The best $70 I ever spent –or- my foolproof toddler air travel plan and kit

37. That is approximately how many hours we spent in transit to and from Rome, Italy with our three-year-old.  I am happy to say our experience has not made us swear off family plane trips. More importantly, my daughter did well. She handled the long trips better than I did.  I was cranky, sleepy, and exasperated. She was happy, calm, and well-rested.  So how did we do it? 
Before I discuss the actual kit, I have to say that communication with M was key. Within weeks of booking our trip, I began to talk to her about it. I told her we were going to Italy for our vacation and that she would enjoy it. I reminded her of her two previous plane rides to LA and how she enjoyed the airports and the ride.  I talked about things she might like in Italy, namely pasta, pizza, ice cream, and fountains.  So while I couldn’t discuss visiting the Keats-Shelley museum at the foot of the Spanish Steps or where we might find the best gelato, I discussed it in terms she could understand and anticipate. A week before our trip, I sat her on my lap at our computer and I showed her pictures of my past visits as well as Internet shots of famous sights.  “Mommy, that’s beautiful!  I’m going to Italy!  Yay!” 
Not only did we talk about the plane ride and Rome, we also talked about expectations.  Blues was crucial to this discussion. I don’t know about other moms and daughters but M is definitely Daddy’s girl.  She listens to Daddy with a level of attention I rarely see. Blues told her we expected her to use her inside voice, to keep busy, and to let us know when she needed to go to the potty.  As usual, he was very good at pointing out how she is often a good listener and how she acts like such a big girl at special places.  Rather than threaten her with punishment, he knows how to make her feel good about what she does well. He also told her she would get some new toys and possibly even a special gift if she showed us she could behave.  A little external motivation did not hurt. 
Along with packing for our trip, I was responsible for putting together The Kit.  I revisited Parenting Magazine’s articles on air travel, the traveling parents’ blogs, and literally handwrote a list, as I do for groceries, of what I would need.  Then, with the help of Blues, I chose a duffel bag that would be my carry-on and which therefore could fit under my seat.  This bag would contain The Kit and not much else.  Then I began the process of putting together The Kit. 
The Kit is one part stuff from home, two parts things to be purchased. 
Stuff from home:

·         Ziploc bags: we usually have a supply of several sizes in the kitchen. You will need little snack/sandwich bags and gallon size Ziplocs.
·         Small, transparent bags: You can use Ziplocs. But if you’re like me, you may have several unused plastic bags from past beauty gifts you can use. M gets a kick out of anything that resembles a purse. If she can see what’s inside, bonus points!
·         Crayons: Most restaurants give away two or three crayons with their kids’ menu. NEVER throw these away!  I keep mine to have in the car, in my bag/purse, and I used them for THE KIT. 
·         One full change of clothes for child packed in gallon Ziploc: Top, bottom, underwear. easily removable shoes (in M’s case, these were her Dora the Explorer Crocs, which she then ultimately wore all over Rome). While airport security no longer requires that kids under 12 go barefoot, going shoeless on the plane will help most kids relax. This full change is not just for emergencies; on a long trip like ours, it probably felt great to change into clean clothes on one of our stops. 
·         One full change of clothes for Mom packed in gallon Ziploc: sundress, underwear. It absolutely felt great to change halfway through the trip home!
·         A few of kid’s faves: Her Dora the Explorer mirror/brush compact. A blanket (NOT her absolute faves such as the blanket crocheted by Grandma or the quilt made by Titi) from her bedroom collection, a flowered flannel big enough to completely cover her. One of her water bottles (NOT her absolute fave aka the most expensive one.) Two containers of her favorite freeze-dried strawberry yogurt bites.
·         Baggie of hair ties, pins, barrettes
·         Stickers: Any will do. I grabbed a bunch of flowers and birds.
·         Printouts of coloring pages.  You could Google “coloring pages.” But I got all my printables from Nick Jr. com. M LOVED her coloring pages featuring The Fresh Beat Band, Dino Dan, Yo Gabba Gabba!, and The Wonder Pets. After she was done coloring, I also used them for discussion.  I printed out enough for both trips. 
·         Portable DVD player, aka The Life-Saver, and six of her DVDs: Dora the Explorer, Wonder Pets, Elmo

Items purchased:
From Walgreens: 
Children’s Benadryl: There I’ve said it. But I only used it once on the trip there.  I honestly think The Kit did most of the work. 
From Lakeshore:
Kid-safe headphones, $9: After freaking out that the Sony kids’ headphones said 8 and up and temporarily worrying about hearing loss in children, I bought these 3+ headphones for the portable DVD player. They are also a required school supply so she will be using them at school. Score!
Clearance Outlet, aka best place for good finds if you take time and have patience
·         Portable art kit: I took several sheets of construction paper and put them in a Ziploc. The kit also includes kid-safe scissors, pipe cleaners, foam sheets, markers, and crayons. So it is set for next trip!
·         Miniature animals: I took them out of their plastic tube. I kept the cool spinning globe tube cover and included it in one of the clear plastic bags.  

Trinket bins near cash register
·         Windup ladybug, Koosh ball
·         Flexible cube toy for shape making: She loved this and is still building with it.
·         Pocket magnifying glass(never used, stashed away for future trip)
·         Silly putty(never used, stashed away for future trip)

From Target (pronounced the Frenchified way, tar-zhay):
Dollar bin finds
·         Elmo paperback
·         Illustrated collection of children’s fables
·         Coloring/activity book (never used, has been hidden away for the next trip!)

  • Stamp pad: M went crazy stamping “Excellent” all over her coloring pages.  It did come apart but it easily goes back together.  
  • Multicolored plastic O-ring bracelets(never used, maybe I can swipe them to wear on 80s Dance Party?)
Toy Department
·         Travel size Magnadoodle, approximately $10: I couldn’t find one that featured Dora or Disney princesses (how do they get into this stuff?!?) so I had to settle for one from Cars. She loves it and still carries it around in the car.  Score!
·         A Lalaloopsy doll: I first found out about these from a former high school student last year. They are made to look like rag dolls but they look more like lollipops with ginormous heads and skinny bodies. M loves them. The mini Lalaloopsys are much cheaper ($20 but there are sales so I got this one for $13!!!!) I took the doll and its accessories out of the box and into one of the clear plastic bag. This was her SPECIAL GIFT for being good on the plane to Italy so she got it on the trip home. She was thrilled.  She still sleeps and bathes with this doll. Score! 

I will admit that having to lug The Kit through five (!) airports was tiring but I would do it again in a heartbeat.  My daughter had plenty to do when she wasn’t sleeping like a baby or cuddling up with one of us.  I especially loved how happy she was for the entirety of our travels.  

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