Tips for traveling with littles (and on a budget, too!)

Our two kiddos getting some "play time" at one of our stops.

Our two kiddos getting some “play time” at one of our stops. Don’t worry – we rescued Cliff shortly after this!

Last week was Olivia’s 13th flight. And Cliff’s 6th. They’re 28 months and 8 months old – insane, right? I was 18 before I flew on my first plane!  That’s life as military kids, I suppose.  We have definitely learned a few things over the last two years of flying with Littles, so I thought I’d share some tips in case it might help someone. I know when I first flew with Olivia I looked for all the advice I could get! She was five months old and her daddy was coming home from Afghanistan to meet her in person for the first time. I remember thinking I was crazy for flying with an infant by myself. Now I fly with a toddler and and an infant, so either I’ve gotten crazier or smarter…still not sure which *haha*.

In August I flew the flight back to Texas alone with both kids, but my family returned back with us. This time we were flying to Nashville for a family wedding! So we flew together as a family of four. John drove our car to a friend’s house after dropping us at the airport, so the kids and I went through security and headed to our gate before meeting up with him again. As I was wheeling Olivia in her Brica car seat roller with our one carry-on wheeled bag and carrying Cliff in the Ergo, a pilot passed us and exclaimed, “I love it when people have it all figured out!” This gave me quite a laugh because it still feels like (as John says,) “managed chaos”. But there are some real things that we have learned that truly do make the trips so much easier. Here are a few of them:

1. Only take ONE carry-on. Don’t do a carry-on plus purse/diaper bag, plus jackets/blankets. Fit all that you need in one single bag – preferably one that wheels or that you can at least throw securely over your shoulder. We have managed to do this even while cloth diapering two littles, which requires a lot of space. My wallet even goes in the carry-on. 

2. Invest in a car seat roller like this one if you’re traveling with a toddler two or over. They have to have their own paid seat anyways, so we take Olivia’s Britax with us on wheels. It’s a life saver! She just chills in the seat through the security line (they do make her get out and walk through the metal detector while they swab down the seat) and down to the gate. As soon as I’m able and settled I let her out to make sure she gets plenty of time to stretch her legs before the flight. It seemed like a lot to pay at first for a set of wheels, but it has been worth every penny!

3. If you have an infant, find a carrier that they like. We personally love the Ergo. It’s secure, plus it has a great pocket in the front for carrying a couple pacifiers, my phone and boarding passes with ID. It’s also easy to unsnap during take-off and landing (if you end up with a flight attendant who tells you they can’t be attached to you during this time). If Cliff has fallen asleep, I can just unsnap it and hold him there, then refasten it once I’m able.

I personally don’t suggest taking a stroller. I haven’t done it myself, so maybe it is really helpful, but it seems like it would be more trouble than it’s worth (especially since we only bring what will fit in one bag).

4. Choose a flight time that works with your kids’ schedule. For us that means 10am-12pm takeoff usually. By this time they’re both ready for a good nap and will sleep the first part of the flight. We tried flying at night once and it didn’t work for us, but I know some people do say that is helpful. The time we tried it Olivia was over-tired and over-stimulated and unable to fall asleep in a lap (now she flies in a car seat so I don’t think we’d have a problem). Go with what you think will work for your child and their sleep patterns/personality.

5. Bring some good, filling snacks. I’m not talking crackers and fruit gummies, here. I bring a little insulated lunch pack that will fit in our bag (with one cooler brick) and put some boiled eggs, cheese, raisins, nuts, dates or Larabars, jerky and sometimes even a little sandwich meat if I think we’ll be able to eat it while it’s still good and cold. A lot of times this will be our lunch. Sometimes we’ll pick up a smoothie before boarding and then snack on these the rest of the flight. It makes it go by a bit faster for the littles (plus saves a lot of money! Airport food is not cheap!)

6. Bring a few special toys or activities. We have done stickers and a little notebook, a play wallet (a regular one with just some business cards and fake credit cards and maybe an old dead cell phone. My mom put one together for Olivia last Christmas and she loves when she gets to play with it.), some modeling clay (this is a better option than play-dough since it really isn’t messy at all but allows some tactile creativity.) and maybe a favorite book (especially if it’s a mini version or a small cardboard version of a fave). I’ve learned not to bring her a ton of toys. Just two or three different things are good. This last flight she was entertained nearly the whole flight with a Duplo person, which she called her “little baby”. At this age, Cliff just needs a paci and a teething toy and he is happy.

7. Of course, I always bring an extra set of clothes for each of them. They almost always need it! And a diaper or two more than I know they’ll need, just for peace of mind for myself. Olivia was potty trained for this last trip and I was terrified it would be a disaster, so I brought her two changes of clothes plus a couple extra panties. She did wonderful though! We had to make a couple trips to the plane lavatory, but we survived. I don’t usually bring a blanket. Just a small jacket for each of us – and I always have the nursing cover to use for one of the kids if it’s really chilly on the plane.

8. The last tip I have is to sit as far back on the plane as possible. We always fly Southwest (which we love – free checked bags, great service, and the ability to reschedule flights last-minute and no, this is not a paid advertisement ;) ), so they have open seating. Families with children under four get to board after the “A” group. The plane is usually just half full at this point but we always head to the back. This means that whoever sits around us will at least have a chance to choose their fate *wink wink* and will be more likely to be pleasant when and if the kids fuss or cry a bit. I’ve learned to be ready for meltdowns and tired baby cries, but hope and pray for the best. It usually works out pretty well.  This last flight one of the attendants walked to the back where we were at one point when Cliff was out of the Ergo.  He looked at me, did a double-take and remarked, “I didn’t even know there was a baby back here!”

This was our first hotel trip in quite a while, but something we learned this time that was good for the budget was to go out for brunch each day, instead of breakfast and lunch.  If your hotel has a continental breakfast that may be an option, too, but ours was pretty pathetic.  For our Paleo diet there was nothing – not even hard-boiled eggs.  So we opted to go to brunch each day.  We could get a good omelet or egg scramble around 10-11am and be good with snacks before and after, until dinner time.  This saved us a lot of money!  It was such a fun trip.  It was good to be with family and to be there for our brother and new sister at their wedding!  So there you go, those are our tips!  I hope you find them helpful if you’re traveling with Littles in the future!

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