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Traveling with young children is intimidating. Even when you have a detailed itinerary, packing lists, and contingency plans, there’s always a chance your experience will go off the rails. While it’s impossible to eliminate this possibility entirely, there is one thing that you can do to reduce the chances of melt-downs – for both children AND parents. This game-changer is a mental walk-through of your entire trek! Start at the moment when you start getting ready to leave the house for your trip.
Visualize each step of the process of traveling in the greatest detail you can imagine. This will help you to discover possible issues prior to your departure and enable you to remedy them in advance. Below are 7 topics with prompts to help you think through the process. Every trip is different, so you’ll have to think of the specific details for your unique trip and family.
1. Last-minute items
What items will you need to pack immediately before leaving the house? Will your toddler have slept with his stuffed lion and it still needs to be packed? Did you have your infant in her carrier throughout the morning and it will need to end up in the car? Make sure you have a detailed list posted near the door so that you’ll see it before you leave your house. That way you can double-check that you have the last-minute items that will need to make the departure with you. Do you need to load your luggage before you leave, or will it be loaded the night before?
2. Airport arrival
How will you get to the airport and are there car seats in the vehicle you’ll be taking? If you’ll be taking a taxi, did you confirm that they have car seats available or will you be bringing yours? Be sure to include time for car seat installation. Be mindful that you’ll need a buffer since you can’t always simply pop the kiddos in the car seat and go.
When you get to the airport, will you have already checked-in online or will you still need to do that? You may be required to present the baby’s birth certificate if she’s flying as a lap infant. This is in order to prove she’s under two years old, so be sure to have it handy. How many bags will you have? Will you have a stroller and if so will you have enough hands to shuffle everything? Did you weigh your luggage so that you know it’s 50 pounds or less?
Are you and your toddler wearing shoes and jackets that are easily removed? Have you already consolidated any liquids, including baby food pouches? Is that bag of liquids easily retrieved and removed from your carry-on? Are your water bottles empty? (Bringing your own water bottle and filling it inside the terminal will save you LOADS of money; purchasing bottles of water at an airport is outrageously expensive.)
Make a mental note that you’ll need to take out your phone and any other electronics at this time. It’s easiest to have them consolidated. Does your toddler have his own carry-on? (For us, his backpack ended up being another thing for me to carry and keep track of on a previous trip, so we no longer bring it.)
If you have a stroller that you’ll be gate checking, is it easily collapsible (and do you know how to collapse it?) because you’ll need to put it through the scanner at security. I recommend bringing a light umbrella stroller, (double if you have two children). You never know how much walking you’ll be doing, and dragging a tired toddler through the airport is miserable (especially if you’re rushing to catch a connection). It’s nice to have a place to set your carry-on or infant if you need to lighten your load. (I don’t know how my backpack always gets so heavy, but it seems inevitable.)
If you have an infant, I highly recommend having them in a carrier because you will not be forced to remove the baby so your hands will be free. Be sure to NOT wear a belt, difficult shoes, complicated jackets, or bring a finicky stroller. Security may require you to remove your wet wipes with liquids at security. (This one caught me off guard last time and I had to dig out my spare wet wipes from the very bottom of my bag.)
In my experience, security is highly inconsistent, so I have to go in with patience and frequently take deep breaths. Try to anticipate what they will want, but know that ultimately there’s a high level of variation. (The irony is the more you hate going through security, the more TSA can pick-up on your negative body language. Therefore, they are more likely to pick you for additional screening.) Additional note: If you’re gate checking your stroller, you will be required to do so at each gate. This includes connections on one trip.
If you have the baby in a carrier, you’ll have to take her out for takeoff and landing. I love my Ergo because I can just slip the shoulder straps off and the baby is undisturbed. Then I can simply slip the shoulder straps back on when we have reached our cruising altitude.
When you get to your destination accommodation, where will the baby sleep? Will the hotel provide a pack-n-play or do you need to bring something? Remember to ask for an extra flat sheet or bring your own crib sheet, as they are generally not provided for the pack-n-play. If your infant is crawling, did you pack a roll of painter’s tape to cover all of the outlets and “babyproof” her room? (Be sure to check out these hotel hacks.)
Some people do not explain things to toddlers because they think they won’t understand, but I disagree. Sure, it’s best to explain things in simple terms, but I believe they understand more than we give them credit for. That said, I think it’s a great idea to talk to your toddler about what they can expect when they’re traveling. Share a simplified version of your mental walk-through with them. Be sure to prime them to enjoy the experience by highlighting the bits that will be fun and when they can expect rewards if they behave well. (Yes, resort to bribery if necessary ;-))
Also think through things that could happen, even they’re not planned (like a tight connection).
Visualizing every specific step in the process and anticipating possible events that could occur is a thorough mental walk-through of your travel that will make your actual day of travel much smoother. As humans, we have a need to feel a sense of control, even if we don’t actually have any. Thinking through travel before it actually happens makes us feel like we are more in control because we know what may happen and have planned accordingly. I recommend doing a mental walk-through for events and activities you’ll be participating during your vacation as well, so that you pack and plan well. This simple trick makes all the difference!
What’s the one thing that you do when you travel that has the most significant positive impact on your vacation?