As the end of the school year approaches, it means the summer travel season will be gearing up quickly. It’s one of my favorite times of year…the summer I mean, not the last weeks of school. Any time we have extra days, weeks, or even months to go somewhere, I’m happy.
I have one daughter, who is now 14, and travel is pretty darn easy with her.
Of course, there was a time it was a little more difficult, but that didn’t stop me!
Frankly, there’s not a lot of fun in traveling with an infant, so there weren’t lots of great vacations in that year, but things ramped up after that. I did take her to visit family regularly, though.
Infant travel was always a crap shoot. I vividly remember one flight when my daughter was about ten months old, and she wasn’t happy about being stuck in a car seat on the plane. She wanted to get out of that seat, and she let everyone know it. She cried. She fussed. And she cried some more. The man sitting across the aisle from me had the chutzpah to reach over, tap me on the arm, and tell me she needed a bottle.
I wanted to throat punch the guy, but I resisted the urge.
I gave him my legendary stinkeye and didn’t say anything. As a former flight attendant, I am aware that sucking on a bottle will help open a child’s ears at takeoff and landing. My child didn’t take a bottle. She was breastfed, and I knew she wasn’t needing that. Her ears weren’t bothering her. I knew what she wanted. She wanted to get out of that seat. If I had taken her out of the carseat to breastfeed, she would have wanted to get in the floor, and the crying would have gotten louder.
Stupid, stupid man. Bless his heart.
We all survived it. And every time I’m on a plane and a baby cries, I sympathize with the mother. I remind everyone around me that we’ve been there before…we were all babies at one time, and lots of us have survived it as parents.
When our daughter was a toddler, we traveled. We traveled by plane, and we traveled by car. I even traveled alone with her on a regular basis. My husband doesn’t like to travel as much as I do, so often, we were traveling on our own. I remember regularly trekking through airports, pushing my one-yr-old in a stroller with the carry-on bag in the bottom of the stroller, all while carrying the car seat strapped to my back. I felt like a warrior, and I must have looked like one too, as I would hear multiple times, “You go, girl!” or “Wow! You know what you’re doing!” I felt tough, and frankly, I was…and still am.
That carry-on bag that was tucked into the bottom basket of that stroller held all the tools of airplane survival. Keeping a toddler happy on a plane is the key to your own happiness and the happiness of the passengers around you. I always had “special treats” in that bag. I would go to Target and arm myself with lots of little things from the Dollar Spot…anything that would keep her entertained, and I would take cards and books with pictures of animals, cupcakes, and babies. My toddler loved pictures of animals, cupcakes, and other babies. Any little trinket she had never seen before was fun.
Often, I shared those “special treats” with other families on the flights who were not as prepared. I clearly remember sitting behind a family with their toddler daughter. She was whining and restless, till we started sharing our animal picture cards. She got happier, so her mom could relax, and we were happier too!
I also learned early to let my daughter wear whatever she wanted. When she was two and three, she flew many times wearing a Snow White costume top, a yellow costume skirt, and a pink plastic grass hula skirt pulled on over that, but she was happy…and she was proud of that crazy outfit she had put together. She loved all the compliments she received. I have a friend whose daughter wore her Daphne costume (from Scooby Doo) for months on end…but she was happy.
Two and three- year- old girls also love to play with makeup. I discovered this one time when we were flying to visit my parents. You know how grocery stores have those tiny toy sections? I had been in the grocery store the day before we left, and I saw this cute little makeup palette for little girls. I grabbed it, thinking it might be entertaining for her on the plane.
Was it ever! We were only taking a one hour flight, but it kept her entertained the whole time! It was like “peace in a packet” for me! She put on eye shadow. She put on lip gloss. She put on blush. And of course, she overdid it…all of it. But it kept her happy and occupied, and therefore, I was happy. She looked like a two-dollar hooker when we landed, but I didn’t care. I had been able to relax for one full hour!
Traveling by car with an infant or toddler can be more tricky. Road trips less than four hours were OK. In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan was threatening the Gulf Coast of Alabama, we were visiting my parents, who lived near Mobile Bay. We had flown down, but we ended up renting an SUV to drive back to Charlotte, because flights were cancelling. We opted to drive overnight, so our 11-month-old would sleep all the way home. It worked out fine, till we got home, and she was wide awake, but we were groggy. We took turns taking care of her that day.
I discovered age five was the golden year…the year travel became super easy. Kids are more self-sufficient and can entertain themselves really well at five. Plus, they can manage their own carry-on bag of “stuff.”
When my daughter was seven, I took her on her first transcontinental trip. We went to Los Angeles, and it was one of the best trips ever. Not only could she entertain herself on the flight, but she could keep up with me all day without fussing! My friend, Leah, and her daughter met us there on that trip, and we still talk about that fun trip. I had learned years before on other trips the the secret to keeping a child moving is food. When my daughter was under age ten, I always tried to stop, sit down, and get her something small to eat every couple of hours…maybe an ice cream cone…maybe some yogurt…maybe some fries…maybe some peanut butter crackers…maybe a banana…anything that would give her energy so she could stay on the go. Now that she is older, she knows when she needs to grab a little something to eat, and she lets me know. Also, stay hydrated…crucial.
Now that she is fourteen, we have taken countless trips together by plane and by car. We have walked many miles in lots of different cities and locales. We have climbed waterfalls, zip lined through rainforests, climbed a rock scramble, hiked a mountain, visited landmarks, toured cities, climbed lighthouses, and made lots of great memories.
We have made lengthy road trips with friends, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. We’ve learned about this great country in which we live, and we have learned what is necessary for a pleasant road trip…snacks, minimal packing, beverages, lots of quick stops, games for the car, and lots of laughter.
I no longer have to take a carry-on filled with treats for flights, but now, she always wants to take a friend or two. That’s perfectly fine with me. I truly have a “the more, the merrier” approach. I have found that if there are more people around, more events get locked into long term memory. Funny things are funnier in a group. Exciting things are more exciting with other people.
Now, our summers are shorter as she enters high school. Starting in ninth grade, varsity and junior varsity fall sports start practicing at the beginning of August, a few weeks before school starts. So, we have to cram in a lot of fun in less time. This year, all new adventures await, and I can hardly wait to get it started. I’m counting down to the last day of school.
Travel safely and have fun this summer!