Booking Your Flight
- While children 2 and younger can fly as a lap child, I really recommend buying a seat for any child older than 9 months, or who is already pulling him/herself up and wanting to explore their surroundings. The flight to Hawaii is long and can be exhausting to keep up with a little one who resists being held. Also, most little ones will relax and nap in a familiar car seat. We like the Cosco Scenera for travel – it’s lightweight, inexpensive, and comes in a clear plastic zippered bag with a handle.
- Travel mid-week if possible for lower fares and best frequent-flyer availability; there’s also greater chance of having an empty seat to bring a lap child’s car seat onboard.
- Many experts suggest you fly non-stop, but for toddlers through age 4 or 5, I think a stop in LA or San Francisco is a good opportunity for kids to get some wiggles out before the 5 hour flight to Hawaii.
- On the return flight, a non-stop from Honolulu is great – we leave at 10 pm and wake up in Denver at 7:30 am; on our last flight both children fell asleep at wheels-up and were down for the count.
- Always book flights to match up to nap times – nothing will guarantee a mid-flight meltdown more than having an overtired child.
- Select your seats at the time of purchasing the ticket to guarantee your family will be seated together (particularly if one parent is using miles and the other is paying for the ticket). If you have a lap child, book the aisle and window seat and hope that no one books the middle seat – you can then either bring the child’s car seat, use a CARES Harness, or at least have an empty seat to lay the sleeping child down in.
- Check in online 24 hours before your flight to insure that your seats aren’t given away.
- Review your airline’s policy about traveling with children – generally, only 1 lap child is allowed per row; no children in exit rows or the row in front of/behind; car seats only in window seats.
- Book a condo with a washer/dryer if possible to keep your packing list short – you really only need enough clothes for about four days and a few packets of laundry detergent.
- If you’re staying at a hotel, the Grand Hyatt has free laundry facilities for guests; the Sheraton has coin-op facilities; the St. Regis has a valet laundry service for a fee.
- Kauai has many grocery stores selling the same items found on the mainland, but if you use a specific type of formula, sunscreen or diapers beyond Similac, Huggies or Pampers, consider ordering those items from Diapers.com or Amazon.com and have them shipped directly to your hotel (call the hotel first to find out how the package should be addressed).
- Babies Travel Lite is a company that provides a wide selection of baby "bundles" delivered to your hotel/resort (for a price, of course!)
- Determine what your accommodation provides as many hotels, resorts and even private condos offer cribs or Pack N Plays.
- Ready Rentals on-island rents cribs, high chairs, strollers, etc.
- It may even be cheaper to buy what you need at the Wal-mart on Kauai and donate it to the thrift store (or buy it at the thrift store and then donate it back!).
- We also had luck renting a high chair through Craigslist.
- If you plan to hike or attend local festivals/farmer’s markets, a baby/toddler backpack is invaluable. We’ve taken our big Kelty Carrier twice now, but I have recently discovered the more compact Kelty TC Carrier and will use that in the future. I also love our Ergo Baby Carrier to carry small ones through the airport and on shorter walks.
- Most airlines will accept strollers, carseats and baby backpacks as checked baggage at no additional charge – HOWEVER, you should consider gate-checking the car seat to protect it from damage in the cargo hold (and that way you’ll have it if there’s an open seat on the flight). If you do check a stroller, use a stroller Gate Check Bag to protect it as most airlines refuse to cover damage to strollers. Clearly mark all checked luggage items with your contact information and your destination (not home) address.
At the Airport/Security
- First and foremost, give yourself plenty of time to get there, park, get through security, find your gate, etc. Everything takes longer with small children in tow and air travel is no exception.
- If you haven’t flown much out of your local airport (or you have a connection in an unfamiliar airport), visit the airport’s website to learn where the gates are, how you transfer between terminals, and if there are any kid-friendly diversions for layover entertainment.
- Visit the TSA website to learn about the regulations for traveling with medication, breastmilk, juice, formula, etc. I always print out the page as insurance to prevent any of those items being confiscated.
- Whenever possible, check as much luggage as you can and use the skycaps. Yes, it is annoying and expensive to have to pay, but it will save your sanity as you try to get through security and the airport with little children. We bought a large rolling duffel from Costco that just squeaked in under the airline’s baggage restrictions and fit everyone’s clothing/gear.
- If you just can't bear to pay baggage fees, put your wheelie bag on double duty as a stroller - use the Traveling Toddler Car Seat Travel Accessory to easily transport your toddler and his/her carseat through the airport and on to the plane.
- Look for the "family" security lines. Even if you are a seasoned traveler, take the family line to give yourself a break – the agents are generally more patient, friendlier, and more willing to help fold down a stroller, corral a toddler or smile at a fussy baby.
Many airlines have eliminated early boarding for families, but if yours still offers it, we have found that it works best to send one adult on board to set up the carseat(s). The other adult stays in the boarding area with the kids to give them a chance to go potty, get the wiggles out, and spend the least amount of time possible cramped up in the plane. Being the last folks to board the plane means you head right to your seat, strap the kids in, and you're off!
Pack a reasonable amount of toys, but a ton of snacks - hungry kids are crabby kids and they cannot understand why they have to wait for the FA to bring overpriced boxed lunches (and not every kid will devour marinated olives like mine do).
Think small, quiet, and basic when it comes to toys:
- Super Sticky Post-Its are fun to stick all over and then pull off - that will last at least 10 minutes!
- Plastic cups and empty beer/soda cans make noise when you crinkle them, and ice cubes are fun to scoot around the tray table.
- Pom Poms, a zip top baggie and a magnetic lipstick case with a mirror was endless entertainment for my 2 1/2 year old (yes, they're a choking hazard, so beware).
- SkyMall can be used for I Spy or "count the doggies".
- Your aircraft may have seat back TVs, which could turn out to be your best friend (and most littles don't care if they have headphones, they're just mesmerized by the animation/puppets, etc).
- My kids don't watch much TV, but we love the Brainy Baby DVDs, particularly Shapes & Colors.
- Look up toddler friendly apps for the iPhone or iPod touch or download Dinosaur Train episodes to your device.
- Wear new (to the child) big beaded/jangly necklaces and bracelets to entertain him/her for an hour.
- One of my favorite mommybloggers asked her readers for suggestions on how to entertain her 9 month old on a flight, and the responses were quite creative (warning: she's got a pottymouth).
- Travel Kiddy makes travel entertainment kits for different age groups - they're reasonably priced, or make your own inspired by their suggestions.