Saturday, March 26, 2011

This is How We Roll (Part Four: What to Pack--Amusements)

And now the fun part:  Amusement Bags!

Oh, where to begin... This is my favorite part of packing.  More fun than the trip itself, sometimes... I try to pack at least one toy I know they love, and a whole bunch of new stuff they've never/rarely seen.  I keep the new toys for the next trip put a way in a closet so they're fresh for next time.

Ol' Standbys for Littles:
  • Crayola Color Wonder markers and paper
  • Aquadoodle travel pad
  • (1-5 years) books (i spy and waldo books take forever to finish)
  • (18 mos+) small cars
  • (2+) static cling sticker books
  • kaleidoscopes, binoculars (around 3 Little 1 went through a phase of wanting to look through things)
  • (18 mos+)spinning wands*
*Please allow me a moment here to discuss the greatest airline toy of all time.  It's called a spinning wand.  It has lights.  It spins around.  It vibrates a tiny bit.  When Little 1 saw it on the plane the first time, it was love at first sight.  They are super fun on a night flight or when you pull the shade.  Sometimes they do have sounds so make sure the one you get doesn't make annoying noises.  Also, try to test them in the store.  They're pretty fragile and often don't even make the trip to the store.  They're also cheap so when they spin themselves into oblivion, you can replace it easily.

And for Tinies:
  • (12-18 mos) two or three mega blocks to put together and take apart
  • (12-18 mos) an empty CD case or small bag to practice zippers
  • (6mos-5years) plastic slinky springs
  • (6-18 mos) empty mint boxes to open and close
  • (0-12 mos) rattles or other "noise makers" for distracting purposes
  • (0-5) party blow-outs that don't make noise
  • (3 mos-4 years) puppets
  • (0-3 years)toe games*
*I accidentally found out that Little 1 loved toe games as we were landing late one night.  We were coming down, he had to be put back in his car seat, and most of the cabin was fast asleep.  He was getting cranky and wasn't having any toy as a distraction.  Out of desperation, I grabbed his foot and bonked his nose with it.  It surprised him and he laughed.  He laughed the whole rest of landing.  It still works on Little 2 who's three! 

Surprise Favorites:
  • flapping fish (A little fish with a pull string meant for the bath.  Pull the string and the tail flaps.  Little 1 said it was his favorite toy that trip.)
  • I Spy Bag (A bag filled with plastic pellets and small shapes.  It's really meant for babies, but my then two year old loved it and still does at three.)
  • brush/mirror compact (They fought over these.  It's a little compact size mirror with a brush that pops out.  Good grief you never saw such a fuss!  Come to think of broke.  I'd better find a replacement quick!)

Disappointments, but might be great for your kids:
  • lacing cards
  • stencils
Trying this time:
  • card games (The Sandwich Game for both, Go Fish for Little 1)
  • regular coloring books/crayons
  • basketball game
  • pinwheels
  • felt book (Modified.  The book itself is too big, but I'm using some of the pieces and rolling them up in a piece of felt.  If I get super crafty and find the time I might make a little scene.)
  • dry erase puzzles

Stuff to stay away from:
  • Balls (They get thrown.  Like, across the plane.)
  • Things with lots of little parts
  • Gel clings (I learned this the hard way.  Little 1 eats them.)
  • Stickers
  • Markers that leave marks
  • Play doh (maybe, depends on the kid)

Here is a pic of most of the stuff in my amusement closet....

color wonder paper and markers, puppet, pinwheels, stencil, felt book, coloring/activity books, travel aquadoodle, spinning wand, lacing card, wipeable activity cards, no noise party blow out, playing cards, wooly willy, I spy bag, rainbow disk, sunglasses, kaleidoscopes, magna doodle, brush/mirror compact set, stretchy bracelet keyrings, ball maze, paper fan, Jacob's ladder, wind up toys, slinkys, carabiners, tiny keychain flashlight, matchbox cars.  (in the original display, but not in this picture: Mardi Gras beads, static-cling sticker books)


This has been really fun for me.  I hope I've given you some ideas you can use.  I'm always on the lookout for better ways to pack, new snack products, and quiet toys.  I'll be sure to update you with what I find!

Friday, March 25, 2011

This is How We Roll (Part Three: What to Pack--Food)

Now that I've covered what bags to bring, I thought I'd talk a little about what to pack in them.  The big suitcase is easy: clothes, shoes, and toiletries bag.  Whatevs.  But what to bring to eat?

Eating is a big part of my "Amusing the Kids" arsenal.  As such, the food bag is a big deal in my house.

If you haven't heard about Pirate's Booty yet, you have got to go right now and find some.  Buy it off the net if you have to.  It's really yummy.  My guys get it as a treat when they're on the plane.  I try to pack snacks they actually like that are relatively healthy, don't take up too much space, and will fill them up pretty well.  Pirate's Booty takes up a huge amount of space, is only remotely healthy, and isn't very filling, but they love it and it has gotten us out of some big, ugly jams when things were beginning to melt down.  You could say it saves our booties.  (Oh yes I did...)

Another of my favorite snacks for kids are applesauce pouches.  They come in a variety of flavors from different manufacturers, Trader Joe's has the cheapest that I've found.  (GoGoSqueez is pictured here). I've seen similar pouches full of baby food in Babies R Us, which I think is a fabulous idea.   I don't mind spending a little more money for something that's conveniently packaged for flights.  Sucking something from a pouch is a hundred times easier than dealing with spoons and cups with foil wrappers that explode all over your shirt (I'm looking at you, Gerber...).

Other ideas:
  • Dried fruit (I used to buy the boxes of Brother's freeze dried fruit from Costco, but it's all made in China and that's a little scary to me.  So now I buy Just Tomatoes brand products.  They're more expensive, but I feel they're safer plus, they also have some organic products.)
  • Trail mix (I almost always have a package or two for the adults just to keep us going.  Trader Joe's has great pre-packaged serving size portions of some nuts and trail mix, but if I don't have time to get there, I just baggie some bulk bin trail mix.)
  • Pretzels
  • Goldfish (the only time my boys get colored goldfish is on airplanes, they go nuts!)
  • Cheerios, rice puffs, or other dry cereal
  • Fruit bars/leather (Archer Farms, Target's generic, has some great fruit leather strips and bars that are just fruit juice.  They also have some little gummy "candies" made from fruit juice.  And apparently, they also have some organic versions, too.)  Oooh and LaraBars!
  • Yogurt tubes (pre-frozen, so by lunch time they're thawed but not too warm and also serve to cool the bag some)
  • Babybel cheese or string cheese  (Added benefit to Babybel is my two love to play with the wax!)
  • Fresh fruit, but try to think of some that don't have peels or cores to dispose of such as berries or pre-peeled oranges.  Nothing like packing up to come home and finding a week old banana peel in your luggage!
I have already sung the praises of the Sassy lunch sets.  I usually pack a lunch in addition to all the brib--- uh... snacks...

Little's Lunch:
  • Some sort of protein, usually left-over from dinner the night before maybe chicken, maybe beans
  • carrots or other veg
  • frozen peas (in the green compartment, obviously!)
  • juice or milk box (yes, they do make shelf stable milk, it's not horrible...)
These go directly out of the fridge into the food bag to stay as cold as possible.  The frozen pea container helps a lot with this, too.

I found a some inexpensive lunch boxes by bramli at Target a couple of years ago.  I don't think they sell them any more, but you can still find them online.  They are not watertight, so I pack accordingly.

Adult Lunch:
Usually hummus with carrots and pita bread on the way out, whatever I can scrounge together from leftovers from the trip on the way home, maybe a sandwich with some fruit and/or veg.  We drink whatever the airline is giving out free, though some airlines are even charging for water and soda now.  Some travelers have suggested bringing refillable water bottles and that's not a bad idea.  We also buy two big waters in the terminal if we have a chance.

Whatever it is, I don't pack the fork or knife because I don't want a hassle with the security team, so it's finger food.  Also, you can't bring ice packs or blocks on planes these days, so try to think of things that don't require refrigeration.

Also, a lot of people suggest nursing or giving your little one a drink to soothe ears during landing and take off.  Neither of my boys have ever seemed to actually notice.  But it doesn't hurt to have a little something ready just in case. 

Finally--now, I've never done this-- but some parents swear by it: Cookies.  A little bribe here and there won't kill anyone and it might keep some of the glaring to a minimum.  Cookies would never work with my kids, because as soon as they found out about them the whining would begin, followed by decent upon the cookies like ravenous beasts, followed by yet more whining because the cookies were all gone.  I prefer to pack treats they like, but aren't crazy for.  You know your own kids.  If you think you can handle it, go for it!

Next up: The Activities Bags!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This is How We Roll (Part Two: Packing)

 I talked about seating in Part One of this series because where you sit directly effects how many carry-ons you have to pack.  And know...carry through a crowded airport while keeping track of one or more small, uncooperative humans.

Here is what most airlines allow: one carry-on per ticketed passenger plus one personal item (purse, laptop, diaper bag). My #1 tip for travel with Littles is: Pay the extra and get all your kids a seat, no matter what the age.  And it's my number one tip not for safety (which I suppose is a consideration) but for the carry-ons.  With this age, one more bag to shove diapers and spare clothes into is huge!

I pack one bag just for food.  One for amusement per kid, and a diaper bag (where I shove my small purse).  Hubby usually packs a backpack for a laptop, camera, etc, keeping both hands open for car seats and wrangling.  We can usually manage to pack our clothes into one large suitcase, though with Little 1 growing larger, we've moved his clothes into his carry-on.  It depends on the destination, too.  Heavy winter clothes take up more room than shorts and tees, obviously.

Here are a few more packing tips:
  • A thin blanket and a neck pillow are great additions for the kid's carry-ons to make naps a little more comfortable.  When they were babies, I used to cover them in those swaddling blankets from the hospital, but they've outgrown them now... sigh...
  • When packing, keep in mind spare hands for carrying car seats on board and wrangling monkeys.  Backpacks are great for this.  Mine started rolling/wearing their backpacks reliably around 2 1/2.  But don't count on little ones to pull their own weight.  Tired, overstimulated kids can be less than consistent with luggage duty.
  • Don't forget about luggage carts.  If you've got two car seats, two kids, four carry-ons and no more sanity, it might be worth the quarter to get from one end of the concourse to the other.  (We're usually running so late we don't have time to stop and load one up, but that's on us...)
  • Remember all the don'ts when you're packing your carry-ons. (Leave those throwing stars and hatchets in the checked bags, ladies.) Now that they're letting water on board again, it's gotten a lot easier to pack lunch.
  • And speaking of security, dress your kids in shoes that are easy to take on and off, no belts, no matchbox cars in the pockets, nothing you have to remember when you're busy trying to get everybody through the line.
  • Remember your 3-1-1.
 Next up in this series: Packing the Food!

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    This is How We Roll (Part One: Seating Assignments)

    Over the years I have revised our travel strategy. We have tried a couple of different products for keeping the kids strapped into the airline seat (there will be reviews of these eventually) but for this series, I'm going to stick to packing the food and toys and the best seat assignment layout we've discovered.

    When we had just one child, it was pretty easy, Dad by the window, kid in the middle, Mama on the aisle. Until Little 2 came along, we never really thought about it. But as soon as he showed up, we realized we had no idea what we were doing.

    Once, we tried two kids, one Mom, Dad in a different row. Yield: 1 tired Mama.

    Then, we wised up and decided to put parents on the aisle, kids in the middle, stranger on the window. Yield: The stewardess informed us that unless the person at the window was related to the child, they don't want infant seats in the middle, particularly if they protrude past the edge of the airline seat. And we had two annoyed fellow passengers who had to give up their window seats.

    Then, we tried kids on the window, parents in the middle,stranger on the aisle. Yield: A lot of extra bags packed with the same stuff so we didn't have to pass things over the middle of the row. And two kids who were missing the absent parent. But we made it and didn't have to inconvenience anybody so we flew like this for a while.

    Then, one glorious, fateful trip, we had a travel planner book a flight for us. The "duh" bulb went on when I noticed she had us in rows behind each other. Kids on the windows, parents in the middle one in front of the other. So much easier! Though she did have us booked the row behind the exit row. Yield: We still had to move and displace two people and we learned that kids in car seats not only can't be in the exit row, they also can't be in the rows behind or in front of the exit row.

    These days, my boys climb underneath the seats to get back and forth to each other, which keeps them occupied and gets out some of the willies.  Not sure how safe it is but we haven't been yelled at by an attendant yet...  It also makes it easier to hand out snacks and share toys.

    I've read other advice saying you should try to book seats near the bathrooms because the extra traffic will keep the boogers entertained.  This is certainly good advice for those traveling with potty trainers, but as far as the entertainment factor is concerned it's hit or miss.  If you're the last row before the bathrooms, the kids don't have anybody to look at when they look behind them.  We have gotten a lot of mileage out of the people in the seats behind us interacting with our little monkeys.  When our oldest was about 2 he learned how to make a new face from a passenger behind him.  He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen and kept making the face our entire vacation.  Now that's quality entertainment!

    Once we had the seats ironed out, it really streamlined our carry-on baggage situation.  Stay tuned for Part Two: Packing!

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Quick Tip Tuesday

    If you're unsure if a new toy will keep your child's interest on the plane, bring it with you to for a trail run!  Grocery shopping, put the kid in the cart and let him test it.  Waiting for a sibling in swim class, let her give it a whirl.  Waiting in line at the library, waiting for food at a restaurant, church, in the car...anywhere you've got a little time to fill while you are not entirely enclosed in a tiny tube located thousands of feet off the ground speeding along at 500 MPH.  If your little one really likes it, hide it till your flight.  If not, put it in with the regular toy rotation.  You never know, it might become a favorite down the road!

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    New Haul!

    Every time we go on a trip I try to bring the boys a mix of new toys and old favorites.  We're going on a trip at the end of the month and I've been scouring the shops.  I love to find quiet toys in the dollar bin at Target or, as in the case with these toys, at the dollar store.  The gumball containers have a basketball game in the lid.  I think I'm going to empty out the gumballs and use the tube to hold crayons or maybe some trail mix.  I might give the boys gum as a reward, but they're not getting it on the plane! I'm working on a short series of posts about seat selection and packing, but I wanted to share these, I'm geeked!  I'll let you know what the boys think when we get back...