15 Tips for Stress-free Traveling with Little Children

If you’ve been following along on our blog, you’ll know that we just went on vacation in January and that it wasn’t our first time traveling with kids. In our two and a half years as parents, we have been on plenty of family excursions (Traverse City, Mackinac Island, Hocking Hills, Seattle, Vancouver, Kansas City, Washington D.C, and Florida/Bahamas) and while we are no travel experts, we have learned so much along the way (some of it the hard way). This post initially began as an overview of our Disney cruise trip but as we began hashing things out and as some of our new parent friends began asking us for travel advice, we realized it would be a good idea to write a separate post on general traveling advice.  Don’t worry, we are still working on our Disney Cruise post but until then, here are some general tips for traveling with little ones.

IMG_9274.jpg

 1. Plan, Plan, Plan. No advice we give will replace good old research and common sense. Basic things like weather, flight time, length of stay, etc… should be accounted for when packing and preparing. Whether it’s how much weight you can check in or whether you have to purchase a seat for your child, make sure you’re up to date on all the rules and regulations. We also recommend you write a general itinerary so you’re not guessing where to eat or go when you arrive. Once upon a time it was exciting to travel without any plans but as a parent there is nothing worse than listening to your child cry as you scroll through Yelp trying to decide whether to brave sitting in a restaurant or get takeout and scarf down your food in the car. Nothing.

2. Be mindful of your little one’s routine. Whether your travel destination involves flying, road tripping, theme parks or swimming at the beach, make sure your itinerary accommodates nap times and offers plenty of opportunities to be active. “Fussy, restless kids are real charmers,” said no one ever. Here are just some examples of how we choose to work around our children’s routines: 1) We plan departures early in the morning when they are well rested and happy 2) We don’t plan major activities during their nap time, 3) If we are driving, we make sure to stop and let them run around, 4) We are aware of their bathroom routines and make sure they have a comfortable place to go.

IMG_1369.jpg

3. Be completely packed early the day before and get a good night’s rest. Unfortunately coffee cannot fix everything. A good night’s sleep is gold for you and your little one(s) and can mean the difference between you losing your cool or not. We like to have all of our outfits picked out and laying on the dresser the night before so that getting ready in the morning is a breeze. We also find that having our carry-ons packed with our passports, cards, chargers, snacks, etc… the night before means no scrambling and guesswork in the morning. The morning of your trip should run as smoothly as possible because let’s be real: leaving is the easiest part.

4. Take your car seat and rear view mirror with you. There’s really no need to buy any fancy gear for traveling. Simply grab your car seat and base after you’ve arrived at the airport and check it in with your luggage. Not only does it save you money but you also get the peace of mind knowing that your child is sitting in something clean and safe, considering that you don’t know where car seats from rentals have been or how outdated they are.

5. Take your stroller and don’t check it in until you get to the gate. The last kind of stress you need while you’re traveling is having to chase after your little one(s) while checking in or going through security. Keep your kid(s) and any small items contained in a stroller all the way until you get to the gate. I repeat: Do not check your stroller in with your luggage (unless you don’t mind your arms falling off). One major bonus to hanging onto the stroller is that parents with small children and strollers are among the first priority when the plane gets boarded so take advantage while you can.

IMG_7836

6. Take backpacks for carry-ons. One backpack for each parent. This is pretty self-explanatory but you want to be as hands-free as possible and as unrestricted as possible. You need to be as swift as a ninja should the need arise and you certainly won’t be able to do that if you’re wheeling your stuff along or if you have a bag hanging off your shoulder.

7. Dress comfortably. Yeah we know every parent wants to be that cool mom and dad. But you know what’s not cool? Chasing after toddlers when you’re not dressed for the part. We like to keep it casual on the road with sneakers, jogger pants, and a light hoodie/cardigan. Don’t be a hero. If you nurse, wear something comfortable for nursing. If you want your experience with security to be as smooth as possible just skip the pants and belt and anything metallic for that matter.

8. Pack spare clothes for your little ones AND YOU. Out of the four flights we’ve been on, we’ve had 2 episodes of diaper blowout and one puke fest. The puke fest happened on us and guess who didn’t have a change of clothes? Us. Even if it’s just an extra top, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Trust us on this one.

9. Milk them during takeoff. If you’re flying and your little one(s) still nurses or takes formula then let them feast as the plane is taking off. Not only is it the perfect comfort and distraction but you may get an hour or more sleep time out of them. I’m speaking here as someone who successfully nursed my children to sleep during takeoff and found how much more bearable the flight was when they were asleep for half of it.

10. Prepare many forms of entertainment. Think like a bag of tricks or a busy box with age-appropriate distractions. In the past we’ve taken play dough, coloring and sticker books, stories, and new and favorite toys (nothing too noisy). More recently, and now that our son is over 2 years of age, we have made screen-time exceptions for him because, quite frankly, a miserable flight is not worth ruining our trip over. If you have a Netflix account, the majority of content available can be downloaded on a device for offline viewing (it expires after 48 hours but you can renew as long as you have wifi access).  We made sure to get our son the perfect sized headphones and we downloaded plenty of Curious George to get us through the 2.5 hour flight to Florida.

IMG_1494

11. Take lots of snacks. There’s no such thing as too many snacks. It’s worth mentioning that young children under 3 are the exceptions to the TSA liquid restrictions so pouches, pumped breast milk, formula, baby food…all those things you can take with you and you should. For us, food is one of those things that gets our kids to quiet down especially when they know they’re about to try something new so we suggest you pack a variety of snacks and pack something they haven’t tried. We guarantee that it will get you some good fuss-free mileage. Here are some of the non-perishable snacks we’ve been taking on our latest trips: Mango pouches, dried fruit or fruit leather, crackers, lara bars, apple sauce, and rice cakes. Be sure that if you’re traveling with perishable food that you pack it appropriately.

12. Pack an empty sippy cup and/or baby bottles. Staying hydrated is important and we find that it’s much easier to do that on the go when we travel with the right supplies. When we fly, we pack an empty sippy cup (we also take a canteen for ourselves) in our carry on and once we pass through security we fill it up at a water fountain. It’s an easy way for us to make sure we are drinking water while being environmentally friendly. The same goes for milk or formula. Pack an empty bottle in your carry-on and you can fill it up when the need arises.

13. Pack some baby-proofing essentials. Apparently baby-proofed hotel rooms are like unicorns. They don’t exist. From sharp-cornered furniture to unsecured TV stands to heavy lamps and messy cords ( I can go on), every hotel we’ve been in has been the stuff of parent nightmares. If you want some extra peace of mind, we suggest taking just a few baby proofing essentials: outlet covers, cabinet locks, and some cut up pool noodles for edge guards.IMG_9060

14. Rent an SUV or Mini-Van. There are plenty of ways to cut costs while traveling but this is one area we don’t recommend cutting. You want a vehicle that’s comfortable for your carseat(s), has plenty of room for all your luggage and stroller(s), and gives you the ability to hop in the back and soothe your baby during a meltdown should the need arise. A sedan or smaller vehicle will not give your family that comfort. Plus, you can get a taste for how things will be a few years down the line when you’re the uncool minivan parents (kidding).

15. Be kind to yourself. Repeat after me: “I am not the first to travel with kids and I  won’t be the last. And I am certainly not the first or last to travel with noisy or crying kids. I will not feel guilty over things that are beyond my control. I will be kind to myself. Enemies of fairness and equality, hear my parent-ly roar (optional).” Look, no matter how much you plan and prepare, you will inevitably find yourself  in uncharted territory (we got stuck in the airport for 10 hours on our way back from Florida with two toddlers and it sucked big time). None of us have this all figured out and that’s okay; we learn as we go. If you’re traveling with your spouse and you sense him or her stressing out, try sharing words of encouragement or give them a compliment on something they’re doing well. At the end of the day, all this preparation you’re doing is so that YOU can also enjoy the trip so don’t let it get to you if things don’t go your way.

IMG_7703

That’s all folks. We initially had in mind to share 10 tips but as we started recalling what we wish we knew before our first trip, we couldn’t stop. We could have probably written much more too but we decided to keep it general and share more specific travel tips in separate posts. We also realize these are much more applicable if you’re flying rather than driving to a destination but we hope you’ll find it helpful either way. One day, we will get to publishing the Disney post and maybe one day we’ll write about Seattle and Vancouver and Washington D.C and Kansas City. One day. In the meantime, if you liked this post and found it helpful we would love if it you would like it and share it. For more related content, you can find us on Instagram where we share more of our day-to-day and Pinterest where we share our ideas and inspiration. If you have any thoughts or suggestions about this DIY project, feel free to leave a comment below. And as always…

signature3


5 Strategies and Resources for Keeping Toddlers Screen-Free

Happy New Year friends! We hope all of you had a blessed holiday with your loved ones and we wish everyone peace, success, and happiness in 2018. Things are crazy busy here as we are preparing for a family vacation to Florida this weekend. I’ll be honest, between the kids being sick early last month and the holidays, they have seen far more screen time in December alone than they have in a year (we used to be strict about this but that’s for another post). And boy are we ready to detox and resume our screen-free daily routines once we get back. If reducing your child/children’s screen-time is one of your new year resolutions then you’re in luck because I have 5 simple strategies and a handful of fun resources to help get you on track for just that.

“Play is the beginning of knowledge.” -George Dorsey.

IMG_8856

  1. Identify what they like and stick with it. I know this may seem like common sense but living in this age of information overload, it can be difficult to filter through everything to decide what’s applicable and what’s not. Not everything that works for other children may work for yours and that’s okay. The best way to get to know your child is to try a range of different activities with them and see what keeps their short attention span occupied. Chances are you already have an idea without needing to do much investigating. My son is currently really into play dough, Mega Bloks, and dragons at the moment and is very active so if I’m going to get frustrated that he’s not sitting down for a coloring activity for more than 5 minutes, I can’t blame anyone but myself. It doesn’t mean that we don’t try other activities but for the sake of my schedule, I only do things like cooking or reading for school when my children are engaged with an activity for the long haul.
  2. Make a weekly activity plan. With all things in life, if you have an outline or plan of action then you’re more likely to follow through with it. If you are really committed to screen-free quality time then try investing 15-30 minutes on the weekend to brainstorming and arranging for activities during the week. You don’t have to be doing crazy chemistry lab experiments to make it fun. As you’ll come to see in the links I’m sharing below, it doesn’t take much to make children happy. I also want to add the disclaimer that an activity plan should be treated more like a guide rather than a strict schedule. It should be a way for you to think through your day and have activities on hand when you need them most.
  3. Talk it up. Sometimes for kids it’s less about the activity and more about the presentation. Maybe that’s just my experience with my kids but I feel they definitely pick up on my enthusiasm. I don’t have numbers to back up this claim but I find that my son is more engaged when I’ve talked about the activity beforehand. For example, if I were to ask him “prepare me something delicious to eat” while giving him his play kitchen tools, he would spend more time playing than if I were to just dump them on the floor and tell him, “here, play with this.”
  4. Limit accessibility and rotate activities to keep things interesting. In other words if you got it, don’t flaunt it. You will be surprised at what a huge difference it makes if you hide some toys away…because let’s face it, every parent is familiar with what happens when everything is accessible: toys strewn everywhere and bored, restless children. Not the funnest combination. Try taking some toys out of circulation and bringing them out in rotation when you sense boredom. Our MegaBloks, puzzles, and an array of large toy vehicles are stored way high up on a shelf and when I  bring them down, my son definitely relishes every moment.
  5. Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Okay maybe this is not what you want to hear but trust me. I’m not talking trash the house messy but more along the lines of confined chaos. There are plenty of activities that I’ll list below that allow children to really explore and be messy without you having a disaster on your hands. I don’t know what it is about messes but kids love making them and if they’re happy and occupied then you will be too 🙂

IMG_8861

With that being said, I’m sharing a list of fun activities that we have tried and enjoyed as well as some amazing resources that I turn to when planning out activities for the kids. I’m also linking our Pinterest board as I do pin fun toddler activities as I come across them for inspiration. I feel like I should state again that the point of this post isn’t that you must have scheduled activities in a curriculum sense but rather a collection of activities suitable for play. Children should be free to explore and play and the activities you choose should exemplify that philosophy.

“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” -Plato

Sensory and Fine Motor Activities

  1. Make homemade play dough and model/build/cut with cookie cutters
  2. Thread pipe cleaners through a colander or box with holes
  3. Freeze toys in water and do an ice excavation
  4. Make colorful squishy gel bags with glitter and beads
  5. Pom Pom Ball Color Sorting

“Messy” Activities

  1. Go dumpster diving for lost toys in a cardboard box
  2. Create a dry pasta/rice/lentil construction site
  3. Paint with shaving cream on a plastic bin lid
  4. Make a scoop and pour activity station with containers and random objects
  5. Pour flour and shredded coconut in a bin with small cars for a snowy ride

Physical Activities

  1. Set up a simple indoor obstacle course with everyday objects
  2. Have a color-themed scavenger hunt with this song
  3. Have an alphabet or number scavenger hunt
  4. Set up a bubble machine and chase after bubbles to pop them.
  5. Blow up balloons and play balloon tennis, volleyball, or soccer.

Imaginative Play

  1. Make a play boat from a cardboard box and pretend you’re fishing or escaping sharks
  2. Give children kitchen tools and utensils to play chef
  3. Play veterinarian or doctor with sick action figures and stuffed animals
  4. Build a tent from blankets and go pretend camping
  5. Host a pretend picnic or tea party for their toys

IMG_8937

These are just some of the MANY activities out there and there are plenty more waiting to be discovered or created by you to fit your child’s needs (Disclaimer: All the activities I’ve listed are intended to be done with adult supervision even if they don’t necessarily require your active participation). I hope this post is a good starting point for helping you feel less overwhelmed and more capable of keeping your children engaged and occupied without resorting to screens. To help me get organized and plan better (and help you do the same), I’ve created a weekly activity plan to fill out to help guide me through my days at home. The image below is just an example of how you can fill it out but you’ll want to do so according to your own daily rhythms and routines, interests and likes. I also included a column for time but I do not adhere to it strictly and you can completely ignore it all together if you want. The time column is more to remember fixed moments of the day such as snack time, lunch, and nap time. I want to also add that I think it’s very important to be flexible and not hold yourself to unreasonable and unattainable scheduling expectations because this isn’t school.

Weekly toddler planWeekly Activity Plan Free Download

IMG_8945

Once you have downloaded this blank activity guide, you can visit the links below to get started planning your days with your little one(s). While I’m no child psychologist or educator, I think that it’s good to have a balance of diverse activities; literacy, sensory/fine motor, physical activity, and imaginative play. The best part about designing your day is you get to customize activities that blend motor skills, creativity, and learning (science, math, language, etc.) in ways that are fun and appealing to your child. The last thing children need is to be lectured classroom-style. If there are specific concepts that you would like them to be learning then write them down in the “focus” section. This will help you be mindful of your learning goals so you can incorporate them up during activities and moments throughout your day. Alright, let’s get planning!

Resources for Activity Planning

  1.  Hands on As We Grow
  2. Busy Toddler
  3. Fun at Home With Kids
  4. The stay-at-home-mom survival guide
  5. Meri Cherry
  6. Toddler Approved
  7. Playtivities

If you liked this post and found it helpful, we would love it if you would share. For more related content, you can find us on Instagram where we share more of our day-to-day and Pinterest where we share our ideas and inspiration. If you have any thoughts or suggestions about this topic, feel free to leave a comment down below. And as always…

signature3


Watercolor Painting with Beetroot

I am constantly looking for ways to reduce waste and simplify our life at home. Maybe I’m a little too determined. If I had things my way, we would probably be living knee-high in a collection of recyclable materials. Unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day to see all my ideas through and thankfully my husband is there to ensure that we do not become hoarders. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t try to be resourceful within reason.

IMG_3754

Beets are something we eat quite a bit of in our home. We love snacking on boiled beets with a splash of vinegar and salt or incorporating them in a meal like this side-dish of Swedish Beetroot Salad I posted some time ago. One of my favorite things about beets is their deep magenta hue. I imagine there was a time, before synthetic dyes, when beets were used to naturally color everyday items and it makes me feel guilty to throw away such a beautiful by-product. I have experimented painting with beetroot juice many times but this was my first time sharing this experience with my son who has finally learned to wield a brush (as good as any toddler will). The last time I boiled beets, I stored some of the juice in a mason jar in the fridge and saved it for a rainy day.  My favorite part about this activity is the fact that this paint is completely natural. My son can snack on beets and even take a lick of his “paint” and I would have no qualms about it. This activity is perfect for a rainy indoor day but you can also take it outdoors if you want to spare yourself preparing for the messy aftermath. All this is to say: If you boil beets, don’t throw out the juice. For this activity here’s what you’ll need:

  • paper, preferably watercolor paper
  • small paint brushes
  • beetroot juice ( to make it concentrated, simply microwave in a small container to evaporate the water)
  • glass of clean water
  • fine salt and course salt
  • old newspaper or something to protect your work surface

IMG_3745

IMG_3766My son was ecstatic about pouring salt all over his painting (consider that he’s been attempting to dump salt out since he turned 18 months) but what he doesn’t know is that we were actually practicing a legit water color technique that I learned from Inkstruck Studio. As you can see this activity not only kept my toddler entertained but was a good learning exercise for me too. If you enjoy watercolor painting or hand lettering, you definitely could get something out of this activity if you plan ahead. Here’s a really good video tutorial that introduces basic watercolor and hand lettering techniques if you are interested. If you do try this activity be sure to share on Instagram and tag us @thecozyhomechronicles 🙂

IMG_3773

If you found this post helpful, leave a comment and tell us how we did!

Please follow us and share!

Instagram