Traveling With Children Part 2: Keeping Everyone Happy

As promised, today’s blog is part two of our Traveling with Children series. Every time we go home to Kentucky, we have a two and a half hour flight. Then, because my parents live in a rural area, we all get to then pile into a car and drive for four more hours. You can imagine how fabulous this is after we’re all travel weary already. Ashley and Lisa also do a fair amount of car traveling with their little ones, too, so I think we’ve come up with a pretty good list of tips and tricks we use to keep our kids happy.

When we’re traveling, media time goes out the window. I know it might not be great, but my goal on travel days is just to keep everybody happy. Period. A real lifesaver for us on the airplane has been the iPad. You can’t connect to the internet while on the plane (unless your flight is equipped with WiFi), but for $15.00, we downloaded an entire season of Ian’s favorite show, Caillou, and every time we fly, he watches all ten episodes straight through and is entertained. There are also a lot of games that can be downloaded for kids of all ages. One of Ian’s favorites is Bugs and Buttons ($1.99 to download). It contains a lot of fun educational/developmental games for preschoolers and keeps Ian busy sorting buttons by size and color, working mazes, and picking out ABC’s. He also loves the interactive version of “The Monster at the End of This Book” and any of the games produced by Duck, Duck, Moose. When he was younger, around two years old, Pat the Bunny was a favorite for a while. These are all available for the iPad and the iPhone.

Another great item is the Leap Pad. These are aimed solely at kids ages 3-5 years. You can buy games, activities, and your child’s favorite shows for the Leap Pad. Ashley says Jude was entertained by the Leap Pad for a large part of their recent journey.

The Leap Pad

The Leap Pad

Once we are out of the plane and in the car, we have a DVD player for the car that we take with us. If you are renting a vehicle, some mini vans also have them for no extra charge. We rented a Chrysler Town and Country during our last trip and were pleasantly surprised to see a DVD player drop down out of the ceiling. Movies are often better than a DVD of their favorite show just because they last longer. The first trip we took with a DVD player, I didn’t think about this and spent quite a bit of time restarting a 30 minute video and changing the DVDs. With a movie, you have at least an hour and a half of uninterrupted entertainment. Monsters, Inc and Cars have been big hits with Ian. Lilly was uncharacteristically happy during her last trip from Tennessee to Kentucky when Lisa turned on The Lion King. This is one instance where I personally think it is worth borrowing one from a friend if you don’t have one of these for your car. We don’t leave it in the vehicle all the time, but the DVD has become a necessity for us when we’re in the car for more than a few hours!

It’s also a good idea to have non-technology reliant activities and entertainment to keep everyone busy. There is a small window of time when the plane first takes off and before it lands when electronics are not allowed and even in the car, eventually watching a screen will get old. Ashley’s kids like to look at pictures of people, so she carries some small photo albums with her. I also take a few lightweight books with us, too. Story time always calms Ian down when he starts to get restless. His travel backpack also usually includes some hot wheels cars, crayons and a coloring book, his favorite stuffed animal (Blue Bear is really another family member in our house), and a small blanket. Lately, a small etch-a-sketch type toy has come into favor for traveling as well. We also usually pick up a small new toy that we hang onto and only introduce when it looks like trouble might be brewing. This is usually just a little dollar toy like a new car. I’ve even used the toys that come from Happy Meals. It’s always something small, but just enough to get his attention as new and cool when a meltdown is on the way.

Snacks are also important. We try to stick with items low in sugar since they don’t need any extra energy when they can’t really run around. It’s also important to remember that if its summertime and you’re going to be leaving things in the car from time to time, you should stay away from anything that will melt and cause a gooey mess. We learned this the hard way with fruit chews that melted everywhere last summer. Snacks like goldfish, pretzels, and applesauce pouches have always been a big hit with Ian. Also, last summer when we drove the 21 hour trip to Kentucky, I discovered that Horizon makes these handy milk boxes that do not have to be refrigerated until after they are opened. They were perfect for such a long trip! We didn’t have to worry about sippy cups and stopping for milk every time Ian said he was thirsty. Along the same lines, if your little one is formula fed, be sure to pack plenty of extra formula. Flight delays, roadwork, and construction can be very bad news if you’re running low on bottles.

This is the Horizon milk that doesn't have to be refrigerated.

This is the Horizon milk that doesn’t have to be refrigerated.

Rest areas are also your friend when you are traveling with little ones. During the same 21 hour trip, we found that it was very helpful to stop at one every three or four hours just to let everybody stretch. For meals, we would stop and buy our food and then take it to a rest area. Most of them have picnic tables and plenty of grass. Letting Ian eat and then run for 30 minutes might have added a little extra time to our trip, but it kept him, and therefore us, much happier. I was also seven months pregnant so getting out and stretching was key for me, too. The fresh air was good for everyone and the games of tag usually resulted in a nap when we got back in the car.

Always pack extra clothes that are easily accessible. We pretty much never make it through a trip without one of the boys having a complete wardrobe change at some point. For this reason, I also suggest keeping a few plastic bags in your carry on (if you’re flying) or in your car. The boys have peed through their diapers, spilled milk all over themselves, and fell in the mud. When these accidents happen, you’re going to need somewhere to put those dirty clothes! If your child is newly potty trained or has accidents while sleeping, it might also be best to put him in a pull-up instead of underwear. Ian does a great job telling us when he needs us to stop so that he can potty, but if he falls asleep, he will almost always have an accident. He very rarely wakes up first, so a pull-up is still a necessity on long trips.

Here is an important one. Even if you don’t have room for an entire outfit, pack at least an extra shirt for yourself. Ian was about 16 months old when I flew to Houston with him by myself for the first time. It was a rough flight and about halfway through, he had a blowout while I was holding him. Luckily, I had extra clothes for him. Unfortunately, I got off that plane smelling rather gross with a nice stain on the front of my shirt. I would have done a lot for an extra shirt at that point.

I hope these tips are helpful. They all seem like common sense, but when you’re traveling with small children, it’s hard to think of everything and anything can happen! Happy travels, everyone!

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Traveling With Children Part 1: Air Travel

Hi everyone! So yeah, I bailed last week and didn’t post on Monday. If you missed, me I apologize. If not, I understand. 🙂 I spent the day traveling back to Texas from Kentucky with the hubby and the boys. We had a great (albeit too short) trip and were able to visit with a lot of family during the family reunion and throughout the week. Ashley made it from England this year and Lisa drove up from Tennessee as well, so All Three Ladies were actually together for the first time in years. I’m sure now that Ashley is back in England, a few pictures will probably surface on here at some point as she is really the photographer of the group. Anyway, throughout our combined travels, over the last few weeks we have been on the road and in the air with three babies under a year of age, two three year olds, a seven year old, ten year old and a twelve year old. We thought now might be a good time for a post about traveling with children. We had a lot to say, so this is going to be a two part post, with today’s focusing primarily on airline travel.

Children under the age of two can fly free domestically as long as they are seated on your lap. If they turn two by the return leg of the trip, a ticket is required. Note, however, that sometimes it might be best just to buy the ticket, depending on the price, so that they have their own seat. We flew just before Ian turned two and he sat on my lap. If I had it to do over, I would have just gotten him a seat. He was really too big at that age and my legs were numb by the time we landed. I spent the entire trip trying to make sure that his legs weren’t flopping onto the stranger next to me.

If you are flying domestically, no ID is required for children flying with you. This is true whether they are your children or not. The only caveat to this is that if you have a child under the age of two who is flying without a seat, you may be asked to show a birth certificate or some such identification to prove their age. I have never had this issue, though, and my three year old looked and sounded like a three year old before he even turned two when he was still riding free.

For most domestic flights, I would highly suggest traveling in the morning. You know your own children, but my kids are always freshest and happiest in the morning versus the afternoon and evening. Plus, if you get a mid-morning flight, there is a good chance that they (and you, if you’re lucky) can catch a nap before it’s time to land.

Slept from take off to landing on our last flight!

Slept from take off to landing on our last flight!

When going through security, children twelve and under do not have to remove their shoes. Otherwise, they have to go through the same screening process as an adult. If you are carrying an infant, you will generally just be allowed to walk through the metal detector instead of standing inside of the newer security machines or doing anything that involves an x-ray.

Children, regardless of age, will never be able to fly totally free on an international trip. Even if you plan to hold your infant during the duration of the flight, you will still be charged for taxes, fees, and sometimes part of the ticket. This is usually around 25% of the ticket price. If you plan to buy a seat for your infant, the cost is more like 75% of the full ticket price. Over the age of two, your child gets a normal seat, although you will sometimes be given a discount depending on the age of the child and the carrier with whom you are flying. Again, when you are going to be seated on a plane, in a not-so-comfortable chair for a long period of time, think carefully about whether it’s best to just pay more and get the ticket.

TSA agents in security are typically very good about allowing items related to babies to go through security, though depending on where you are flying from, you might get slightly different treatment. My experience when flying domestically is that anything goes as long as you’re willing to wait a few extra minutes for added security precautions. For example, last week I flew with pre-mixed formula and it was no big deal. I’m talking about the kind that you just have to screw your bottle cap and nipple onto. (It’s so much easier than carrying around all of the bottle parts!) They were very considerate and did not open it since it would then have to be used quickly. On the way to Kentucky, they just did a thorough pat down and then swiped a cloth over my hands and tested it for any traces of chemicals. On the way back to Houston, they peeled the wrapper off of the pre-mixed bottle and wiped it down to scan it for chemicals. I have never had to open any of my baby food when flying domestically, either. Ashley’s experience when flying internationally was a little different. She was still allowed to bring everything with her when she flew to America, but she had to taste 50% of her baby food in front of the security agents to prove that it was safe. On her return leg to England, she was able to go through without taste testing anything.

While you definitely want to pack any of your baby formula, juice, milk, and water are different since they aren’t necessarily baby items. You’ll want to just buy those after you get through security in one of the convenience stores. I also have a quick note on applesauce if your kids like it the way mine do. I have always been able to carry it on without any issue when it was in a pouch (like baby food), but I have seen the agents throw it away when it comes through in an unopened cup. Just something to think about when you’re packing snacks. 🙂

These are always allowed.

These are always allowed.

 

A question that I had as Ian got older was what to do about car seats on the airplane. You have a few options. When the child is small and still in an infant seat, you can either check it with the rest of your luggage, check it at the gate, or if you have paid for a seat for your infant, you can strap it into the seat and use it on the flight. I would not recommend checking it with your luggage. To me, there is just too much of a chance that it won’t end up where you are and it is just as easy to check it at the gate. If you do a gate check, you just get a gate check tag when you are boarding the plane and then you leave the infant seat by the door of the plane (same thing goes for your stroller). It will then be stowed with the rest of the luggage, but when you arrive at your destination, it will be unloaded and left right outside the plane in the walkway. This way when you disembark, you have immediate use of your infant seat. I am not sure about all carriers, but from my experience (with Delta and United), if you put the infant seat in the seat you have a ticket for, they will expect the child to remain in the infant seat for the duration of the flight. I’ve had one flight attendant who was very strict about this rule and a couple who were not. If you use a rear facing car seat, you may need to ask a flight attendant for a seat belt extender when you get on the plane so it can be secured properly.

For older children who are typically in a car seat but are no longer babies, you once again have a few options. You can take their car seat on board and put it in the seat for them so long as it has been approved by the FAA. I have never done this, but honestly, I cannot imagine dragging Ian’s car seat through the airport and then trying to fit it into a small airplane seat. I’m not sure it would work. It’s all based on personal preference and your car seat, though. Another option is to buy a CARES harness. This is a just a harness that hooks over the back of the seat and then functions much like the seat belt part of your normal car seat. I have seen a lot of mixed reviews on these because they do not have a piece that comes up between the child’s legs, meaning the child can wiggle down and get out of it. We bought one and loved it. Ian could probably have gotten out of it if he had tried harder, but we discovered that when using it, he felt very much like it was just his typical car seat and did not try at all to get down. It was actually very useful in keeping a two year old still and in his seat. Ashley bought one and hated it. She felt that Jude, at 17 months, was actually too small for it because one of the straps kept choking him as it was too close to his neck and she ended up not using it for the duration of the flight. Ian is a very tall little guy, so I never had this problem. Just something to think about.

The CARES harness shown without a child in it. :)

The CARES harness shown without a child in it. 🙂

The other option you have is to just use the lap belt that comes with the airplane. There is no rule that you have to use anything more than that, but as safety is always the priority, you should ensure that your child is large enough that the seat belt fits securely across the child’s lap. You should also be aware if using just the lap belt, that it’s incredibly easy for the child to unbuckle it on their own, so you may need to have a chat about how important it is to not unbuckle the seat belt. If you choose not to take a car seat on the plane with you, you can check it the same as luggage and it is considered a courtesy item (at least with United), meaning you will not be charged a baggage fee for checking it.

I have one final note about strollers. Use them as long as possible. As noted above, they can be gate checked the same as an infant seat. My three year old is really big enough to walk through an airport, but I have to tell you, when he does, it never ends well. Airports are full of things that a toddler/pre-schooler wants to investigate. Ian has run away from us to try to ride the escalator, he has thrown himself to the ground in a fit of rage when he was too tired and not allowed to have a drink of daddy’s coffee, and he has tried to run into a candy store unaccompanied. When these things happen, and they will (unless I’m the only one who has a three year old that doesn’t always like to listen), it is SUCH a relief to have a place where you can safely put your kiddo and strap him in. Even if he’s screaming his lungs out, you can use a stroller to get to a quiet place to calm the issue in a safe, less embarrassing way.

Stroller heaven!

Stroller heaven!

Okay folks, we have a lot more to say. Next week’s edition will have more about entertaining children during travel and will be less about flying and more about traveling in general. Safe travels!

Sightseeing En Masse

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So over the last week, I’ve had two of my nephews and one of my nieces with me in Houston. We were able to do a lot of sightseeing and caught quite a few of Houston’s attractions. Colin had to work all but one day this week, so for the most part, it was just me and five kids ranging from nine months to twelve years old. Needless to say it was hectic, but we had a blast! With so many children aboard, I also received an education in how to do as much as possible as cheaply as possible. I thought I’d pass on a few tips today.

First, let me say that should you ever find yourself needing to rent a vehicle and you have more than three children, your best bet is a minivan. This is especially true if you have children in carseats and strollers. We rented a GMC Yukon for the week. When I picked it up from Hertz, it looked huge, but we quickly found that by the time we got two carseats in there, the other three children were forced to climb over the seat to get into the third row. It worked, but it wasn’t ideal and we didn’t have a lot of room for anything besides people. The ten and twelve year olds were also left with very little legroom. Once we landed in Cincinnati after our week was over and we were on our way home to Kentucky, we rented a minivan. There was plenty of room for all seven people, including two carseats, three oversized pieces of luggage, two large book bags, and a double stroller. It also came equipped with a DVD player to keep everyone occupied. The difference between the two vehicles is amazing and the price difference was minimal.

I also have a couple of quick notes regarding vehicle rentals. We end up renting a vehicle at least five times a year during our travels. I have found that I get the best deals (by a long shot) when I use the name your price feature on Priceline.com. It has saved us hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Also, when you get to the counter to pick up the vehicle, they will tell you that you should purchase insurance. For a weekly rental this will usually cost around $100. It sounds like a good idea, but the truth is that the insurance you already carry on your personal vehicle almost always applies to your rental vehicle as well. Call your insurance company to check. Buying the insurance coverage offered at the counter is usually a waste of money.

So now that we’ve discussed how to get around, let’s talk about activities and entertainment. We are lucky that we live in an area where we have a lot of museums and outdoor activities. So when the kids came to visit, the issue for me was how we were going to do a lot of really cool stuff and not break the bank. To begin with, let me just say that outdoor activities (even in the Texas heat) are a great idea. You can usually find something cheap to do and it exhausts the kids, ensuring successful nap times and calm evenings. 🙂 A day trip to the beach was free this week except for the gas it took to get there. We had to drive for an hour and a half, but it was a very fun and relaxing day. The kids played hard and the sun and the water zapped us all. Bedtime that night was easy, even for my three year old. Also, if you are ever in any area with free ferry rides, you should check it out. Most will even let you walk on. The kids all really loved the twenty minute ride and we were able to see a lot of dolphins and pelicans. Major excitement!

The four big kids at the beach.  :)

The four big kids at the beach. 🙂

We also hit up the Houston Zoo, the Space Center Houston, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. When you are planning your trip, my advice is to find a handful of places you’d like to go and then start looking at prices. Pay close attention to the age of your children and ticket prices. For example, we opted not to go to the Children’s Museum of Houston because I would have had to pay for all five children. At the space center, however, children under four are free, meaning I only had to buy three tickets. Also some attractions require adult tickets for children over a certain age. Things like this can make the trip much more expensive.

At the zoo!

At the zoo!

I should also point out that if you are in an area where it is a possibility that you will return within the next year, it might be worth looking into buying a membership. At many attractions, you can upgrade the tickets for that day to a season pass for only a minimal fee. If you plan to vacation in the same area the following year, it’s usually worth it to go ahead and buy the membership. For example, it was $80 to get us all into the space museum. This was by far the most expensive thing we did all week. However, it was only $16 more to upgrade to a membership. We can now go for a year without paying for tickets again. By doing this, you usually get free parking at the attraction as well. It’s a real win if you’ll be going back.

Another thing to be thinking about when looking at admission prices is that often you can find discount codes online or in tourist brochures. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently came to town and Colin and I took Ian and Declan. The ticket for Declan was free, but general admission for the rest of us was an insane $42 each! A quick Google search led to a discount code, though, and we were able to buy them for only $16 each. That’s well worth the time and effort it takes to buy the tickets online ahead of time and print them out.

It’s also a good idea to look for places that allow you to bring food as it can be über expensive to buy food for multiple people at attractions. Zoos will pretty much always allow you to bring food and make for a perfect picnic. (They do sometimes have restrictions on certain items for the good of the animals, so check that out. Some don’t allow straws for example.). We also went to tour a ranch that allowed you to bring your own food and drinks for picnics.

Also, don’t forget to look for cheap, local ideas for entertainment. We visited the George Ranch one day. This was not something that most people would think to do in an area like Houston, where there are so many other options, but the kids LOVED it. They were able to see longhorn cattle being roped, meet real cowboys, pet the pigs, cows and horses, see historical mansions and lots more. Because this was just a local working ranch, the total cost was only $20 for myself and five children.

Talking to one of the cowboys and petting the horse at the ranch.

Talking to one of the cowboys and petting the horse at the ranch.

Another thing to look for is movie nights in the park. A lot of cities and towns offer free movie nights (usually on Fridays) in outdoor venues. A Google search will tell you where to go. They’re usually held in parks and you can bring your own blankets, bug spray and drinks. Just because you don’t live there doesn’t mean you can’t partake. And who doesn’t love a movie under the stars?! Our local movie theater also plays free movies for children one afternoon every week. I’ve seen others do the same. You just have to do a little research to know when and where to go.

I hope these tips have been helpful. We’ve had a very busy, fun, and educational trip and I have certainly learned a lot about traveling en masse. I’d love to hear if you guys have any other ideas!