traveling with littles // our travel essentials

Traveling with Littles.jpg

Since I posted about our Mexico trip (over on Instagram and on the blog) I have had TONS of questions about how we traveled with the kids, what we took, and tips from the trip. So, I thought I would just put up a big post with links to everything so I wouldn’t have to type and text and respond with the same things to everyone. Plus, this is a great reference for me because as much as I love traveling, the actual act of traveling gives me a bit of anxiety, especially in the day or two before. It’s mostly the preparation, which is sort of counter-intuitive since I am such a planner, and the lists and lists of things to pack and to-dos before we leave (like I will stay up all night cleaning the house and doing all of the laundry the night before so I come home to a super clean house).

Any-hoo, onto our travel essentials. Obviously it depends on your kids, your routine and every day necessities, and your own preferences, but lots of these things work for most of the littles. Also, I have tailored this to air travel, but many of the same things are true when we drive.

Something that I had growing up was a travel backpack which was a backpack full of toys and things that I only got when we traveled. (Thanks Mom & Dad!) And this is something that we started when Eloise was tiny and continue to do. Guys, it’s magic. These are special toys that she only gets when we drive or fly, so they are really special every time. It really doesn’t have to be anything crazy or over-the-top, and remember that they have to really be small enough for your littles to carry (or else you will have to carry it!). Right now these travel-only toys include: this Doodle Pro, these Mermaid stickers, flashcards (from the Dollar Spot at Target), these headphones, coloring book or paper and crayons, and this kids’ digital camera we added as a new surprise for this most recent trip! I also include a small snack in the front pocket of her bag (usually a bar and a pouch).

I try to have Eloise carry some of her own things, but since her backpack is so tiny, realistically I have to carry some things. I generally put her stickers, a small book, her headphones, and her lovie and blanket in her backpack, and then I carry everything else. This trip I took my diaper bag (I have this Skip-Hop one which I am LOVING right now because pockets and over-the-shoulder handles or cross-body – necessary with two kids) and this awesome Lo & Sons bag (Deluxe Small). And then Aaron carries a bag too, currently this Miir backpack which is also awesome! Between all of those bags, we can usually fit everything we are carrying on the airplane without it being too obnoxious! I put all of the essentials that we will more than likely need during the plane trip in my diaper bag (diapers, wipes, water bottles, pacifier) that goes under the seat, and then at least one of the other bags goes up into the over-head bin (and includes things we don’t need immediately like extra clothes, snacks, etc.).

STROLLER, CAR SEATS, AND CARRIERS

Even though our every day stroller is pretty compact (we have the Bugaboo Bee) it seemed too bulky to take on the trip. I wanted something that either girl could sit in that would be easy to maneuver around the resort. But I also didn’t want a super cheap stroller that would break during the trip. So we settled on this umbrella stroller and it was perfect! It fit either girl, laid back for the occasional nap, had a pretty big storage basket underneath, had a cup holder (bonus!), and folded to be pretty compact. We took this stroller with us in the airport and then gate-checked it. Though not necessary, I like to put gate-checked items into bags and this one was perfect for an umbrella stroller!

We weren’t planning on doing any extra driving while in Mexico, but since we did have to get from the airport to the resort (in a vehicle) we brought both of the girls’ car seats. We don’t use them on the plane (see below) but I didn’t feel comfortable being in a vehicle without car seats, despite the assurances that Mexico does not actually require car seats for children. (Um, yikes, but that’s not the point here.) So we checked the car seats using these car seat bags. Obnoxious, yes. Practical, yes. The bags have backpack straps (which Aaron can use; I, however, will fall over backwards!) and are big enough for the seat plus we always put diapers in the seat to save room in our luggage! A note about international travel and car seats is that other countries, including Mexico, don’t have locking seat belts, so be sure to take these brackets which will “lock” the seat belt!

We also took both of the carriers for the girls (the Tula and the Ergo) since we both can use them and Aaron can still carry Eloise in a carrier. In hindsight, we should have just brought one since the Ergo went unused during almost the entire trip. (It was WAY too hot to use the carriers when we were in Mexico, for the most part!) But, we find the carriers really helpful when we are getting on the plane because it frees up both sets of hands to carry bags. And as much as I love my Solly wrap, in the past it has been too tricky to try to get Daphne in and out of it as the other carriers (though I loved it when D was a newborn).

PLANE

Getting on the plane with littles is always an experience. And one that gives me anxiety. I just want to be on the plane with my luggage stowed and seat belt fastened. So I make sure that we get any gate check bag tags that we need (for our stroller and sometimes our infant car seat, but not this time around) as soon as there is someone at the gate counter, and then I wait in the immediate boarding area in case there are any updates about the flight. And there are differing opinions about this, but our system is to get on the plane as early as possible! That generally means we board with the “families or passengers that need extra time getting down the jet way.” For some airlines this is the very first group to board, and for others it is after all of the gold, platinum, whatever flight status passengers get to board. But, long story short, we get onto the plane with the girls before 95% of the rest of the passengers.

Once we find our seats, I get in first to sit in the window and then Eloise will get the middle seat. I wipe down everything (tray – both sides, arm rests, window and wall) with a disinfecting wipe. My girls, especially Daphne, lick and touch everything. So there’s that. While I am disinfecting, Aaron is installing the CARES harness that we use for Eloise onto the seat; it is a loop that goes over the seat, but requires the tray to be put down for tightening, and then provides an upper harness that loops into the regular airline seat belt. Again, there are many differing opinions about how small children should be restrained in an airplane, but we have chosen to have lap infants (before age 2) and then use the CARES harness (rather than hauling a car seat on the plane). And then Daphne sits with me during pre-boarding and then during take-off and landing, just in case she won’t take her paci and needs to nurse.

Before I had littles, I didn’t put anything in the seat back pocket. But now, I load it up with wet wipes, water bottles, books, snacks. When you have a baby on your lap, it is difficult to get a bag out from under the seat, so I try to get most of what I might need during the flight out where I can easily reach it. And then we use the under the seat space at Eloise’s seat to store one of the bigger carry-ons that has things we will need during the flight, and the other carry-on goes up into the overhead bin. That leaves Aaron with no bags at his feet so he’s a bit more comfortable (since his knees nearly hit the seat in front of him).

 

PLAY

Even on a short flight little ones need something to do, so we try to bring entertaining things to keep them occupied for as much of the flight as possible. Like I mentioned above, we have special airplane toys/items that only come out during travel, so they tend to keep Eloise occupied for a little longer than normal. In addition, I bring a few small board books or magazines for her to read or to have read to her. For Daphne, I brought a few soft toys and books, but avoided anything that squeaked!

Before each trip, Aaron will pre-download shows (Daniel Tiger, Mister Roger’s, and Sesame Street are the current ones) onto either his phone or one of our computers. This way we don’t have to worry about Wifi on the plane or any sort of buffering during the show. We are pretty strict about screentime with Eloise during our normal life, and during traveling, we are equally strict. She gets to watch one (maybe two) shows of her choosing during a plane ride, but only after she takes a nap. It is amazing that a toddler can go from “I am not tired. At all.” to sleeping in a matter of minutes if it means there is a show on the other side! We don’t always get the longest naps, but we make sure she naps before a show. And, also, we try to exhaust every other possible entertainment method for Eloise before we let her watch a show; that means reading stories, snacks (so many snacks), walking up and down the aisle, going potty, etc. We know from other parents that if you offer a show too early in the trip, the only thing your toddler wants to do is watch a show!

 

FOOD

I bring tons of snacks on trips, always. Even before kids. I guess I worry about being on a plane or in a hotel room without food! I tend to make a big trip to Trader Joe’s a few days before a trip because it has the BEST snack foods. And snacks don’t have to be unhealthy. We do a lot of trail mix, dried fruit, and other healthier snacks so that I don’t worry as much if that is all Eloise will eat on the trip.

One thing that we do bring that we don’t have normally (so it’s special which magical for toddlers!) are food pouches. They are heavy but really convenient and if you have kids, TSA doesn’t make a stink about them at all. For a flight, I will put one into Eloise’s backpack for her to find and then let her choose when she wants to eat it. But I do limit the amount of pouches to one per day for Eloise. Daphne, on the other hand, was young enough on our trip that we were still transitioning between purees and BLW (baby-led weaning). So I loaded up on pouches* and brought enough for one pouch per meal since I didn’t know what the food situation was going to be.

*Since I don’t normally buy food pouches, I was overwhelmed (an understatement) when I went to Target to buy them for the trip. Holy cow there are about 100 brands, even if you are only looking at organic ones! So, I started reading the labels. Many pouches (and other baby foods and drinks even) use apple sauce/puree as the main filler with only a small amount of the other flavors. My test for pouches was to find ones that were (1) organic and (2) weren’t apple sauce. And I ended up finding these Happy Baby Clearly Crafted Stage 2 that fit the bill and were in a clear pouch (bonus!) with lots of interesting flavors. Like I said, I loaded up and ended up bringing enough for 2 or 3 every day which was so, so heavy going down to Mexico, but Daphne ate them all during our trip and we didn’t have to haul them back (except the ones I saved for the flights home).

Along with TJ’s snacks, we also like Ella’s Kitchen snacks, Bambas, and Larabars (mini). We don’t usually let Eloise snack much during the day because it just destroys mealtimes, but when we travel (and especially when we fly) we are super lax about snacking. We ended up being able to get food really quickly at the resort in Mexico because there was a food buffet open almost all day, but sometimes waiting in restaurants for a meal is hard, so I always have snacks or a pouch in my bag.

 

SUN AND SAND

One thing I was dreading with the hot weather in Mexico (and also just summer in general) is sunscreen. I loathe sunscreen but the alternative is worse. I am also really picky when it comes to sunscreen and will only use physical sunscreen which means almost all of the cool sprays, mousses, dry-touch ones are all no-nos. Our favorite for the past few years is this non-aerosol spray from Babyganics which we all use. And I also picked up this Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc for our trip after reading really good reviews on it, and I really liked it! Aaron wasn’t sold on it, but the smell was amazing. Neither one of these sunscreens are super white and greasy which is what I am looking for. And be sure to test sunscreen on an arm or leg of your babies first to make sure there isn’t a bad skin reaction! Daphne wasn’t able to wear sunscreen all summer-long (because she was under 6 months) but thank goodness she was old enough when we went to Mexico and that she wasn’t allergic to either sunscreen we had.

Because we were going to be at the beach, I brought along our little anti-UV pop-up tent that I picked up at the Nordy’s Anni Sale this past summer. It didn’t get as much use as I thought since Daphne was so little this summer and we mostly just stayed out of the sun, but it folds up small enough (and flat enough) that we were able to get it into our suitcase for this trip. To be totally honest, we only used this tent one morning while we were in Mexico, but it was still worth it! I was able to keep Daphne out of the sand since she would just eat it and be covered in it (between the sunscreen and her hands in her mouth all the time) which was amazing! We have previously rented a big tent for the beach when we went to Maui and it was awesome for the beach!

If it is sunny and hot at all, my girls are used to wearing sunhats (at least Eloise is). Since neither will reliably keep sunglasses on, sunhats are the way to go. We love this iPlay one since it is super lightweight, dries quickly, and breathes. Plus, it is adjustable and has a chin tie (which is necessary for a baby who tries to pull it off). Eloise had a dark navy blue one when she was one, but I quickly discovered that the dark color got hot in the sun. So she and Daphne both have white ones. There is also this one that has more neck coverage. And in addition to a sunhat, we wear lots of sunshirts near the pool or at the beach. We have one from Crewcuts (J. Crew’s baby line) and Honest Co. but I have also been liking the ones that come with the bathing suit set (like Cat and Jack for Target). Often I will bring an extra sunshirt along in my bag and then can switch out the girls’ shirt if we are going to be in the sun so I don’t have to slather on quite as much sunscreen!

SLEEP

Ah, elusive sleep. Especially when you are traveling, sleep is elusive. We have two really good sleepers, but traveling and being away from home and in a new place can be disruptive! We try to mimic our sleep routine and schedule from home as much as possible when we are traveling. Same jammies, same lovies, same pacis, same/similar sound machine, same sleep sack.

We have this travel sound machine which has been good for the past few years, but we have been having trouble with batteries corroding in it, so I am on the hunt! Basically, I want something that is lightweight and can give us the sound of rain (that’s our preferred sound) all night long (so no timer). If you have any recommendations on a good travel sound machine, I am all ears!

And since Eloise had been recently night-time potty-trained, I brought along this waterproof mattress pad cover which is the one that we keep on her bed at home. Luckily, we didn’t end up needing it, but I will probably still bring it along with us for our next few trips since it folds up like a small blanket.

And for Daphne, I ended up bringing an extra blanket for her which I used on the plane while she napped and then hung on the side of the pack n’ play while we were in Mexico. I wouldn’t normally hang a blanket on the side of a pack n’ play but in this case we were sharing a hotel room so I needed to put something up to block Daphne’s view so that she would sleep. We put her over on the other side of the room (from the beds) to give her some space and quiet, but the sides of the pack n’ play are mesh… so we hung a blanket over one side and a towel over the other and it worked really well (the other two sides were facing the wall and the sliding door with curtains). At this point (one month later) Daphne probably would have pulled that blanket and curtain off the sides since she can now stand up in a crib, but at the time it worked!

PASSPORTS AND TRAVEL DOCS

When we decided to book our trip to Mexico for the entire, we knew it would require passports for the girls. Even though we don’t have any other international trips planned as of now, it’s nice to know that we can plan a last minute trip or take a drive across the border if we need/want to (Canada is just about 3 hours north). Plus, passports for littles are insanely cute and good for 5 years. We took our own pictures using the Murphy bed in the guest room/office for the white backdrop, and then printed them at Walgreen’s.

{Side note: This section is about vaccines. We have decided to vaccinate ourselves and our children which is a personal decision. This isn’t a post meant to be pro-vaccination, but just to explain what our process was regarding travel and vaccines.} And since we were traveling abroad, I did ask our girls’ pediatrician about any extra vaccines they may need before the trip since other countries have different exposure risks than we do domestically. He told us that Eloise was good-to-go since she is up-to-date on her vaccines (thru three years), but that he recommended that Daphne get an early booster of the MMR (which isn’t started until after one year) because there is a high risk of exposure when you travel internationally, specifically in international airport terminals. Also, since it was early October when we left for our trip, we all got our annual flu vaccines before flying.

And finally, be sure to research any other documents you might need on your trip, depending on where you are traveling, including any required visas. I also took pictures of our passports as well as scanned them and saved them to our cloud storage (just in case they got lost) and took a copy of the girls’ birth certificates and vaccine records (which I always have with me).

What are your travel essentials?

M

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