapers RIGHT before boarding. Give yourself enough time to change diapers beforehand. Because changing diapers in a crammed little airplane bathroom with two kids by yourself is less than ideal... it's practically impossible. Also, feel free to go into a family bathroom at the airport and spread out. It's nice to have a confined space.
- Again, you will have to push the stroller up to the plane entrance, so this part can be the tricky with 2 little ones. I'll admit... I was a little afraid about one of the girls running off & falling in between the space of the plane and walkway while I was getting the other one out (paranoid anyone?). So that's the main reason I got the children's harnesses - BUT it wasn't as bad as I thought (Read: I was being completely paranoid and ridiculous). I already had the girls harnesses on them & just held onto them with one hand while I broke down the stroller. Whether you decide to harness or not - you'll need to have a plan because you will have to break down your stroller for the crew so you won't be able to hold your kids while doing so (unless you're super woman and have an extra set of hands the rest of us are lacking).
- Toddlers are crazy. The likelihood of them sitting still and quietly on the plane is slim to none. If yours do that... recognize that you have miracle babies and stop judging the rest of our rowdy kids. Just prepare yourself to stay busy and keep them entertained. Feel free to sing them songs, play games, and make a little noise. Kids will be kids. The plane is super loud and covers up a lot. Don't stress about noise too much. And after all, flying is a form of PUBLIC transportation, not private.
I think the main thing for ALL of us to remember is... Grace upon Grace upon Grace. Grace for yourself. Grace for your kid/s. And Grace for those around you who might not be as understanding. Carry on mama. You are strong. You are smart. You can do this... And it's going to be fun!
Any other tips from you other well-traveled mamas?