This is the second in a series of lessons I learned traveling with my now 5-year-old son since he was a baby. The lessons are designed to help parents learn from my experiences and mistakes to have a smoother travel experience every time they muster the courage to take baby (or little men and little ladies) on a magnificent journey. You can read the first lesson, How to Pick a Family Friendly Airline.
Lesson No. 2: Pack Up the Goodies
Pack distractions. Distractions can save a mamma’s life. I have firsthand knowledge. Packing the carry-on bags for any journey, but especially a lengthy one, is of the utmost importance. What you need to do is pack a slew of goodies to keep your child distracted in between naps on one of those lengthy flights. I’ve been bringing my son, who is now 5, back and forth between Italy and the United States since he was 6 months old. Pack correctly and ye shall survive such traumas. Discover what’s always in my bag:
Cash – in both the currencies from which and to which you are traveling – is important. You never know when you’ll need it. Of course, you must bring passports and identification for everyone traveling, including the little ones. One item many moms don’t realize they need is their child’s birth certificate. This is especially important if you and your child have different last names. In Germany, while in the airport on a layover, I was almost forced to part with my then 9-month-old son because I had only our passports and no birth certificate; the customs agents feared I was kidnapping my baby. A heated conversation and a phone call to my husband resolved the matter, but they warned that I should never travel without his birth certificate again. Indeed, I now take it with me even to the supermarket in Italy.
Food and Drink
No mamma ever wants a hangry child. A child – like any person – becomes unbearable when hungry. Imagine that kind of crankypants on a six- or ten- or 15-hour flight. Yikes! Always pack snacks. My son prefers pretzels, cheese crackers, or Cheerios. I carry them in resealable bags or little containers, and we’re good to go. Pick up a bottle of water (or a small container of milk for the start of the journey) once you’re in the terminal. Of course, bring whatever you need for younger babies, who require formula or baby food. Security will test any liquid items, and you’ll be on your way. Just don’t pack a lot of junk food, especially if your kid is not used to eating it. On one flight, I gave my son his favorite indulgence – Oreos – and it ended with projectile vomit.
A few weeks before we leave for Italy, I usually go around the house collecting some of his favorite tiny toys. He has a couple of cars, small action figures, and the like that can keep him busy for quite a while. I take them out of the rotation and put them near the luggage, where he can’t easily find them. Then, I pull them out one by one during the course of our flights. (It often requires to flights and a boat ride to get to our second home, Ischia, Italy.) I try to add one to three new toys (usually from the dollar store) to the mix. I pull out those when times get really tough in flight. Nothing like a little surprise – something shiny and new – to distract you from your troubles.
Of course, you don’t want to carry too many books because that can weigh you down, especially if you have to run a marathon to reach a connecting flight in time. But a couple of small books to read and a few activity books and crayons or a pencil have pulled me out of a few ditches. My son particularly likes sticker books that have you finding stickers at the back of the book to place in short stories at the front. He also enjoys activity books that offer opportunities for him to learn to draw something, such as animals, or punch out card stock figures to build or make something. I track this kind of book down on Amazon or at the dollar store. I always look for deals, so I buy them when I find them and not necessarily just before we’re about to travel.Another favorite are the Highlights seek and find books for which he has a subscription. Keep stock and save stuff, so it’s completely new when he sees it on the plane.
My work forces me to carry my laptop with me wherever I go. So, we always have at least one computer. My son also owns a Kindle that is well stocked with his favorite movies, TV shows, and some games. Also, he recently received a LeapPad as a gift. I charge these babies to the max before our flight and bring them everywhere we go. They are not only for the plane. They are perfect for when we force him to spend many hours at dinner with only adults, a common occurrence for the poor little guy in Italy.
No mamma should go home without extra clothes for the kiddies and her (and anyone else who is traveling with her). Don’t forget extra underwear and socks, maybe a clean pair of pajamas in addition to clothes. When that projectile vomit hit, my son and I were covered in toxicity. Those extra clothes came in handy. For my son, even though he’s 5 years old and potty trained, I still bring diapers and wipes. Diapers or pull ups are safer when young kids are planning to sleep in the plane, or at least that’s been my experience. Tissues and children’s Tylenol are among the other must haves to pack.
Mamma’s goal should be to make the flight as comfortable as possible for her child (or children, God bless you). I bring pajamas for my son to change into when he’s ready to sleep. A favorite blankie and stuffed animal always comes along for the ride, too. He has earphones, so he can watch whatever movie the plane offers, and a neck pillow to help him get cozy.