If you’ve noticed I’ve been absent on the blog over the last little bit, it’s largely because we’ve been traveling. First we went to Colorado to visit my husband’s family, and then we made a sad and unexpected trip to my parents’ house when my grandma suddenly passed away. All of this time with family was wonderful, but I also have to admit that traveling with two small kids is often also extremely stressful. I find myself gritting my teeth and wondering why my shoulders are so tight in the days before flying with our kids. I was especially anxious this time, because the last time we flew, last October, Etta screamed bloody murder through an entire 2 hour flight, completely inconsolable, refusing movies, snacks, and screaming “DON’T TOUCH ME, MOMMY!” every time I even tried to help her. Then, of course, she perked up right in time to land, and cheerfully bid farewell to every single passenger as they deplaned, while they gave her looks that said “see you never, demon child.” To everyone on that flight: I am soooooooo sorry.
Since I haven’t written about traveling with twins since the girls were babies, and since this trip actually went darn smoothly, I thought it might be time for an update on some of the things that work for us when traveling with the toddler and preschool set. (If you’re traveling to Disney in particular, check out this post on doing Disney with two toddlers and only one small backpack.)
My number one motto is BE PREPARED. HAVE A PLAN. I mentally visualize every step of getting through the airport and know what we are going to do every step of the way. I know where everything is in our bags. I make sure we’re wearing shoes that slip on and off easily. I have the liquids in the required clear bag. When the girls were littler, I usually dressed them in footie pjs, because then I didn’t have to worry about shoes, they were cozy and encouraged to sleep, and frankly, people are nice to adorable children wearing footie pjs. Now at age 3, I feel like they’re a little too old for footie pjs in public, but it’s a good tip for younger kids. Now I just dress them in comfy yoga pants and t-shirts, so they’re still practically in pjs.
When the girls were smaller, babywearing was how we made it through the airport. That’s harder to do with three year olds. Still, they have short legs, and one of them has some mobility issues, so now the double umbrella stroller is our best friend. Ours is a MacLaren Twin Triumph, and as I folded it up in front of the gate check guy, he goes, “wow, is that all there is to it?” It folds up small, fits through x-ray scanners, and is easy to tote with a little suitcase handle on the side. We roll through bag check, roll up to security, and the girls stay in it as I take my shoes off, put my bag in a bin, pull off shoes, and put car seats through the scanners. Then I pop them out, fold it up, put it on the conveyer belt, and we step through the metal detectors. It pops back up quickly the minute we’re through, and then we’re zooming off to our gate. I like that it’s sturdy enough to hang both my carry-on tote and a car seat (more on the car seats in a minute) on the back without tipping the stroller. I push the stroller while my husband totes a larger carry-on and the other car seat. The only negative to this stroller is, it doesn’t fold up with the canopies attached. This means I basically leave the canopy in a closet all of the time, so the girls do without their sun shades when we travel with this stroller.
One thing I realized early on, after our lap-baby days ended, was that if my kids have their own airplane seat, they need to be in a car seat. This is not just because I care about safety, but because my kids just plain need to be in a car seat to put them in the mindset that they will be strapped in until we get where we’re going, and there will be no getting out. They know this is how it works in the car, and if they’re in their car seat on the plane, they understand this there as well. Also: we almost always end up traveling by car after we reach our destination, so we need car seats to use when we get there. I don’t like the idea of checking my car seats as baggage, even though you can do that for free, because I don’t want them getting banged up or damaged. I’ve seen how luggage gets manhandled, and I just don’t trust my seats to be handled safely. So it’s seats on the plane for us.
Last time, we flew with our giant Graco convertible car seats. I love those seats for the car, but that trip showed me they are not ideal for air travel, because they are big and cumbersome and quite heavy, and are quite difficult to get down an airplane aisle while also wrangling a kid and a carry-on. This trip, I did some research and decided to buy a travel car seat. After research and purchasing, I’ve decided the Evenflo Maestro is a great travel car seat for toddlers. Consider this a mini Evenflo Maestro car seat review. It’s crazy light, weighing in at 10 lbs (we weighed it on the luggage scale just to verify!), easy to carry around, and easy to install. I think it’s more padded than our much more expensive Gracos, and it’s gotten great safety ratings, even being named a best bet booster by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It’s FAA approved when used in harness mode, and after your child hits 50 lbs and outgrows the harness, can be used as a high-back belted booster. The only negative review I’ve seen was complaints of straps rubbing necks. Most models don’t come with strap covers, and it’s not safe to add aftermarket parts to car seats. BUT, after I noticed that the model sold at Target comes with strap covers, I realized it wouldn’t be a problem. As a bonus, this seat is very affordable at $80, half the price of one of our Gracos, and will last us a long time. I saw the family across the aisle checking out our seat on the plane, and I’m pretty sure they bought one on their phone before we even took off.
One key thing for us is making sure each parent has a bag full of everything we’ll need for the flight. Odds are, we won’t be sitting near each other (this has happened only a couple of times that we’ve flown as a family), so we can’t just pass snacks and toys across the aisle. Each parent needs a bag with diapers/wipes, snacks, empty straw cups (flight attendants are happy to fill it with juice or water, and you don’t have to worry about spills), and things to do. This trip, I thought the girls would happily watch a movie, but it turns out, they weren’t really in the mood. This is why I also make sure we have a bag of tricks. The Target dollar spot or dollar store are your friend here– have several small, quiet kid-occupying things that you can pull out every so often to keep your kids constantly busy and happy. Some ideas:
- No-mess magic marker coloring books or painting books
- Lacing cards
- Magna Doodles (Do not ask me why these are $40, and definitely don’t pay $40. We got these for much cheaper at Target, I’m pretty sure.)
- Kid headphones (Your seatmates would probably rather hear Daniel Tiger than screaming, if your kid will won’t wear headphones, but they’d definitely prefer not to hear Daniel Tiger, either.)
- Finger puppets
- Reusable sticker pages
One thing to remember: many flights these days have wifi, but not all of them do. Don’t count on streaming services to entertain your kid on a plane. The family across the aisle had obviously planned for their kid to stream a TV show, only to find out our flight had no wifi. Then they had nothing else to do. We always have at least one movie downloaded onto the iPad to watch. This trip, though, iPad games more than movies or tv shows were our main kid occupier. Some of our favorites:
Finally, my last travel must-have are our inflatable toddler beds. Etta, in particular, never liked sleeping in a crib or pack and play, and only started sleeping through the night at 18 months when we switched her to a toddler bed. Since then, we’ve been using inflatable toddler beds for travel. I like that they come with an electric pump, and we can fit them in a large checked suitcase with all the girls’ other luggage. They sleep in them side by side, just like they sleep side by side in a full size bed at home. I can attest to the beds’ comfort, even for grownups, as I have frequently fallen asleep in them myself while lying with the girls and helping them fall asleep.
What about you? Do you have any tips for traveling with small kids?
*Note, this post is not sponsored. These aren’t affiliate links. This is just stuff I use that I wanted to share.