How to Travel with Kids by Plane

All rights reserved

With all of the ridiculous articles and shares floating around the interwebs about families who preemptively hand out goody bags to other passengers on a plane lest the other adults not act like adults if their children might act like children, it’s no wonder that the idea of flying with small kids is enough to strike fear into the hearts of parents far and wide.  But I’m here to tell you that you can rest easy.  We have been flying since my oldest was 11 weeks old and, not only have we never had a terrible experience with other passengers, we’ve become pretty excellent at making the whole process pretty seamless.  Here’s the lowdown on how we travel:

Car Seats!

First off, buy yourself a lightweight car seat for travel.  Your baby should have his or her own seat for maximum safety and the car seat will also provide an excellent, familiar place to nap.

886471_10151469326809474_1343511780_o
Rolling through the airport in Austin, TX

Luggage checking or even gate checking a car seat can cause serious, invisible damage to the integrity of your seat and endanger your child in a crash.  If your baby is still in the infant car seat (by the way, my favorite is the Cybex Aton), read up on your manual before leaving so you know how to safely install it without the base.  You heard that right: you do NOT need the base for your infant car seat – leave that heavy sucker at home!  If your baby is out of the infant seat or your child is up to age 5, pick up an Evenflo Sureride DLX for under $100 and one of these travel backpacks so that you can haul this lightweight seat through the airport on your back.  You will look ridiculous, but your life will be easy.  (Besides, when we became parents, we started accepting we would not always look cool, yes?)  Alternatively, you can grab a GoGo Kidz to wheel your car seat (and baby if safely buckled in) through the airport.  I’ve used both setups and personally prefer the backpack, but ymmv.

 

All rights reserved
At the airport in Dublin

Strollers!

Next, choose a lightweight stroller that is suitable to your destination.  This means if you are going somewhere with cobblestone streets, poor sidewalks, or other rough terrain, do not bring your umbrella stroller.  For these destinations you will want air tires or air tire equivalents.  My very favorite stroller for tackling European streets is the Micralite Fastfold Super-lite.  It isn’t available in the US, but if you plan ahead and stalk Craigslist, chances are you’ll find one.  If you need a double, you can take one of the Micralites that is rebranded as the Joovy Toofold with the second seat. The Toofold is what I used on our most recent trip to Italy.

Checking out the residents at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
Checking out the residents at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

 

If your destination doesn’t need beefy tires, go with one of the smallest, lightest strollers on the market, the Mountain Buggy Nano.  This stroller fits into an overhead bin on the plane, is easy to carry up and down stairs at train stations without lifts, reclines well for comfy naps, has a decent canopy, and has a shockingly large basket.  This is what I took to Denmark, Sweden, and Germany with great success.

Another excellent travel option is the Babyzen YOYO.  This small, light weight stroller also folds compactly enough to carry on-board and store in the overhead bin (I really can’t stress how fantastic this is – especially on international flights where gate checked strollers do not reappear at connection gates or for arrivals where the jetway will be unbearably hot or cold while you’re waiting for your stroller to be carried up).  The YOYO is a sexy, nimble stroller that packs an excellent suspension, an adjustable recline and leg rest, and an ample basket into its 13lb self.  It is also compatible with car seat adapters.  The YOYO also functions just as nicely as an everyday stroller that won’t take up your whole trunk.

Entertainment!

Now that you have your gear and are on your way, you need to keep the little people entertained.  This is easier than you think.  If you have a young toddler, simple tasks work well.  Bring a pack of kleenex and show your baby how to shred them up.  This task alone is lots of fun!  Once the shredding is losing its luster, take the shreds and demonstrate stuffing them into a TP roll (easy to pack in your purse) or a flat tissue box.  You will be amazed by how much time can be spent packing and unpacking the roll or box.  And this game isn’t just fun for little ones!  My 6 year old still enjoys shredding tissue/paper towels/paper and packing them into something; she now calls this process making nests.

My kids have always had a lot of fun searching through the seatback magazines for pictures of babies, mommies, daddies, pets, etc.  It’s novel for them and a freebie in case you find yourself without an activity (or access to one during takeoff or landing).

Lots of people suggest bringing stickers for kids to play with.  Let me just warn you that removing 4,000 stickers from every nook and cranny of an airplane is not a job you want to be doing.  Instead, do like the Danish carrier SAS does and provide a cling sticker activity set.  With these, your kid can arrange and rearrange stickers to their heart’s content on big scenes and then take their set with them on your actual trip to provide further entertainment.

Another obvious activity is coloring.  But a collection of crayons that constantly roll off the tray table and disappear down the aisle is not a relaxing time.  Instead, bring a set of triangular crayons that refuse to roll away.  And rather than a coloring book, do a google image search for coloring pages in a variety of your kid’s favorite themes to print out.  This way, you will also have blank pages on the back of each image to get creative.  If you have a child age 3+, another great activity is to print out letter and number tracing pages, which are perfect for the bright colors of crayons.

Pretend play is another easy go-to on a plane with a set of mini figurines.  Your child’s little friends will have a wonderful time exploring the airplane, playing with one another, visiting the coloring pages, hiding in the kleenex, etc.  They’re also an easy thing to toss in your purse for peaceful meals out.

If you’ve exhausted your various distractions, it’s time to pull out the big guns: the phone or tablet loaded with movies, tv shows, and apps that don’t necessarily need sound to be fun.  Did you know that you can download Prime eligible movies and tv shows to watch offline?  This is the perfect option to keep media content costs down while keeping the novelty factor high (I reload our tablets with brand new stuff before any long travel day)!  Here are some of the apps that we’ve found to be particularly valuable over the years: Elmo ABC’s (not available for iphone, just ipad and totally worth the purchase price), Tozzle (puzzles that animate once completed – another app worth every penny), PlayHome, Color Dots by Ellie’s Games (this one is great for even very young toddlers), Toddler Alphabet Game and Toddler Counting both by iTot, Toca Tailor Fairy Tales by Toca Boca, Paint My Wings by Toca Boca, Hooked on Phones Learn to Read (an outstanding app for your new reader), Sprout’s Good Night Star, Kids Doodle by Bejoy Mobile, ZOOLA Animals by INBAL Tal, Sight Words by CFC s.r.o., Dogs*** / Wolf** / Cats** / Cat!! / Dogs** / Horse! / etc all by Namaste Power Store, My Zoo Animals by wonderkind GmbH, The Stories of Bertie by The Story Mouse, Animal Fun by Brian Pfeil, Millie Was Here by Megapops, Twinkle Little Star by Tiger Stripes LLC, and the classic favorite Angry Birds.

Between your little arsenal of activities, media/app content, naps/sleeping, meals, and staring out the window, your flight will go by in a flash! (and PS: remember to feed/nurse/give a pacifier to kids too young to yawn automatically during takeoff/landing to keep their ears from hurting)

Happy travels!

BSave

Save

Continue Reading

How to Travel with Kids By Car

397859_10151585420299474_669761522_n

If you need to get to your destination by car, fear not.  I have been driving up and down the length of California since my oldest was 11 weeks old.  Sometimes solo.  The secret to driving with little kids is to assume you are never going to go longer than 2-3 hours without an extended break.  And start your trip so that your nap schedule will fall within the early portion or middle of the trip to further break things up.  So your 6 hour trip might look like this with a younger, twice a day napper (see the bottom section for preschool and elementary ages):

Babies and Young Toddlers

Leave home by 9am (don’t start things out in the thick of rush hour)

10am it’s nap time and baby nods off to the white noise of the car/the sound machine app on your phone/whichever music you are now sick of but baby loves (for my oldest it was Enya, cranked way up)

Baby sleeps until 11 or 11:30.  A younger baby likely needs a stop to be changed and fed, but an older one may tolerate a bit more driving and get you through until lunch time…

Stop for lunch and walking around to see new things

12:30 back in the car

2pm baby is nodding off for afternoon nap

3:30/4pm baby wakes up and needs to be fed and changed but you’re likely already at your destination! If not, take another 30 minutes to get out and see some new things, then it’s back in the car until dinner/your destination (driving from 9-3:30 this way gives you 6 hours on the road)

 

Older Toddlers and School Kids

If your kid is not a baby, you’ll need fun things to pass the time.  Pack a little bag with car-appropriate toys (remember the risk of hard, heavy objects becoming projectiles – if you don’t want it thrown at your head, don’t give it to your kid lest it fly at them or you during a crash).  My kids are often happy with a few figurines to play pretend with for the first hour or so of the drive.  Then we can gain another 30 minutes to an hour by playing our Super Champion Quiz game (ask each kid a knowledge question at their level and the first one to earn 5 points is the winner of that round).  If nobody has to stop for the bathroom by then, I hand out an easy snack like string cheese, give each kid an iphone with free downloads from Amazon Prime (did you know you can download Prime shows to watch while offline?) or a selection of their favorite movies while wearing volume-limiting children’s headphones.  Then it’s a stop for lunch and the bathroom, back to the car for a new round of the Super Champion Quiz game, new toys, then my oldest gets to quietly watch something else while the youngest naps.  After that it’s a choose your own adventure until we arrive at our destination.

Continue Reading

Amatrice

Amatriciana

If you’ve never been to the small towns of Italy you would not understand the deep, profound sadness I have for the people of Amatrice, Saletta, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto in the wake of this devastating earthquake.  My family has spent year after year crisscrossing the Italian countrysides, mountains, and beaches.  We are diehard fans of the little towns, the hamlets, the villages.  We plan our trips not around what big cities we would like to see, but which tiny ones we have to experience.

For people from a country that always bemoans the disappearance of the “social tribe”, being in these places is just magical.  The sense of community among the residents is jaw dropping.  Everyone knows everyone and their families going back hundreds of years, if not more.  But what is even more astounding is how freely these very special people share their love of one another and their towns with outsiders.  You are immediately welcomed into their social tribe and you feel their love.  Yes, their love.   They don’t welcome you because they’ve decided they like you, they welcome you because their hearts embraced yours as soon as you said ciao.  This is how my kids have come to have “aunties” and “cousins” and even an Honorary Gramps sprinkled throughout Italy and how we’ve been invited home for lunch by complete strangers.  It’s the love.

So as I sit here tonight, still trying to process how so many of these magical, special towns with the best people humankind has to offer have been destroyed, all I can think to do is share the love of Amatrice with one of our favorite family recipes.  We sat down to share it tonight as we keep Lazio in our prayers, and I hope that you will do the same.  And please consider donating to the disaster relief funds of La Stampa (specify your gift is for “Fund 597 Earthquake in Central Italy” or “Fondo 597 Terremoto Centro Italia”) or The Italian Red Cross.

Amatriciana / Sugo / all’Amatriciana

This is the namesake dish of Amatrice.  Traditionally made with guanciale (pork jowel) I sub a thick, high-quality applewood smoked bacon.  And I omit the red pepper flakes since the Hunt’s Sauce (I use for ease) has had a bit of a kick to it lately and my kids don’t like spicy food.

Olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 carrot, very finely shredded (optional, but I prefer my sauce with it)

1 package thick bacon cut into short strips or guanciale

1 Tetra pack (33.5oz) of Hunt’s Sauce (you can make your own using San Marzano tomatoes, but this is easiest)

Pinch of red pepper flakes (if you like heat)

1 lb Spaghetti (this is the traditional way but Bucatini is used in Rome and Renne Rigate stands up nicely to this sauce and doesn’t require cutting for littles)

Pecorino Romano, freshly grated

 

In a heavy bottomed pan, add olive oil, onions, and carrot (if using) and cook until softened.

In a skillet, brown the bacon (not until crispy) and then transfer the bacon and a good portion of the grease to your big pan.

Add the entire package of Hunt’s Sauce to the pan (and red pepper if using) and give everything a good stir.  Put the lid on and set your stove to simmer.  Leave the sauce as long as you can (but it is still delicious after only waiting for the pasta to cook).

Cook your pasta until it is a bit more firm than al dente, then drain it and add the pasta into the sauce’s pan.  Give it a good stir, put the lid back on, and check for doneness after 2 minutes or so.

Serve piping hot with a generous helping of Pecorino.

 

Continue Reading