Travel Rewards, Flying With Two Toddlers, And A Free Hotel Stay
This is the story of flying with two toddlers on a plane, a free hotel stay, and why credit card rewards are a good thing.
Here’s a boring (but important) explanation of how Frugalwoods makes money.
Air Travel With Two Toddlers: How Bad Can It Be?
In November, we flew to North Carolina to celebrate Thanksgiving with my in-laws. Two kids, two adults, and 45 individual boxes of raisins.
Being four years old, Kidwoods got a seat all to herself while Littlewoods was relegated to the role of “lap infant.” Both girls were fascinated with the seat belts, the tray table’s up-and-down capabilities, as well as the play-doh, dolls, coloring books, crayons, books, mini farm animals, and small trucks I’d packed. Then we taxied down the runway for takeoff. Kidwoods asked if we were there. How to explain we hadn’t left the ground yet?
After takeoff, Kidwoods lost interest in having her own seat and decided to plant herself in the lap of whichever parent was not already occupied. Littlewoods was disinterested in following her job description of “lap infant” and launched herself into the seat Kidwoods abandoned.
Upon seeing Littlewoods content in her erstwhile “big girl seat,” playing with “big girl play-doh,” Kidwoods climbed off of Mr. FW’s lap, launched herself across me, and tackled Littlewoods in a coup to regain her rightful, paid-for (might I add) seat. On this went for the entire flight, both girls unimpressed at my allocations of IDENTICAL toys in their respective bags.
The one thing my kids reliably, predictably and consistently love? Eating. Knowing this, we packed ten pounds of snack foods for the flight, of which they consumed nine.
Our typical, frugal mode is to make all foods (including snacks) from scratch and to make them healthy. Our typical, parent-survival mode for air travel is to bring only store-bought, pre-made, packaged snacks. The novelty of opening bags of crackers provided–at minimum–15 minutes of entertainment. You’d think these kids had never seen packaged snacks before. When flying with children, novelty reigns supreme.
Here’s what we packed, from a food perspective:
- Granola bars
- Goldfish crackers
- Individual boxes of raisins
- Four water bottles (woe betides ye who tries to get toddlers to share a water bottle… )
And then, the most wonderful thing happened: the flight attendants rolled up with the drinks cart and the most wonderful innovation: water in a can. Yep.
They girls each got their own can. Revered on the same level as birthday cake, water-in-a-can delivered another ten minutes of rapt entertainment and only one can was dumped into my lap. That’s because the other can was dumped in Mr. Frugalwoods’ lap. Ah well, it was only water. In a can.
Transporting two small humans–who are unreliable walkers–through bustling airports at Thanksgiving is a scenario I know many folks wish would happen to them. Enviable, truly.
Trying to have them both walk would’ve been a guaranteed way to end up carrying them both. Knowing that, we took along a double umbrella stroller gotten for free from our local parents’ Facebook group when I was pregnant with Littlewoods.
I KNEW that stroller would be just the thing one day and this was the day. It isn’t fancy, or even particularly durable, but since we were only using it in the airport parking lot and inside the terminal, it sufficed. It’s lightweight, foldable, seats the girls side by side (equality in ALL THINGS), and wasn’t too wide for (most) doorways*.
*except, of course, for the doorway to the family restroom inside the terminal. Obviously that doorway should be narrower than other doorways.
Kidwoods wanted to carry her own mini backpack and, since we’d paid $362.10 for her ticket, I figured she merited a carry-on. She did a great job carrying that little backpack (which, by the way, I purchased for $1 at a garage sale last summer), containing the essentials: snacks, books, toys, and a baby doll. Side note: if you too would like a toddler in your life to tote their own backpack, I highly recommend the Daniel Tiger episode about taking a trip because he–the Tiger himself–packs up his little backpack and then is (annoyingly) responsible about carrying it for the duration of their (annoyingly) adorable Tiger Family Vacation.
Mr. FW’s carry-on was a messenger bag (man purse) containing both of our laptops, reading materials, documents (the kids’ birth certificates*, our boarding passes), water bottles, and SNACKS. My carry-on was my backpack, which had complete changes of clothes for both kids (“gee I wonder why,” asked no parent ever), diapers and wipes for Littlewoods, toys, books, a baby doll, and more SNACKS. Fun fact: this is the backpack I used in college 18 years ago!
*Remember that time a few years ago when, instead of Kidwoods’ birth certificate, I brought our marriage license to the airport and handed it to the agent at the ticket counter? Ahh, memories…
Here’s the rundown of our luggage situation:
- Double umbrella stroller (lightweight, easily foldable for going through security, gate-checked for free)
- Large rolling suitcase (checked for $30 each way, rolled by Mr. FW while I pushed the stroller)
- Carry-on rolling suitcase (rolled by Mr. FW in his other hand)
- Carry-on backpack (carried by me/flung across the stroller handles)
- Carry-on messenger bag (carried by Mr. FW)
- Carry-on kid backpack (carried by Kidwoods)
- One Ergo baby carrier (worn around my waist/flung across the stroller handles)
After gate-checking the stroller, I put Littlewoods into the Ergo carrier on my front, put my backpack on my back, and held Kidwoods’ hand to walk onto the plane. Mr. FW rolled the carry-on suitcase and carried his messenger bag (man purse) and handed over our tickets. This worked better than expected (having low expectations is an excellent way to travel with little kids).
Since this load was all we could reliably tote through the airport, we didn’t bring carseats for the girls. Instead, we bought this carseat online and had it shipped to my in-laws’ house. My in-laws already had one carseat for Kidwoods, they borrowed a pack-n-play for Littlewoods to sleep in, they’d purchased a travel high chair a few years ago for Kidwoods, and I bought this little potty and had it shipped to their house (these are affiliate links).
It’s hard to believe Mr. FW and I used to be the people who went to Europe for 10 days every year with one carry-on suitcase. Yep. One tiny suitcase for the two of us. Oh and my purse (not a backpack in those days) and Mr. FW’s messenger bag (the very same man purse).
We’ve Finally Arrived
Arriving at my in-laws’ house felt like the culmination of a triathlon. There was an awards ceremony, I was handed a martini, Mr. FW a beer, and we sank into their couch in a fog of smug achievement. I forgot to mention that our flight was at 7am and that we’d gotten up at 4am. No matter, the kids didn’t sleep the entire trip there, so a martini at 11am seemed totally appropriate.
Rural Children in Suburbia
Once we finally got there, we had a glorious time at my in-laws’ house and the girls adored the trappings of suburban life. We went to playgrounds, we walked on sidewalks (more fraught than you might think; see below), we went to a shopping mall (!!!), we took them to Panera for lunch, we did the suburbs right. I am a fan of living like the locals.
Wherever we go in the world, I love to do, eat, and act as the locals do. Yes, I know the suburbs of North Carolina are not exotic to me or you, but they were exotic to our rural kids. Further, these suburbs served as an educational opportunity to experience new concepts, such as being able to see your neighbors’ house from your house. Exotic!
Another advantage of going south in late November is that we got to travel back in time to autumn. We left a snow-covered, sub-freezing homestead and landed in a balmy, upper 60’s early fall. Leaves crackled underfoot, we boiled in our long sleeves, and the kids relished playgrounds sans snow.
This trip also provided the opportunity to teach our rural children a number of memorable and enlightening lessons:
1) You cannot go potty outside in the suburbs. At home, if we’re playing in the woods and a kid needs to go potty? No problem! In my in-laws’ front yard? Nope, nope, nope.
2) You cannot pick any flower you see in the suburbs. At home, all the flowers are either grown by us or are wild. Any of them can be picked. The neighbor’s carefully tended front garden of coordinating, fall-hued mums? Not so much. Have you ever tried to stick a picked flower back into the dirt? I sure have.
3) Houses are close together in the suburbs but no, you do not know everyone and you cannot walk into anyone’s open garage and have a look around.
4) Sidewalks are brutal for newly minted walkers and Littlewoods came home with two skinned knees (despite wearing pants). This was the biggest tragedy of all: poor Littlewoods—accustomed as she is to forgiving dirt and grass—could not master the tendency of her sneakers to catch on the rough sidewalks and topple her over.
A Kid-free Overnight Vacation!
While there, my in-laws ushered us out for a night away. Off to Asheville, NC with zero children and no cares, we stayed for a year and a day (more like 24 hours).
Time with my husband is precious. Time to be us and not mama and dada. Time to roam the streets and listen to a jazz quartet during brunch and yes, to drink drinks by the dozen (ok, more like a quarter dozen). I’m so thankful to them, my in-laws so true, who know what a couple needs and will do.
Also, thankful I’m not a poet and you are so glad of that too. I promise to stop busting out the rhymes now.
This fabulous, kid-free overnight stay featured something you’ll all appreciate:
A Free Hotel Stay
Finally, we come to the point: credit card points! Mr. FW and I have a travel rewards credit card leftover from our care-free, kid-free days of international travel. And this card offers one free hotel stay per year (the real victory is that our addled brains remembered this free hotel stay and managed to cash in on it).
While I laud our free stay, I want to caution that travel rewards cards only make sense if… wait for it… you travel a lot.
Our travel rewards card—we have the Marriott Bonvoy—made a ton of sense when:
- We both traveled for work and used our personal cards to book our flights and hotels and then got reimbursed by our employers. If you travel for work and if your company will let you use your own card (and submit reimbursements), DO IT (if you can use a credit card responsibly and pay it off in full every month). This is a superb way to rack up travel rewards points.
- We traveled for pleasure often and went internationally at least once per year. Again, if you travel a lot, travel rewards cards can make a ton of sense because you accrue points when you travel and then you redeem points when you travel.
- If you’re not doing those two things–accruing points and redeeming points–a travel card might not make as much sense for you.
The reason for these cautions is that most decent travel rewards cards charge an annual fee. For us, that fee has been worth it over the years because of all the points we’ve accrued and redeemed. If you’re interested in a travel rewards card, a lot of people love the Chase Sapphire Preferred as well as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Since our travel has dwindled in recent years, we no longer use our travel rewards card as our primary credit card. A cash-back card is now our main credit card because it’s so easy to earn and redeem the points because… the points are cash!
Cash-back cards give you money back on every dollar you spend. I especially like (and recommend) category-free, no annual fee cash-back cards because they give you cash back with no restrictions or downsides. More here: The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience. I also wrote this guide on how to find the best credit card for you.
(note: the credit card links are affiliate links)
A Failure to Plan Ahead: Snow Shovel and Gloves of Woe
As we frolicked in the autumn leaves and ate turkey, Vermont braced for a snowstorm and our flight home was cancelled. No problem, thought we, for we can re-book for the next day. Or not. Or the day after that? Also no. The day after the day after? Bingo. Our flight rescheduled, Mr. FW and I had a dual realization-of-alarm:
Our car was parked in the outdoor lot at the airport and 89 feet of snow were falling on top of it. Plus some ice!
Were we brilliant and had we planned ahead, we could’ve foreseen this because snow in early December in Vermont is like a toddler tantrum when your kid-free friends are visiting: it’s most definitely going to happen.
Being less than brilliant and less than planned-ahead, we came up with a secondary scheme: we bought a collapsible snow shovel and winter gloves from a Walmart in North Carolina and put them in our checked bag. Upon arriving at baggage claim, we unpacked them for Mr. FW to dig our car out of its snowy parking lot grave.
Before we left, our sweet North Carolinian relatives assured us that the airport staff would clear the cars, but we knew that in New England: Everyone Must Clear Their Own Snow. You sign an affidavit when you move here and it is Ironclad.
The other Ironclad rule: You Do Not Take Someone Else’s Parking Spot From Which They’ve Cleared Snow. These two rules form the bedrock of our culture and we are not responsible for any ills that befall anyone who does not abide.
- When traveling with toddlers, know what your kids like and bring a lot of it. In our case, ten pounds of packaged snack food.
- Do not even think about not packing complete changes of clothes for each child in your carry-on.
- If you travel a lot, and can use credit cards responsibly, a travel rewards card can net you free hotel stays, free flights, and more.
- If you don’t travel a lot, but can use credit cards responsibly, a no-fee cash-back credit card is a no-brainer winner. Might as well get money for buying the stuff you were going to buy anyway!
- Keep a collapsible snow shovel on your person at all times.
How do you travel with kids? (correct answer: I don’t)
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We only have the one kid, but our system is pretty similar to yours. He carries his own wee backpack now, and it has a built in harness so that he can run free through the airport (well, free as in on the end of a three-foot leash) and burn off steam before we get on the plane. That tends to help a lot with the wiggles, and he’s generally pretty good about snoozing for at least a little bit en route.
We also try to minimize luggage (and paying for checked bags) as much as possible, but now balance number of adult hands that can get bags onto a plane and how many carry-on bags we try to manage. Local airlines also tend to offer free carseat and stroller check-in, so we’ve been checking both and the kiddo goes in the Ergo to get on the plane. We also have an ingenious system for loading (and securely attaching!) said toddler carseat onto said (very sturdy) umbrella stroller for getting through airports and parking lots. Saves us the money of having to rent a carseat when we arrive.
Our babe isn’t quite as interested in snacks yet (he’s a bit younger than Littlewoods), but he’s VERY interested in people, so flights are largely spent saying hi to everyone and anyone and wandering up and down the aisles visiting. Travel is also an anything goes scenario for us with screen time, so he can poke at the entertainment system as much as he wants (he’s not so much interested in actually watching anything yet, but loves to fool around with touchscreens). We also load up free kids e-books on our iPad from the library, which will keep him interested for ages–he loves a good story.
Travelling with kids is not a holiday, that’s for sure, but I always keep in mind good advice from Laura Vanderkam (whose writing I think you’d quite like, if you don’t know her already)–your experiencing mind is never going to want to do this, because it kinda sucks, but your remembering mind will appreciate that you did. So we do! And haven’t regretted it yet.
Definitely need to plan at least one more trip before the end of the summer, when he won’t be a lap infant anymore!
Loved this post, thanks for bringing us along on your holiday! A personal question if you’re up to answering, do you ever have trouble (emotionally) with living away from your family? I’m getting ready to move across the country to end a long distance relationship and the idea of living far away from my parents troubles me. Perhaps this depends on the family and the relationships but just wondering if you ever struggled with this and if you found anything that helped. Thanks!
Danielle, I moved across the country away from my parents when I was 25. That was a long time ago, and I had the same troubling questions you did, but FaceTime does wonders. Also, as long as you live near a fairly big airport, traveling back to them, or having them visit you, is not a huge deal. I managed fine, and you will too.
Judy, thank you for the kind message. I really appreciate the feedback and agree that in the grand scheme of things it’s really not too big of a deal. Thanks again.
We love to travel with the kids! The 8 of us are going to Europe in May…kids are 12, 11, 9, 7, 4, and 13 mths. We each have our roller carry-on suitcase, and we NEVER pay for seat assignments. I love to dare the check-in agent to spread us out throughout the plane–it would be so glorious!
One tip to add to Mrs. FW–you can “gate check” your car seats and strollers for free at the normal check in counter. It doesn’t usually make sense to give up your stroller that early, but so long as you can lug the car seats in the front door, you can send them merrily down their way on the conveyor belt quicker than the road runner. (meep, meep.)
We traveled to Europe with an 11 month old with our friends who had a 15 month old. 2 kids to 4 adults is a good number. And 10 lb of snacks is also a good number. The flights were trying, but the memories were worth it. A different trip then pre kids, but still fun! Done frugally with only carry on’s, airbnb’s split between two families, train travel, most alcohol and 2 meals at day (a least) from a grocery store. Because eating in restaurants with kids is just as miserable in Europe as it is in America!!!!
How does getting spread across the plane work for your family, Pat? We tried flying once without seat assignments and we ended up with my husband and five year old in one location, me and the baby in another location, and the 8, 10, and 11 year olds in random middle seats everywhere. Then the check in agents were super rude to us when we tried to get the eight year old next to my husband or I. We totally do carry ons too though and it’s fabulous. Everyone brings their own backpack and puts it under their seat.
ONLY carry ons I mean!
That stinks! We’ve always been put together…I think we fly often enough that it wouldn’t bother the older kids to sit in a random middle.
An alternative to the travel rewards card, if you don’t travel that much, is to try to stick to one hotel chain, or maybe two, and join their loyalty programs. They’re free.
Congrats on your successful trip! Those little unspoken rules are key, aren’t they? 🙂
We are child- free, as you said…sounds like “family lite” (haha, I’m going to use that next time somebody asks if we have kids).
Thank you for sharing so many pictures of your girls – it’s wonderful to hear how exciting suburbia is, if you’ve never seen it. I’m going out today with fresh eyes!!
I like “family lite” :)!
When our kids were toddler/babies and we flew, I made sure the kids AND adults had a change of clothes in the carry-ons! Because mom or dad always gets the brunt of the spills, throw up, boogers wiped…etc! Now our boys are 12 and 9 and they are fantastic travelers! Hang in there moms and dads!!!
Also, when our daughter was small, and we had a van, we bought a porta-potty that you snapped a gallon plastic bag into, and it was a great purchase. It was all plastic, and looked like a small potty, with a seat which held the bag in place. One time we were stuck in a multi-hour traffic holdup (major accident) and when daughter said she needed to go, she could. We used it many, many other times as well.
A quick look on Amazon says this option has many more sophisticated options now.
I’d love to know what sort of porta-potty you’re talking about here. We have twin 4-year-old boys, and we might need something like this before a couple of long car trips this summer. 🙂
Mom of twins here. When ours were little I just put the potty seat contraption in the back of our SUV and lined it with a diaper. In a pinch we would pull over, take care of business in the back, dispose of the soiled diaper and re-line with a fresh diaper for the next time. No bags, no mess.
I’m exhausted just reading that!
We took our daughter on her first plane ride last summer, right before she turned two so she flew for free. We thought we’d save the money and not pay extra to pick our own seats. Surely the airline would sit a family together anyway?? Nope. We were separated and I was stuck with a very active almost-two-year old in the middle seat between two strangers who weren’t so thrilled with the arrangement. I will pay the extra money next time to sit together, just because it was just too stressful! We didn’t do a stroller since we just had one kid, and checked the car seat at the gate. Plenty of snacks are key!
Always have a short handled metal shovel/ice scraper/gloves/hat stored in your car. Even in the summer. Otherwise you’ll forget to put them back in get stuck in the snow in October. Things I never knew until I moved to Minnesota…
Lol. This is great. It sounds really good though with no hour long screaming meltdowns!
Reminds me of October when I took three kids, including 3 year old twins boys and their nine year old sister to florida from Washington state They carried their backpacks, i had a single umbrella stroller and so much other random stuff beside the big roller suitcase I can’t even remember. Our flight from Spokane was delayed until 1 in the morning and then we took two flights to get there. On the way back we got stuck in Chicago because of missed connection. We had the whole next day lay over. We went to the Field museum for the whole day. We took public transit (frugal commitment because Chicago airport is far, over $100 for an uber) and tracks were being repaired so we had to get off. Take a bus . get back on subway and wait. Took over an hour and on the way back we got got in football fan exodus from game. Then over an hour back on transit. Get off subway, get on bus. Back on subway, pick up luggage and get on plane.
Kids were amazing. I was so impressed, surprised and so proud!! Super troopers! Only 1 flight of four were they super squirmy and in aisle and moving about.
They loved the Field museum. Biggest dinosaur skeleton in the world! Only got lost once…luckily museum has a protocol for that! I really recommend the Field museum. Right now they have a bug exhibit. You can go in a hive and a dirt exhibit where you ‘shrink’ to a couple millimeters high. My youngest still talks about that. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Love your stories!! Thanks for always sharing.
My oldest granddaughter is now 9, but when she was not quite 4, she, her parents and my husband and I flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Billings, Mont., toured Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park and then flew back from Jackson, Wy. It was a wonderful trip. My daughter-in-law planned well with the things she brought for our granddaughter and even though we did quite a bit of driving beside the flights, all went well. When we flew home, my husband and I sat next to a woman with an lap infant. She had brought nothing for that baby (including apparently no extra diapers). I thought it was going to be the worst flight ever, but my wonderful daughter-in-law shared some of her supplies and the baby did finally fall asleep. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could take a flight like that and not bring anything with them. That sure wasn’t the case when we traveled with my son (whose first flights were from Miami to Norway), although he was a little older than yours when he first got on an airplane. We did driving vacations prior to that time.
My second daughter was a screamer so I went NO WHERE until she was 5. Unfortunately it makes me intolerant of people who let their children scream or take them to inappropriate events for children.
A few years ago I was on a 13 hr flight from Tokyo to Dallas and sat next to a woman from Southeast Asia traveling with a 4 year old and toddler. It was such an interesting cultural comparison. She had nothing for those children except a small backpack she kept overhead. The toddler nursed and slept. The preschooler slept and watched tv and ate the airline food. No toys, blankets or snacks. This was not neglect at all but a different idea of what children need and are use to. The children were very well behaved and my anticipation of a difficult flight never materialized.
We have traveled by plane with a toddler once and will do again this summer. The first time was a horrible experience, not his fault, but put my wife off flying with him or his brother until now.
Our youngest boy was 16/17 months and we were flying Minneapolis to London to see my family over Christmas and new year. On paper, it should be great, take off at dinner time, so in the sky they will serve food then dim the lights and kiddo can have 5 hours sleep before they wake people for breakfast before landing in London.
What happened was turbulence, and lots of it. More than I’ve ever experienced on the half dozen times I’ve previously made the trip. Meal was served after 4 hours of the 8 hour flight, by which time kiddo was cranky as hell, almost all the toys, drinks and snacks we had for him were gone and we had already had to do diaper changes in the seat because the seat belt warning had been on 70% of the time. He wanted to watch TV but both the dashboard and my headphones were too big and the FA Aapproved kid seatbelt we bought wasn’t starting in place properly.
At some point they did get food served and we did get him to sleep and they did sin the lights, fire what seemed like an hour at most before serving breakfast and landing.
The daytime return flight was far less eventful, largely because of the lack of turbulence meaning we could leave or seats and I could walk around the plane with him, and the mickey mouse headphone we bought him at the Dixons on Heathrow Airport concourse which were still to big but stayed on his head well enough.
This year we try again, or youngest is going to be 3 this time, and kiddo is now almost 6, and they will both have their own seats and their own headphones too.
I live reading about your wonderful, generous in-laws! I am officially envious. More importantly, though, they are great role models for the sort of grandparent/in-law I want to be to my adult children. The best gift you can give a young couple with children is the gift of time away from the little ones!
*ugh, typo correction: I love reading…, not live reading…
Thanks for your travel story. We didn’t have the funds to fly anywhere when our son was young; we either camped or visited relatives, and a hotel stay was a big exciting thing, especially if there was a pool! The first time he flew was when he was 16, and on a class trip to Disneyworld. I applaud you for your efforts, and the pictures are Adorable!
We’ve flown a ton with our near 3-year old, but this year was the first time we flew with two kids.
We did 3 hr leg to Newark from Chicago, 8 hour layover, and then overnight flight to Lisbon.
It went really well. We found that lollipops help little ears for takeoff (baby has tubes, so that was no problem). We had lounge passes for the layover, which really helped pass the time (free M&Ms! space to nap!). The baby had seats, as I was not holding him overnight. I got about 2 hours of sleep on the overnight and he got more rest than I did. My daughter watched a movie for the first time ever, and then repeated it twice. Frozen is now her favorite thing ever. We also had all kinds of cookies, gummies, and other food- but she mostly didn’t want them. One flight when she was 18 months she ate a crap ton of biscoff cookies, because she was in a horrible mood and cookies fixed it.
I would say that, if your flight is more than 3 hours, having a baby in their own seat is worth it if you can afford it. I’ve held a little one on a ton of flights and it was a massive luxury to not have to.
We do not use strollers, so having a carrier for both of them really was wonderful. I’ve done the stroller in the airport before and I LOVED not having it. I’ve always found it (and gate checking) to cause more problems than it solves.
I wore the baby, toddler walked most of the time but went piggy back when needed. We have the cheap Cosco carseat and it fits perfectly over our carry on luggage, so no strap needed, and we can just roll it along.
We also got a meal on the plane for the baby, assuming if we paid for the seat we should get the food. This worked well because my husband and I were able to share the extra food.
We love to travel with the kids- overnight flights was a new challenge; but I think they went better than the 35 hours of driving over 3 days (and then, we had to return at the end of the week)
Ah yes – the reminder to put my shovel in my car again… The worst reminder… But also the reason why I pay more for parking in central parking in Boston in the winter.
Laughing so hard at this post, especially “In New England: Everyone Must Clear Their Own Snow. You sign an affidavit when you move here and it is Ironclad.” This is so true! We’re in Maine and I fear leaving the car at the airport in the winter and coming back to it totally iced and snowed in. It is a thing that happens. You guys were so smart to think of coming back with a shovel!
I did find when my son was little eons ago that it was relatively smooth to travel with him. There was just one of him and I took a few solo flights from east coast to midwest to see family. Never underestimate the power of a woman and a baby or toddler traveling alone. I didn’t have to carry a thing. Other passengers leapt to my rescue with every boarding and deplaning without me even having to give a glance or ask for help. One woman even brought me a Starbucks while we were waiting in the airport. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.
Great post. My family live Britain and our inlaws live in Germany so we have done at least one 11 hour flight since our daughter was born ……she is 6 now. The only other tips I have ………mifold car seat when they are old enough for a booster. It is tiny, folds up, fits in a back pack and easy to carry which is great for traveling, school pick ups by friends at home and keeping the kids safe in a taxi. We have spares for friends and they are small enough that you can fit 3 in a row even in small european cars. Southwest is the best airline when flying domestically – they let our daughter sit in the pilot’s seat when you board, if you ask they will let the kids help give out the snacks (if there is time and it occupies the kids!) and the extra and free luggage allowance is amazing. I never pay for reserved seating and let them know anyone is welcome to take care of my daughter for the flight! ALways, always, always pack spare clothes for you …….kids are really clumsy and if they are sick on you on an 11 hour flight it is awful! You want one bag with spare clothes you can put in the overhead compartment which hopefully you won’t need and one bag of toys, games, snacks etc in the seat in front. TO avoid sore ears give them something salty just as the plane starts to come down and have drinks ready. The swallowing will help clear their ears especially when they are little (or breast feed if small enough). Transatlantic you request a bulkhead seat and they have cribs which are amazing…….and free! Safe travels!
I heartily agree with all of your kiddo travel maxims! We have a three year old and a seven year old and travel (both airplane trips and multiple day car rides) to see family several times a year. Now that mine are a bit older, we don’t use the stroller much, but we always have a leash backpack for the younger one- he’s able to walk on his own but not too far! They get to go to the grocery store and choose their packaged snacks (which is a pre-travel only treat), so they are excited to finally get the snacks! Each kiddo also gets a small zippable bag with their special books and toys- zippable means there’s a chance that everything stays contained. And even at seven and three, I STILL carry a set of clothes for each one On multiple day car trips, we do hourly car presents on the long travel days. I look all year at thrift shops and garage sales to find little things that they will enjoy (like hot wheels, new books, puzzles, etc) and then add one nicer present for each of them (the current favorites are Tegu magnetic blocks, which I get on sale on Black Friday or Prime Day). Since we don’t have videos in the car, this helps them not only track the time, but also have something to anticipate if they behave well. We try to donate the little presents back to the thrift shop if they are in decent shape by the time we get home so they don’t stick around.
Not sure if anyone else has suggested this, but you can check a carseat bag for free…carseat and whatever else you can stuff in there. My friend taught me this trick years ago when my kids were still in carseats. We borrowed the bags from her and were able to pack our carseat and clothes in there. The clothes padded the carseat so it didn’t get damaged, and we didn’t have to pay a checked bag fee for a suitcase. Win win!
Great post and I especially laughed along with your “best family photo” caption. Right there with you.
When traveling with a kid under two I REALLY benefited from the advice to also pack a change of clothes for MYSELF.
Our other travel favorite is a strap that connects a carseat to a rolling suitcase (you can also concoct something similar with bungees but we splurged on the official version). It’s brilliant–easy to use and lets one person haul suitcase, kid and carseat quite easily (I am not the hulk). Now if only airplane aisles were wide enough to wheel carseats down!
Soon after the implementation of TSA at airports, about 2004, we flew from Louisville, KY to Austin, TX when our children were 4 and 1 to see their grandparents. I had gotten through the X-ray screening with our son in his car seat, and waited on the other side for my husband and our preschool daughter. Our daughter refused to let go of and allow her favorite stuffed toy animal to be set on the X-ray belt to be screened. My husband knelt down in front of her, explaining all would be OK, that her lovey wouldn’t be hurt, etc. He tried mightily to coax her into letting go of her toy, all while the line behind them grew longer and longer. And longer. I was warily watching this from the other side when a woman came through and exclaimed in an exasperated voice, to no one, “He just needs to take it away from her!” I said to her, “I know, I know.” Somehow, he finally did. Traveling with small children is always a parental test! Lol!
My daughters are grown up now, but a few recommendations: suckers or lollipops to suck on during take offs/landings (also excellent when getting vaccinations! Let them choose and pop into mouth when they take that big breath to scream/cry. They know it’s gonna happen, but the candy helps–and we only let them do this for injections and flying–so it’s *special*)–to deal with ear pressure, and all the toys are great, but dollar store modeling clay goes a looong way, and it’s quiet and not too messy. of course they have to be beyond the age of eating it! And when nothing else helps, that’s when it’s time to bring out the downloaded video–this even helps ME keep it together on a long flight (preferably with headphones for your neighbors). But that special knickknack/toy/new book/novelty candy–this is the time to surprise them with it. Sometimes nothing helps–our daughter was a screamer at age two, esp when she just woke up…she would just scream with her eyes closed for like 20 min until she finally woke up, cartoon helped…but not always. Sorry, people!
I’m a full grown adult and I still make sure I have a change of clothes in my carry on! You never know when your luggage won’t arrive at your destination and I guarantee you’ll appreciate those clothes if/when that happens! I don’t have kids but hope to one day and genuinely appreciated your insight!
I have a four year old (I think she’s a few months older than yours) and every time we take a trip she loves to help me pack up her clothing into the suitcase and toys for her backpack. It’s a great way to help her build independence and self-sufficiency and take ownership of what we bring on our trips.
I should also add that my other airplane hack is that Netflix lets you download movies so we download a lot of child friendly movies. I figure that if there was ever a time to throw out all your rules about screen time it’s when you’re trapped in a airplane for 5 hours.
Call me a person of a certain age BUT why do you need birth certificates when you travel with children? Does this apply to all those under age 18?
You need a birth certificate for a lap infant to prove they are under two years of age.
Ah. We had the all-too-rare (even 30+ years ago) benefit of both sets of grandparents, two sets of great-grandparents, and an assortment of great-great/great aunts/uncles, aunts/uncles within an hours drive (grandparents all within a 20 minute drive). Of course back then air travel was far less onerous. One could take a trip to the airport to partake of frozen yogurt (it was a new!) and watch planes take-off and land.
I wish we would have watched that Daniel Tiger episode before I traveled alone with 2 children ages 3 1/2 and 4 months at the time. My story involves a Minnie Mouse backpack and a TSA agent being called to investigate “luggage left unattended” during a connection we had.
So glad you got to enjoy autumn in western North Carolina. I live about an hour east of Asheville. I’ve been in North Carolina six years now, and this autumn was the best ever! I previously lived in Iowa for 60+ years. I am not a fan of snow and super cold weather. I enjoy your photos but I wouldn’t want to be there, I check back on what the temperatures are in Iowa on cold winter mornings but I wouldn’t want to be there, and I enjoy the heck out of North Carolina!
We have 4 kids, so we have mastered the art of the roadtrip (helpful that our parents are 2 and 8 hours away). It is always an adventure! We’ve added a travel rewards cars to the last year or two, and having the option of hotels to break up a drive with a late start and/or give us more space has been a gamechanger. I really like that
Thanks Mrs. Frugalwoods for sharing your travel story, it already sounds exhausting by just reading it, hahaha!! We haven’t traveled a lot since having kids but we may take our first trip as a family of four this summer on a cross country flight from SF to NYC for a wedding so this is a good guide to read again if we do indeed fly over there.
We have mainly have cash back credit cards too and it’s great to have them to maximize the cash back rewards. I know which cards to use when we go to gas stations, restaurants, and groceries to take advantage of it. I did open a no-annual fee travel rewards credit card recently so I am going to start to build up points for future traveling on flights and hotels.
As a grandmother , I applaud your intelligent suspension of normal rules when travelling!Making the trip as pleasant as possible for you, your little ones, and your co-travellers is what happy coexistence is all about! Insisting on standard rules being followed is a recipe for a disastrous trip for your family and everyone in the vicinity.Congratulations for knowing that a wise parent chooses their battles!
We just took our first trip with two kids (now ages 3 and 6) without a stroller. It was (mostly) glorious! This summer we took a larger vacation that wasn’t to family, so we had car seats, and a friend had the amazing suggestion to bring a foldable wagon. We borrowed one and it was super helpful! We threw all the stuff and car seats in it to get everything in to check, and then we had it for the kiddos to ride in around the airport and once we got to our destination. It folds up and counts just like a stroller. Amazing!
I never comment, but I feel so seen by this post after our Christmas travels with slightly younger kiddos. Our flight out was overbooked, and we could have received OVER 2 THOUSAND DOLLARS to be bumped, and yet we were so in terror of our children that we just let that money go. Not the most frugal choice, but a good family one.
My son is now a seasoned traveler. Having just turned 7, he has been all over on flights since age 2. We live in the Midwest and we started him out on shorter flights to Florida, then gradually started expanding by first going to the Pacific Northwest at age 4. At age 5, we shuttled off to Iceland, and last year, when he was 6, we jetted off to Paris, Gibraltar, and Valencia, Spain. That was nearly a 2 week trip, and all we brought was a backpack each. He was in charge of his backpack…though occasionally, mom would help him out when he was tired. My son went on 13 flights last year at age 6 and he navigates the airport almost better than his father (who only went on 2 flights with us as he doesn’t have the travel bug as much as me.) This year, we will head to Alaska. I use travel reward credit cards and so far this year have booked 16 free hotel nights with 3 more free nights left to book. I’ve also booked two free flight segments (one ways), with 2 more free round trip flights still to book, and 7 business class Amtrak tickets. I do a lot of traveling with friends and family (as much as I can fit in with my allowed vacation time), so travel reward cards make it possible and affordable. I will say I am a responsible credit card holder and pay off my cards every month.
Loved your story and glad you got to have some quality family and couple time!
Aw, loved your descriptions of the flight and the experiences of rural kids in suburbia. Glad you two had time away together in Asheville – that’s on my list of places to go, so it’d be awesome if you did a post on it. I’m still travel hacking, though not as much these days because I’m traveling less frequently. Even so, I love to read what others are doing even on the cheap. Sometimes I wonder if the cash back cards are worth it as opposed to travel rewards. I’m on the fence about that one.
A plug for hotel miles: my family sticks with Hilton hotels because we are able to pool miles for hotel rewards. We pooled over 1,000,000 to pay for 20 nights in hotels on our recent trip to Europe! It was awesome!
I live in Northwest Indiana and my parents and sisters live in Arizona, so my two boys have been flying 1 to 2 times a year since they were born! We always fly Southwest (Chicago and Phoenix are both hubs) and even though you might be able to get a flight slightly cheaper, I love being able to change flights free of charge as well as 2 free bags! My mom worked in retail (aka lots of clearance deals for my boys) and then my sister had a boy so LOTS of clothes and toys have gone back and forth for free! A tip for traveling alone: you can have someone accompany you or meet you at your gate. Just need your license and flight information at the ticket agent. I usually fly one leg of the trip alone (so my husband can get back to school/coaching) and my mom always accompanies us thru security. Also, when we purchased a second set of carseats for my (non-primary) vehicle, I purchased two that were lightweight and recommended for air travel. My kids have always behaved better and slept better while buckled in to their familiar carseats on the plane and you don’t have to worry whether your baggage handler is as conscientious as you. My most memorable return was flying to Chicago alone when my super chunky youngest was ALMOST a walker (aka weighted 100 lbs but needed to be carried), my oldest was 3 and I had two carseats and my husband wasn’t able to get thru security in time to meet me. Luckily a kindly stranger helped me out so I could carry one carseat and hold my 3 yr old’s hand while baby-wearing my 15 month old. Super fun! Our other memorable event was when my son filled his diaper just as we began our descent and the diaper was no match and we had to wait and exit the plane with poop everywhere including the carseat. Even so, spending time with family and seeing my children with their grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousin makes it all worth it. And now (in clean clothes and years removed from the incidents) they make great stories :o)
Pack a change of clothes for yourself too! (From much experience traveling solo on long haul/ internnational flights with two kids)
That sounds exhausting!
I appreciate you sharing how you got it done.
There is so much involved in traveling with kids.
You can’t beat traveling with rewards. Do you have a favorite card for international travel?
Fun read…. my last plane trip was with a 2 yo nephew (and his sick mom) where he was strapped into his carseat,and decided he WASN’T into flying anymore…. Thank goodness for the ring pops hastily purchased at the airport gift shop! My only ‘frugal’ thoughts on this trip are…wouldn’t it be better frugally to have free flights,rather than one free hotel night? I hear you about not traveling as much, but just one good travel credit card (like Southwest or similiar) would have saved you a lot more money overall than paying oop for your airfare and staying at the hotel using points…. and if you fly a lot to see family,it’s even more valuable….Iike cashback too, but I’ve saved far more $$$ by not paying for flights…. I enjoy your posts!
Question about travel cards- I live and work overseas. If I get an American credit card attached to my permanent address there, does this mean that all my purchases would be seen as travel, and therefore I would earn points by just doing my daily life stuff?
I am trying to decide between this and a cashback card. If the situation described above is how it works, I will definitely go that route!
Aren’t kids just hilarious! I’m sure at the time it’s not that funny, but to us grandparents it is!! So glad you have your blog to relive all the good times!
My granddaughters, sisters, ages 5 and 11, also fight about ridiculous things. Miraculously on Monday (Martin Luther King Day), they were both out of school and came to my house (along with my daughter who had work to do on her computer/photographer) and we proceeded to appliqué hearts onto the little Valentine bags I make for their classmates each year (this is the first year I have to make for 3 classes, (luckily 5 year old only has 8 kids in her Kindergarten class), but I’ve got to get step granddaughter’s off to her since she lives 7 hours away. Anyhoo it was a glorious day, they ate their lunch mom packed and then we got to work on the dining room table where I had set up an ironing work station and the Accuquilt cutter work station. I was at the end of the table with another portable table where I had my cutting mat set up. I cut strip of Valentine fabric, BSis would iron on the strip of Heat and Bond and give back to me. I would cut into 3 inch squares and give to LSis who would place fabric on the dye and feed through the machine after putting the plastic thick thing on top of dye. After feeding, she would take cut hearts, and hand to BSis who would peel off the backing and iron onto little bags. Things when so well, I even took video of them doing their jobs and stretching their arms across the table to hand off the hearts.
After an hour or so of diligent work, then decided to go outside (where it was sunny, a rarity in winter in the PNW). They decided to clean out their sand toy taking turns using the hose to spray it out . LSis waited patiently for BSis to take her turn instead of driving all around her nuts by whining until it was her turn. then they carried said toy together back to it’s spot next to their playhouse (grandpa built from a Costco kit when BSis was about 2). Then BSis cut the new bag of sand (that I swear has been laying around since BSis was 2) and they had fresh sand to play with in their clean sand toy!
Then BSis decided to check out the garden beds (raised beds and greenhouse since it rarely gets above 70 degrees here and we like fresh tomatoes). She saw some carrots and asked if she could pick some. I said of course! I am grandma after all! Upon noticing BSis was doing something that LSis lovingly calls “playing farmers”, she came over to check things out. I took video of the cooperation again between the two with BSis demonstrating her “rock and pull” method of getting the carrots to come out of the damp soil. The last one pulled looked a bit like the Cactus Man we used to have on our car radio thing that sticks up on cars or used to. Why can’t I think of that word? They were quite jubilant about this interesting carrot and made me promise not to cut it up. I wonder how long it will take said carrot to go bad and get thrown into the compost bins?
Then we came back into the house and finished up the appliqué project. LSis wanted to hold her chicken and asked me to put on her gardening gloves so this could be accomplished (she is a bit OCD, this is the child who asks to wash the dishes and clean and LOVES my O’Cedar Spin Mop). She managed to pick up Flower who bent down obediently when LSis was chasing Cotton Candy and LSis decided to hold Flower a minute. When done with Flower she put her down and proceeded to resume her chaise of Cotton Candy. Well chickens are dumb and she ran right into the Taj Mahal yard that DH diligently built for the 4 pet chicks…….errr I mean laying hens. Well her goose was cooked because I shut the gate and LSis was able to catch her. She held her with one arm while petting her with the other hand.
It was such a glorious day I took pictures and videos to prove they can get along! As soon as my daughter said it was time to go they started to bicker! Have you ever heard two girls, born six years apart bicker? It’s ridiculous!
Girls are so much fun! I raised 3 daughters, now have 3 granddaughters and would love a grandson though chances are not good since my 40 and 38 year old are not having children! Dang it!
I laughed reading this as suburban North Carolina is exotic for me. My oldest friend moved to Charlotte a 10 years ago (from Europe – we’re from Switzerland but I live in the UK now) and every time we go visit he takes us to the mall, and for BBQ and breakfast and last time to see the Christmas lights at the speed way. It’s wild.
Traveling with kids is like any travel – good days and bad ones. Just keep doing it, and it does get easier! My best, most smug parent moment was getting to Australia (30h) for a wedding with a 2yo and she’d been so good we got compliments from random people! The worst was coming back on the same trip as both she and my mum were ill (one slept the whole trip, the other bounced off the walls… I’ll let you guess which) and I had ferocious morning sickness. But it was still worth it.
Single mom here who traveled with two toddlers over the years – overseas and domestic. My secret- I chose to treat airplanes like cars – my kids were quite used to 2-3 hour car rides without stoping. They ALWAYS had their own seat , even as infants (safety is a huge priority for me) and generally had a carseat- once bucked in, they stayed buckled in for the whole trip just like on a car ride! Of course, exceptions were made for restroom use!
I travel fequently with 3 kids in tow (age 7, 5, and 2), domestic and overseas, for work, family visit and vacation, by air, sea, or train.. Sometimes I travel without my husband (a little trickier) but we always manage just fine. When I travel alone with 3 kids (no husband) I never check a bag. I bring a backpack with me, my kids bring their own backpacks (yes, even the toddler) and that’s it. No matter where or how long we go, all we need must fit. If my husband travel with us, then all the aforementioned plus one cabin suitcase rolled by him. That suitcase fits all of our clothes, and we have a formula: 1 pants+1 shirt+1 T shirt for husband, 2 blouses+1 dress for me, 3 dresses for kid #1, 2 pants+4 t shirts for kid #2, 5 onesies for kid #34, plus 2 pairs of underwear+ one swimsuit for each of us. We wash and dry everything during travel and this number has served us well overtime, there’s no need to overpack. We also never pack any toys (they take up space, never being used, and my kids will be facsinated by a paper glass instead) or book (we never do beach read or vacation read either, there will be plenty to see and do anyway).
My kids are not fond of snacks so I never bother bring some (usually just lunchboxes and water bottles), but what they love is games and movies, so I bring them tablet. A tablet for each of them, mind you. We bought 2 secondhand tablets a few years ago for my older two for this sole purpose, and they worked like magic (my kids only get 5 hours screentime per week, btw, that’s why a 3 hour flight with unlimited gadget time sounds like heaven to them). So, when I was pregnant with number 3 and I saw a 45% sale for the identical tablet I snatched it right away (yes yes I know kinda crazy to buy a gadget for a baby that’s not even born yet, but I knew we’ll travel a lot and we’ll be buying it anyway). The hardest part actually is in the boarding room. My kid always run and play and try to destroy the room, LOL, and it’s hard to keep eye on all of them. However, I made them watch all the Home Alone movies and when they misbehave, I remind them that if they were being naughty and wandering around without parents’ spervisions they’ll end up just like Macaulay Culkin, alone and separated from his family during travel. They’re all terrified and being good, at least for 5 seconds. Then they start tease each other, run, I yell and remind them not to be Macaulay Culkin and repeat.
Checking in and getting in airplane/boat/train are still a hustle, but once we’re abaord we’re fine LOL. It’s getting easier I promise!
I’m taking my little one on her first flight (Chicago — Tokyo) this summer and to say that I’m a little nervous would be a major understatement. I hope our trip goes as smoothly as yours!