Category Archives: Sanity Travel Tips Series

Toddler Exposes State of Air Travel

I got back two weeks ago from traveling alone with K-Pants on three flights. I get very anxious flying with Mr. Pants. Packing a toddler on your lap for hours and hoping he’ll be saintly is a bad wager. But you know what I realized? The toddler is not the bad part of flying: Flying is. (Especially since I give Mr. Pants a little something to make him sleep most of the way.)

K-Pants is simply the bellwether that exposes the ugly state of air travel.

Like the Terminix guy. We know termites are bad. But we don’t fully understand how horrible they are until the Terminix guy comes to unveil the rotted out house.

K-Pants is my Terminix guy.

Pre-Pants, I could get on a plane with a book and some headphones, pop a sleeping pill, and write off the whole experience as a bad nap. Not anymore. Now I have to travel with my eyes open.

And what I’ve discovered is that the stress on airline workers is so great that many rely on badgering the innocent to let off some steam. I don’t really blame them. Air travel sucks. But I’m a little tired of the maltreatment.

For instance, pregnant and with a toddler in a baby carrier on my front, I wandered up to the boarding gate of my first flight…

  • Excuse me. Will you be boarding families with young children first?
  • The attendant’s eyes popped out of her head: We don’t do THAT.
  • I shifted to show her that I was actually pregnant AND carrying a toddler and a diaper bag and a carry on. That’s about 60 lbs. of human and miscellaneous cargo.
  • She raised her eyebrows with an expression that said, You chose to procreate. We don’t have to cater to your whims.


At least, I reassured myself, I was seated at the back. They board the back first—after the platinum-silver-copper-chrome-varnished-opal members. But I looked at my boarding pass and I was in group 4: code for “steerage.”

Apparently United now boards window seats first, then middle seats, then aisle seats. Right-e-o. So if you’re trying to be a considerate parent and sit on the aisle so you have a quick escape in case of outbursts, you are punished with steerage boarding.

  • Isn’t there anything you can do to help us? I asked another attendant.
  • Well next time you can buy a window seat.

I would love to do that except that next time you’ll be boarding by color-coordination and ambidexterity. None of this makes any sense!

Some very funny blogging friends and I posted tips on surviving air travel with kids a little while ago. And while I do follow the advice, I think the best dictum I can give right now is just stay at home.

Sanity Travel Tips 3: Surviving the Road Trip

Today’s travel tips in the Sanity Travel Tips Series come from my good friend Evelyn who lives in North Carolina and has been road-tripping with her toddler since he was born; and also from Scott at Get Better Mary Elizabeth, who has a middle-school daughter and elementary-age twins, so he is a bona fide professional.

Evelyn’s Road Trip Survival Tips

  1. Have an endless supply of books or toys or whatever entertains your child within arm’s reach of the passenger (or driver if going solo), so that you can chuck a new toy at your little one as soon as they are tired of the toy they are playing with. Number of toys/books to take = number of hours of trip X 10, then add a few more for good measure. [Editor’s note: I like your style, and the imagery! Is the little tot good at dodging the incoming toys? Ever poked his eye out?]
  2. Have a similar endless supply of favorite snacks and sippy cups within arm’s reach. When tired of toys, chuck some food at your little one. [Aaaaaah! Flying food!]
  3. For extra-long trips, have someone sit in the back with the kiddo (this is especially helpful if he or she is still little enough to be rear-facing), for entertainment purposes.
  4. We ALWAYS travel at nap time so that he sleeps most of the way. [Amen!]
  5. [Note: You can also print Hannah’s list of games to play in tight spaces. It’s geared toward planes, but is great for road trips, too!]

And Scott Takes it to the Next Level

Scott says…For longer car trips, we bring a shopping bag filled with tiny little packages, wrapped in gift paper (by their OCD grandmother) one of which the little darlings get to open every hour. They can even be time-specific, like little boxes of cereal in the morning etc. Benefit – they can be used as leverage – “If you don’t stop x, you won’t get to open a gift.” Drawback – be sure that none of the little gifts is a noise-making anything. Somehow, their usually wise grandmother packed one of those whistles with the slide handles that makes funny descending, ascending and TOTALLY maddening sounds. [Editor’s note: I guess no vuvuzelas either.] Overall the gift bag was a huge hit for our last New York-to-Chicago-and-back-again road trip.

If you haven’t checked out Scott’s blog about his family’s battle for recovery from his wife’s stroke, it’s amazing and so well-written. His On Giving Thanks post should be required reading on or around Turkey Day.

Click here for some travel humor from one of my favorite guest posters, Marisa: How to Use the Items in Your Seatback Pocket to Entertain Someone Else’s Child.

Sanity Travel Tips 2: Games to Play in Tight Spaces

My dear friend Hannah—children’s author and mother of two boys with twin girls on the way—gets really practical in this guest post by giving us a list of games you can play in tight spaces that require no extra packing.

You may think these are simply games we all played as kids, but when you have a screaming child in your lap, you will be wishing you at least emailed yourself this list!

For the Two and Younger Crowd

●      Entertaining Games

  • Peek-a-boo [Editor’s note: This one is really great if you have a nice grandparent in front or back of your seat who wants to play also.]
  • Tear the Paper (Let the child rip Sky Mall into strips of paper. Use the strips to create chains, hats, animals, etc. Sure it makes a mess, but oh well!)
  • Singing Time with Hand Actions (Pat-a-cake, This Little Piggy, The Itsy-bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, etc.)
  • Where’s the Binky? (Alternate hiding his favorite small toy in different hands or other places he can see)
  • Tickle Monster
  • Find Your Nose, Tummy, Hair… Now, Find Mommy’s Nose…
  • Make This Face! Imitate This Sound!

●      Wind Down Games for Sleepy Time

  • Counting Fingers Hand Massage
  • Counting Toes Foot Massage
  • Sleepy Time Songs (use your favorite lullabies)
  • ‘I Paint Your Arms and Face with My Fingers’ Soothing Rub
  • Invent a Quiet Bedtime Story (Once upon a time there was a boy/girl named [child’s name], who went on a long sea voyage. The boat rocked back and forth…)
  • Give them their nod-off sippy-cup/bottle (Remember that descending on planes is harder on ears than ascending, so don’t run out of bottle/sippy-cup/suckers at the end of the flight… or expect a screaming fit.)

For the Three and Older Crowd

  • I Spy
  • 20 Questions
  • Origami (A page from Sky Mall can become a balloon, a flower, a swan…) [Editor’s Note: Check out the cool website Tiny Shiny if you—like me—need an origami brush-up.]
  • Who can find the letters A-Z first? 1-10? (Hunt through Sky Mall…)
  • The Magic Bag (Form a make-shift bag out of a torn page from Sky Mall. Have the child toss an imaginary rock into the paper bag. Flick the underside of the bag to imitate the rock landing there. Hours of entertainment…)
  • Interactive Songs/Rhymes (Down by the Bay, Going on a Bear Hunt, The Green Grass Grew All Around…)
  • Teach a Magic Trick (Can you make a penny disappear?)

I try to avoid using movies or iPhone games for as long as possible because once you turn on these devices children lose the power to self-entertain. It’s whine-whine-whine from there on out if you have to take your phone back or the portable movie player runs out of batteries. [We do love our Signing Time iPhone app with songs and ASL sign demos. The phone does get hurled at something when the Pants decides he’s done being calm, though, so I get your point.]


Want more kid-friendly travel tips? Try 14 Tips for Flying with Young Kids (this one’s great if you have two little people under age 4 with you).

Or visit the Travel With Kids page for more posts.