Preparing for the holidays is always hard, but when the holidays include travel it gets harder, and when that travel includes kids, well… Luckily, there are a few ideas out there that make travel easier for parents.
If you are flying with a toddler this holiday, save your back and check your car seat. CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) is an FAA-approved harness that enables children to use the standard airplane seat belt. The child must be over the age of one year old, weigh 22-44 pounds, and be under 40 inches tall. We are traveling with two now and taking two car seats was out of the question. The CARES system includes a small storage bag and slips easily into a carry on. Once on board, the CARES belt is quickly installed over the back of your child’s seat (behind the tray of the (hopefully understanding) neighbor behind you) and through the straps of the plane seat belt. Bring a neck pillow if your child might doze since there is no padded car seat cushioning to stop lolling heads! The CARES belt includes only the straps (made of the same strong webbing that you would find in any car seat belt)– you might want to snag the padding from your child’s car seat to make the straps a little more comfortable– and a little more familiar too! One downside is the lack of a strap between the child’s leg which led to some sliding– especially when sleeping or wriggling. The ability to travel with dragging the extra car seat through the airport is worth every penny.
When my family is navigating the airport, bus station, or train station, we make sure to bring a child carrier (or two) with us. My husband likes the Ergo Baby Carrier, whereas I prefer my favorite Sakura Bloom sling or the Beco Carrier for back carries. Sometimes we bring an umbrella stroller along, but we usually end up using it to carry the baby’s car seat or our luggage. When traveling, I always pack a few distractions. My favorite is cheap, easy, and appeals to all ages– junk mail! I have a friend who gets every toy catalog in the world. Before a trip, I hit her up for as many as she can part with. Older children (even toddlers) can use the catalog to craft (include construction paper, a small glue stick, and miscellaneous other craft faves). Babies will enjoy crinkling and ripping the pages– just be careful to supervise carefully in case the catalog gets eaten! We make up stories about the toys and my son will pore over the pages for long periods of times– day dreaming and probably adding to his wish list! When you are through with the catalogs, recycle them for a lighter trip back home! Another favorite distraction is home movies. Kids love watching themselves and those that they love– I never tire of the videos either.
After lugging a Pack ‘n Play back and forth on every trip my family has ever taken, I was thrilled to try out the Baby BjÃ¶rn Travel Crib Light. I LOVED that it was light (yet sturdy when put together). I LOVED that it was easy to set up. It has a small footprint when collapsed and can be easily stored under a bed or in a closet when not in use. It fits easily in the car and could even be checked as a carry on in an airplane in the included durable storage bag. The mattress is thin but substantial and lays directly on the floor. The set up was unbelievably easy– I managed it without directions and after a few tries, my three year old knew how. I was thrilled… that is until I tried the bed with our infant daughter. I tried the crib on three different occasions– on two trips and once at home. The first time I tried the crib in a hotel, our daughter cried and cried. I thought it must be her teeth and drove thirty minutes to an all night drug store (thank you, GPS). On the second trip, I started to wonder and so we tried a third trial at home with the same dismal results. I’m not sure why my daughter dislikes the Baby BjÃ¶rn crib. She does fine in the Pack ‘n Play and in her standard crib. Thinking that the mattress might be too uncomfortable, I laid in it and it seemed fine. My three year old son concurs– it’s comfortable. My only guess is that she might dislike the lack of visibility in the crib. The lower parts of the four crib sides are covered in a solid fabric, while the upper part are covered in a fine mesh. The Baby BjÃ¶rn Travel Crib gets high marks from multiple other reviewers. Although we will not be trying this crib again for our holiday travel this year, we will try again in a few months when my daughter is older and can see over the top a bit easier. It certainly would make our travel easier! I will update this review again in the Spring.
If you are traveling with an infant just starting with solids, it can be a challenge to find the appropriate baby food without lugging around a bevy of jars in an already full diaper bag. I was worried about the feasibility of grocery store runs on our last trip, so we tried out the Wean Machine. Made of BPA-free plastic, the Wean Machine is a compact little gadget–think of it like a big garlic press– that squishes food quickly and easily– as long as you choose and use the right foods. This all-in-one neatly houses the machine itself, two screens with varied holes for two different texture options, a bowl for eating, and even a spoon! Our first test was a banana and the wean machine worked great… but I can mash a banana easily myself. The next test was harder– butternut squash. Again, the Wean Machine delivered perfectly smooth, baby ready food. Unfortunately, I overloaded the dish with squash and got splattered with squash when I pressed the screen over the food. Yuck! For other foods, the Wean Machine did not perform as well. Unless the food was very squishy (and often overcooked), the Wean Machine could not deliver the smooth texture required for younger children. We tried peas, broccoli, and carrots. The outcome was fine for older children, but again– I could use a fork although it would take longer. I would use the Wean Machine in my kitchen for quick, small batches of homemade food for older infants, but I do not think the Wean Machine is useful for longer trips when you are depending on restaurants for vegetables. The Wean Machine web site includes a “Suitable Foods Squidgometer” that may help with guidelines of what works well with the Wean Machine, but the green light list is too narrow for practical applications outside your own kitchen.
For us, the best part of the holidays is the ability to spend time with the people that we love. Enjoy every moment with your family and friends this holiday season, don’t sweat the small stuff, and make travel part of the adventure. I am dying to know– what do you do when you are traveling with kids? What products or workarounds are must-haves for your family when you travel? Please share for the collective good and may your travel be merry and bright. Happy holidays!
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Baby BjÃ¶rn, Jackson Beazeley Limited, and Kids Fly Safe providedÂ review samples for this article. Neither the author nor Kidoinfo has received any monetary compensation for this review and we have no undisclosed relationship with any company listed above.