If you are traveling with a baby, you must pack diapers, wipes, a pack and play, a carseat/stroller, a baby carrier, bottles, a breast pump, assorted toys, etc. The chances of avoiding baggage check are less than zero.
If you are traveling with a preschooler, you put some clothes in a suitcase, just like she's a regular person. You load an iPad with games and movies, pack a few additional portable entertainment items (like paper and crayons) and then you are on your way. Not only did we get everything into our carry-ons, Mazzy dragged her own suitcase! She was even excited to do it.
But even though traveling with a preschooler is leaps and bounds ahead of traveling with a baby, that doesn't mean it is without it's fair share of obstacles and irritations.
Here are ten things you should know before traveling with a preschooler on a plane:
1) If your baby is crying, people might be annoyed but they are generally understanding. If your preschooler is crying, everybody assumes you are the worst parent alive.
2) Prepare your child ahead of time for numerous modes of transportation. I told Mazzy we were flying to the Dominican Republic. Then she nearly flipped when she realized the plane was not picking us up in front of our apartment. Ditto for landing. I think Mazzy expected to walk straight from the runway to the beach. A twenty minute shuttle can be very disappointing for the unprepared.
3) Explain to your preschooler that there will be a full day for travel. After we arrived at the hotel, checked in and got settled, Mazzy took one look out the window and started crying. "IT'S DARK OUT!!!!" "I know, babe. It's bedtime soon." "I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO THE BEACH!!!!!!!" "We're going to the beach tomorrow." "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!" Oops.
4) Your child might be really excited to see the ground get smaller and smaller during take-off. But, be aware, once she is safely buckled in, she may be too short to see anything but bright blue sky. "I CAN'T SEE IT!!!!!!" she'll wail as you point out tiny cars and birdseye views of pools and baseball stadiums. Just keep quiet, cut your losses and give her the middle seat from the get-go. There's always next year.
5) If you put headphones on your four-year-old so she can watch movies on the plane, this means she will make all her normal demands except 100X louder. If you've ever heard a booming voice asking for juice from up above, that was not God getting thirsty. That was a preschooler on a plane.
6) If you are excited to leave the stroller at home, please be aware that your child could pass out on the way to the airport for your return flight. After all, she’s exhausted at the end of her vacation. I had to carry Mazzy’s lifeless 36lb. body all through baggage check, while waiting on the ridiculously long security line and through customs, while Mike somehow handled all six of our bags by himself.
7) Pack light. Your child might be gungho to carry her own suitcase when you leave the house, but I guarantee that enthusiasm will wane by the return flight home.
8) Try to find that sweet spot between rushing to the plane and allowing yourself too much time in the airport. The last thing you want is to use up all your snacks and cures for boredom before you've even left the ground. Plus, that precious iPad battery time is your most valuable commodity.
9) Charge, charge some more, and then charge again.
10) No matter how good your child was on your trip, resist the urge to buy her a huge lollipop in the airport before the return flight home. The only thing worse than sitting next to a screaming baby is sitting next to a wired four-year-old on a sugar high. THE GIRL WOULD NOT STOP TALKING. And since she was wearing her headphones, everything she said was at THE TOP OF HER LUNGS. Everyone on the plane from first class to the cheap seats in the back had a play-by-play of Mazzy spilling her orange juice, losing her miniature Lightening McQueen, trying to keep the headphones from falling off her head and the horror of being subjected to the same episode of Diego she had seen on the way there.
11) Be prepared to spend a good hour of your trip searching for lost toys and crayons. You might want to wear pants that show minimal butt crack since your ass will be hanging out in the aisle while your crawl under the seats.
12) On many airlines, the TV controls are located right on top of the arm rest. Those buttons are hard to resist even if your child has been warned that they'll change the channel, lower the volume or god forbid take them away from their regularly scheduled programming straight to the map. "MOM!!!!! WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SHOW?????!!!!!!"
13) Advanced motor skills are a wonderful thing. Until it means your child can now take off her seatbelt by herself.
14) Once on the plane, Mazzy didn't sleep for one single second. Either way.
15) You know how the person who gets from the plane to customs the fastest gets to the head of the line and then goes home the fastest? TELL YOUR CHILD THAT. When we flew back into New York at 9pm, Mazzy was exhausted and looked like she might fall over at any moment. But when we told her the path to customs was literally a race? I have never seen anyone move faster. The kicker? When we arrived toward the front of the pack, she screamed, "I WIN!!!!!!!" Big laughs all around.
Good luck on your trip!