A Reflection on Thanksgiving Travel with Toddler

Me with the guest of honor (left), and my daughter, all decked out for Mundan.

This Thanksgiving, my husband, 15 month old daughter and I flew across the country to celebrate Thanksgiving and Mundan with family in Connecticut.  Reflecting on this trip, I have much to giggle about, and thought I’d share.

Packing My M.O.: Baby = priority numero uno. Organize, reorganize, and then double-check quantity of leggings, onesies, fuzzy footie pajamas, socks, tiny shoes, winter gear (then toss in a swim diaper). Double up on “cute” outfits in case of the inevitable “accident” of any type.  Clothes for the parents? Oh yeah, we probably should bring some! Thus, I resort to what I call the “stuff-stuff” technique: 1) have amorphous idea of what garb I need to bring, 2) grab (some of) these items from clost,  3) stuff into bag, 4) freak out wondering if I have packed item X from my foggy mental list, 5) pull all items out, 6) begin to neatly fold and sort but have toddler “help” by grabbing random items and run squealing about the house, waving said items and carefully mimic my packing routine by taking intiative to “stuff-stuff” my boots, bookbag, cupboards, etc. with random items of travel clothing. I then follow after baby rescuing some items (but not all!), and redepositing them into travel bag. How I prioritize what actually does end up in my bag: 1) running gear, 2) formal wear for possible East Coast-y occassions, 3) a bunch of yoga/stretchy pants, and 4) (mismatched) compression socks for the flights.

All smiles in the airport.

Travel time Flights that coincide with naptime are advised by the Internet. However, as we had demonstrated to us, flying is waaay more exciting than napping, and the “calming effect” of “white engine noise” really only worked when the toddler was so tired that she would have fallen asleep on a carnival ride (which, actually, is kind of what flying during Thankgiving is!). For us, our 5:45 AM return flight meant that we were up at 3 AM to drive to the airport – a choice that was preferable (to me) to traveling with a strung out, nap-deprived toddler at the more human hours of 2-3 PM, despite my admittedly tenuous grasp on reality when I first tried to function at that ungodly hour.  All things being said, I had braced myself for a horrible travel experience, and despite maintaining constant vigilance for my daughter’s breakaway attempts, flying amongst hoards of other families meant for a very amusing – if long and exhausting – “Nursery on Wings” experience.

Activities I used to look forward to flights as times when I would (guilt-free!) browse silly magazines or read a novel. This trip, reading material consisted of Brown Bear, Brown Bear and a cool squishy book with a scuba diver finger puppe. We brought crayons, a sock puppet, stickers to entertain our toddler, but the truth is that the most entertainment was derived from 1) crawling around at our feet in the tiny under seat compartments, and 2) playing with (poking, waving at, trying to feed her snacks to) our seat neighbors, who were very kind and patient souls.

Blueberries make a happy baby.

Food & Beverage I had them all: yogurt smoothie squeezies (3-oz per TSA guidelines), dried cherries, cheerios, and freeze dried veggies in a sweet 3-compartment Tupperware, teething biscuits and best of all, about 3 cups of fresh blueberries.  We didn’t need the flight attendants to bring us beverages (although both of us parents may have been dreaming of gin and tonics by the end of the flights) because we had water and whole milk, by the bottleful!  In all honesty, I think our travel was a success purely due to the blueberries.

Cousins making mischief.

Family celebrations I had never traveled away for Thankgiving before, having always traveled to my family or stayed with roommates and friends when in college, so being the guests on a trip was awesome. This was also John & my first “vacation” since our honeymoon 6 years ago; we always travel for my racing, or to conferences and other academic/work functions, and it was amazing to be welcomed warmly and enthusiastically into the homes of my in-laws.  We were there not only for Thankgiving, but also to celebrate my nephew’s Mundan, a ceremony marking the first haircutting of my brother- and sister-in-law’s son. I truly enjoyed being invited to participate in this ritual and being able to learn about a new cultural tradition.

Running A group of us ran in a local 5-mile turkey trot – a massive, 4,000+ person event that ran along the very scenic (and extremely cold and windy) Connecticut coastline. We had great success: I won first overall female, and my compatriots in running shoes all had bracing exercise and a baby-free outing (grandparents = best babysitters ever!) to prepare us for Thanksgiving feasting. One of the reasons I love being a runner is the ease with which a place can be explored on foot. On my runs I feel I get to see big scenes (the ocean!) as well as enjoy small details of a place: the ancient stone fences, a buck in the forest, the brackish scent of the estuary waters and the scrollwork on quaint New England back road homes.

My advice to all parents traveling with toddlers: Relax!  Let yourself be calm, embrace the travel as an adventure, find empathy for the ranging emotions your little one may have with the new places and activities, his/her difficulty communicating their emotions to you, and most of all, have fun experiencing the adventure of travel through the curious, amazed, and excited eyes of your toddler. Oh, and bring a slam-dunk snack and extra clothes!

What are your tried-and-true travel with kids tips and tricks?

Happy holiday travel to all!

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