We've traveled with a 1 year old to Paris and London, and take both of our boys on domestic flights 2-3 times a year to visit family. Since I'm in the middle of packing for our Thanksgiving trip to Texas right now, I thought I'd do another travel tip post. This one is focusing on how I organize and pack my boys' entertainment items.
Air travel poses all kinds of challenges that you don't have with a road trip, such as limited space and weight restrictions, the fact that you don't have access to all of your stuff along the journey when you check bags, the possibility that you may lose your luggage all together, and the inability to just pull off at the nearest exit if you forgot something. You can also spend hours not moving at all.
I've picked up on a lot of tips and tricks for the whole travel experience, and I think that one of the biggest challenge for traveling with toddlers is keeping them entertained. The journey itself of course can be entertaining, and we are oh so very blessed to live in the age of smart phones and tablets with kids' app's and movies. However, even a kid can only be plugged in for so long. I know this is a lengthy post but I have it down to a science now so I don't even have to think about it. Here is what I pack and how I pack it for my boys...
Get out some gallon Ziploc bags. I like the ones with the sliders as they are super easy to open and close quickly. Set aside two bags for each kid and label them with the child's name and "Trip Out" and another with "Trip Back." So I have a trip out bag and a trip back bag for Sammy (age 4), and the same for Toby (age 2). Then label another bag "While out." This is how I divide and organize toys, limit their size/number, and make sure that I have enough for each leg of the journey.
SORT & BAG
When it comes time to pack, I'll wait until the kids are napping or in bed and I'll get out my Rubbermaid bin full of "trip toys." The bin is full of little toys that I've set aside from garage sales, kids' meal toys, birthday party favors, etc. Some are free/cheap small toys, some are just made for travel. The key here is to not only find good, small, travel toys, but make sure your kids don't EVER play with them at home. They are only for travel. That's what makes them exciting, new, and most importantly ENTERTAINING when on your trip!
I spread out my bags, and lay the toys out that I want for each leg of the trip...
Above are my piles for each kid for each leg of the flight. Below I'll go into a little more detail on the variety that I like to include in each pile, using Sammy's "trip out" pile as an example...
TYPES OF THINGS TO PACK:
I try to pack a variety...one item from each of these categories:
Don't understimate the power of drawing tools. They can also function as games (think tic-tac-toe):
- Aquadoodle - I found 2 travel Aquadoodles at Goodwill that we use.
- Rubbing Boards/Plates - I found these plastic plates at a garage sale that have raised images on them. So the kids can lay a piece of paper on it and rub a crayon over it to make pictures. I had a bunch so I spread them out among the bags to keep renewing interest in the toy.
This is my made-up term for toys with little parts that kids can re-arrange but stay stuck in some way.
- Felt scenes (I found the book pictured above at a garage sale)
- Magnetic toys (I have a Potato Head face toy, other face toys, little scenes with cars, etc)
Something that is fun for them to touch and squeeze with their fingers:
- Koosh ball - a ball that won't roll down the aisle!
- Squishy balls with stuff inside
- Moveable tangle toys, etc...
- Battery operated toy (bring extra batteries!)
Books:I pack little tiny board books, and I got a couple small story books that came free in our last couple boxes of Cheerios!
Headphones:I invested in a set of kids' sized headphones for each of the boys years ago. You'll want these for plugging into your iPod, iPad, Kindle, or whatever if you want to watch a movie or play with a digital game...or even the in-flight entertainment if they have kid-appropriate media.
Special Surprise:Something special (and small of course) that they've never EVER seen, even from a previous trip. This trip I'm packing a miniature Transformer that I got at a garage sale as Sammy is way into transformers now. Toby is in love with watches now so I found a McDonald's toy Shrek watch to bring this year.
Ear Pressure Relief:SUPER IMPORTANT! Something that will cause your kiddo to chew and swallow for a while to help pop their ears during takeoff and landing. You'll want enough for both takeoff and landing. It has to be something that's new/special and tasty enough that they'll want to eat it when the time comes no matter what. Some things we have found work well:
- Special liquids they don't get all the time (juice, pop)
- Chewy things (fruit snacks, raisins, gummy bears)
- Hard candy (suckers!)
Games:- Paper Games: I have some books of travel games and I just tear out 2-3 pages for each leg of the trip...word finds, mazes, dot-to-dots. They take up NO space! Coloring book pages work great!
- Travel Games - miniature versions of your kids' favorite board games
- Card games
Snack:Something they can eat OTHER than their "takeoff/landing" ear pressure relief snack. Because believe me, they'll be hungry at some point. This year I got some of the little pre-bagged goldfish crackers. I usually like to use a snack trap.
Night Time Toys:Will you be traveling in the dark at any point? Be sure to pack some toys for the dark! Things that light up are SO much fun on a dark plane. The "lights/moving toy" shown below is a little helicopter that spins and lights up when you push a button. These little spinning and light-up toys are surprisingly fun for babies and toddlers alike in the dark!
Things to AVOID:- Bouncy balls or other really round, hard balls that can easily roll to the back of the plane the second they are dropped. You just don't wanna deal with that.
- Loud toys. We are trying not to disturb the whole plane if possible.
- Battery powered toys. Unless you also have room to pack more batteries and teeny tiny screwdrivers to change them.
- Toys with multiple teeny, tiny parts. Maybe leave Barbie's shoes at home to avoid tears over lost toys.
- Fights. Notice that both boys got the same red packages of fruit snacks for the trip out, blue packages for the trip back. All it takes is a red vs blue on one flight to cause a fight. Got an awesome toy? Get one for each of them. If you don't think they'll share it, don't bring it.
Below is the "trip back" assortment for the same kid. So, you can see how the categories of toys stay basically the same, but the toys change out. Some toys are the same like the rubbing board, but a new scene.
So I'll go through this mental list (now visual for you), and pick a moving toy to set on each bag. Then a sticky scene for each bag...and so on, until I have one of each type of item for each flight for each kid.
I usually have one or two things that are FLAT but a little too big for the bag, like Sammy's dry-erase book above. But, I still pack that if it doesn't take up much space. I attach the dry erase marker to the book with a string and tape so it won't get lost or dropped on the plane. Do that with any two-part toys that involve little pens, markers, or magnetic wands and you'll save yourself a lot of headaches!
Now that you have the toys for your flights figured out, you may want to set aside a few things for while you are out at your destination. We don't pack too much for this because
1) they will be hopefully busy having fun with family and their new surroundings,
2) they get to also play with their "trip out" toys while we are there,
3) and we aren't trapped in an airplane and if we really NEED anything we can just go get it!
For this trip I packed:
- a couple more little surprise toys (in this case a couple unopened McDonald's toys: little Lego cars), - Projects - little craft projects when we just need to keep them busy (wax sticks, little model airplanes)
- Trip Toys - I have a little set of airport vehicles that Sammy only plays with on trips
- Color Wonders - because they can draw to their little hearts' content but won't be able to color on my in-laws' carpet or furniture!
So, now that you have all your stuff divided up into baggies for each kid, each leg of the journey, you need to actually pack them in the suitcases. Here are just a couple tips for what I do...
|NOT PICTURED: The boys "lovies"...blankies, stuffed animals, etc that they don't go anywhere without!
Diapers can be replaced with underwear or whatever you need for your current potty training state. For Toby (2) I'll have diaper stuff. For Sammy (4) I may bring our folding travel toilet seat.
The Trayblecloth is something I bought for our first flight with Sammy as a baby. It slips on over the tray table and provides a surface to color on with dry erase markers, eat on, and pockets for their stuff. I find it handy and it takes up little space.
Water Bottle...without the water! Remember that in our post-911 world we can't bring water or juice through security. So put an empty bottle in the bag and fill it after security but before boarding.
Now, the "while out" toys and the "trip back" toys will go in your checked bags because you won't need them until you get to your destination and on your trip back. I strategically divide those up...
Phil & Ted's travel bed for Toby and a sleeping bag "Ready Bed" with air mattress for Sammy), and then have room left over for everything else.
To avoid a TOTAL catastrophe should one of your bags get lost in transit, divide stuff up. Put one of each kids' trip toys in each bag. If a bag is lost they'll have to share one bag of toys, but it's better than losing ALL of your entertainment! Same thing with their clothes, diapers, etc. Some clothes and diapers are WAY better than NO clothes or diapers. And always, always put a piece of paper right inside every bag with your contact information in case you get separated.
- Resist the urge to dip into your "trip back" toys while at your destination at all costs!!! You'll regret it later!!
- I put a post-it note in my "trip back" bags listing the things that I need to add to those bags before the flight. In my case, the crayons and headphones are used for both trips so I remind myself with a note.
- Make the toys stretch. Don't get out the next new item until you really need it. Your first goal is to see what the kids can learn or enjoy about the trip itself in the current moment before resorting to the toys...look out the windows and watch the planes at the airport. Play I Spy on the shuttle bus. Put down the toys to enjoy the little bag of peanuts or watch the runway shrink behind you. When they're bored, bring out a toy.
- And my #1 rule for any and all travel adventures with toddlers: LOWER your expectations! It will really cut down on your anxiety, I promise.
Yes, this is only one part of packing for a flight with toddlers. Maybe if my husband ever read my blog he would get a glimpse at why I start packing several days in advance, as he tends to wait until 5 minutes before leaving for the airport! Travel with kids involves a lot of organization and predicting the future....standard super powers that come with motherhood. But if you can get a system going that works for you, it can mean the difference between a smooth trip and a living nightmare! Good luck this holiday travel season! If you have any other tips to share or travel horror stories, we'd love to hear them! :-)