By the time we tumbled out of the plane in Japan, my family looked like the hot mess that we were. Our glasses were askew, clothes were rumpled and we were mean mugging everyone.
It was pretty terrible. But don’t make the same mistakes that my family did on your next PCS move!
PCSing Tips for Traveling with a Toddler in Tow
Toddlers are unpredictable and emotional. Tantrums and meltdowns will happen. Just know that going forward.
While it may be a pain to carry around, having a dedicated backpack for your child’s travel entertainment is a must. Inside, pack everything your child will need to stay busy and calm.
You could include:
- Small hard toys: cars, trains, animals, etc.
- Coloring supplies: crayons and coloring books or blank notebooks
- Melissa & Doug Water Wow: no mess painting
- Masking tape to stick anywhere or roll in a ball
- Window clings
- Electronic entertainment: tablet loaded with movies, apps, etc.
You should also include a full change of clothes, extra diapers or PullUps, wipes and hand sanitizer. You’ll need it.
Allow Extra Time
We made the mistake of cutting things very close a few times. Which was always the moment for a tantrum or meltdown. Give yourself lots of extra time for the unexpected. You never know when there might be a bathroom accident or something shiny to look at.
Pack the Snacks
When we flew on the military flight to Japan, I listened to my spouse. He proclaimed that this was the same type he took to Afghanistan and snacks would be plentiful. Cue hour 8 of a 12 hour flight and we had yet to see any food beyond our heat-and-eat boxed meals.
Bring all the snacks you can reasonably carry.
In a car, pack a cooler with chilled items. Restock your stash, and the ice, often. This can be a great way to safely transport unique, but perishable, road trip finds.
On a plane, you do need to save a little space. Pack things that don’t take up a lot of room. You could try fruit leathers, granola bars, and other flat-shaped edibles. Pack enough for your first leg, plus a little extra. If you have time between flights, restock in the airport. Your toddler will love picking his own munchies!
Use Your Resources
Our one saving grace was having airport lounge access. Some credit cards offer this perk and waive the annual fee for military troops.
Inside lounges are free food and beverages for all ages. Some are more child-friendly than others, but we have never once been turned away. If anything, the staff has gone out of their way to make the experience better for my children!
Plus, the lounge bathrooms are much cleaner and spacious than the ones in the terminals. Some lounges even have showers! And there is free wifi and lots of outlets to recharge your electronics.
Err on the Side of Stopping
If you ever debate getting a hotel for the night, just get one. Questioning the sanity of yet another pit stop? Just do it.
Toddlers can really only be pushed so far, and sit still so long, in one day. Being strapped into a car or airplane for hours on end can be pure torture.
If you are flying, especially PCSing OCONUS, try to build an extra day or two into the connections at major hubs. Having just 24 extra hours to burn energy or do literally anything other than flying can make a big difference.
If you are driving, stop often to stretch your legs. Plan on driving fewer hours in a stretch or scheduling your overnight stays closer together. It will give you more time to sightsee, and your toddler can take a break from the car seat.
Don’t Be Too Proud
When we first had kids, I got on my high horse. There would be no screen time for my baby until at least two years old. Between FaceTime and my own binge-watching-while-marathon-nursing needs, the screentime mandate quickly went away.
Don’t be too proud to use technology to give yourself a little sanity.
Load at least one device with kid-friendly shows, movies and apps that don’t need wifi. You can find child-safe headphones online, too.
If it makes you feel better, watch or play with your child. Talk about what’s happening. Or just let her bask in the comfort of Daniel Tiger.
Have you PSCed with a toddler? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments!
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