Expats are seasoned travelers. We share a love for exploring new countries and visit friends and family at home. However, most will agree that the actual process of getting from A to B is always slightly annoying. Depending on public transport, going through busy train stations and airports, and just spending endless hours in transit saps energy and sanity. My remedy used to be to plug in my headphones and read a good book. As a mom to a toddler and a baby, these options are no longer available.
When the Joneses travel to the grandparents in England, our itinerary contains a bus journey, followed by a train, plane, bus, and rental car trip. Takes us 11 hrs door-to-door, if all goes well. I am stressed out before we even leave the house. In fact, the stress starts a few days before with packing and getting ready. Keeping everyone happy, fed, and otherwise content on the journey is a major logistics operation. A 1.5-year-old can be so determined on wreaking havoc onto the early commuter train from Odense to Copenhagen that I have previously thrown up my arms in defeat only half an hour into a day of traveling.
No wonder that I have since tried to make our journey easier and these are my top 10 tips for traveling via plane with baby and toddler:
1. The Car Seat Backpack Bag
We lug around one baby car seat and rent the toddler car seat from the rental car agency to compromise on costs. Renting two car seats doubles the price of the car rental (they do know how to make money). On the first few family trips, we had a big holdall for the car seat, which was awkward to carry. Since we need to maximise the number of free hands to hold on to little humans, I have since made a car seat backpack bag that makes it so much easier to transport and safely check the car seat. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find one to buy (anyone wants to start a kickstarter campaign with me?), so I took the straps off an old backpack, sewed them onto two big IKEA family bags sewn together and voilà, one problem solved.
2. Reduce number of transfers
This one is kind of obvious. Every transfer means to gather all the bags, belongings, and children and move them. This is annoying and minimising the number of transfers is therefore paramount to a good travel experience. Every transfer also holds the risk of missing the connecting transport or that the next mode of transport is delayed. This is annoying for a single traveler but disastrous when traveling with babies and toddlers.
3. Throw money at the problems
This one relates to reducing the number of transfers. Find your compromise between ease of transport and the amount of money you are able to spend. The same goes for individual vs. mass transport (e.g. rental car vs. train) and provisions on the journey. If you can afford to reduce effort, do it.
4. Dose everyone with decongestant nose spray
This is something I do before every flight to avoid problems with inner ear pressure decompression. My babies received decongestant nose spray even when they were still very little. For them, I diluted adult nose spray with sterile saline solution 1:10. In Germany, it’s possible to buy decongestant nose sprays for newborns, in Denmark it’s not. My dilution had the same proportion of active ingredient as the one sold in Germany. We only ever had a screaming child on the descent once, and that was the one time we had forgotten to give nose spray to my toddler before the flight. Never again will I see my kid in pain during the descent because I know how to avoid it.
5. The packing list
This one is the holy grail. We have a master packing list in an app that syncs between my husband’s and my phone, where items can be ticked off, and that can be reset to use anew next time. We just use iOS Notes but there is plenty of apps that would support this functionality. The packing list is sorted by members of the family and also contains a list of things to do to get ready (e.g. organise cat sitter) and last-minute tasks (e.g. take the bin out). I would be lost without this list and plan to patent it (just kidding).
6. The get-ready to fly list
It’s surprising how many tasks have to be accomplished after security and before boarding at the airport. Everyone needs food and drink for the journey if you are not depending on on-board catering, the little ones need new nappies and in our case treatment with nose spray. Plus all passports and boarding passes need to be located and carry-on luggage split into overhead compartment stuff and under-the-seat- in-front-of-you stuff. I found it eases the stress level to have a similar list on the phone to tick-off pre-flight tasks. It’s a bit overkill, I admit that, but it makes it easier for my husband and I communicate about what needs to be done.
7. One bag to rule them all
After a particularly uncomfortable home-bound journey, I went on Amazon and found the biggest bag I could buy. I kid you not. Now, it’s one bag for the whole family because we have to keep hands free for little humans, so one person handles all luggage to be checked in. That also means minimising stuff to take, but we had great success with this and have not missed anything. The first cheapo gigantic bag from Amazon has since been replaced with a high-quality version, which again much improved our traveling experience.
8. One big bag for carry-on
Again a tip to minimise the number of bags to lug around. We once forgot a backpack at a car rental due to the sheer amount of different bags we had with us. That was early days of our parenting and we have since learned. I bought one of these shoulder bags that can be folded into a tiny pouch. Mine is from IKEA but many places have them. Whenever our hand luggage becomes unmanageable, I whip that thing out and all goes in, reducing five bags to one. Great.
9. Get a good collapsable push chair and use baby carriers
Check the airlines regulations for size and shape of push chairs that you will be allowed to take up to the gate. Four wheels are better than three and most fold-up strollers will comply with the regulations. Make sure it’s one where the seat can go all the way down into a horizontal position to make it easier for the babes to sleep in it. It doesn’t need to be an expensive one, however. We bought a good-quality, second-hand one because we mostly use it for air travel, and are very happy with it. Otherwise, and on and off the plane, use a baby carrier of your choice to have hands free for luggage.
10. Make sure your kids sleep
This is actually a big one. Kids’ need for sleep and their ability to sleep under different circumstances vary greatly with age of the child. However, an overly tired child will always have problems to manage their emotions, mildly expressed. It’s easy to oversee that they need to sleep because the action of traveling day keeps them up well past their naptimes. But if at all possible, try to make them sleep in the pushchair or carrier, on your lab, or in their seat. It’s so tough to calm down a child in melt-down mode after a long day of traveling, and we managed to avoid this since we have made sleeping on transit a priority for them.
Finally, I didn’t put it on the list, but something I often wonder: how did people travel with toddlers before the Ipad?
If you have secrets of traveling with kids, let me know. I always love to learn something new. Maybe our paths cross at the airport one day. Until then, stay well.
From Denmark with Love,
Travelling with toddlers is a special kind of torture. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids dearly and I find many enjoyable moments even on travelling day, but I will also fall into bed at the end of it with the exhaustion of a marathon runner. Luckily, there are ways to prepare and a few tips to make the whole rigmerale easier.