Despite now living in NY, I am a California girl at heart. My family is still there, and while my parents try to visit us a few times each year, it's important that I make the trip West when I can. My little girl, now four, has made the six hour-ish flight close to ten times and my almost two year old is gradually catching up. At least half of those flights I have done on my own, my husband meeting us later in the vacation.
I have never checked a bag.
If you're planning any kind of flight with your children I do hope these suggestions help. They're well tested.
Today: Numbers 1-6
1. Keep only essentials at your feet. And by essentials, I mean the things you really might need at a moment's notice -- snacks, distracting toys, wipes.
There is no need to have extra diapers, your purse, magazines or a change of clothes down there. No books to read during the non-existent moments of free time.
You've got LIMITED space, people, especially if you're carrying a lap infant. No matter how good your planning, that zone down at your feet will become quite disorganized very quickly. Don't make it worse by polluting it with non-essentials.
2. With that in mind, strategically place those important-but-not-needed-in-a-moment's-notice critical items in an easy to a access part of your overhead luggage. In my case, it's a zipped, outer-pocket of my carry-on -- I situate the bag overhead so that the zipper is easy to reach just by opening the bin but without having to take the bag down.
In that pocket I put my diaper changing pack*, a change of clothes, and any other little tidbit that I suspect I might need but don't want to have cluttering up my feet.
3. *Have a diaper changing pack. Put 3 or 4 diapers, a slim case of wipes, a lightweight blanket or cloth diaper (for laying the baby on, although I've omitted this step plenty of times), and maybe a very compactible change of clothes (think cotton onesie and stretch pants) into a large ziploc bag.
Flatten the whole thing out as much as possible before sealing it up. Stick this in your easy to reach overhead pocket. If you don't have that kind of pocket, consider taking out your diaper changing pack before take-off and just putting it on top of your bag up above. When it's time for a Super! Fun! Bathroom! Adventure!, stand up, click open the overhead, snag your super fancy Ziploc bag diaper kit, and hop on line.
Remember -- while the need for a diaper change can come on quickly, it's not something you can handle right then and there at your seat. So don't have these things under your feet!
note: Unless you're in one of those planes that gets stuck on a tarmac for hours and hours, you won't need as many diapers as you think. Depending on the length of your flight, be realistic about how many diaper changes you'll really HAVE to do in that amount of time -- add an extra diaper or two for good measure -- and put those in your diaper kit. If you're really worried, pack a small stack of diapers in the bowels of your carry on. Worse come to worst (which it won't) you can pull that bad-boy down and get to your hidden stash.
4. In your essentials, at your feet bag, have two categories of stuff. Category A: Snacks. Build creative collections. I like to go to Trader Joes and buy a variety of fun little snacky things -- peanut butter pretzels, green bean crisps, mini cheese and cracker sandwiches, freeze dried fruits, granola bars, nuts. I divide those things up into little containers or snack-sized ziplocs which I can then hand to the children for fuel and a distraction.
This past trip I put all of my daughter's snacks in her little Bento Box --- she liked being able to decide what to eat when. Aim for moderation, but forget a totally balanced diet on this flight - go with what works and is easy and fun to eat.
I always like to have a tupperware with chopped up fruit to balance out the more cracker-y items. Frozen yogurt sticks are a good, portable option as well (so long as your kid can handle it and not make a gianormous mess. Avoid mess potential as much as possible.)
5. Category B: Toys and Distracting Items. Obviously, you want to have a collection of new, novel items on hand to distract your kid. One of my favorite places to get this stuff is at the dollar store.
Get creative. My last stash included mini flashlights, painter's tape, a cheap business card carrier I'd filled with old cards (my baby likes taking things in and out...in and out...), and a faux Barbie mini head with brush (dud.)
While I don't advocate hyper consumerism or excessive waste, these flights are critical times and there is something nice about being able to accept lost parts or ditch the toys at the end of the flight knowing they only cost $0.99. Some people advise wrapping these up into little present to make it all even MORE exciting, but it's a lot of effort to go through the night before you travel just for a few extra seconds of distraction, not to mention it adds to the mess you're already swimming in.
Along similar lines - AVOID LOTS OF SMALL PARTS. As your kid gets older and can manage their stuff a bit better (and crawl around to find the missing pieces), it's not so much an issue. But there's nothing like handing your toddler some gadget with all kinds of nesting pieces and then watching all of those slip off intro crevices and slots you have no prior awareness of nor interest in sticking your hand down. That toy you were so excited about and thought would fill so much time has become, in a matter of moments, a major fail.
Consider, too, borrowing toys from friends. You know how when you go to someone else's house for a playmate your kid gets totally consumed with their toys? It's because it's all new and unique and different, right? There is no need to go out and buy new light up toys or something with buttons if your fellow mom friends have a basement full of toys you can ask to borrow. More than likely they're happy to be clearing the stuff out so go ahead and ask.
6. Stick drinks and headphones in the seatbacks in front of you. This way they're super easy to find and don't get all tangled up in the mess below. Headphones, in general, are a pain in the butt. Those cords just get everywhere, especially with the shifting and getting up and dealing with paraphernalia. But they're pretty important if part of your plan includes using a DVD player or iPad.
I suggest getting headphones designed specifically for children - they fit better and you don't have to worry about them being too loud. And please be sure to TEST THEM before you get on the plane. The last thing you need is to bank on those new headphones and fancy iPad for a moment's peace and then have your kid get all rebellious and defiant about putting on the headphones.
Stay tuned for tips 7-13. They're just as helpful. In the meantime, share YOUR tips in the comments below or ask questions of the suggestions above. What's your favorite flying trick? Have I added to your arsenal?
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