So, you’d like to travel across the country with young children…without your spouse? What kind of Dad would be foolhardy enough to take on such a trip?
Well, I did that this past summer with my two daughters – Grace, 7, and Daphne, who was nearly 1 at the time. We flew from Grand Rapids, Michigan to San Diego, California…and we all made it back alive!
The following traveler’s guide, 5 tips and a mandatory packing list, should be read in its entirety. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea from my first suggestion which is…
…DON’T DO IT!!!
Tip#1…. You are fully rested. I entered this adventure, (that’s what I call things other people call hassles), knowing that it would be a long day. I’m a patient man and I knew that it would require an extra reserve of that patience to deal with TSA check-ins, car rentals, and general travel pains while corralling an extremely mobile baby and short attention-spanned first grader. But I somehow forgot that I also had to work a full day before leaving that late afternoon. So, I still had to wake up early that morning. Do yourself a favor. Make sure you have time to fully rest. My day was 21 hours start to finish and I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch up on sleep until three days later.
Tip#2… You make lists. Then make a checklist for your lists. And then check those checklists. You get the idea. Your brain is going to be focused on how to keep the little humans alive and safe. Having a checklist for clothing, medical, food, and other necessaries means you don’t have to spend time thinking about whether you packed/have something while your little ones are wandering onto the tarmac. Thankfully, my wife is the queen of checklists. So mine were made out before she left.
Tip#3… You are well versed in the pace of life with kids. Sure, it’s easier to pop over to the store, friend’s house, wherever, when you’ve got a partner to watch the kids. When you’re flying solo with them, you need to schedule in buffer time. Lots of it. Planning to be somewhere way early means you’ll probably show up just in time. Maybe. (Read: The Pace of Life: Boy, Was I Wrong…(Sort Of)).
Tip#4… You are okay with screentime. Normally, I hate screen time for the kids. It’s something we avoid in our house if we can. But if you’re going to be in a plane for hours on end and there’s no other way to burn that energy off, fire up the iPad! Technology is your friend! Oh, and remember to download/find games that they can do without wifi (unless you like paying extra.)
Tip#5… You prep your unpaid volunteers. By “unpaid volunteers” I mean any of your children old enough to know how to help without causing more messes to solve. Sure, I told Grace we were going to have a great time. I also told her she would have to help me when it came to taking care of the baby. Fortunately, I won the “kid lotto” and was blessed with a more than willing volunteer who loves to help. Just make sure to give them a heads up so they don’t give you the stinkeye when they are told they have to help change a stinky diaper.
Mandatory Packing List
You’re instinct will tell you to overpack. But more stuff = more stress and more to carry. So, y’know, don’t do that. Here’s a list of essentials.
- Ziploc bags. Three words: poop, vomit, baby food. Ziploc bags are the quickest solution when you need to separate the messes from the rest when you don’t have a trash can handy.
The sweet snooze of victory.
- Snacks. This is a no brainer but don’t ever think you’ll have enough. I ran out with 2 hours to go. Thankfully, the flight attendants had all sorts of goodies for Grace (and Daphne had finally fallen asleep.)
- The “lovey.” Does your daughter have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal? Go to Amazon and buy another one. That backup (we have two “foxies” for Daphne) is vital in case one ever gets dirty, damaged, or lost. Other small comfort items from home can make a trip less stressful for the kids, too.
- First Aid Kit. Don’t forget this! Baby Tylenol, Dramamine, Band-Aids. You never know and you don’t want to pay what the airport wants to charge for that stuff.
- Extras and Backups – I know I said to not overpack. But if you’re going to bring extra stuff… go with diapers, wipes, pull-ups, and three or more changes of clothes for when your kids ruin the ones they are in.
- Did you know that on most airlines you can gate-check your stroller at no additional cost? Well before boarding time, go to the front desk and ask for a stroller tag so that you are ready to go. Invest in a travel stroller, or an umbrella stroller. We just purchased the 3Dtrek Convenience Stroller. Iit has many of the conveniences of a full size stroller, but folds up easy like an umbrella stroller.
- If you are going to be traveling with breast milk or formula, be sure to check and print out the TSA regulations for “Traveling with Children”