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Thoughts On Traveling With Two Kids

A few weeks back I wrote a post about getting ready for spring break travel. There were lots of great comments in that post including ideas and what's worked for other families traveling with kids.

This trip for me was a little different as I was traveling solo without Chris to aid in the corralling and entertaining. To be honest I was really nervous before we left about how it was all going to go.

Luckily, and maybe somewhat do to my obsessive planning, it went better than I anticipated. My biggest fear was delays (those things that are obviously out of our control which have happened to me many, many times before when I've been traveling without kids). Even with three separate planes on both the way there and the way home (traveling on miles), it ended up being really smooth and both kids enjoyed the adventure.

Keeping in mind that one of my kids is two and the other is nine, here's what worked and what I'll adjust next time:

WHAT WORKED


FOR ANNA:

  • The small toddler backpack from REI was perfect. She loved having her own pack (we all wore backpacks) and she wore it on and off the plane. In her pack I put one board book, a small Dora doll, her sunglasses (I carried the rest of the things I brought along for her).

  • Headphones + videos/iphone. I ordered these headphones - Kidz Gear Wired Headphones For Kids - they were just right at the smallest setting for her head. She watched a bunch of Dora videos on my computer and played toddler games on my iphone. Her favorite iphone apps include: Peekaboo Barn and Peekaboo Wild (both from Night & Day Studios) and Monkey Preschool Lunchbox.

  • 4 new small board books. We read these multiple times. They pretty much just became part of her rotation of activities.

  • New coloring book with a new set of washable thin markers and crayons. She colored in this one Dora coloring book on the way there and on the way back. I love that she likes to color.

  • Water bottle. I filled this up after going through security.

  • Pacifier and suckers for her ears. Currently she uses a pacifier for her nap and at bedtime. For flying I let her use it on the plane and it worked okay for her ears. She definitely still cried a bit. On the way there I offered her a sucker and she put it in her mouth for just a bit before giving it back to me. On the way back the sucker worked much better and seemed to be more of a distraction from the pain she was having in her ears.


The biggest thing for Anna was having a variety of activities. We cycled through each of these activities multiple times. She took a nap on the long flight each way just by laying down between Simon and I. She did awesome sitting in the seat by herself and we talked a lot about the pilots and how the pilot says "buckle up."

FOR SIMON:


  • A new Dot to Dot. This is a favorite travel activity for Simon. I found a couple on Amazon that are more advanced and are a nice break between movies. Here's one I ordered: The Greatest Dot-to-Dot Book in the World, Book 1.

  • New small lego set. LEGO Police Dog Unit 7285. This was small enough that he was able to build it on the tray table. I brought along extra ziplock bags and poured the pieces into the ziplock bag - he was able to hunt them out of there before adding them to the truck. This was a surprise - that went over well.

  • Movies. On the way over he watched part of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which was the movie on our San Francisco to Chicago flight and also watched some Dora with Anna. Having the splitter was awesome for the times when they wanted to watch the same thing. Having both the laptop and my phone for when they both wanted to watch their own thing was great too.


Simon really loves traveling. He gets excited and his behavior is really pretty great all-around. He did get antsy and tired on the way home (especially during our longer layover and when I wouldn't let him watch Yo Gabba Gabba again). We also had a talk the night before we left about him being my "helper" with Anna - he seemed to like that idea and took it very seriously.

FOR ME:


  • I ended up not taking Anna's car seat on the plane like I've done before. This was a big change from our past travels but I'm really glad I didn't have the extra bulk. I love the car seat but it's big and heavy and awkward and hard to handle when I'm the only adult with both kids in tow. Instead I took along an umbrella stroller (a must have for corralling and when you need to get somewhere faster than two-year-old-legs can move) and gate-checked it on each plane. The gate-check part is one of those things that makes me nervous because we did have to wait a bit each time for someone to bring up the stroller - since our flights were all on time it wasn't an issue but it would have been if the timing had been tighter.

  • I was really surprised that I was actually able to read a bit in both my book and magazines. I didn't take either with me on the way there thinking I'd be in entertainment mode full time but it ended up that there were times when both kids were happily engrossed in watching something on the computer/iphone that I was able to read. That was a pleasant surprise.


SNACKS | Both the peanut butter crackers and the fruit snacks were well-received. I also bought a box and a sandwich on our longer flights. Anna ate part of the turkey sandwich and Simon ate crackers. We also grabbed lunch once we arrived in Chicago before boarding our plane for Charlotte. On both travel days Anna was really not that hungry.

WHAT I'D LIKE TO CHANGE



  • I still ended up with two carry-on bags. One backpack and one computer/camera bag. The backpack I carried does have a compartment for a laptop but with all the other things I had in there (change of clothes for Anna, snacks, Anna's books, headphones, medicines, etc) I just couldn't keep it to one bag. I probably could have fit all of it in one rolling carry-on, but that's not as convenient for being able to store under the seat in front (my preference for easy access to the bags).

  • Less stops. Free was a good price for these tickets so I'm not complaining too much. Also, Simon loves getting excited about each city we land in - "We're in San Francisco! We're in Chicago! We're in Charlotte!"

  • I need to drink more water and take some Advil before the headache arrives. I did this on the journey home after not taking good enough care of myself on the flights over.

  • My sister usually pops popcorn the night before and packs small bags of that for the plane. I'd like to try that one next time.

  • Next time I'll have some special activities that are just for the layovers. I found the layovers (waiting for the next flight) to be the toughest. I wish that all airports had a kids play area where it's more appropriate for them to run around. We did some walking up and back in the terminals, but that's not really that fun for anyone. Not sure what those special activities will be - maybe it will just be me thinking about it a bit more in advance and knowing that was a tougher spot this last time.


Overall, very good travel experience. It's really fun to be able to take the kids places and have them be excited for the adventure.

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68 thoughts

  1. Junglewife says…
    03/29/2011

    Those are good thoughts! I have never traveled with my two kids alone but have done plenty of cross-Pacific flights with my husband and the kids (we live in remote Indonesia.) I did do the trip alone with my 2-year-old when I was 7 months pregnant with my 2nd, though! My friend has done the (40+ hours of traveling!) trip alone with her two boys twice, once when they were 1 1/2 and 3, and once when they were 4 1/2 and 6. I think she is crazy!!!

    I think that having lots of snacks and toys is key. I like the surprises, too. I always have new toys/books/etc wrapped up for my kids to open on the plane. Even if they are just Target-dollar-spot-type-toys, the kids get excited about having something to open. I think the fact that it is wrapped up makes what's inside even more exciting, even if it is not really that great of a toy! Having a DVD player/laptop with lots of movies is great,too. Or something like a Leapster or Nintendo DS.

    I agree about the layovers. Chicago and Seattle both have play areas. Singapore and Tokyo do, too, for that matter :-) I don't know about other airports. My kids could spend a lot of time running up and down the moving sidewalks, especially when it's late and there aren't many other people in the airport :-)

    Thanks for the tips! I have done a lot of traveling with kids and you still had some good ideas that I will have to put to use the next time I travel!

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. Heather H says…
      04/05/2011

      Atlanta, GA has a play area in one of their concourses. It was a God-send!!

    2. Kath says…
      04/10/2011

      For the kids try Earplanes (if you can get them to leave them in :-) The Earplanes equalize the air pressure in your ears.

  2. amy says…
    03/29/2011

    Thanks for sharing! We're getting ready to travel with our 2 littles on Friday so this helps give us some ideas. I appreciate it!

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. dawn says…
    03/29/2011

    So happy to hear things went pretty smoothly for you. I like that you added what to do for yourself next time too. Sometimes we focus so much on the little ones we forget to remember that we need TLC too. I can't wait to see any layouts you will be doing from the trip.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Karen S. says…
    03/29/2011

    Sounds like you did a lot of pre-planning. Good for you! I only have one child, a daughter, though I have traveled with nieces as well. I know, not the same, not my sole responsibility. It is always a lot of work. I always think we need a vacation after our vacation, especially when they are very young.

    Just had a thought about the layovers. [Yes, many airports have play areas - also Minneapolis, I believe.] What about while you are walking… make it into a type of Treasure/Scavenger Hunt. It would take some pre-planning. You could come up with some airport friendly fun list for Simone and for Anna maybe even a little Bingo type picture sheet of things they could look for in the terminal. Hey, maybe I should market this?! Thanks for the great post.

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. Laurie says…
      03/29/2011

      I love the Scavenger hunt activity. What a fun idea. By daughter is 12 and still pulls out her car bingo game from time to time. In fact, just last weekend she looked for convertibles, SUVs and semi-trucks as we drove around to do errands. We have a long flight (to South Africa from Houston) coming up and a scavenger hunt may be just the thing. Thanks for the idea.

    2. Laurie says…
      03/29/2011

      I just did a Google search for scavenger hunt airport and found several that are already created. Some airports actually have their own! Thanks again for the idea.

  5. Annette Kuusinen says…
    03/29/2011

    The first I traveled with my 2 kids alone (ages 3.5 & 5 months) I felt so brave. When you are used to having a partner to help you wrangle, it's completely different alone. Just like you I found that being prepared was key.

    I know that Minneapolis & O'Hare have children's play areas.O'Hare's is awesome, put together by the Chicago Children's museum. I imagine that several airports do. Maybe there is someway to check ahead of time. Of course they may be in different terminal. But it really does make a different when my kids can play, even for just 10 minutes, between flights.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      03/29/2011

      We totally missed the kids play area in Chicago. Wonder if it was in a different terminal? We walked up and down and didn't see anything.

  6. hlp says…
    03/29/2011

    The blog is a great place to record this info. I have packing lists and notes, but they are scattered and not useful for the next adventure. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Sarah R. says…
    03/29/2011

    I also get very anxious before travelling with our 3 kids, but everything usually turns out well in the end. Our older girls are excellent travellers (5 and 8), but it takes a lot of backpack goodies! We still travel with more carry-ons than we prefer, some of which end up being too heavy, and we always say that next trip will be different, but travelling with 3 kids at different ages requires a lot of stuff! It always feels sooo good to come home at the end of the journey, though, no matter how long or short!

    I am so curious about the restaurant you are seated at in your picture, Ali, could you tell us the name?

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      03/29/2011

      Hi Sarah - it's called Mellow Mushroom - great pizza!

  8. Maureen says…
    03/29/2011

    This post almost makes my stomach clench when I recall the flying I did with my brood. All international flights with long long hours on the plane. Each child had his/her own backpack and they had to pull their own suitcase when we changed flights. I handled the passports and just did a lot of praying that no one would get sick along the way. Other than that I truly don't recall how they amused themselves along the way -pre iPhones, and even computers! Perhaps life was easier with fewer expectations???

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Jennifer says…
    03/29/2011

    Sounds like you did a FANTASTIC job Ali!

    My kids are close in age to yours (son 8 & daughter 3) and we also travel quite a bit. The one activity I have found that my son loves in airports for layovers and pre-boarding is a scavenger hunt. I make up a grid with a bunch of words of things that he needs to find that are common in an airport (exit, bathroon, airplane, stroller...). When he was younger I would do this with pictures instead of words. I also bought a few things off etsy:
    * i spy bags (customized for each child and we ONLY use them when doing airplane travel)
    http://www.etsy.com/listing/68260689/custom-i-spy-bag-with-picture-list-your?ref=sr_gallery_6&ga_search_query=custom+i+spy+bag&ga_search_type=handmade&ga_facet=handmade
    * wipe off activity book (but I can no longer find them). Essentially they were about 4x4 pages that were laminated and had a ring binder clip and a wipe off pen attached. One each of the following pages:
    - x & o
    - dot & boxes
    - hang man
    - ABC (we used this to cross off letters as we found them on signs in the airport. can be done as a team or race to see who completes the alphabet first - both kids got into this!)
    - blank pages for drawing, printing...

    I also make my kids a travel journal for each trip. Just a simple word doc with a few spaces for them to make notes each day:
    weather (circle the picture that matches)
    mood (circle the face that matches)
    a few lines for printing
    a big square for drawing a picture

    Hope some of these ideas help you next time!

    JEN

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. Wendy O. says…
      03/29/2011

      The ispy bags are cool! May have to get a couple before I leave with my two kids.

    2. Jan from Canada says…
      03/29/2011

      Hey Jen!
      Wow, I love the I spy things! too cool :)
      Don't just lOVE Etsy!
      I am going to get some of these.
      great ideas
      Thanks!
      Jan

  10. madeline St onge says…
    03/29/2011

    Go Ali. You are better than me, I will not fly alone, and I don't have kids, Do not like the big airports. So I don't go any place unless Bill wants to go.
    So happy it all went smoothly

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. Maggie says…
    03/29/2011

    You are more brave than me! I just would not have done it alone!

    I would like to suggest substituting the gummies for the sucker. It's the act of chewing that releases the pressure in the ears (the sucker wouldn't do much for the that.) I made sure my kids were ready for snack during take-off for that reason.

    Great job, Mommy! You're doing great!

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Cara O says…
    03/29/2011

    Thanks Ali, I've traveled by myself with two kids under 5 in the past and it also went better than expected. I was happily surprised at the number of people to offered to help me, but the kids having good behavior is really the biggest help.

    I have a new kid travel experience coming up. I will be sending my two kids with my mom for a trip where she will be meeting my dad and my brother. I am already nervous about my mom not knowing what I've packed and smoothly switching planes in another city. Why am I not going? I'll be on a 10 year anniversary trip with my husband :) so it will all be worth it. But nerve-wrecking until they safely arrive.

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Jan from Canada says…
    03/29/2011

    Well Ali, you've made my heart beat a tad bit faster as I plan for our trip (moving) to Australia in the next few months. I will be bringing my brood of 4. Ages 3,5,13 and 16 year :) Hubby will not be coming straight away so its all me!

    I was totally just going to drug them all but I guess your ideas work too :) lol

    I find the most important thing is your attitude. Don't let other people's attitudes get the better of you.. Enjoy your trip and the adventure and take each moment as it comes. I have traveled lots with the kids and I find I set the tone of the trip. Sounds like your patience and organization was perfect :)

    I bet your happy to be home though eh?

    Cheers,
    Jan

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Sandy says…
      03/31/2011

      Pre-welcome to Australia Jan! It's a great country - very different from Canada though. Enjoy the trip.

  14. Janaina Oliveira says…
    03/29/2011

    i wish things would be easier for me my 2 yrs old is autistic and things like having a bag with toys and playing he just doesnt get it yet because his delays, and he is a picky eater I wish he would behave like Ana

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      03/29/2011

      I completely understand :). Simon went on his first plane ride at age 4. We had a whole social story book created for him (his teachers at his preschool made it but you could do it yourself). It included photos of the plane, going through security, what activities he would do - look at books, have a snack, watch a movie - he still repeats those three things to this day. Having a book that laid out what was going to happen really helped him.

  15. Sara G. says…
    03/29/2011

    Thank you for sharing! This is helpful information. I am actually reading this on a layover in Charlotte, but I am traveling by myself. This was my first time away from my 2 year old, and I look forward to traveling with him next time.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Tania says…
    03/29/2011

    Another suggestion for layovers - my niece loved travel sized games, like Uno for example. And you can get some board games in travel sizes as well. I admit I don't know which ones are available in travel size that kids might like off the top of my head. If a particular game is too hard for Anna to play by herself, she could be on mommy's team vs. Simon.

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. Amy says…
    03/29/2011

    I have horrible ear pain while flying, and something called earplanes work really well. They have a child's size as well as the adult ones. They are like ear plugs, but they do something to alleviate the air pressure.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Stee says…
      03/30/2011

      Earplanes are the BEST! Only $5 and worth it to eliminate ear pain and pressure on take off and landing.

  18. DeAnna says…
    03/29/2011

    Those are some fabulous tips! I rarely travel by myself with my two kids (almost 5 and 2), even to do shopping. Thanks for the ideas ;D

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Este says…
    03/29/2011

    This is such a great post on travel strategies! I will be flying with my 2 yr old and 4 yr old in a few weeks and I am going to have my husband read this... some GREAT ideas. Thank you.

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Debbie Hodge says…
    03/29/2011

    Love all these details even though my kids are older. Brings back memories of my own extensive prepping for trips -- ours were long drives. My sons and I do several 700 mile drives each year and i love how the we are on these trips now (when they are 12 and 14) grew out of those earliest traditions when they were just babies.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Paris says…
    03/29/2011

    Thanks Ali for your thoughts on traveling. We will be going to Hawaii in about 3 weeks and I am very nervous about entertaining my 15 month old during the long flights.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Carmen Pauls Orthner says…
    03/29/2011

    I appreciate the tips. We will be flying with a 14-month-old in April, for the first time since she was just shy of 6 months, and I imagine it will be a good bit different this time -- especially as she is now walking and will NOT like having to stay on Mama's or Daddy's lap all the time....

    Carmen.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      03/29/2011

      That's totally Anna. When we went to Italy last summer Anna was just about that same age. We purchased a seat for her and took the car seat and it was MUCH easier on everyone.

  23. Sarah says…
    03/29/2011

    We haven't flown anywhere since last February when our son was still breastfeeding to remedy the ear pressure. Now that Baby #2 is on the way, hubby teases that a trip to the grocery store with two kids (23 months apart) will be the extent to our travels. I look forward to the thought of "going someplace in the future and will keep your tips in mind. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. Michelle says…
    03/29/2011

    I did a cross country trip with my two year old last year and brought a little ball just for the layover. I found some out of the way places to play. The ball was soft so the inevitable times it rolled under someones seat or across someones path people were very nice about it. People were super kind and mostly smiled and laughed at us. I think people get that traveling solo with kids is tough so they gave us lots grace. Mostly we just rolled or bounced the ball back and forth. Super fun and silly thing to do to burn off some energy.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      03/29/2011

      Anna would have loved that - great idea.

  25. Heather Ippolito says…
    03/29/2011

    For layovers one idea might be to go to Amazon.com well before you leave to grab a board book or other children's book from that place (just in case the bookstore in the terminal is closed.) When you get there you can find a cozy corner to sit in and read a story from that locale. Once you get home it can be added to your library as a little memento of the voyage!

    Reply 0 Replies

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