This is not a post about Nashville.
This is a post about getting out of Nashville.
Let’s start from the beginning. Ben turned one in April and, per our most recent count, our family vacation to Tennessee was his 16th flight. Between trips to Michigan and South Carolina to visit grandparents, this kid has somehow racked up more miles in 14 months than I did in my first 20 years.
As we prepare to take off once again for South Carolina in a few days, I figure it’s high time I share my tips for traveling with someone who has the attention span of a fruit fly. Here’s the thing - by no means am I implying to be an expert. But, after so many flights and the utter nightmare that our trip out of Nashville turned out to be, it feels like I’ve got some notches on my belt now.
Take the earliest possible flight. Toddlers are absolute angels when they first wake up in the morning. An early flight guarantees that if your kid woke up at 5AM, and your flight is at 8AM, they’ll be sufficiently tired. Remember, airplanes are basically steel wombs. Rocking, humming, warm, steel wombs. It’s all the 5 S’s in one easy place! A tired baby + a womb like environment + your arms + a bottle or sippy full of milk/water = NAP.
Regardless of your flight time, plan things out. If you can, feed a large meal, so they’re sleepy on the plane. Or run them around and play beforehand in the terminal so that they’re worn out. Point is, the best kid on a plane is a sleeping kid.
Check luggage, gate-check the stroller, bring a backpack/large diaper bag. Yes, it’s more expensive but hear me out. The last thing you want to deal with when you’re traveling alone with a baby who cannot sit still is a situation in which that baby must sit still. You only have two hands, right? Wrangling a suitcase into the compartment above your seat, is not a luxury you can afford. Last time I tried it Ben started licking the metal of the seat belt buckle. (We live in New York, germs are everywhere. Germs don’t scare me. Airplane germs, though? NOOOPE.) If you’re traveling with your partner, bring a carry on. Alone? Just check it. You’ll have your hands full with the baby and putting them down in the seat without full attention is not really an option - don’t do that to yourself. Unless you have more than two hands, then go for it.
Bring entertainment. We pack an arsenal of toys that don’t make noise or a mess but are stimulating. A small stuffed bear, magnetic building tiles, touch- and- feel books. The books are so good we now have them in three different versions - something about the bright colors and fun textures on each page mean they’re actual magic for distracting a cranky one- year- old on long flights.
Bring snacks. When all else fails, distract with food. Just like adults, toddlers are unable to resist eating their feelings. Puffs, veggie teethers, fruit pouches, hell even some blueberries, whatever it takes. Pack different kinds and don’t blow your stash all at once. Hand out slowly.
Pro-tip: Whatever you bring, do not pack bean salad for your baby. We recently saw a couple try to feed their one- year- old bean salad on the plane and it was traumatizing for all involved, including the passengers who had to suffer the smell.
Actual pro-tip: Give a bottle/sippy on the way up and a bottle on the way down. We always give Ben a bottle as soon as the plane takes off and one as soon as the pilot announces our decent. This helps little ears pop without even knowing what just happened or an ear pressure related freak out.
Deploy all of the above strategically. Every child is different, has a different attention span and tolerance for boredom. What every child cannot resist is an interesting new activity, insert jazz hands here. Don’t bring everything out at once. Pack your bag in such a way that your toys, books, snacks come out one a time and are separately interesting.
Here’s the most important thing to remember about toddler and baby travel. You are the star of the show. Don’t like the spotlight? Too bad. Cause you’re on stage for the next 1-5 hours, non-stop. Whether it’s reading, playing with a stuffed animal, turning “itsy-bitsy” spider into a 10-minute production of Charlotte’s Web meets Fiddler on the pull-out tray, whatever it takes. The reality is, a child cannot be expected to understand social protocol, so it’s your responsibility to keep them from driving your fellow passengers nuts. No one likes a screaming kid on a plane and even worse, no one likes to be that parent.
Sadly, sometimes, no matter how hard you try best laid plans are just a total flop. Earlier this month I decided that Ben and I should tag along for a conference Ian attended in Nashville. Fly in the weekend before and leave once the conference kicked off.
The trip was lovely. Let me tell you - quality family time is only enhanced by hot chicken.
I was anticipating our flight out of Nashville to be as seamless and smooth as the vacation. I planned it perfectly. Nap before the airport, hour and a half to get checked in and situated. Large lunch in the terminal and some walking around meant Ben would certainly nap on the flight! And then… a two-hour delay. No amount of perfect timing or strategy could prepare me for keeping my child entertained, with no nap in sight, in the airport THEN on a flight. We spent our delay walking to and from terminals, even ate a different snack in each wing. If you need recs for food in Terminal C at BNA, I’m your girl.
Did you know the airport sometimes has live music? Dancing with my tiny fellow to an acoustic cover of “Stand by Your Man” on the grey, Motel 8 inspired carpet of the Nashville Airport? Crossed that one off the bucket list. Long story short, by the time we got on the flight I was in for it. No nap, too much stimulation, no interest in my ongoing attempts to entertain him meant Ben lost it. Climbing me like a jungle gym, throwing puffs, slapping the seat, you name it - he was doing it. (I’ll briefly mention that somewhere in this time period he also managed to create such a stink in his diaper that I had to change him in the plane bathroom.) My baby was going so nuts that about 90-minutes into the flight the attendant came over and politely asked me to walk up and down the aisles with him to keep my fellow seat mate, an extra from Wolf of Wall Street who had clearly never seen a child before, from raging out on us. He even gave Ben a flashlight! So, there we were - walking up and down the aisle of the plane. Dropping the flashlight, CLUNK, picking up the flashlight, dropping the flashlight, CLUNK. Then laughing, then crying. Like some kind of unhinged toddler security.
There’s a reason they make them cute…