- Schedule early morning flights. Getting up early is a pain, but the first flights of the day are the least likely to be delayed, and the least likely to interfere with nap or meal times. And schedule direct flights wherever possible; it's worth the extra cost to avoid delays and layovers.
- Enroll your kids in frequent flier clubs before your trip. It won't make this trip easier, but it might help you pay for future ones.
- Bring lots of cash for tips. And use it. Request help wherever you can --- especially from porters and shuttle drivers. Horror stories notwithstanding, most folks are sympathetic to parents traveling with their kids and are happy to help you keep everything in check.
- Leave your anti-media principles at the airplane door. Bring multiple entertainment devices to keep everyone occupied and quiet. For our family of five, we brought two iPads, an iPhone, an iPod Touch, a Blackberry, a portable DVD player, a laptop, and accompanying headphones. Because we don’t allow our kids to watch much tv or movies at home, the novelty of 2-3 hours of uninterrupted screen time was a huge incentive to behave. If your kids aren't old enough for screen-time, pack a new (quiet) toy or two to keep them occupied.
- Check your anti-snack principles at the gate. The Number One Cause of our kids’ meltdowns is hunger/low blood sugar. We preempted tantrums by plying them with snacks the entire flight --- little bags of cheerios, grapes, or blueberries; string cheese; animal crackers; and our new favorite, Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks, which also double as Vitamin C supplements. Yes, we spent some extra time brushing and flossing as a result, but the peace and quiet were worth it.
- Pack empty sippy cups in your carry-on. Even if your kids don't need them at home, bumpy flights = spills. Save yourself, your clothes, and your seatmates. Use a sippy. Also, if your kids prefer beverages other than water, buy them at the stores in the terminal, after you are through security. Don't count on the flight attendants to have milk (most airlines have cut it) or juice available.
- Pack infant/child pain reliever in your carry-on for ear aches.
- If the tylenol doesn't work and your infant screams inconsolably during the entire flight (as one of mine did a few years ago), offer to buy surrounding passengers cocktails. The offer alone diffuses the situation, and many will take you up on it.
- Minimize the gear. Ha ha, right? Even when you strip away the frills like portable high-chairs and shopping cart covers, kids seem to need a lot of stuff these days to be safe and comfortable. But you don't have to schlep the gear yourself. Order inexpensive models of pack n' plays, strollers, and other big gear, as well as diapers and wipes, from Amazon in advance of your trip and have them shipped to your destination to await your arrival. (With Amazon Mom, you get free two-day shipping.). Upon departure, we then ask our hosts or hotel to keep the gear for other guests' use or donate to someone in need. Also remember that some higher-end hotels have high chairs, baby baths, toiletries, strollers, etc., available for guest use. Call in advance to inquire. Finally, consider arranging baby gear rental or delivery from Babies Travel Lite or Baby's Away. Bottom line: haul as little as possible.
- Protect your carseats. The one piece of gear we won't rent or borrow is the carseat. When we check them, we use the Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bags by JL Childress. They have withstood five years of traveling so far and outlasted many cheaper versions. The backpack function is particularly handy. Also, remember that carseats and strollers are exempt from baggage fees on most airlines.
- Let your kids haul their own carry-on luggage. We love these rolling duffles from PBK; even my 2-year-old can roll hers independently.
- Remember that everything takes at least twice as long with kids and plan accordingly. Rushing leads to anxiety which leads to meltdowns, at least in my family.
- Invest in a rental car gold club or preferred service membership. There is
nothinglittle worse than standing in a long line with a cranky kid who's been traveling all day. The membership fee for preferred rental car service more than pays for itself by allowing you to skip the lines and paperwork and be dropped off right at your rental car.
- Have one parent drop the other, with kids and luggage, at curbside check-in before parking and/or returning rental car. Again, the point is to minimize schlepping.
- Wear comfortable shoes. I thought this was common sense, until I saw a mother of *four* today awkwardly running through the airport in high heels!!????!!
More on Chicago soon. In the meantime, happy travels!