With that said, I'm not sure that having four, six or eight kids would make me feel any closer to being an expert. (That's totally not something I want to test out, either.)
Recently, a few people have commented on my "bravery" in traveling with Little Man when Beau is unavailable to join us. I didn't ever really consider it brave. (Or stupid, or crazy, or inspiring or any other adjectives assigned to our adventures by outsiders.)
Just this morning we returned home from our weekend in Chicago for my first BlogHer conference. This time I didn't travel solo. My wonderful, sweet, kind mom came with us. Her pseudonym from here on out will be Granny Nanny. (Don't worry, she likes it.) I realized during this most recent trip that traveling with kids can be hard. It doesn't have to be. (And by kids, I mean my one kid. Moms of many, I don't pretend to speak for you.)
Here are some pieces of advice I have for moms of toddlers who want to travel. I've tested these on planes, trains and automobiles. They work. At least for my kid. I've even tried them out traveling solo with him. I'm still here to write about it. Go figure.
1. Accept help
This one is the hardest for me. Just ask my mom. She saw it first hand this weekend. I am fiercely independent. I have an "I can do it" attitude about most things. I fully realized the benefit of accepting help last night when Little Man was asleep on me and I was trying to figure out how to get my backpack down from the overhead and put it on without waking the sweet baby. Mom was further back on the plane, so I was going to have to do this on my own. (Yes, I realize I could have waited for her to get up to us. I didn't think about it at the time.) The sweet grandfather who shared our row of seating offered to get my backpack for me. Instantly I felt less stressed. He was also sweet enough to offer to carry my bags off, but that seemed like overkill given my proneness to fierce independence. I'm a work in progress, what can I say.
Likewise, I've had strangers offer to help carry the stroller down stairs where a ramp wasn't available. Doors are often held for us. These gestures are so, so helpful.
Say thank you. Profusely and sincerely.
And if you refuse help, do so politely as well. Don't be the one to make the person offering not want to help another solo mom some other time.
2. Don't expect help
People will help. Probably. Except for when they don't. Don't count on it, and don't expect it. Formulate a plan that you can manage on your own. That means you should have the means to carry all of your luggage and manage your child at the same time. When we flew to San Diego, Beau's company booked his flight and because of logistical difficulties, Beau had to book us on a different flight. Little Man and I flew across country on our own. The most difficult part of that was that I carried his car seat with me because we rented a car and I didn't want to rent a sub par seat (tried that once, wasn't impressed) and I didn't want to check his seat (the abuse that luggage takes can damage a seat and compromise your baby's safety). This meant that I had to traverse the airport in Detroit with a baby, a car seat, and a diaper bag. I erroneously didn't want to deal with a stroller in the airport, so I didn't bring one. There was no nice grandfather on his way to visit his grand kids to help me in this case. There were a lot of people in a hurry to get where they needed to be. I was just another ant (albeit a baby wearing ant) in a maze of other ants.
Instead of expecting help, I prepared to make the plane change on my own. I wore Little Man on my chest in his Baby Bjorn and made sure that I could balance his jumbo car seat on my hip and still walk a good distance at a solid clip. It would have been nice to have had help, but I didn't need it. We made our connection with enough time to grab a sandwich and have a college age couple comment on my car seat/baby carrying guns.
3. Prepare, but don't over pack
When I travel alone I bring extras. I have "just in case" stuff. A just in case magazine or two. My laptop- just in case I want to write. A water bottle just in case I want to fill it up after getting through security. Et cetera. You get it. When traveling with a person who doesn't contribute anything to the experience (aka your offspring), you get to play Sherpa. It ain't as fun as it sounds. Know how many diapers your little one will use, and then plan on bringing just a few more. (I know, mom, I over-packed diapers this trip...) Know which small toys and books will amuse your little one and just pack those. If your little person is as
Even if you aren't flying and the amount of luggage is a non issue, remember, you'll have to carry it, load/unload it, and pack/unpack/repack/unpack it. Bring what you need plus a little extra and call it a day. Do keep in mind that if you don't bring an extra outfit or two there will be a poop explosion or something equally messy and stinky. Preparedness is not synonymous with over packing. Know the difference.
4. Give yourself more time that you think you could possibly need
This last trip, mom and I could have booked a connection that would have gotten us back to Richmond earlier. The layover would have been less than an hour, though. I wasn't keen on the idea of changing planes with a toddler in Atlanta with less than an hour between flights. We probably could have made it, but it would have been tight and I would have been stressed. Be aware of layover times, the size of the airport you'll be changing planes in, and any customs requirements when booking your flight. Plan according to your needs.
Similarly, plan to get to the airport earlier than necessary to get through security. On both legs of this trip I got pulled aside to have my bag searched. While it is perfectly within FAA regulations to bring as much food or liquid as is reasonable, my bags got flagged and the food packets got pulled out and the bag rescreened. Likewise, it takes a few minutes to take care of strollers and seats, get the little one situated back in the seat or sling, put shoes back on, etc. It is much easier if there is no real rush.
Little Man and I have made two road trips to West Virginia when Beau's work schedule didn't allow us to join him. The drive itself is a pretty straightforward five hour drive. I never plan it taking five hours. I know that we will stop at least once for a nice stretch, meal and diaper change. We'll play for a little bit and I'll let him expend some energy. I never know how long this will take and I have learned not to begrudge it. Giving him time to recover from being strapped in a seat for a lengthy period makes the rest of the trip go by smoothly. Be aware and considerate of your little person's energy level.(Because if you aren't you--and possibly the other 100+ people on a plane--will suffer through the ramifications of a baby who has too much energy and nowhere to go.)
5. Always pack food
Even if I'm driving an hour to see family, I pack food. It may just be a small baggie of crackers and a sippy cup, but it is food nonetheless. Sometimes that hour turns into two plus hours because of traffic. Sometimes a 45 minute flight sits on a tarmac for two hours. Sometimes the food/beverage cart on the train is out of food your baby can/will eat. Those packed snacks can often keep a meltdown from happening.
And that is very good.
6. Be flexible
Travel is stressful. Babies and toddlers are stressful. The two of them together could very easily be a stress cocktail. Don't let it be. If traffic has you stopped long before you planned your leg-stretch stop, let the traffic dictate your stop instead of your agenda. If your flight is cancelled or your bag is lost, calmly ask the airline personnel how they are going to remedy your situation (and then thank me for reminding you to pack that extra outfit and a few extra diapers). If your baby ALWAYS eats a nutritious and balanced meal at noon but the plane is still ascending, distract him or her with a cracker or whatever you have handy and let your schedule slide for a day. Having goldfish for lunch one day will not have long-term affects on his or her health and wellness.
Travel is exciting and novel for your baby. It is also overwhelming. Schedules will be thrown off. Routines are out the window. Be ready to adapt to that three hour time change or missed nap. Plan for what you can (i.e. Little Man's inability to go to sleep at a decent hour the day we make the five hour road trip to WV) and be cognizant of the fact that you can't plan for everything (maybe a lost lovie or pacifier). You can only adapt. Be ready to adapt to any number of events.
I truly believe that babies react to our stress. If you are flexible and calm, your baby will use those cues to formulate his or her reaction to the trip.
Here's wishing you safe and happy travels.
What other general travel advice do you have to share?