5.) Packing light. Our trip was only four days, so we packed light to avoid checking bags. We each brought one small piece of luggage and one carry on (Laurel loved rolling her own luggage and having her own little backpack), and checked the stroller at the gate. We talked with Laurel the week leading up to the trip about how space is limited on the airplane and how she could only bring one or two small stuffed animals plus one blankie (usually when we do a car trip she wants to bring an army of friends and blankets). She was surprisingly accommodating and, after sitting on the tarmac a maddening two and a half hours in monsoon weather, we were incredibly happy to not have to wait further at baggage claim. And as it turned out, not waiting at baggage meant we were ahead of the 20 or so folks who arrived after us at the rental car agency. This was a huge timesaver, given that the rental car agents weren’t exactly moving at lightning speed.
6.) Bringing good snacks. Instead of extra stuffed animals, we packed snacks such as sandwiches, plenty of fruit, and trail mix. All came in handy to save on buying plane meals that Laurel undoubtedly would think were weird anyway. Plus, since traveling tends to involve a lot of eating out and a lack of fruit, we were grateful to have simple, fresh snacks on hand. Before we left to return home, we stopped at a grocery store to stock up on fruit and sandwiches again, and we also tried to stay hydrated on the plane (the airline was impressively good about making rounds with water).
7.) Having age-appropriate, open-ended activities. For the plane, I only packed items that I thought could get a lot of open-ended use (a few select longer books, magnet story scenes, markers and activity books), and the one item that engaged Laurel for countless hours (particularly useful during the two-and-a-half-hour long tarmac stint) was a coloring book from the folks who make Do-A-Dot markers. The teachers at Laurel's preschool use illustrations from these books for coloring projects, and they often comment on her freakish coloring stamina. I picked up the Discovering My World coloring book and brought a set of markers from home and we were good to go. During our adventures in San Francisco, I also stumbled across some small (5-inch by 7-inch or so), inexpensive princess and fairy 50-piece puzzles, which were nice to have on the return since Laurel had gone through all of the surprises in her backpack in bound. The puzzles fit on the tray table and also got plenty of repeated play.
8.) Packing soft clothes and easy shoes. Obviously comfort is nice for all, but having soft pants (instead of jeans) and slip on shoes made going through security with Laurel easier (the shoe part) and encouraged comfort and a nap in flight (the pants part).