With COVID restrictions easing up, our summer plans are finally looking brighter than ever! Brighter because we can literally come out of our long isolation and spend vacations traveling outside. For parents, this is a great opportunity to make up for lost outdoor summertime with the kids. And with overflowing excitement comes challenges when traveling. In this episode, Karen Stoteraux is joined by Lexsea Mann to discuss traveling with kids. Lexsea is a mom of two and a Parent & Me Educator at The Family Room. She explains why family travels are important for connecting and shares tips to make the journey a little bit smoother—from packing to planning activities—be it by land or air. Join this conversation and discover how you can make your travels memorable for the whole family!
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Traveling With Kids With Lexsea Mann
Summer is here. With COVID restrictions easing up, it feels like everyone has the travel itch. In this episode, we are going to be talking about traveling with kids. I’m super excited to be joined by Lexsea Mann.
I’m happy to be here.
For those of you who don’t know Lexsea, she has been a Parent & Me educator at The Family Room for years. I met her a few years before that as a mom in our community attending classes with her oldest son, Winslow, who I cannot believe turned six. How was his birthday?
It’s amazing that he’s six. It’s one of those years where it’s like, “I have a real child, not a baby.” His birthday was fun. He’s almost done with his first year of kindergarten. We did a whole party at the park to make up for the last few years. It was special and fun. He had a great time.
What was his favorite present? I always love finding out what kids are into.
We ended up getting those sticky hands that you get from the doctor’s office or something. We got those as our party favors, which is so funny because when they’re younger, I’m more inclined to do, “Handmade bags for every person who attends with special little gifts.” Now, all Winslow wanted was sticky hands. It’s his party favor. It was such a big hit. Everyone loved them. It’s funny. The only problem is now all of the walls in our house have this imprint of sticky hands goo leftover everywhere. Don’t leave them on the walls.
It’s the best when something so simple makes them happy. I found a photo of you and him in a Parent & Me class with Kim-Lan. It feels like a lifetime ago.
It’s sweet to see those old pictures in the original space.
I’m glad you joined our team. It’s been such an honor to know you from the beginning of your parenting journey.
Thanks.Different temperaments need different things. Click To Tweet
We’re going to be talking about traveling with kids. We were all stuck at home for so long. It feels like the whole world is out there waiting for us like that Royal Caribbean commercial. Have you seen that?
I don’t think so.
I’m not going to sing it because that would be bad, but every time Evelyn sees it, it’s like, “I want to break free.” She’s like, “Yes, I want to break free.” It does give you that travel bug. I know traveling with kids can feel overwhelming.
My husband and I traveled by plane alone together. It was such a reminder of, “There’s so much more prep that goes into traveling with your small children compared to just you as an adult.” There’s a lot more to prepare.
Throw some things in a bag and head to the airport, and pick up a People Magazine on the way.
There was no packing of snacks. We’ll figure out water later.
You’re not worried about a change of clothes.
In fact, we brought too few clothes for the first time ever.
There’s so much value in traveling with kids from a family standpoint. Though it’s overwhelming, I wanted to start by talking about why it’s important. It’s a time to connect, make memories and change the scenery. For a lot of people, it’s visiting friends and family that you haven’t seen for years, and introducing your baby to grandparents. It’s such a bonding experience for you as a family too. I don’t know if you have any memories as a child or with your own kids now that you wanted to share before we get into the nuts and bolts of traveling with kids.
Traveling with your kids is special and fun. We do a lot of travel to visit family and good friends. We stay connected with them regularly. I was an only child and my family had placed a big priority on travel when I was little. My parents took me regularly on international trips. It was an eye-opening experience to see how other places exist and how other people live. It helps put your own life in perspective. The world has many incredible, gorgeous places.
One time when I was in kindergarten, we did a Thank You Parents day brunch thing. Everyone had to go up and say what they were thankful for. My mom was like, “Maybe she’ll mention our trip to the Yucatan. Maybe she’ll talk about snorkeling in the Cayman Islands with manta rays. I can’t wait to hear what Lexsea says.” I was like, “I love my parents because they took me bowling.” She was like, “What?”
Your trips don’t have to be super fancy.
Looking back at my childhood, those were incredible trips that were life-shaping. I don’t remember bowling, but I do remember the trips.
The idea of connecting together in a different place without distractions can make so many memories.
We have many friends and family that we visit. Years ago, we went to Big Bear, just the four of us. We realized it was our first trip not to visit someone. It was special in its own way to be somewhere else, just us with our own agenda and trying out new things. We’re making it more of a regular thing because it was special.
Traveling with a baby is different than traveling with a toddler. Traveling by air is different than traveling by car. There are many different factors, but I’m hoping we can cover some basic travel to give parents the confidence and some tips for their next trip. Let’s start with air travel, which is the most intimidating of them. We all dread having that screaming baby or toddler, and everyone looking at us. There are also many things you can’t control like is the person sitting next to you kind? Will you be delayed on the runway? All of those unknowns can make it feel particularly stressful and overwhelming. I wanted to talk about all the things that you can control because there are lots of things. What are some of your tips for air travel?
When Winslow was little, I preferred air travel to car travel with him because he was not a car seat kid. I have a lot of moms in my groups who are nervous before their first flight. You aren’t sure what to expect, but very rarely do I hear about the baby who screamed the whole flight. The plane is a super fun activity. It’s engaging. For a small baby, it’s like being in a giant noise machine that’s rumbling a little bit the whole time. It could be a pretty easy experience.
The other nice thing about plane travel that I like to point out is that there’s always an end time. It is going to be over in 2 or 8 hours. There’s going to be a time when it’s over. Whereas with car trips, there could be traffic, and you might have to do extra stops, and that’s one of the nice things that you don’t have control over the plane. It’s going to keep going, but you will get there at the time, and it will be over if it’s going well. You brought up that there are things that you can’t control like maybe you’re sitting on the runway extra, maybe there’s a delay. One of the things that I always think about is if you would like to limit your time on the actual airplane, it makes sense but it’s also funny that they have families board the plane first.
On Southwest, maybe it makes sense because you need to claim your seats. You might want to think about, “Why board first if they have that family boarding time?” Ideally, you can send one parent onto the plane to get all set up, put all your bags on and one parent who stays behind with the little kids. The parent with the little kids gets on the plane last. That way, you’re cutting 20 to 30, or maybe 40 minutes off your plane time. You’re not like, “We’ve exhausted everything and we haven’t left the gate yet.”
I always used to board first. I will meet you on the runway. We’ll run next to the plane and hop on because the little least amount of time I can spend in that cabin is what I was always going for.The nice thing about car travel is you can really bring it all. Click To Tweet
If you do need to claim a seat, see if one parent can go on first if that’s an option and get everything else set up.
I traveled a lot by myself with Audrey going back from Boston to LA when she was under three for most of it. People are generally nice. There are helpful people who want to help you. If they see a mom traveling by herself, I am surprised by how many people are always willing to lend a hand.
This goes for traveling by car or train or whatever too. When you first get settled and you get onto the plane, resist the urge to bring out some of the activities or things you’ve brought for them to do because just being on the plane is an activity. There’s a tray table, a window shade, a cool window to look out, and people all over the tarmac pushing and pulling things or just playing with the seatbelt.
All these things are activities to do. Your toddler or baby will probably be fine and interested in peering at their neighbors like, “There’s a light and a fan overhead.” These are all things that can take up time. Resisting the urge to bring out some activities and save them. If they’re fine, they’re fine. They don’t need anything.
I always remember they would play with the most random things. I would bring all these toys and then the cup that they got with a water bottle entertains them endlessly, or the straw, you’re like, “Great,” depending on the age they are. It’s always the most random things.
Different temperaments need different things. Winslow in the car is doing activity after activity like, “What’s next? What are we doing?” Wilder, who just turned three, honestly is contempt to sit and look out the window for two hours. That’s his activity. He’ll hold one item in his hand and be like, “Here we go.”
That’s like the twins. Evelyn is doing all of the things and going through all of the activities. Colette literally sits there. I’m like, “Are you okay?” This is after we’ve been in the air and takeoff is over. Same in the car. She’s content to just be and take the new experience.
Similarly, if you’re going to be packing a lot of little activities or things, I like to bring some favorite toys on trips anyway because when you’re going there, it’s nice to have a few things for them to do. You want to think about steering clear of toys with one million little parts, even if they’re really into Legos, not bringing the whole Lego set. Thinking about what toy is going to be okay if it drops on the ground of the airplane. If they’ve never played with this one thing at home, don’t bring it. Bring something that they regularly play with. It’s always a good idea to have something brand new that they’ve never seen, to pull out in a moment that you need something.
I also try to pack them in a way that when I open the backpack or whatever, they’re not going to see everything. They’re going to see the first thing, then the rest of it stays hidden for later when you need it. If you don’t go through everything on the flight there, don’t use it. Save it for the flight home because I always find also that I’m very prepared for the flight there, then on the flight home, I’m like, “I didn’t prepare this time. We’re just going to make it now, and it’s fine.”
I know some people wrap the toys as another activity.
That is a fun activity. I always try to bring one art activity type of thing. I don’t mean a whole paint setup. I mean, literally, maybe a pack of Post-its and a pen or a pencil. For an older kid, a pad of paper and some new pencils or pens is fun and can be endless entertainment for a younger kid, maybe like a roll of masking tape that you can stick on things, painters tape that comes off easily, then they’re peeling it off. Honestly, Post-its are a big hit with my kids.
Let’s talk about snacks. Something else I wanted to cover was screen time. Snacks and screen time are two other things that can be helpful.
Similarly, with snacks, the plane is one of those scenarios where maybe regular rules go out the window a little bit, but you’re also going to be traveling and eating unusual things. It’s great to have some familiar filling snacks that they regularly like. It’s not the time to be like, “Let’s push this new vegetable on the plane.” It’s like, “Let’s bring something I know they’re going to like and going to fill them up and help with their mood.”
I like to pack a lot of little snacks and different baggies so that we can pull out the first snack, and they don’t see everything at once. It’s like two hours later, “Here’s the next snack.” Your usual rules might go out the window, and the same thing with screen time. It is totally possible to travel without screens. If you’re a family where you’re like, “We’re not doing that.” Travel is exciting.
The activity of the day of getting there is exciting. If you’re someone who’s like, “We’re going on a seventeen-hour flight to Singapore. We’re doing screen time,” great. However you need to get them to sleep or occupied on the trip is totally fine. Make sure you’re downloading things ahead of because you’re not going to necessarily have internet access on the go. That’s something to note.
Everything is charged. What about some of the things that people worry about like bringing breast milk and formula through security checking or car seats? Do you bring your car seat on the plane, strollers, or babywearing at the airport?
If you have a carrier that you love, definitely bring it on the trip. Having a great carrier on a plane for a baby or a young toddler can be helpful. You’re going to need to look into your specific airlines about what their rules are, but there are exceptions for bringing breast milk through security. If you’re pumping a lot on the trip, there are shipping options you can look into for sending milk back. Typically, hotels are helpful in terms of storage of that kind of stuff while you’re traveling. You need to ask when you’re there.
If you have a formula-fed baby and you’re going to be traveling by plane, or even honestly by car, bring more than you think in case of a delay or whatever. A lot of times, with formula, you portion it out ahead of time. Bring several extra bottles worth so that you’re not on alert with like, “I packed the canister formula. I only have enough for this, and now my bag has gone.” Bring more than you think with. If it’s a formula that you mix with water, you can buy water once you get to the airport. Bring extra powder.
Under two-year-olds get this free pass on the airplane. You can do a lap infant until they’re two years old. You want to consider, “Do we want to buy an extra seat for the space or do we want to take advantage of the free ticket while we can?” That’s going to be a personal decision. We traveled a lot with Winslow as a lap infant. I even packed in some last-minute trips when he was 23 months old to take advantage of it.
At the end of it, it was like, “You are probably too big.” We don’t fly anymore, but it was fun and free for him to travel. Some families like having their car seat on the plane and having a seat for their baby and extra space. If you know your baby loves their car seat and is going to sleep well in it, it might be worth considering. For us, the benefit of traveling by plane was no-brainer because Winslow is anti-car seats. It was a no-brainer for us to check the car seat. Honestly, we’ve been lucky with borrowing car seats on the other end from family or friends, or renting a car and a car seat to go with it.Part of traveling is also exploring new stuff. Click To Tweet
I never travel with a car. I know a lot of people do and find it helpful, but for me, it was one more thing to lug. My kids don’t like being in them, but I know a lot of families. It depends on your kid and how much stuff you have.
Another choice that you get to make often on the plane is where you’re going to sit, if you’re going to sit in the aisle or window seat. This is another personal choice. I have families who are like, “We would never sit anywhere but the aisle because we’re going to be getting up and down all the time.” I prefer to sit in the window with kids, even if it means being trapped by a stranger because we did a thing where we don’t get up on the plane, “These are our seats. Here we are.” We’re lucky to have kids who are pretty good about the bathroom.
I’m always the one that needs to stop first on the road trip. I’m like, “No one else has to go.”
For us, the window offers so much enjoyment and fun. I like having that extra wall to lean against, drive a car on, do masking tape on or whatever, rather than a stranger’s body that you don’t want to get too close to.
You’re rolling the dice when you get on an airplane with the people sitting next to you anyway. I agree with the window. You can look at the clouds. It’s cool for kids to see takeoff. It’s an experience they’ve never had before. It’s fun. I love a window seat too. How do you feel about red eyes? Lots of parents take them.
Picking what time your flight is definitely a consideration, especially if you’re traveling across a lot of time zones. It can be worth it to do a red eye to try and get some sleep on the plane. It is also like a different sleep experience. With babies, they’re going to fall asleep. Toddlers, it’s very stimulating. It could take them a lot longer to fall asleep. It’s something to consider. We personally prefer traveling during the day. That’s me and my personal preference.
Our family should go on vacation together because it seems like a lot of things align because a red eye is my worst nightmare. I feel independent of the kids like, “I’m not going to sleep. When I get there, I’m going to be wrecked.” I also feel like there’s more pressure for the kids to be quiet because other people are trying to sleep. If my child is being loud, I’m going to feel worse about it, as opposed to during the day.
If you’re traveling to another continent and it’s a major time zone change, it can be helpful to book a red eye to get some sleep, but it’s not going to be your best night’s sleep. When you get there, you can align it with like, “What time is it when we arrive?” It can help you get onto the time zone a little bit quicker, but if you’re jumping many times zones, you should plan on the first three days being chill and not packing it in. You’re all going to be adjusting. People worry about their kids adjusting to the time zone, but you’re also going to be adjusting to the time zone. You’re all going to be dealing with jet lag together.
We did have one flight. We were flying to Montana when I was in my first trimester, pregnant with Wilder. Winslow was two or something. It turned into a fourteen-hour travel day instead of 2 or 3 because our flight got canceled. We got another flight, but it had a layover. For the last plane, it was like 7:00 PM. It was bedtime. We got him in his pajamas and he was all excited to get on the last plane. He had been awake all day.
He was still napping at the time. He was all excited. He was all in his cozy pajamas and he spent the entire flight actively trying to fall asleep and couldn’t. By the time we got there, it was 12:30. He was like, “Get my crib set up. I need to go to bed.” He was great. He wasn’t crying. He was like,” I’m trying to go to bed.” You can’t ever count on them sleeping.
The whole thing, you have to go into it as one giant adventure. There’s only so much you can control. I remember always getting someone to sleep and then the pilot would come on or the captain. I’d be like, “No, that thing is loud,” then their little eyes open and you’re like, “Was that necessary? Did you have to tell us that?” It’s the worst as a parent when you finally get your kid to sleep. Going into it with a certain attitude is important. It’s totally helpful. Low expectations, you’re doing the best you can and just rolling with it.
Having a flexible attitude and knowing, “Today is our travel day. Whatever happens, happens. We’re going to get there. It’s going to be fine.”
I always like making good or bad or memories. They’re good family stories.
You never know what’s going to be the story that your family retells for years.
What about road trips? We did a lot of road trips during the pandemic because we were nervous about flying.
I like to do similar prep for car trips, car safe snacks in separate containers, and activities that you pull out one at a time, so they don’t see them all at the beginning or don’t finish them before you get on the five freeway. Another thing is still being flexible on car trips. The first time we attempted to drive up to the Bay Area, we made it with both kids. That’s a six-hour drive. I had planned it out. I was like, “We’re going to stop here.” We got to our first stop and everyone was fine. It’s like, “Let’s keep going.” You can plan ahead stops. If everyone is fine, skip the plan to stop and keep going until you need a break.
Know what you’re getting. If you had lunch planned and they’re okay, make sure there’s food. When we drove to San Francisco, there’s a stretch where you’re literally in the middle of nowhere. There was no place to stop for gas, food or anything. I couldn’t believe it. We were just in a food desert for sure. We didn’t even need to stop for lunch because everyone was just snacking the whole way.
The nice thing about car travel is you can bring a lot of snacks and drinks. We were lucky that Winslow never got car sick, but Wilder does get car sick. That was a new foray into packing for us. It’s one of those things where if you don’t prepare, it’ll happen. If you do prepare, it won’t happen. I had a friend recommend to me to prepare by cutting an empty cereal box in half and then lining it with a big Ziploc bag, so it’s like a sturdy thing to drop in if you need to.
You cut a cereal box in half, so you have this open cardboard box shape, and then line it with gallons of water. We honestly have that in the car. It’s ready to go. It’s always good to have a full thing of wipes in the car that’s available for whatever reason. It’s always good to have an extra towel or two. If you have it, it won’t happen. One of the nice things about traveling by car is that you can bring a ton of stuff. If you are traveling somewhere where you’re meeting friends or family who live on the other end, it can be helpful to ship some things ahead of time.
If you’re going to be somewhere for one week and you have a baby who’s still in diapers or toddler, it can be helpful to ship diapers ahead of time or, “I know we’re going to want these snacks. Let’s ship a bunch of them.” That kind of stuff can take the load off, so when you arrive, you have some of your stuff there. We did a cross-country trip to Washington DC when Winslow was 3.5 or 4 months old. I totally shipped a yoga ball to my sister-in-law’s house because I was like, “I don’t know how to put this baby to bed without yoga balls. Here’s your new yoga ball.” I was glad we had it.Travel day is exhausting and exciting. When you get there, it'll be worth it. Click To Tweet
There are certain things that are essential to your care at that point.
If you use something every day and it’s not hard to bring it, definitely consider bringing it.
Don’t wing it. It will just make your trip time there better because you’re going to be less stressed about, “How am I going to get the baby to sleep now?”
It was like, “We’re bringing a ton of stuff. It’s fine. We’re going to check the bag, it’s okay.” If your kids sleep with a noise machine every night, bring the noise machine. If your kids are used to sleeping in a pitch-dark room, I have a friend who always travels with an entire roll of tinfoil so that she can black out whatever situation she’s in.
Is this the same friend who has the cereal box with the bag for throw-up?
You’ve got good friends. I have to say. I want to meet them all.
They also make suction cup travel blackout curtains. Again, another of my friend has, and they’re cool. If you’re going to be traveling a lot, it could be a good investment to get something like that.
All of those things there are helpful. Talking to friends and people who have traveled like, “What was helpful for you?” Also, borrowing stuff. If a friend has those blackout curtains, pick them up on the way, or if you’re going somewhere, have them ask around. Your mother-in-law has friends who have grandbabies too. It’s nice to get all that stuff when you can from other people, and tips too, all of them. Talk to friends. Talk to Lexsea’s friends.
The things to consider in terms of gear is where are they going to sleep? What do they need in order to sleep? Also if you need a car seat or not for the trip. How are you going to get around? Do you usually use a stroller or a carrier? Bring it. With strollers, you can gate-check them on the plane very easily. It’ll be right there when you get off the airplane.
There are many things to consider, but I think a lot of preparation goes a long way.
The main theme of this episode is to prepare, how ever you like to prepare. I personally like having a handwritten list ahead of time. That’s my method. I can’t go digital with it yet, but I like having a big piece of paper and I write down every little thing that I want to pack. That way, if it’s like, “We’re still using our noise machine, but I want to bring it. I don’t want to forget it the morning of,” I’m going to write it on the list. That way, before we head out the door, I can check what I need to make sure I have and what I have not packed.
Sometimes, I get worried about forgetting stuff. Jeff is like, “Everywhere we go, we can get what we need. It’s okay. Don’t freak out if you realize that you don’t have something.” Trying to be flexible and enjoy.
Part of traveling is also like exploring new stuff. It might mean that we’re trying new foods or eating different stuff. That’s exciting and fun.
We’ve been chatting for a while and we could keep going, but I think we’ve covered a lot of the basics and have encouraged everyone to get out there and start making memories. Hit the road.
A travel day is exhausting and exciting. When you get there, it will be worth it.
One thing I’ve been asking all our guests is one thing they’ve googled and what did they learn? Tell us.
My boys are both due for a haircut. I always think ahead of time about how I am going to describe what haircut they want. Every single time I’m like, “I know they want a pageboy haircut.” Then I’m like, “What is a pageboy haircut?” Every time I google it and I see it, I’m like, “That’s not what we want. We don’t want pageboy haircut.” It always comes to mind as like, “This is how I’m going to describe it, a pageboy, but that’s not what I want.” Every time before we get a haircut, I end up googling that, and it’s not what I expect.
Thank you for being with us. It was fun.
Thanks for having me. It’s fun to chat.
About Lexsea Mann
Lexsea’s life has always circled back to working with children, whether through outdoor education, art education, progressive and traditional classroom settings or her own home. She has a Master’s Degree in Education and holds both a California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and an Art Teaching Credential. Lexsea has taught at Crossroads School for the Arts & Sciences, as well as for Claremont USD. She also is a mom to a young boy who loves to get messy. She’s constantly experimenting with new ways to help him fire off those brain synapses and encourage his imagination. Lexsea thinks there’s nothing better than seeing a child’s face light up with genuine joy as they discover something thrilling or new.