Top 10 Tips: Traveling with Toddlers (and Infants):

Observation Deck at the Haneda Airport Tokyo.

Those that know me know I have a strong love for travel. When asked where do I want to visit, my answer is always the same: Everywhere! But I seldom travel alone (or even just with the hubs). I almost always have my two under two with me, and although I would never say it’s easy, it’s definitely possible.

I understand that just the thought of traveling with young children is enough to cause anxiety even in the most tolerant parent; however, don’t let children be an excuse not to see the world.

My kids have flown seven international flights, countless domestic, over 32,000 miles and have spent over 82 hours on the plane in the last 12 months. Even though its tempting, leave the Xanax at home, and check out my Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Toddlers (and infants):

Day 1 on my flight back home from Florida to Japan-just the kiddos and me. Did I overpack?

1.  Car Seat Strap: This suggestion only applies if you’re bringing your own car seat. This tip I learned the hard way. Before discovering the Cares Harness (tip # 4) I brought Maddox’s carseat on the plane. He was comfortable in it, and it made things much easier for longer flights; however, waiting to board was incredibly difficult. I had to push a stroller, hold onto my carryons, and balance a car seat on top. Turtles could have passed me, but then I came across the Car Seat Strap. This strap wraps through the handle of a carry on and connects to a car seat. Since we were loading Maddox’s car seat directly on the plane, this seemed like a way I could strap Maddox in, and then just use my moby wrap for Asher. It took a couple of practice run throughs before I had mastered it, but it ended up being a huge help. Throughout the airport, we were stopped multiple times and asked where we got the strap. We even had our picture taken.

Rolling through the airport. The car seat strap made everything so much easier, especially if flying alone.

Maddox absolutely loved it since he could “ride” through the airport. . When it was time to board, we simply unstrapped it (approximately 10 seconds), threw the strap in the diaper bag and loaded on the plane. (This could also be beneficial if you’re taking your car seat on your trip, but don’t plan on having your child sit in it on the plane. Car seats can always be gate checked-just bring a protective bag.).

2. Night Flights: I cannot express this tip enough! If given the choice, book a night flight. Ten minutes before we board a flight, we change the kids and put them in their pajamas. Once on the flight, we settle in our toddler, give him some milk and read him a book. We try to keep all of our nightly rituals as close to home as possible, down to brushing his teeth. The flights provide pillows and blankets (and the attendants have always offered us more), so we make him as comfortable as possible. Most of the time, he is asleep before we even take off, which allows us to get some shut eye as well. The only issue we have with night flights is they are quiet, so if Maddox wakes up, he tends to start crying. Be prepared if your child suddenly wakes. We keep pacifiers near by, his singing bear, and adjust him as quickly as possible to get him back to sleep.

Asher getting some shuteye on our flight to Australia.

3. Bassinet: Every commercial plane has it’s own style of bassinet. Once an airline ticket is booked, customers should call the airline as soon as possible and request a bassinet for their infant (first come, first served). If available, the parent(s) seat assignment will change to accommodate the request. The bassinets are located in front of the bulkhead seats (the seats right behind the walls that separate the different classes), and once the seatbelt sign is turned off, the flight attendants will attach it on for use. Not only does the bassinet allow parents to lie their child down for periods at a time, but the extra leg room is a major bonus. Even though there isn’t any under seat storage, after take off bags can then be placed in front of you (still with plenty of leg room). Having anything you need at a hands reach, makes it much more convenient than having to constantly stand up to get more formula, diapers, or toys.

The bassinet on our Quantas flight.

4. Cares Harness: Children can remain in a parent’s lap until the age of 2; however, when Maddox was a year and a half old, we flew with him from Japan to Florida, and it was a miserable experience. He slept most of it across our laps, but we had to remain as still as possible because when he wakes up, he wakes up screaming! After that, I knew it was time to just get him his own ticket (even though we had to pay his seat, tickets are still discounted quite a bit for young children). Unless a child under two is in a car seat, they have to sit in your lap at take off and landing with one exception: they are using the Cares Harness. The Cares Harness is the ONLY FAA-approved child harness and takes less than a minute to strap to the seat. It’s incredibly safe and fits the child much like a car seat. Once the seat belt sign is turned off, the harness can be adjusted to make it more comfortable, or we even just put the normal seatbelt on him. Call and confirm with the airline that you are bringing a harness, but we have never had an issue. In fact, on our flight to Australia, the attendant even told us that the harness we had was the only one Qantas airlines approved!

5) Moby Wrap: If you’re traveling with an infant, obviously requesting the bassinet is the first step, but what if its unavailable? As much as you love your baby, holding him/her the entire time on a long flight will get old. Even with the bassinet, I would wrap my son up for at least some duration on the plane. It allowed me to be hands free, he liked it, and it was comfortable. Babies can’t be wrapped at take off or landing (or going through security for that matter), but the rest of the flight was a breeze. I personally love my Moby Wrap, but any kind of cloth wrap should work fine. I would just avoid bulky carriers like the Ergo. With multiple ways to wrap your child, there is bound to be something that works.

Flight from Texas to California. Just the three of us.

6) Quart-sized Zip lock bags (organization): In the past, my husband and I would shove a bunch of toys into our carry on. When Maddox needed something else to play with, we would have to take the entire carry on down from the above compartment to get just a couple of toys out. Heaven forbid Maddox see the carry on full of toys because regardless of what we pulled, he would make a fit to get something else. Anyone that has been on a plane knows that getting up, getting something out of your carry on, putting it back and getting readjusted is not the easiest task in the world (See tip #3). Try doing it several times throughout a single plane ride. We often have multiple connecting flights, so with several plane rides ahead, I had to come up with something easier, especially if I’m also holding a baby. Each zip lock bag is full of certain styles of toys. I have my book bag, my coloring/sticker bag, my noisemaker bag (they really aren’t that loud, promise), etc. Every bag is themed and can go together, so when I bring out a different one later, it is an entirely new set of activities. It’s very easy to just reach in and grab a bag. I don’t even look at what I’m taking out of the carry-on!  (Bonus tip: In the weeks leading up to the flight, pick up cheap toys, coloring books, activity pads, etc from the local dollar store. Hide them, or go ahead and start organizing them in your zip lock bags. That way, your child(ren) has lots of new and exciting toys on the plane).

7) Lots of snacks: For the love of all things good and holy, do not rely on airplane food to feed your kids. My son ate a roll on the 10 hour flight to Australia, even though he was given every meal that we received. A roll! Thankfully, we had two ziplock bags full of his favorite snacks. We filled one with multiple fruit and veggie packs, his favorite crackers, some fruit, etc. The other had the fun snacks that we used for the pill box (goldfish, teddy grahams, animal crackers, etc.). I wanted to bring snacks that I knew he loved (sorry, let’s save the kale chips for home), but that wouldn’t give him too much of a tummy ache. One mistake we made on one of our first international flights is we brought packaged toddler meals. Again, we brought the favorites (macaroni and cheese is a staple). The issue we ran into is airlines do not have microwaves. For some reason, that didn’t even cross our minds. A flight attendant was able to help us out by heating some water and letting the meal sit for awhile, but it honestly wasn’t worth it. Save the heated meals for home or your actual destination.

Getting my snacks prepared and organized in the ziplock bags.

8. Pill box: I happened to stumble upon this genius idea while researching snacks to bring on the plane and thought I would give it a try. Maddox has a lot of energy but not a long attention span. When I find activities for him, I am really hoping to get a solid 5, maybe 10 minutes of his focus, and then I need to be ready to move onto the next “game.” I purchased a pill box from our local Dollar Store. The pill box bought me a good 45 minutes three different times on our long plane ride stretches! We are talking over two hours of focused activity, people! In each section of the pill box, I loaded some of Maddox’s favorite snacks (goldfish, animal crackers, gummies-remember, I’m looking to keep his attention. I will save the healthy veggies for at home). He would open a container, eat the snacks, and close it before moving on to the next one. After all the snacks were eaten, he just enjoyed opening and closing the compartments for a bit. I didn’t hesitate to reload the sections to “play” again. I do know of some who use each part of the pill box for small toys such as miniature dinosaurs or race cars. For my son, those toys don’t hold his concentration more than a few seconds, but give him some goldfish=winner! My husband made sure to tell me, “Do not forget the pill box on our next trip.”

Pill box-don’t board a flight without it!

8) Electronics: I know some parents are against letting your child(ren) use electronics at a young age. I understand, and if this tip isn’t for you, just skip it; however, I will do close to anything to have a peaceful plane ride for not only me, but the passengers around me and that means occasionally breaking out the electronics. Our go-to is the Ipad. Before we travel, we load the Ipad up with lots of toddler friendly games. We NEVER give him the Ipad at the beginning of the trip. We often wait until he is starting to get really restless, and our ziplock toys just are cutting it at that moment. His whole face lights up, and he will usually play for a good hour. We often have to help him, but toddlers catch on quickly! In addition, on international flights, we have access to a plethora of movies, so we put on one of his favorite cartoons, give him some snacks, and he is good for quite awhile. He absolutely hates earbuds, so he wears his Cozyphones or occasionally wants my husband’s Bose headphones, which he gets. 😉

Maddox just relaxing and watching some cartoons before “bed.”

9) Diapers, Formula, & extra outfits: Pack what you think you would need and then double it. I tend to pack one diaper for every hour of the flight, plus a couple of extras for check in and luggage pickup. I also bring a brand new packet of wipes and am never surprised when I’ve practically gone through the entire container by the time we land. The bathroom has a changing table that simply folds down, and although its small, it is convenient to have a location where the kids can be changed. I also have a formula feeding baby, and throughout my day-to-day life, the three section formula dispensers are great, but for a flight, leave them in the checked suitcase. Bring the whole flipping formula container! I always have a fresh, never opened one to bring so that I know I have enough. Don’t think you need that much? I recently had a friend stuck on the tarmac for five hours. It was only a four-hour flight! That is nine hours on the plane. Make sure you have enough food for your baby, and plan for the unexpected. Finally, bring each child at least one change of clothes. As stated in Tip #2, I put my children in pajamas right before boarding the aircraft, but I still bring another set for my toddler and two extra sets for my infant. My toddler can sometimes make it through the entire flight without having to change clothes. My infant-never!

10) Take Off/Landing Ear Popping: At takeoff and landing, make sure your kids are sucking on a pacifier, eating snacks, or drinking. It will help with their ears and keep them from being in pain. The LAST thing you need is for a cry fest to begin because they can’t get their ears to pop. If he’s not already asleep, we tend to hide our toddler’s evening milk until take off because we know he will down it .(It also shows that it is bedtime, so GO TO SLEEP). We almost always have a bottle prepped and ready to give our baby as well.

After traveling on four flights (two completely solo) from Florida to Japan with my munchkins.

Every time we travel somewhere knew, we think of something that we want to add to our next trip to make it even easier to with our small children. What tips do you have that make traveling a breeze?

Touring the Land Down Under

Australia is a popular bucket list item for a lot of people, myself included, but it was always in the far off distance. “I want to go to Australia one day,” I had so often said, so when my husband, Jesse, started putting together a summer trip for us, I was beyond ecstatic.

Since Sydney is such a big, sought-after area, we decided to spend our full eight days there, and we were so glad we did. We were never at a lack of something to do, and Sydney surpassed any expectations we might have had. In fact, Sydney, Australia took our number 1 spot for favorite destinations (as of now). The best description I can give is it was a mix between Seattle and San Francisco with a sprinkle of New York City and the weather of Tampa Bay. For us, it was perfect.

Jesse was able to take leave in June, so we planned our outback adventure to coincide with our birthdays. What a birthday present! Australia’s seasons are the opposite of the States (and Japan for that matter) so even though we left in our summer, it was their winter. The temperature remained in the nice mid-60s, and we both agreed that if this was their “winter” we might never leave. The locals were obvious. They were the ones with huge down jackets, beanies, and gloves. The tourists had light cardigans and shorts.

TIP: EVERY person visiting Australia MUST apply (and pay) for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA/Tourist Visa). We didn’t know this, and could not get our boarding tickets until this was completed. We had to find a free wifi spot, visit the site (below) and complete the form. It takes only about 5 minutes, but since we were traveling with four (yep, infants have to have one too), it took us about half an hour. Fortunately, we arrived three hours prior to boarding, so we had the time, but we were told by a Qantas employee that she has witnessed several tourists who arrived within an hour or so from their flight and were unaware they needed the VISA. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it. Be prepared. Complete the form BEFORE you get to the airport. It’s about $20 per person, and you need your passport!

https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETAS3/etas

If you decide to take advantage of the weather and visit Australia in their winter, I highly recommend going during Vivid. Vivid is a three-week festival where the city is lit up by massive light displays.

View of Darling Harbour from our room

We didn’t even know about Vivid and coincidentally booked an airbnb overlooking Darling Harbor. Every night, we got to witness a spectacular light show accompanied with fireworks and music over the harbour. The opera house was lit up with different scenes and colors every night. There were ferries that could be taken and allowed visitors to see all the different displays. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful, and this year happened to be the 10th anniversary. Talk about our luck with timing!

View of Darling Harbour from our room

As usual, it was a family trip, so we had our munchkins tagging along. Even with them, there was no shortage of fun things to do. Here are our Top 10 recommendations if exploring Sydney (with or without children):

1) Australian museum:

Australian Museum

Our flight landed around 7 in the morning, but we couldn’t check in until 2pm, so we had to find something to do to kill a few hours. By the time we got through customs, grabbed our luggage, and had breakfast, we still had about five hours to kill. Typically, this wouldn’t have been such a tough decision, but on this particular day, it was raining, so that eliminated all outdoor tourists spots. Jesse absolutely loves museums (my love is actually growing for them too, but don’t tell him ;)) so we decided to start our vacation visiting the Australian Museum. We weren’t going to lug around two suitcases, plus carryons, so we grabbed a bagbnb a block away, dropped off our things, and started the tour. (Side note, bagbnb is amazing! Do NOT pay to store your luggage at an airport. It is very expensive. If you can store it at your hotel for free until check-in, great. If that isn’t an option, save some money and utilize this service).

Australian Museum

When purchasing tickets, guests have the option to ad on the Mammoth tour. DO IT! It’s only a few dollars more, but feels like an entirely separate museum, and there is a real baby mammoth on display (sad, but completely fascinating). The Museum’s main focus is on Australian animals, past and present, but there is also an entire aboriginal section with the history of how Australia came to be and dinosaur area with actual fossils.

Max looking at the baby mammoth.

We killed several hours there, and actually went past the 2:00pm check-in, so we had no issues once we left. If you like museums, than it is a no brainer to visit this place. If you’re on the fence, I promise you, it’s worth it.

Actual dinosaur fossil

2) Sea Life Aquarium:

Penguin exhibit at the Sea Life Aquarium

I was so excited about visiting the aquarium that it was our first stop on our second day. Australia is known for having some of the deadliest sealife in the world and lots and lots of sharks, so I was curious to see what all exotic creatures were displayed.

Sea Life Aquarium

Although I didn’t see the deadliest jellyfish or a great white, it was still pretty impressive. My family loved viewing the manatees, whale sharks, colorful fish and dozens more creatures of the Ocean. Also, guests can take advantage of a financial savings when purchasing aquarium tickets. We were given the option to purchase the “Sydney Big Ticket.” This allowed us access to not only the Sea life aquarium, but also The Sydney Tower, Madame Tussauds, Wild Life Sydney Zoo, and the 24 hour Hop-on Hop-off tour bus for only $99 per person (kids under 4 were free). Since we were interested in visiting at least the tower and touring the city on the bus, it was an easy decision for us to grab those tickets! (Tip-Get to the acquarium early. We were there before the doors opened and still had to wait about an hour to get in. Those who came later in the day had a two hour plus wait.)

Sea Life Aquarium

3) Wild Life Sydney Zoo/Madame Tussauds:

Crocodile show at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo

We knew we wanted to visit the Tarango Zoo, and I had been to a Madame Tussauds before, so if we had not purchased the the package deal, we most likely would not have visited these places; however, we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

Butterfly exhibit at Wild Life Sydney Zoo

The Wild Life Zoo focused just on animals and reptiles from Australia. It was not a huge zoo, but much bigger on the inside than it appeared. We were able to walk around and discover the deadliest snakes, massive crocodiles, hungry kangaroos, and a crazy Tasmanian devil.

The kids ended up passing out in the stroller, so this was the perfect time for Jesse and I to explore Madame Tussauds. He had never been to one, so it was a unique experience for him. This museum focused more on Australia’s founders and celebrities, so we saw Captain Cook, the Hemsworth brothers, Rebel Wilson, Mel Gibson, Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, etc. but there were still some good ol’ Americans sprinkled in such as Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

This Madame Tussauds did have some areas that allowed participation of guests such as a live recording studio, a model runway, and a chance for visitors to jump on an air vent with the iconic Marilyn Monroe and recreate her famous blown white dress scene. Visiting Madame Tussaud’s was a nice change of pace from all the animals and sea life we had already experienced during the day.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

4) Sydney tower:

View from the Sydney Tower

If one of our destinations has a tower, we are going to visit it! There is just something about being above the entire city and looking over its beauty that I absolutely love.

View from the Sydney Tower

The Sydney tower was a very simple stop to access. We waited about 5 minutes in line before entering the 4D cinema where we watched a 10-minute show that portrayed various angles of Sydney via a drone. After the movie, we walked onto the elevator and ascended 1,000 feet to the top.

View from the Sydney Tower

The 360 degree roof give guests every possible viewpoint, but if that’s not enough, and you’re a daring (and child free) individual, you can even participate in the tower’s Skywalk. The Skywalk places guests in individual harnesses and gives them an open air view. At around $60 a person, it’s a fairly affordable price for such an exhilarating experience.

View (and kisses) from the Sydney Tower

5) Hop-on hop-off bus:

 

Similar to the tower, if there was a city tour bus, we were going to be on it! There were two routes, each lasted an hour an a half. On our second full day, we took the loop that sent us by the Opera House, Botanical Gardens, and historical sites.

Route 2

The bus tour pass was only good for 24 hours, so we made sure to hop the second loop the following day, which focused more on beaches. Bondi beach was a huge tourist spot. Although we visited in the winter, and hadn’t planned on spending any time at the beach, it gave us the opportunity to drive by to see the stunning view. The cold water didn’t seem to bother everyone though since the ocean was full of surfers. Chilly or not, we made sure to sit on the open air top of the bus!

6) Opera House

Sydney Opera House

The Opera House was an obvious staple to visit, but both Jesse and I were surprised by how much we just loved being there.

Sydney Opera House

We didn’t tour the inside, but walked among the shops and had lunch at the outdoor restaurant. It was pricey, but as I said to my husband when he questioned eating there, “How often do we get to have lunch at the Opera House?” If I had been given the chance to actually attend an opera, I believe that would have been my most memorable experience. It didn’t happen for us, but maybe for you?

View of Circular Quay from the Sydney Opera House restaurant

7) Whale Watching:

Whale Watching Sydney

Growing up in Florida, I was used to dolphins, but whales? I had only seen whales in aquariums.

To have the opportunity to see them in their natural habitat was beyond amazing. We caught a three-hour whale watching tour out of Darling Harbor and weren’t on the ferry for 20 minutes before we saw our first spout. For the next two hours we saw up to 35 whales splash, blow, and breach. It was beautiful, peaceful, and mesmerizing. An experience that I would be happy to repeat. We used this company, and they were pretty great:

http://www.whalewatchingsydney.net/

Whale Watching Sydney

8) Shop ’til you drop:

Outside of QVB

The multi-story Queen Victoria Building (referred to QVB) was built and completed in 1898 during a time of severe recession and specifically built to accommodate warehouses, coffee shops, tradespeople, and a concert hall.

When we entered the Romanesque architecture , we immediately heard a a pianist playing ballads from the top floor that radiated among several stories. The mall boasted more unique, high end boutiques and after walking through, we took the elevator to the bottom floor (underground), and a new world opened up.

Inside of QVB

The QVB attached to the Westfield Mall. Walking through, we found more escalators that took us right back to street level, but blocks away from the QVB. We realized the shopping didn’t end there. Alleys upon alleys were lined with stores ranging from H&M and Gap to Gucci, Louis Vutton, and Christian Louboutin. Street performers entertained and there were countless restaurants. I was glad we  planned at least an entire day to shop.

Shopping down the main avenue

9) Tarongo Zoo:

 

We saved the zoo for the prettiest day of the week. One of my favorite parts about visiting the Tarango Zoo was the journey to get there.

View from the ferry
Close encounters at the Tarongo Zoo

We had to catch a 20 minute ferry from Darling Harbour that gave us incredible views, including a different angle of the Opera House.  Once we reached land, we then took a sky ferry up to the actual zoo. The Tarongo Zoo had the same animals and reptiles that the Wild Life Sydney Zoo had, but on a much grander scale. In addition, they also had the standard zoo mammals such as giraffes, elephants, gorillas, etc.  One thing that stood out to both Jesse and I was how close we could get to these creatures. Often, just a simple rope kept us away. The one exception was the Tiger Trek, which the zoo was very strict on keeping as close to their natural habitat as possible, meaning only a select number of guests could go into the Tiger exhibit at a time (and those tigers did not look happy to see us). It was wonderful zoo with absolutely breathtaking sights that are second to none.

View from Tarongo Zoo

10) Visit Darling Harbor:

Darling Harbour

We booked an airbnb overlooking Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is not only an attractive spot, it has quick access to anything: ferries, shopping, attractions, etc. With the exception of the bus and museum (both which were a 10 minute walk), all of our attractions left from Darling Harbour. On the opposite side of the Marina is a mall with loads of shopping and lots of dining restaurants.  Since we had a toddler and an infant, we tried to make our dining experience as easy as possible, so with the exception of eating at Hard Rock one night (also located at Darling Harbour), we ate at the food court each evening. There were tons of options (it is one of the largest food courts I have ever seen), so we never got bored. On the second floor, there were play areas for children, so after dinner, we would let Maddox play a bit. There was even a massage studio that I stepped into one evening for a foot reflexology session. I was able to watch Maddox through the glass play while I was pampered (don’t worry, Jesse stayed with him).

Darling Harbour

When Jesse and I visit places more than once, we always like to stay in different locations so we can get a variety of experiences. This is the first exception we’ve had where we both said we would stay at Darling Harbour again. Beauty plus convenience is hard to beat.

Bridge adjacent to Sydney Opera House