My wife and I decided to split the team and take two separate trips this past weekend. While she took our four month old son down to Charlotte to visit her sister (his first flight!), I took M to visit some friends in D.C.
Both trips were a resounding success, but I thought I’d share about the experience of taking a toddler on a vacation alone. M is turning 3 in January, for reference.
Packing for a toddler is quite a bit easier than packing for an infant. Or maybe I just stress out less about it. For starters, Jess had the brilliant idea of putting each of M’s outfits into big ziplock bags so I wouldn’t get confused. Of course, I still managed to get super confused (put a dress on backwards, put on emergency clothes instead of regular, etc.) – but imagine how lost I would have been WITHOUT the ziplock bags.
Other than that, I went with my normal strategy – extra diapers (potty training only 50% complete) and clothes in a bag inside the car seat bag, small carry on sized suitcase for everything else.
Overall, we traveled with the suitcase, car seat bag (stuffed) and car seat, cheap stroller, my backpack, and M’s backpack (which she just put miscellaneous toys in).
As I had mentioned, I paid for seats like a sucker (Deal Mommy posted about a better way). Minors under the age of 18 don’t need ID but I brought M’s passport in case, and we both have Global Entry and TSA Precheck so security was a breeze.
Article 1 – Legislating the Flight
I think I may have read somewhere that with toddlers you shouldn’t talk about exciting things too far in advance because they don’t have much of a concept of time. I don’t know if it’s too early or whatever but I had already asked M if she wanted to take the trip with me two weeks in advance so she knew it was coming. We pretty much talked about flying on a plane every single day for the two weeks leading up to it.
Thus, when we got to the airport, she was ready to go. She kept asking questions – “Where’s the luggage going?”, “Why does my stroller have to go under the plane?”, “When do we get to go on the plane?”
It’s amazing how fast kids pick up on things. At security, M saw me put our bags on the conveyor belt – for the rest of the trip, she put her own backpack up there (all the museums we visited had security plus TSA on the way back).
M was great on the flight – she spent preboarding and the first half of the flight talking to her doll about what was happening and taking care of it (mostly involving “reading” the doll books and giving it stickers), and then she spent some time watching a Youtube video of children song compilations.
She doesn’t get any screentime at home so she was super into it. Eventually I told her to take a break, and she did without a fuss (phew!). Ultimately, she picked up the tablet again, figured out how to unlock it (no passcode but still), and then found Alphabet Aquarium, which I didn’t even remember downloading. That helped her finish off the flight.
One funny thing – for some reason M believed that window shades should be closed for takeoff and landing – and seated in the window seat she made sure she complied with that rule. I know some airlines do that, though AA doesn’t.
Anyway, only a one hour flight, but zero meltdowns and the return flight was so uneventful it’s not even worth writing about. I’m not sure how Jess felt (though H apparently was a champ), but I definitely think 1 on 1 was less stressful for me than how I imagined 2 on 2 would have been.
Article 2 – Executive Decision Making
Leslie from Trips with Tykes once wrote about not stressing the nap when traveling with a toddler. I decided to take that to heart and also to its extreme – I didn’t stress bedtime the night we got there. After lugging the stupid car seat through the DCA terminal (when will I learn my lesson), and after taking forever to figure out how to work the radio on our fancy schmancy rental car (a hybrid!), and after M went nuts with my friend’s daughter’s toys – she didn’t get to bed until 11 PM – 3 hours past due.
I took this kind of laissez faire attitude towards naps/sleeping the entire trip – if we couldn’t stay on a strict schedule I just let it go. It ended up working out fine, she did most of her napping in the car and never really was overtired throughout the whole weekend.
Article 3 – Judicious use of Time
I’ve mentioned a million times that we are going to Disney World in a few months. The Unofficial guide recommends that you test your child’s stamina before going to Disney, so I decided to see what M was made of.
So Friday morning, after eating breakfast, we went in to the city. Over the course of about 5 hours we went to the Air and Space museum, the Museum of the American Indian, and the National Zoo – spending about an hour at each place.
A quick note on each. For Air and Space, I think it’s much better for older kids – there’s not enough hands on stuff for toddlers to do. M just ended up boarding and deplaning the DC-7 they have there like 10 times.
I actually just went to the Museum of the American Indian for lunch originally, but then noticed they have a special exhibit for kids right now based on the Great Inka Road. Essentially, there are a lot of fun hands on activities for kids of all ages. M was especially excited because they give each of the kids passports and the exhibit is littered with stamps to get. There is also an arts and crafts station, a skateboarding simulator (okay?), and the chance to build your own igloo (for older kids).
We ended our day at the zoo, which is free although parking costs $22. My least favorite part of the zoo? It’s on a huge hill and I had to push a stroller up that entire thing. But elephants are cool, the apes are super cool (apparently the orangutans have free reign to climb structures between buildings, over the park), and we saw a panda even though it was sleeping.
We definitely pushed the envelope, did a ton of walking, but M handled it all in stride. It actually reminded me of the time Jess and I were in Paris and had the Museum Pass – Jess hated it because I made her go see every single thing and she didn’t get to enjoy anything (fair enough). That strategy worked much better with a toddler’s attention span!
Within 24 hours, M and I had taken D.C. by storm. If the trip had ended there it would have been a resounding success, but there was some more low key fun to be had the next day. Stay tuned.
Wow, M is growing up so quickly!