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Traveling with your kids

05/09/2011

We just visited Pittsburgh for the first time since moving out here to Albuquerque last week.  My darling wife had to defend her thesis and finish grad school, which she did splendidly, and now can be called Mommy PhD.  So that trip was the seed for this post, some tips and tricks for easing the pain of traveling with a kid.

First off are tickets.  We’ve flown Southwest all 3 times (and another trip is coming up in a month!) so that is who I’ll talk about.  We like them and they have treated us ok so far.  Their open seat policy is nice, but the caveat is that you need to get priority boarding for $10 a person, per trip.  They have a lousy policy of pre-boarding families after the priority boarding people get onto the plane.  What they do is categorize the passengers into 3 groups: A, B and C and maybe 60 passengers in each group.  When you get your boarding pass you’ll see “A24” or “B55”, etc.  The family boarding is after the A group and before the B group, so if you don’t get the priority boarding you will be following 60 people.  This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it ends up being a pain in the ass.  It is worth the $10.  We also chose not to get our daughter a seat this time, we were ready to put her on our laps.  But we lucked out and she got her own seat on all legs of the trip.  If you choose to take a car seat on the plane with you, be sure that it is FAA approved (not all of them are) and that it is light and narrow.  The convertible seat that is in our car is way too big and wide for a plane seat, so we found one from Cosco at Target for around $50 that is light, narrow and FAA approved. We also discovered that the front rows are usually not occupied and good for us.  There are no trays and you can’t keep bags in front of you, but the room is very nice.  You can even let your kid out to stand for a bit.

Getting your kid around the airport can be a challenge.  Dr. Mommy found a simple T-shaped nylon strap on Amazon that works wonders.  It is called the “Traveling Toddler Car Seat Travel Accessory” (henceforth referred to as “The Strap”) and runs less than $15.  It allows you to hook your car seat up to a piece of rolling luggage via the car seat’s LATCH straps.  Two go around the suitcase and one goes over the top and clip onto steel rings sewn at the ends of The Strap.  Tighten it up and off you go.  Be sure that your bag is full though.  We have a plain rectangular bag and use it for my and the kid’s carry-on.  You could also try getting a solid metal ring from a hardware store and latching the car seat to it, but The Strap lets you be a bit more versatile in the bags that you can use.  Since we planed on having the kid sitting in our laps, we unhooked the car seat before getting onto the plane.  But if you know that you have a spot for it, you can wait until just before you board to unhook the seat.  So I carried the car seat and the rolling luggage and Dr. Mommy carried her bag and the kid. The car seat should go first because (at least with Southwest) it needs to go into the window seat. Getting off the plane our routine is a bit different.  I carry the kid and the seat as one, and my wife gets the bags.  We hurry and get the car seat reattached to the rolling bag with The Strap as soon as possible on the jetway and off we go.

A tip that my sister in law told us is to get your kid brand new toys and books for the flight, well new to them at least.  These new things will keep their attention better.  We also pack some old favorites for familiarity.  And to be honest, they are kids; the info in the seat back pocket and barf bags were awesome things for her to look at for awhile.  We like these foam books that have pop-out toys.  You sort of get 2 things in one, a book and some things to play with.  Barnes and Noble have them in a variety of subjects.  Another tip is to pack snacks and feed your kids when taking off and climbing so that they can work their jaws and pop their ears.  Same thing when landing.  We also don’t let The Kid sleep before flying so that she’s extra tired, in theory this is good idea.  In practice, she didn’t sleep at all on the way to Pittsburgh.  But on the way back she slept for half of the trip.

Airplanes have changing tables, but those lavatories are tiny.  We use over-night diapers and only change her if she craps.   We dressed her in a one-piece body suit that worked out well.  It had buttons on the legs for changing diapers and this made for less articles of clothing to keep track of.  Plus it was really comfortable for her. The alternative could be a sleeper, but who wants their kids wearing them out in public?

We like to take the small cartons of Horizon Organic Milk.  If you don’t refrigerate them, they’ll last in your bags.  And you can pour them into a bottle or let your kid use the straw.   But be forewarned, security will want to give you a pat-down inspection for having them.  They wanted to use a needle and sample the milk, but that would mean that you now have holes in your milk cartons.  So instead, they swab the outside and then feel you up.  But the silver lining is that people with children don’t need to use the full body scanners, in case you are worried about that sort of thing.

I’ll close with a good idea from Dr. Mommy for car trips.  We drove from Pittsburgh to Vermont last fall, a 12-hour trip and our daughter was only 8 months old then.  But she was sleeping through the night.  So we decided to leave at 8pm and let her sleep all night in the car. She woke up in Burlington in time for breakfast none-the-wiser.   This made for a long night for us parents, but the one not driving could sleep and not worry about entertaining the baby.

That’s it.  Feel free to add any more helpful tips.  And I know that I used some product names above, but nobody is endorsing me.  If something sucked, I’d surely tell you about it.  Good luck!

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