Traveling with a toddler can be a harrowing experience. It’s like the day before taxes are due, and you can’t find one receipt or W-9. Its extremely stressful, you feel totally helpless, stupid, embarrassed, full of regret, and out of control. You are scrambling for hours and blaming each other for everything that is missing, you don’t really know what you are doing and just wishing you hired a professional to help (thank god we have with our taxes). It gets ugly, you say things you don’t mean, and you promise to do things differently next time. (P.S. If you don’t have or want kids or you came here for a design post, come back tomorrow, we’ll have a good one).
One should never make decisions about having kids after being on a plane with a toddler. After the last flight we took the only good thing that came out of it is that Brian and I collectively made the decision that 2 children was it! I know it gets better after they are out of this stage but we just couldn’t imagine have TWO kids there let alone three!!! (I’ve since already calmed down a bit about our rash statement although Brian hasn’t).
We flew to Bend, Or, a few weeks ago and had a pretty terrible airport and plane experience. It’s not like the plane malfunctioned but it was just bad. It took us an hour and a half to get to the airport, Brian left his phone in the uber – which was $178 dollars!!!! by the way. We were told we were going to miss our flight but thank god it was delayed. Brian spilled a whole cup of coffee on a puppy in the seat behind us, the pilot came out, etc, Charlie acted like a complete lunatic for the entire plane ride, etc, etc – it was just 5 very unpleasant hours of our lives. Let’s be clear – I travel a lot. We have traveled with Charlie a lot. We aren’t like those people who go through the metal detectors with their shoes, belt, jewelry, wallet and coats on and only take them off one by one – exacerbated every time the buzzer goes off. We know how it works and we are savvy. But with a toddler, an 18 month old specifically, out of LAX (its like flying in and out of HELL), its just a whole other ball game.
So let’s break down our mistakes, or I guess just some of the the more avoidable situations:
1. We didn’t book him a seat. The tickets to Bend were astronomical (like i’m embarrassed to say how much) because we wanted to fly direct to save ourselves from a layover in Portland. But tiny plane + no extra seat + toddler on our lap = Charlie totally out of control. Being on a small plane sucks, for anyone, let alone a toddler with so much energy and no place to put it. I felt more sorry for us at the time, but looking back its not like he had the best time ever, either.
2. We booked the flight during his nap, which means that he basically just didn’t take a nap, which means that he turned into a lunatic. That used to work when he was a baby and he would just fall asleep, but no longer.
3. We didn’t bring headphones. We brought the ipad with some shows that he likes at 6am on Saturday mornings when Brian and I collectively throw all rules out the window and he watches Thomas the Train while I stare out into space, but we didn’t bring the headphones (we didn’t know!) so it lost his attention within minutes.
4. We flew out of LAX – which is the most unpleasant airport ever, where even if you get there an hour and 15 minutes before your flight you could miss it. LAX is unavoidable at times but we could have flown from Burbank to Portland to Bend and avoided the stress that LAX brings. Every time I land at LAX I think to myself ‘I Hate LA … Why do I live here???’ and then by the time I get to our neighborhood I’m back to normal but its just a terrible place full of terrible people wrapped in chaos and dirt. Burbank however, is a pure joy to be in. JOY. God, this must be so boring for anyone who doesn’t live in LA but I need to talk through it.
5. We checked our carseat which means on the off chance that we did get a seat on the way back (which we did) he would have somewhere to sleep. They told us that we wouldn’t so we didn’t prep for it. The way back (which is below) was 50% better because he had a seat – so that was a good lesson learned.
He’s a fairly mellow kid and he was REALLY hard to control on the plane, for two short hours. He was running up and down the aisle, slapping legs, yelling gibberish, wanting to touch every single person’s laptop buttons – surely deleting people’s work. If we kept him in the seat he was jumping, screaming, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, yelling ‘no! no! no!’ over and over for no reason. I just kept thinking What oh WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO FOR 10 HOURS!!!
We are headed to Spain in a month and after that experience we are looking for any and all suggestions for how to travel with a toddler. Babies are easy (depending on the baby, I know). I think that 4 year olds can probably watch movie after movie, but toddlers … what can toddlers do???
Here is what we have done (or are going to do ) to potentially help the situation:
1. We booked a red eye. This shortens our overall flight time and since its overnight we are hoping that a majority of those hours will be asleep.
2. We have not booked him a seat yet on it – we are waiting to see if the plane fills up more. Right now there is a lot of room and the idea of buying his $1800 ticket to then sit near all these empty seats makes us nauseous so we are risking it for now since there are so many available. We’ll check in when we are closer to the trip and see what the chances are of him getting his own seat for free is.
3. A friend (who is a professional nanny) gave us the advice of bringing him to the airport in his normal clothes and then doing his bed time routine on the plane – changing him to pjs, sleep-sack, books, bottle all on the plane (skipping the bath) so that he feels like its time to go to bed.
4. We are buying headphones for him – any suggestions?
But there is no way that he is going to sleep for more than 6 hours (we hear) so we still have four hours to account for. Plus jet lag.
So friends, since this blog really just acts as my own personal advice forum at times, what are some tips that you guys have for traveling with a toddler? Is there anything we can give him to sleep longer/deeper? Are there any TV shows or movies that an 18 month old will actually sit and watch? I’m not saying that we are going to drug our kid and put him in front of a TV for hours, but after our recent experience i’m not exactly above anything. I’m a big advocate for ‘family first, baby second’ and I really think that our collective family (including this baby inside of me) needs less stress for those 10 hours than what we endured for those two short ones to Oregon. I manage stress well since my life in general is just a bit nutso, but this was a glimmer into a future that I want to avoid.
I know you moms are out there, brimming with stories and advice of plane trips gone wrong and right. Help!
(Also moms with two kids, or twins or three kids or single moms … I SO admire you and I want to know your secrets for staying alive and sane).