I find this fact quite fascinating since I grew up as the daughter of hippies who spent the late 60's and early 70's (when I was a toddler) traveling throughout Europe in a VW van, picking up hitchhikers as a means of determining our destination. That's me and my mom, circa 1970. Perhaps it's those freewheeling, vagabond years that has lead to my neurotic need to take my entire home with me whenever I travel now. Did I not have a sense of permanence as a child and so I try to make up for it by dragging along every pair of shoes and every toiletry item I own when we now go on a 4-day trip? Does the fact that as an adult I tend to be a bit of a schedule fanatic stem from the laid-back attitude my parents took toward making plans?
Well, my neuroses are your lucky day. I am about to pass on to you all of my tips for a somewhat long airplane ride with toddler twins. Since I hate the unexpected and also don't like to get dirty looks from fellow passengers, I tend to go over-prepared (at least, according to my husband who thinks traveling means throwing an extra pair of underwear in a back pack and calling it a day). However, I prefer to be over-prepared because I find, with twins, that this means you are just barely prepared.
To start with, remember that you have twins and most people think twins are adorable. Dress them up. Parade their cuteness. This will get you farther than you'd think. If it's their first flight, let people know. I am not one for calling attention to myself, but it's hard to avoid when you have all sorts of cuteness excitedly chattering to every person you pass. I say all of this to remind you that while some people are cranky when kids are on the plane, most will get a kick out of the fact that you have twins and will be sympathetic to how difficult it can be to travel with two children.
- We took our first flight while the kids were still in diapers and sleeping in cribs. This can add a lot of bulk to your suitcases, but there are a few ways around it. I always liked to bring our kids' sheets and a special lovey for bedtime so it feels more like home for them. If driving, I also brought the bumpers. Hotels say they have cribs, what they mean is that they have pack n plays. Usually not terribly new ones. Bring your own sheets. If your kids are too big for a Pack n Play (they say 30 lbs is the max although I have stretched it), you can call a company like BabiesAway.com or BabiesTravelLite.com. Babies Away will deliver large items such as a highchair or crib assuming you're staying in or near a fairly large city (there's a list on their site); we were very satisfied with them when we rented cribs for our Chicago trip last year. Babies Travel Lite will deliver anything having to do with "bath time, meal time, changing time, sun time" as they say on their website. Obviously, you are paying for this convenience, but if you can't fit it all in your luggage or don't have the ability to get it all together before you go, these companies are a great help.
- If you're traveling for more than a few days, diapers can be ordered ahead of time online and delivered to your destination. Diapers.com will do it overnight at no extra charge. This saves a ton of space in your suitcase.
- Your carry ons should include, at the very least, changes of clothes for both you, your partner and both babies. Younger kids especially have been known to spit up, have a blow out or a leaky diaper. No fun for anyone if there's no change of clothes! I had a friend traveling home from a wedding in Jamaica whose son threw up all over her husband (as he slept) and he ended up having to exit the plane, after the flight, wrapped in a blanket because they hadn't thought to bring a change of clothes for him. It's unlikely to happen, but you never know. Additionally, bring large ziplocs for soiled clothes; you'll be very glad to have somewhere to put wet/dirty clothes if the worst does happen.
- I recommend using gallon sized ziploc bags inside your carry on for each child's diapers/rash cream/wipes. That way you can just reach in & grab their "diaper bag" to deal with changing instead of rummaging for everything you need. If you have a toddler, I was very successful in using overnight pull ups (as opposed to regular diapers or pull ups). The advantage of this is that, if all they do is pee, you can easily change them, standing in their seat, and can go for a very long time before having to change them at all.
- Teach them about where you're going. Get books about the city you are visiting. The Good Night Our World series is a place to start. Just plug in the name of the city you're going to such as "Good Night Chicago". For our upcoming New York trip we got "Lisa In New York" and "This Is New York". Download Google Earth as a way to show them where you are going. This is such a cool program; it's also a great way to teach your kids about where your family comes from as well.
- Prepare the kids for the airplane ride, especially if it will be their first one. Again, books are a great way to do this, depending on their age. We really liked "My First Airplane Ride" and "A Day at The Airport".
- Unless your kids are used to traveling a lot, make sure your kids know that visiting somewhere else means sleeping in a new room/new bed. I did so much preparation to help our kids with the plane ride the first time but totally forgot to prepare them for sleeping somewhere else. It made no difference to our daughter who can sleep anywhere, but our son is very sensitive and was really distraught over the new room. I don't know if preparing him ahead of time would have made a difference, but it's certainly not going to hurt if you try!
Getting To The Airport
- Taking a taxi if you aren't bringing car seats is always a little confusing. There are a few services here in LA that have been recommended to me. The most often suggested is Richard Bromfield at Angel's Towne Car who has car seats available in his cars and can be reached at: (310) 871-8033 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has the ability to get larger cars/SUVs if you need one. There is also Nexus Car Service which can be reached at (310) 631-9115 and L.A. Car Service. You can use your own seats and Harry, the owner, will bring them back with him when he picks you up. You just put a note on the seats with your name, phone number, and return flight. The cost for these taxis will be more than a standard ride, but perhaps less than leaving your own car in long term parking.
- If you're traveling on your own with your twins, or even if you're traveling with someone else, once you're at the airport you may wish you had used Airport Assistance. Their representatives act as your personal assistant at the airport. You are met curbside and then escorted through all airport procedures, including security, until boarding the aircraft. Additionally, you are allowed access to private airline clubs (where available) which is genius especially if there are delays (like the 2 HOUR one we endured last time....oh how I wished I had known about airport assistance then)! The extra cost can be well worth it if having the extra set of hands will mean less stress for mom and dad.
- Ask for help. The last flight we took we decided it was cheaper and easier to leave our car in long term parking when we flew. This time, because our flight leaves so early in the morning, we don't have time for this; so we plan to take a taxi with car seats and on our return, have our nanny pick us up at the airport. Since we are asking her to work the afternoon we return, and she has a car with 2 car seats and can fit us all, this made the most sense. It may be easiest (and least expensive) to ask a friend/relative/nanny to help with this part of the journey!
At The Airport
- Bring your children's social security cards or passports if you have them. ID isn't always needed, but you never know.
- Security is the most stressful part of the process for me. If you're traveling with really little ones, I suggest one parent be in charge of hanging onto the kids/taking them out of their strollers, etc., while the other parent collapses the strollers, puts them into the X-ray machine, helps you take off your shoes, etc. If you're both juggling the kids, and trying to do all of that it's too much.
- Many people like to use their stroller right up until they board; this is helpful for carting carryon baggage if you're both holding the children (or they're walking). You can check in the stroller at the gate. Get tags prior to boarding the flight from the gate attendant. When you get off the plane, just wait outside the exit of the plane and a baggage handler will bring you the stroller. You'll need a cover, such as this one for the stroller so it doesn't get dirty or damaged when checked.
- Car seats are a major topic of discussion when flying. How do we get to the airport in a taxi without car seats? Can we bring them on the plane? If I bring them I have to buy seats for my babies, can't I just hold them in my lap for the duration of the flight? Yes, you can hold the babies in your lap, but if you can at all afford to buy at least one extra seat, do it. You will want a break from holding your children and it will be so much easier for your child to nap if they're in their car seat (and boy, will you want them to nap). And yes, you're allowed to use a car seat on the plane if the car seat is certified for airplane use (almost all are, except for boosters) and if you bought a ticket for your child. In fact, the FAA requires the airline to let you use the seat if those conditions are met. You can also check the website of the airline you're flying and see their car seat policy. I have heard lots of stories about flight attendants telling parents they couldnt use their seats. Most of the problems seem to be with rear facing seats, I guess they're just not used to them. You have to be prepared to tell the flight attendants they are wrong. So bring your car seat manual, print the airline policy saying they allow car seats and most importantly print this FAA link saying the airline is required to let you use your seat: FAA Regulations. Oh, and don't book a seat on the emergency exit or the aisle (the car seat can't be between another person and the aisle). And if you want the bulkhead, keep in mind the armrests don't lift which may make installing the car seat a bit more challenging (or not fit) depending on which car seat you have. As far as installation goes, you follow the instructions on the car seat manual about installing with a lap belt.
- Seating. Since you won't be able to all sit in one row, the best way we've found to do the seating arrangements it for my husband and I to each sit with one child on either side of the aisle. Preferably, we're on a flight with only two seats on either side so we're not annoying (or being annoyed by) some other passenger. With two seats, the child gets the window seat and the adult takes the aisle; with three seats, the child takes the middle and the lucky extra passenger takes the window seat. Another option is to book the aisle and the window and hope that everyone avoids picking left over middle seat and sits somewhere else so you get three seats in a row. Genius! I like the side by side option because it makes it easier to see each other and to let the kids switch who they're sitting with, but we've also flown where two of us are behind the other two. I recommend this if you have one child who's a kicker. I'd rather have my kid kicking my husband's chair than some stranger who gives me dirty looks the whole flight. That's our daughter, to the left, sitting nicely and not kicking anyone.
- Food. You can't bring enough food. I swear, my daughter ate for 7 hours straight on our last flight (that's our son to the right, about 10 minutes after taking our seats, asking for something to eat). I try to bring healthy snacks, but throw your rules out the window especially if you have finicky eaters. You just want to keep them occupied so let them eat what they want. Bring way more than you think you need. Make Cheerios necklaces. This was the greatest thing ever when I pulled them out on our flight to Chicago last year. It kept them both busy for at least 20 - 25 minutes. That's a life time when you're stuck on an airplane! The recipe I linked to above uses gummy rings, licorice and marshmallows as well as Cheerios, but it was just for illustration's sake; you can simply put Cheerios on a string and be done with it if you don't want to give the kids candy...that's all I did and it was a hit! Make sure you bring enough snacks to get you to your destination and back home!
- Entertainment. Even if you never let your kids watch television, bring DVD players if you have a flight of more than an hour or two. Most people say they're life savers. Buy headphones that fit your kids' heads. I use a pair from Kidz Gear that work great and aren't very expensive. If you're buying DVD players, consider getting ones with the longest battery life you can find. The Panasonic LS86 can run up to 13 hours which means you can even do an international flight with this one. Alternately, buy a back up battery for yours just in case you experience a long layover or unexpected delays. And don't forget to charge both before you leave home! Other than watching movies, the toys I've had the most success with were Magnadoodle, Stickers, Pay Doh and Crayola Color Wonder products (the kind that have pens that only work on special paper). Additionally, I make a trip to the 99¢ store before we go and load up on inexpensive "junk" that get the kids excited because it's new and it's all inexpensive enough that if it gets lost on the plane you won't care. Save some of the stuff for the trip home! If you're traveling with smaller babies, I recall Jackie Rosenberg of Babies First Class having created a baby blanket with velcro tabs sewn all over it which allows you to attach toys to it and not lose them all over the airplane. I thought this was a terrific idea. The blankets are $40 and you can call Jackie directly at 818-501-BABY to ask about patterns and availability.
- Cabin Pressure. If your children still drink from bottles, take off and landing are a good time to give them one; the swallowing helps pop clogged ears. Sucking a pacifier does the same thing. If your children are older, a lollipop is a good idea to help with this issue.
I'm hoping this week's flight is easier than the last one we took. It should be, if for no other reason than that the kids watch a bit of TV now and should be more easily entertained than they were last time by the DVD players we were shlepping along. Despite my stress level and general state of anxiety about traveling, I'm excited for the kids to see where I grew up and to see their grandparents. Plus, I like the idea of our children having memories of their first trip to New York; let's hope it's not a memory of mom losing it on the airplane!
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