Travel Tips for Families With Two Kids Or Less (Or More)

Nothing brings out the best in strangers like witnessing men try to take care of children.  They tend to think you need help – and even more, that you deserve it.  Like a dude with a baby is automatically in over his head and crying out for a lifeline.  You can take it as an insult, or, if you’re me, you can take the help, because hey, it’s free help, right?

Never does this mentality come in handy more than when you’re traveling.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire airport terminal to get that child to Grandma’s for the holidays.  Soak it up, fellow gay dads, because this is where the new BFFs come out of the woodwork to assist you.  Not that you need them, of course.

Drew and I have made the LA to New York journey with the kids four times now.  That may not qualify me as an expert, but we haven’t lost a kid yet, so I’d say I’m good enough.

With the holidays coming up, I thought I’d share a few of my secrets.

Make a packing list.  It’s easier than it sounds.  Just write down everything you use in a 24-hour period.  Burp cloths, bibs, formula, your “Daddy’s not messin’ around” voice.  Figure out how many of each you’ll need during your flight and how many you’ll use for the rest of the trip.  Use this as your checklist before you leave – and again before you return home.  Next time you travel, it gets easier, because you can use your previous list as a jumping off point.  As your kids get older, you’ll need less stuff with every vacation.  And if this sounds too anal for you, hold on, because it’s about to get way more anal.

Ship, borrow and sacrifice.  Getting your kids through an airport is tough enough.  Don’t take the entire haul from your baby shower with you.  Ship diapers and food to your destination.  Borrow a pack-n-play from a relative or neighbor wherever you’re headed.  Do without the bottle warmers while you’re gone.  Do everything possible to minimize your haul.

Number your key items.  A key item is anything that’s not attached to your body that needs to arrive safely at your destination.  Why do you need to number them?  Because you’d be surprised how fast they add up.  Here’s our key item list from our first trip with the kids:

Carry-on items:

1. Bennett

2. Sutton

3. Bennett’s car seat

4. Sutton’s car seat

5. Drew’s carry-on bag

6. My carry-on bag

7. Diaper bag

Gate checked item:

8. Snap-n-go stroller

Checked items:

9. Drew’s checked bag

10. My checked bag

11. Babies’ checked bag

12. Bennett’s car seat base

13. Sutton’s car seat base

Start with the items you’ll be carrying on the plane, then gate checked items, then checked items.  Any time you make a transition, do a count off to make sure you have everything you should.

From the condo to the car and the car to the airport, we counted up to 13.

From the check-in desk through security, to the waiting area, to the gate, we counted up to 8.

Once on the plane, we counted up to 7.

Keep a list of what the numbers correspond to in case you can’t locate something.  And if you lose track of #1 or #2, it’s time to get on the airport intercom.

Pack food you can serve easily.  You know how hard it is to do something as simple as crossing your legs in a cramped airplane seat?  Well, don’t even think about slicing up strawberries and swirling them into little Joey’s oatmeal.  Keep things as simple as possible.  Chewy cereal bars.  Snacks in no-spill cups.  Those wonderful little squeezey pouch fruit purees.

And splurge on the pre-made formula in cans.  It’s much easier than mixing your own from the powder.  Don’t worry.  The TSA won’t make you taste it.  Just tell them you’re carrying it, and they’ll run it through the X-ray machine.

Get a greeter if you can.  Did you know that, for a couple hundred dollars, you can hire someone to meet you at the airport and help you all the way from the curb until you get on the plane?  These wonderful human beings will deal with skycaps, whisk you to the front of the security line, gain you access to the first-class lounge and come get you when it’s time to board.  They’ll push your bags on a luggage cart, help you gate-check your stroller and even sweet talk the gate agents into letting you pre-board.  Yes, traveling with your kids is already costing you a fortune, but why not make this your Christmas present to yourself?  I assure you, it’s worth it.

Let the kid watch TV.  Your day-to-day job as a parent is to raise a healthy, well-adjusted, intellectually curious child.  For many of us, that means keeping SpongeBob to a minimum.  But when you’re on a plane, your job is to get to your destination without you or the kid melting down.  So go ahead and rot their brain if it helps.

For space reasons, try to avoid bringing a laptop or portable DVD player.  Instead, load your iPhone with Yo Gabba Gabbas and bring your power cord so you can keep it charged.

And finally, the most important rule of all…

Don’t feel guilty if your kid cries.  There’s a crying baby on every plane.  There’s also a jerk who glares at the kid’s parents or sighs audibly to register their annoyance.  Admit it: You’ve been the jerk plenty of times.  Now you get to be the parent.  It’s the circle of life.

But look around.  While your baby is crying, you’re also getting lots of supportive looks from parents like you who’ve been there.  And from this point on, that’s who you’ll be.  When you’re getting off the plane, strangers will approach you to tell you how good your baby was (even if he wasn’t), because that’s what parents do for each other.

It’s really a beautiful thing – sniff, sniff.

Have any secret tips of your own?  Help a Daddy out, and leave me a comment!

38 comments on “Travel Tips for Families With Two Kids Or Less (Or More)

  1. Great post and great tips. Another thing I would recommend is to take an extra t-shirt for yourself and/or partner and put it in the diaper bag. I read about that suggestion somewhere… In case someone barfs on you. I always try to take the minimal amount of stuff with me, but I think this is a key item, especially if said puke happens mid flight… You don’t want to be rifling through a carry on suitcase then. I always keep the diaper bag out and handy.

    • I could not agree more — when our twins were a year old, I went to a real estate closing in another state wearing a tshirt sprayed with infant Tylenol/barf. Not cool. As if spending all that money on a house isn’t enough, I was totally self-conscious the whole time!

      • Yes, that’s a great idea. Thankfully, we never got spat upon that badly on a flight. Just the little kind that you wipe off with a burp cloth and pretend isn’t there. They’re like little parenting badges of honor.

  2. I don’t have any kids yet, but I will in April, and these tips are awesome. Especially the greeter; I think I could’ve used one of those a long time ago!

    I’ve really been enjoying your blog and I’m so glad you were FP’d because that’s how I found you!

  3. YES! Pack the food! More than you think they will eat! And get the greeter. I once had to strap the car seat (with my daughter IN it) to a dolly to get through O’Hare. Get a greeter. Or a therapist. That was the last time I traveled with kids. Get.The.Greeter!

  4. Another tip. A friend of mine makes “ID badges” for her two kids (ages 5 and 7) when they travel. Worn on a lanyard around their neck, she includes a photo of the kid, the kid’s name, her name and contact info/cell phone number, flight numbers/time/starting point/destination.

  5. Another awesome post! YOU ROCK! I’m all about shipping things to grandma’s house! Or buying them when I get there. Or sending grandma cash so she can go to WallyWorld to buy things for us! Grandmas dig shopping for baby stuff!

  6. I let them bring one toy for each, and I pack their VReader and Mobigo. The sounds are annoying like crazy, but they sit and play. If nothing helps (because we do international flights), walk. Up and down the aisle in the plane. I let my boys talk to everybody, I just follow quietly and make sure they don’t steal food from other people.

    Enjoy your time with your family :)

  7. When my kids were younger I always felt like I was heading out on safari. This made me laugh…and appreciate the fact that I no longer belong to the diaper-bag age group. :)

  8. My daughter finished the “learning to walk” process on an airplane. She was so incredibly endearing (and not crying) that everyone started to encourage her to go up and down the aisles. She did 10 minute stints about 5 different times and when we got off the plane, walking on a smooth surface seemed easy and she never needed to hold another hand to walk….My children are young adults and I still pack them a goody bag of snacks and things to read/do because one of the great joys of travelling was getting to the airport waiting area and opening their “surprise bag”. Since I was always nervous about being on time, we had long waits so this was my way of thanking them for their patience. They always were amazing travellers so I appreciated their company! I think asking for and accepting help is CRITICAL!

  9. My son was 14 months old in November 01 when he and I flew to Michigan. There were delays going there and coming home, security wrecked my baby bag, questioning to formula. Of course, we’d just been through 9/11. I’m sure things are more organized now. But I’ve never again flown with my kids.

    Oh – some people think it’s mean, but I did use the kid-leash. The airport in Detroit was a nightmare but I never lost the kid :-)

    • Things have definitely gotten easier since 11/01. We’ve never been hassled by security for our formula or baby stuff. I think the TSA realized there were very few terrorists in the under-2 demographic. :)

  10. Good tips! We are flying out on Monday and are in preparation mode right now. VERY interested in this greeter business you mention. Will have to check that out. We’ve flown with our twins twice before, so we’ve mostly got it figured out now, but at their current age (21 months) they are a lot more mobile and opinionated than they used to be. Fingers crossed!

    • Our kids were 22 months the last time we flew with them, and they were very mobile and opinionated. But thankfully, once we got on the plane, they seemed to understand that the rules were different and they had to stay in their seats and be patient. Hope you have the same experience. Good luck!

  11. Whew! I remember struggling with a gigantic, unwieldy stroller and a cranky one-year-old, onto buses and trains. My days of doing all of this are long over…and I don’t miss them one bit!

  12. I am from Germany and we live in the UK. Going home to visit the family happens on a regular basis but it is not such a big deal (even though technically it’s ‘international’). Unfortunately I am usually alone with the little monster because hubby has way less time off than we like to spend with the grandparents. He is a few months older than your two and I have observed that things get better and worse as he gets older. Last time I had a hard time to check in our bag because he would not stay with me. I suppose a greeter or a leash will be next. On the bright side, he is much easier on the plane now that he has the attention span to watch a movie for longer than 2 minutes and is tall enough to see out the window (on our airlines you are not allowed to bring a car seat and frankly, I wouldn’t want to lug that damn thing around anyway).
    Because we spend so much time over there (ok, now you’re getting the wrong impression, in actual fact, last year it was 3 times 3 weeks, and hubby came over for a few long weekends too) we basically have a double of what we need there, car seat, buggy, nappies, toys, books, you name it. That makes life so much easier, just clothes and what you need for the trip.
    Just stumbled across your blog and love everything I’ve read so far. Looking forward to more posts.

    • Hey, Sandra. I agree – the hardest part of travel is just getting them through the airport and keeping them in line. Once you’ve got them strapped into their seats on the plane, at least they’re not going anywhere. :)

      By the way, I love the term “nappies”.

  13. Loving your blog. Started reading it a couple weeks ago and can’t get enough. You’d be kind of surprised how hard it is to find a blog on this topic. Still have no clue what words to type into search engines to find good (“family friendly”) blogs written by gay fathers.
    Currently engaged to a wonderful man, and we have a beautiful dog…kids are in sight, but a few years down the road. I would love any blog suggestions you, or your readers, may be able to give.

    • Thanks, Justin. I know what you’re saying. I didn’t have much luck finding other gay dad blogs until recently. Now, a lot of great people keep turning up in my comments and linking me to their blogs. I’d suggest you check some of them out, and maybe soon I’ll do a post with some recommendations.

  14. Here’s another travel tip: Don’t go into the airport bathroom while in possession of everyone’s identification. It just might happen that your two year old has developed the habit of yelling “No touch!” when he doesn’t want to be stopped from doing something, and while you’re in the bathroom with said-passports, the two year old might have wanted to go in with you, and might start screaming “NO TOUCH!! MOMMY!! MOMMY!!” at your spouse, at the top of his lungs, and your adopted-at-birth son might just happen to bear little physical resmeblence to your spouse.

    Awkward.

  15. Thank you everyone for these tips. I’m flying for the first time and taking a very dramatic, energetic, sweet toddler with me, nine hours. Nervous is an understatement. I don’t want to be the one with thekid that annoys everyone, or the parent that makes the trip miserable for her child. Also, I’d like to enjoy the trip. I love the id card lanyard, the overstocked snacks and video entertainment. I feel a little better knowing what to expect. Wish I could afford a greeter. ;)
    Any tips on reducing discomfort from pressure change-to young for gum, doesn’t like hard candy (lollipops), and I will not use drugs on my kid (a little ginger if tummy is upset)
    Fingers crossed.

  16. There are six kids in my family, we’ve found that if there are electronics involved 1) you HAVE to have enough for the two loudest kids and 2) HEADPHONES ARE NONNEGOTIABLE.

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