“I don’t know how you do it,” a friend said when I finished telling her we just got back from a short “vacation” to see family in NY and NJ. About a week before, an anxious parent on Facebook asked for recommendations on how to travel with a toddler. I’ll tell you how we did it with a 20-month old! I’ll start with a barebones packing list. You can get any comprehensive packing list if you google it, I’m just adding my two cents here.
Carry-on items to start with:
1) iPad. My friend Cindy supports this, too. Download your child’s favorite movie, music, or a doodle app (don’t forget to charge it)! More on screen time later.
2) Diapers, etc. One friend suggested that you should carry whatever baby/toddler supplies you need for the road trip or plane ride, but don’t pack the whole shebang! If you’re off to visit a friend/family member, ask them to buy diapers, etc. and have them ready for you when you arrive (etc: formula, baby wash/lotion); and you can also buy things as needed at your destination.
3) Snacks. Before I became a mom, I once witnessed a scene at the airport where a mother was asking her child which of the three snacks did he want. Three different kinds of snacks? Yes, you need plenty of snacks for your travel, but perhaps give your child only one option at a time so you don’t overwhelm your child (or stress yourself out!).
4) Toys. Someone once recommended the “thinking” toys like the ones where you push the blocks into the box. This parent said his child was occupied for hours. We brought Lucas some Mega Bloks pieces as well as his “lovey”=”plush toy”=Elmo.
5) Bring an empty sippy cup/water bottle for your child (of course you can get a cup anywhere but it’s still nice to have one handy). Remember to hydrate your child and yourself. I heard on NPR recently that most children are dehydrated during the school day. See here.
6) Extra plastic bags (sorry Eco-friendly parents!). Bring them for anything and everything. For upchuck, for poo, for your own clothes if these end up on you! Speaking of which, pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on for yourself.
How did it go for us?
1) iPad was a lifesaver. We ended up relying on it too much, however, and have vowed to cut off screen time these next few weeks. NY Times actually just published another article on screen time here.
2) Diapers. We had enough diapers, that wasn’t the issue. However, our son drinks a ton of milk and we did not have the opportunity to change him as often, so we had a few accidents! If you think your child is in between sizes or imbibes a surfeit of liquid, consider testing the next diaper size up before you travel. We finally did this after our trip was said and done and discovered that yes, all he needed was a size up.
3) Snacks. Never neglect this necessity. When my son started getting fussy, avocado saved the day (and avocado goes down smoothly)! And yes, I will eat my own words! On one occasion, I offered more than one snack at the same time and what happened? Goldfish and Wheat Thins flew everywhere. Thankfully my husband and I did not overreact and we attributed this moment to his being overtired/uncomfortable by the end of the flight. (Quick note on liquids. If you have an infant, you can breastfeed or offer the bottle during the flight’s ascension/descent and this will help minimize ear discomfort).
4) Toys. The Mega Bloks worked for a little while (we used the iPad mostly).
5) The sippy and bottle were regularly used during our whole trip. Not all restaurants have kid cups. Or maybe you’ve forgotten your own water bottle. I took a sip from my son’s water bottle at least once, ha!
6) Plastic bags. Used ’em all and got more throughout.
Suggestions for keeping your mommy cool:
1) TAKE BREAKS and BE FLEXIBLE.
2) Vary your schedule between doing new things and doing familiar things. If you’re brave to venture into NYC like we did, we did something new and went to Toys R Us during the evening, then the next morning we went to a public park to mimic a ‘normal’ day. I found that my son was more himself and smiled a ton while playing in the park.
3) I know it’s common sense but I’ll say it anyway: Communicate with your spouse or partner, especially if you’re visiting friends or family. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
4) Remember to enjoy your “vacation.” Try not to get caught up in being the Energizer Bunny. If you notice your toddler appreciating water fountains, tree roots, a special dessert item, whatever it is, allow them the time to enjoy it. You don’t have to be anywhere but right there in the mindful presence of your family.
5) Try your best to get a good night’s rest! You’ll always have more patience when you’re well-rested.
6) Try to get one date night in! (We were SO exciting and watched the movie Inside Out).