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:



  • 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."


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

50 thoughts

  1. Kasey

    2011-03-29 15:08:16 -0400

    Hi Ali,
    Looks like it was a great trip! I recently traveled with my boys as well and the iPad was perfect. I know you said you weren't sure if you were going to get one yet, but thought I'd throw it out there. We had one brand new movie downloaded from itunes the night before we left, streamed videos from Netflix when we could and they also love the app that is dot-to-dots. You may already have that on your iphone, but I bet Simon would enjoy it if not. Best part, it's so much smaller than the laptop so I didn't need that darn extra bag.

  2. Birgit

    2011-03-29 15:19:49 -0400

    balloons and bubbles are a great way to entertain the kids during layovers. Both our children (now 10 and 7) have been traveling since they were born at least once a year to Europe and are pros now. I am always on my own one way because my husband doesn't have enough vacation days. I totally agree with Jan from Canada: attitude is everything and when your expectations are not too high you'll be surprised by all the good things that are happening while you are traveling. Strangers that help, planes on time etc.

  3. Jenn ORourke

    2011-03-29 16:07:33 -0400

    One thing my sister used to do is wrap the little stuff like treats or the small Lego package you brought. Opening a treat is an event onto itself!

  4. Angela Miller

    2011-03-29 16:41:04 -0400

    Thanks for the travel ideas, Ali! Our boys, now ages 4 and 5, have been on many flights and long car trips. One of their favorite activities is building things/making art with pipe cleaners, tin foil, tissue paper, and just about any odds-and-ends from around the house (small paper plates, cupcake liners, rolls of dollar store tape). The art supplies could be saved for layovers. Another favorite: a deflated beach ball to blow up during layovers, especially if there's an empty gate with space to play.

  5. Jan

    2011-03-29 17:14:20 -0400

    Hi, Ali
    Love the pics of Simon and Anna engrossed in play. We traveled before iPads and iPhones - even before DVD players! Somehow we managed, but it must be far easier now.

    Just thought you might like to see this. It is a link to a local (Louisiana) handmade soaps and good smelling stuff. Elizabeth is donating 10% of April sales to the National Autism Association’s Helping Hand program. Nice lady.

  6. Jessica Hess

    2011-03-29 17:32:06 -0400

    Oh my gosh! I've been saying for years that airports need indoor play areas. It would be so wonderful to let them wiggle and climb and slide. Kids would be much happier travelers if they did.

  7. Amy Brock

    2011-03-29 17:41:27 -0400

    I thought this might help some of your military readers. We are a military family with 4 small children and my husband is currently deployed to Afghanistan, so if I travel, it's just me and the kiddos right now. The USO is a big help to military families--most major airports have one. The offer tons of toys, DVD's, and lots of food. On a trip thorough Atlanta, one of the ladies even played with my two youngest children so I could eat!

  8. Catherine

    2011-03-29 18:16:55 -0400

    I just got back from a solo trip with my two 19-month-olds. Like you, I was a little worried about possible issues of traveling alone. Breaking down on the side of the road was at the top of that list, but everything worked out great. I had an ARSENAL of new books, toys,snacks that take longer to eat like cereal bars and portable DVD players. I have profound gratitude for Elmo!

  9. Anthea

    2011-03-29 19:06:29 -0400

    I'm am in admiration of your organising ability and that you took on this adventure. We tend to travel interstate by car and I know I can't live without portable dvd players and ipods. I know this is bad but here in Australia we tend to stop at Macca's for meal as you know the kids will eat the food and the toilet will be clean.

  10. Jenni Hufford

    2011-03-29 19:38:03 -0400

    this is a great list of ideas. after traveling a long distance this week, my husband and i commented that i would be so hard to do with with our kids. i am completely impressed you did this on your own! looks like you were well prepared (plus you have great kids!) :)

  11. Veronica

    2011-03-29 20:33:02 -0400

    Travelling with wee ones is always a challenge. I like the idea that you had some activities that were not electronic along. I have travelled across Canada several times (12) times at all different stages of kids ages. The most important thing travelling with wee ones and teen ones was to remember to eat in the car while they were strapped in and using the layovers or rest station stops for the running and tiring out of children. This has been my saving grace when the boys were 2, 3, and 4 and now when they are 16, 17, and 18. Five thousand kilometers stuck in a seatbelt of a plane or of a car is a lot to boys have been excellent travellors....even the youngest who is autistic. It can be a great adventure if you can figure out the trick for your kids. With boys...the crayons and colouring book did not cut it.... a nerf soccer ball did though.

  12. Angy

    2011-03-29 20:43:41 -0400

    This is awesome. Thank you.

  13. Rachel Greig

    2011-03-29 22:07:57 -0400

    Great post, sounds like you all had fun traveling. My kids love the adventure too (aged 9 and 6), and really only start getting antsy if they're tired, which is understandable. And you're right, airports do need more activity centres for kids!

  14. Angela C.

    2011-03-30 00:46:49 -0400

    Thank you so much for sharing your tips. My husband and I are planning to fly with our two boys for the first time. They are 7 and 4. We've waited this long mainly because of just the thought of all the gears we'll have to bring for two young boys scares me. All these years, we just go somewhere close by, at least driving distance, to spend our vacations. We've driven places 10 hours away. That's just the maximum I could handle. I really appreciate all that you shared here. You're a brave woman!

  15. Kendra

    2011-03-30 12:58:32 -0400

    Thanks for posting this Ali. I have concerns about ears and flight (both for me AND my 2 boys).....I never thought of suckers. That's a great idea. Empty water bottles to fill after security is something I'll try too. I've already started collecting little suprises for both boys to be revealed on the plane. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Stacy H.

    2011-03-30 22:40:47 -0400

    What a great post. Sounds like you are a great planner with sweet kids! The last time our family flew (four years ago), I had a 6 year old, a four year old, and I was 8 months pregnant. My husband was on a two-week work conference in California, and the kids and I wanted to spend the first week with him, and then we'd fly home without him. We went to Disneyland the last two days, where I promptly sprained my ankle and had to hobble around on crutches. The flight home wasn't too bad, even though I was by myself with two kids and very pregnant on crutches. The kids were actually very sweet and patient with me, and having their own backpacks was a lifesaver and made them feel very special. But every time we had to switch planes, there was an audible gasp by all the women on the plane who thought I was crazy for making the trip alone in my condition with two little kids! I'm not sure I'd have done it alone if I had a choice, but I can look back now and laugh at the memory.

  17. Koren

    2011-04-01 20:04:58 -0400

    Layover idea: google an airport scavenger hunt. I'm sure some other mom has come up with one. maybe it even has a little BINGO type board to put stickers on when the kids find things. or take pix of the things to look at later?

  18. Jill S.

    2011-04-02 15:07:35 -0400

    Great tips, Ali. One caution, though, regarding peanut butter. I just flew across the country this week for our spring break, and on one plane, before we even got to the runway, a flight attendant announced that there was a child onboard with a severe peanut allergy, so everyone onboard was asked to refrain from eating any peanut products during the flight. If you bring peanuts/peanut butter on a flight, it's a good idea to have plenty of other snacks available, just in case.

  19. Debbie P

    2011-04-03 11:33:52 -0400

    The kid area @ airports would be a great idea. They have kid areas @ malls so it could be possible.

  20. monday: best of last week | The Misadventures of Kelly and Kelly

    2011-04-04 08:06:38 -0400

    [...] thoughts on traveling with two kids has some great travel tips no matter how many kids you have [...]

  21. Yatie

    2011-04-07 11:24:26 -0400

    Thanks for the great tips, Ali. My daughter is 9 and autistic and we're planning a trip in June. She has traveled on a plane before but that was a long, long time ago when she was around 1. We actually tried last year but she found the sound as we were entering the plane too uncomfortable that we had to cancel the trip in the end. Hopefully in June it will be better. I like the headphones you mentioned. Maybe we should get her to start listening to music before getting on the plane rather than when on the plane. We're also planning on a couple of practice runs before the big trip. Try her on short, less than an hour flights. I'm crossing my fingers so tight hoping that she'll be okay...

    Oh oh.. thank you to Jennifer for her suggestion on the I Spy thingy. I love that!!

  22. Anjali K.

    2011-04-08 02:10:30 -0400

    Fantastic tips by everyone! A nice handbook can be made out of this compilation :-) We have travelled internationally with our daughter since she was 4 yrs old. Since I am not too fond of electronic distractions, I devised a lot of language based and number based games to pass away the time. e.g. While waiting to board the delayed flights, 1) visiting either only odd or only even numbered shops, 2) playing an 'antakshari' of people or place names (make a chain of names, begining with last letter of earlier name, like Lisa-Adam-Mary etc.), 3) making up impromptu poems by matching rhyming words..... I can assure you that these activities are good for some crabby elders also ;-)

  23. Summer

    2011-04-10 22:14:38 -0400

    Just read through this whole post and LOVED it. Since Paige and Anna are virtually the same exact age and Caden is just a bit younger than Simon, this was an invaluable posting for me. We haven't attempted a trip like this yet, but I'm learning what might work for us, though I'm afraid Paige won't be easily entertained. She's a handful.

  24. Bev

    2011-05-06 12:51:51 -0400

    Did you post somewhere about using a hanging organiser on the plane? We are taking a 9 hour flight this summer and I was thinking about trying this, and thought I'd seen a post, but I can't find it now.

  25. Jackie

    2011-05-31 11:06:37 -0400

    I have two boys (5 and 7) - my 7 yr old is considered legally blind but he does have sight so he needs to stay focused on things close to him if he tries to concentrate on things too far away he gets a migraine - so even in the car we try to find activities that keep him focussed in the car. We carry a white board (its 17 x 11) almost everywhere - the boys can draw on it, practise writing, play games and it comes in handy as a tray for snacks or writing in other books. I also like to give them a small camera and let them take photos of whatever they want - may blend that idea with a scavenger hunt as well!

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