This frequently flying family had so many stories and tips to share, that their interview had to be broken up into two parts. In the first part they shared information about some of the domestic and international trips they have taken, their experience flying in First and Business class with their children, and discussed how airline elite status plays into their travel equation. In this post this awesome family will share some tips that helped make travel easier when their kids were younger, as well as what helps now. They will also share some more about trips they have enjoyed in the past, and ones they are looking forward to in the future.
Your kids are now passed the infant and toddler stages, but do you remember some tips and tricks that you learned while they were younger that helped make travel with young kiddos as easy as possible?
My wife and I tell new parents that it is super-easy traveling with young babies, because they don’t move on a plane and can be easily placated with a bottle or toy – at least that was our experience. Maybe we got lucky, twice! (Mommy Points editorial note – yes, they got very lucky, twice! That was not at all my experience with my young baby.) The challenge is that there is an inverse relationship between age of the child and the amount of gear one needs to schlep along. When they were babies, we needed to bring the stroller (which was gate-checked, but still had to go through security), we had to bring the diaper bag, and we had to bring the big car seat. It is definitely ideally a two-person operation. That is why I have to sing the praises of my wife again for traveling with our son by herself to and from France when he was young and I was studying in Paris.
During that transition phase when our children were starting to crawl and walk was the most challenging travel period with them, because they were no longer satisfied being confined in their car seat on board the plane. When we traveled internationally with our son to the UK, we were fortunate to be seated in Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class, so space was not an issue. We frankly had more problems flying domestically, because after flying in a lie-flat seat, he thought that all seats were supposed to do that, so he stood up in his economy seat and tried to push his seat all the way flat. It was actually really funny!
Ultimately, what made travel “successful” with kids at a very young age was to arrive at the airport early; tell them well in advance of the trip what to expert; and keep repeating every so often in a calm, reassuring voice, “We’re going to the airport, we’re going to fly on the plane, were going to XYZ,” as this helps to remove the anxiety of an unknown/unfamiliar situation. Because we have lounge access on many different carriers, it is also easier because we have a mini-oasis where we can get away from the crowds and noise of the terminal, which also helps to keep kids calmer, by removing some of the sensory stimulation.
We have taken day flights and redeyes, and have had positive and negative situations with both. Day flights mean that the kiddos may take their normal nap on board, but then their clock is off on the opposite coast. Redeyes usually meant a tougher flight for the parents, but since our kids were fortunately good travelers from an early age, it usually was pretty easy for them.
You mentioned all of the “stuff” you have to pack when traveling with young kids, can you talk more about how you managed all of that?
Parents need to pack lightly for themselves so that there is more room for kid stuff. This is especially true for carry-ons during the colder months, because if the kids are wearing sweaters and other bulky clothing, we like to take that off and stuff them in the carry-ons before reaching security screening. It makes the process much easier than having to shed a kid’s clothes right before going through the metal detector. On-board, we made sure to pack snacks (bottles, baby food), board books, small plush toys, a portable DVD player, and noise cancelling headphones once the kiddos got closer to three. When they were younger we also made sure to remember to bring teething tablets, and then when they were old enough, gum, to help with any ear clog issues upon landing. Most importantly, make sure you have enough baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and travel diaper-changing kit, and at least two sets of spare clothes!
Often we would check one or two roller bags, gate check the stroller, and carry-on a big diaper/toy/clothing bag for the child, a backpack which carried electronic equipment, and my wife’s purse. That was it. When the kids were no longer lap children, and had their own seats, we had them pack their mini-backpack/roll-on, which was one of the best gifts we have ever received! When the kids can pack their own stuff into a small backpack, they learn what they can and cannot carry on their own, and they learn to make smarter choices about what to pack to keep them entertained. It gave them a sense of ownership and control, and became one less thing that we as parents had to think about.
If we have to rent a car at our destination, what I would usually do is gather the luggage and then leave my wife, child(ren) and most luggage somewhere in the terminal, near an external door. If traffic at the arrivals level was heavy, we would make our way up to the usually less-crowded departures level, and get situated there. Then, on my own, I would make my way to the car rental pick up. We found it was easier to not have to lug everything and everyone to the car rental station. In fact the only thing I would bring were the car seat(s) so that I could install them at the rental agency, to make sure that the car seats were a snug and proper fit. Since I am Hertz #1 Club Gold and Avis Preferred, renting cars was and is a fast experience. Then I would simply return to the terminal and pick up my wife, child(ren) and luggage. One thing I have learned, though, is that I have to remember to ask my wife if she needs to use the restroom BEFORE I leave to pick up the car!
With two young children, what did you do for hotel accommodations?
When not staying with family, we would choose hotels with either a big king bed, where we would all cozy up together, or we would bring a portable bassinet. The downside to the bassinet was that it was an extra piece of gear that we had to check. The upside was that it was familiar to our children, making it somewhat easier to sleep. As an SPG Gold, Hilton Silver or Gold (depending on the year), and Hyatt Platinum (now Diamond – thanks Star Mega Do 3!), my polite request for a slightly larger room would usually be granted at no charge, if it were available. We always made sure to pick hotels with in-house restaurants, just in case it wasn’t possible to get outside with the baby/small children.
What are some things that help make travel successful now that they are a bit older?
Now that our kids are older, we don’t have to get to the airports quite as early, which does make it a bit easier. Also, they are very familiar with airport security procedures, and don’t even have to be told to take off their shoes (though they no longer have to, thanks to a change in TSA rules). Frankly, they handle security procedures better than many infrequent traveling adults that I have seen! I am very proud of that. They are also used to going to the lounges pre-flight, and are at an age when they can usually serve themselves snacks and drinks, so this is helpful. But even at ages four and eight, we still remind them, “Does anyone need to go potty before getting on the plane?”
On board, they still like to read books, play games, watch movies. For that, the iPads we have are indispensable.
Tell me the truth, does travel get easier as they get “older”? Why/Why not?
I do believe it has gotten easier. They are more self-sufficient. For example, our older child, Jackson, can now go to the lavatory by himself. They also are so accustomed to the routine of air travel and hotel check-ins that it is almost second-nature for them. Since they are relatively close in age they also help keep each other entertained. They are old enough now to express their needs and wants, so that helps keep them happy and calm.
One thing that has gotten harder is keeping them on a schedule when we travel across the country. When they were younger, they could fall asleep at any time. Now that they are a bit older, the time zone changes seem to play more havoc with their internal clocks, so it can be an adjustment for them at the beginning and end of the trip.
Do you have a favorite family vacation you have taken so far?
With all four of us, we have enjoyed Hawaii, and the trip to see the final space shuttle launch was pretty spectacular. When it was just my wife, son, and me, we had a great trip to the UK in 2006.
Where are some places you would like visit as a family in the future?
My family is booked in British Airways First Class for travel from Los Angeles to London to San Fransisco next summer. This was a trip using two of the “two for one” rewards from Chase British Airways card. Using those we “only” had to redeem 300,000 miles – er, Avios – instead of 600,000. We did have to still pay a few thousand in fuel surcharges, but “saving” a net of $45000 off of the actual cost is pretty spectacular.We’ve talked about China or the Galapagos in the future. Additional trips to Europe are always a safe haven standby for my family. When the kids are older, we also would like to take them to see the Pyramids in Egypt. We’d like to go to Australia at some point, as we’ve never been. We are fond of Japan and would like to return with kids. Oh, and we also promised them a safari in South Africa, because they see the pictures of the South Africa safari I took when Jackson was 5 months old. So many places to see!
Thank you so much to this family for taking the time to share their tips and experiences. Happy travels!