Compared to some of our other jet setting friends, it took us a long time to get around to flying with Laurel, and things went remarkably well. In part, I think this was related to traveling with a 3-year-old who can sink her teeth into an activity with relative independence, communicate needs, understand instructions, and not need as much gear. But we also made some planning decisions that made travel enormously easier; here I share them with you:
Booking a hotel suite. I’ve written before about how great it was to book adjoining hotel rooms in order to have a separate space for Laurel at bedtime (so we weren’t left sitting in the dark at 8 pm bedtime). This time, we got even smarter and only priced out hotels that offered suites. We stayed at a Marriott and the suite wasn’t fancy or sprawling, but the bedroom + common area worked perfectly and was less expensive than booking two adjoining rooms. The suite also included a small refrigerator, which was handy for storing milk and snacks.
Reserving a crib. Truthfully, Laurel is too big for a hotel crib or Pack ‘n Play (what some hotels offer when you reserve a crib) but she’s not a very accommodating bed buddy and actually likes to think of the Pack ‘n Play as camping gear. We brought our own sheet and blanket but the hotel also kindly provided these items for us; ask ahead of time about crib bedding if you want to save on luggage space.
Reserving a car seat with the rental car. This may seem a little controversial, and I definitely had a moment of regret when I saw a few other parents hauling their car seats through the airport, but I ultimately was glad we didn’t have to worry about hauling or busting our own. We rented from Budget and the car seat wasn’t fancy but it was functional and arrived as promised, spotlessly wrapped in plastic.
Doubling back for the stroller. I have long loved our lightweight little Maclaren Triumph, and I am eternally grateful that we risked missing our flight to double back and get the stroller. Because we were totally off schedule in San Francisco, the stroller served excellent duty when, for example, Laurel passed out for 2 hours while we strolled the Japanese Tea Gardens and then went for sushi. Not to mention that I didn’t see a single cheapo umbrella stroller for sale during our travels; we would have been in trouble without the Triumph.
The Little Travel Potty Seat That Could. I have sung the praises of our One Step Ahead Folding Potty Seat before and I’ll sing ‘em again. The peace of mind in the airport and plane bathrooms was incomparable.
Packing light. Our trip was only 4 days so we packed light to avoid checking bags. We each brought one small piece of luggage and one carry on (Laurel loved rolling her own luggage and having her own little backpack), and otherwise checked the stroller plane side. We talked with Laurel the week leading up to the trip about how space is limited on the airplane and how she could only bring one or two small stuffed animals + one blankie (usually when we do a car trip she wants to bring an army of friends and blankets). She was surprisingly accommodating and after sitting on the tarmac a maddening 2.5 hours amidst monsoon weather, we were incredibly happy to not have to wait further at baggage claim. And as it turned out, not waiting at baggage meant we were ahead of the 20 or so folks who arrived after us at the rental car agency. This was a huge timesaver given that the rental car agents weren’t exactly moving at lightning speed.
Good snacks. Instead of extra stuffed animals we packed snacks such as sandwiches, plenty of fruit, and trail mix. All came in handy to save on buying plane meals that Laurel undoubtedly would think were weird anyway. Plus, since traveling tends to involve a lot of eating out and a lack of fruit, we were grateful to have simple, fresh snacks on hand. Before we left to return home, we similarly stopped at a grocery store to stock up on fruit and sandwiches, and we also tried to stay hydrated on the plane (the airline was impressively good about making rounds with water).
Age appropriate, open-ended activities. For the plane, I only packed items that I thought could get a lot of open ended use (e.g., a few select longer books, magnet story scenes, markers and activity books), and the one item that engaged Laurel for countless hours (particularly useful during the 2.5 hour tarmac stint) was a coloring book from the folks who make Do-A-Dot markers. The teachers at Laurel's preschool use illustrations from these books for coloring projects, and they often comment on her freakish coloring stamina. I picked up the Discovering My World coloring book and brought a set of markers from home and we were good to go. During our adventures in San Francisco, I also stumbled across some small (5 x 7’ish), inexpensive princess and fairy 50-piece puzzles, which were nice to have on the return since Laurel had gone through all of the surprises in her backpack in bound. The puzzles fit on the tray table and also got plenty of repeated play.
Soft clothes and easy shoes. Obviously comfort is nice for all, but having soft pants (instead of jeans) and slip on shoes made going through security with Laurel easier (the shoe part) and encouraged comfort and a nap in flight (the pants part).
Not sweating the schedule. At home we have a routine and stick to it, but given our short trip and the time change, we threw the schedule out the window and just assumed we’d skip naps, and it ended up working really well. Laurel was still getting up close to EST in the mornings (ugh!) but then after not napping through the day for the most part, she fell asleep instantly at bedtime. We ended up not really shifting all the way to West Coast time, which made jumping back into the routine at home on our return surprisingly easy.
Happy travels! This adventure boosted my confidence and I'm thinking next stop, Europe!