These days, air travel is stressful enough . . . harder still when you add a fussy, demanding, sleep-deprived toddler to the mix. As any parent can attest, traveling with little kids can be a challenge, but with a little preparation, patience, and some helpful travel gear, you can turn that nightmare red-eye flight into a bonding experience.
My husband and I traveled extensively (through Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Italy, and Canada) with our first baby and are now planning some fun trips now that Baby #2 has arrived. While I’ll admit travel is very different than it was before, I don’t want to stop traveling and give up on that spirit of adventure just because I’m a parent. I want to travel with my kids and show them the world . . . even if they’re too young at this point to remember it:)
For those like-minded parents who choose to bring the babes on the plane, here are a few tips and tricks when traveling, and especially flying, with a baby or toddler:
FLY NONSTOP, DURING SLEEPY TIMES:
When booking your flight, fly nonstop and schedule your flight during that drowsy time when baby might be more likely to sleep (think naptime or nighttime red-eye flights). Before you fly—if the kids are not already passed out—take them out to the playground or park (or just let them run around the airport) to really exhaust them before you board. If they’re physically tired, you up your chances of them resting on the flight.
If you’re flying with a partner, try to sit separately, so you get a window and they get an aisle seat. This way you maximize your chances that the middle seat will be open and you’ll get a free seat without having to pay for one. Another option is to sit separately (in different rows) and take turns with the baby. This gives the other partner a chance to rest, enjoy a movie, and come back to the little one feeling refreshed.
If you think the plane will be packed, consider buying an extra seat. Airline policy allows children under 2 years of age to sit in their parents’ laps at no additional charge. This is great in terms of saving money, but it’s a tight squeeze for a squiggly monkey with an abundant source of energy. If you’re able, splurging for that extra seat can make all the difference on long or crowded flights.
How do you travel light but still have all the necessary baby gear? Baby’s Away, a company that operates in over 25 states, offers rentals for all your baby needs, from cribs and car seats to carriers and high chairs and everything in between. No need to schlep heavy baby gear—they will send it directly to your final destination. One of my favorite items of theirs is the BOB jogging stroller, an all-terrain stroller that is amazing for active parents on all road conditions.
Baby’s Away is a great service but there are delivery fees, so you have to crunch the numbers and ensure it makes sense financially depending on the length of your trip.
Amazon.com is also a go-to. When I traveled to Portland with my daughter, I discovered that it was cheaper to buy a new Graco Pack n’ Play and have it delivered to a girlfriend’s house than it was to rent one. If you’re staying in a hotel (or even a vacation rental like Airbnb), call ahead to ask if they have a crib available to guests traveling with infants. More accommodations are rolling out the red carpet for young families, offering helpful amenities like baby bathtubs or toys.
When it comes time for airport security, I wear my baby in my carrier (although that means there is a secondary screening process where they swipe your hands, but it takes only a minute). If I’m carrying on my luggage, I’ll typically gate-check the stroller so I don’t have to wait around at the carousel after my flight.
Since my hands are typically full, I try to minimize the things I need to remove from my carry-on bag (i.e., laptop, liquids) by packing those items in my checked luggage. I dress with security in mind, with slip-on/slip-off shoes and simple wardrobe. Remember that when traveling with babies, you’re allowed to take breast milk, juice, formula, or baby food through security, and are exempt from the typical 3.4 ounce liquid limits. Just separate the formula/milk from the other liquids and notify the TSA agent. (P.S. You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk.) Read more about TSA rules here.
BEFORE YOU BOARD:
I like to do one final diaper check before we get on the plane. It’s much easier to change diapers in a big bathroom with a KoalaCare changing table than in those cramped airplane toilets. Before you board, let the kiddos run, run, run. Now’s the time to get out as much energy as possible. Send your spouse ahead with the gear, and you board at the last minute with your child.
NURSE DURING TAKEOFFS AND LANDINGS:
Nursing is great during takeoff and landings, since the nursing suction keeps their little ears from popping. For a little privacy, a Bebe au Lait cover-up is a great thing to have so you’re not flashing your fellow passengers. If you’re not nursing, bottle-feed or let your baby use the pacifier to ease any ear pain during takeoffs and landings.
WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR CARRY-ON DIAPER BAG:
Preparation is key. Mama is like a Boy Scout—always prepared for the blowouts, the hunger pangs, the unexpected spills. I like to pack the basics:
diapers (1 for every hour of flying)
complete change of clothes for the kids and change of clothes for you
snacks (sandwiches, vegetables, string cheese, pretzels, Cheerios, etc.)
But most important are toys to keep your toddler busy. My daughter’s attention span rivals a goldfish’s. She is amused by something for 10 minutes . . . then on to the next thing. This means packing a plethora of toys and surprises that can keep her amused (crayons, sticker books, and activities every 15 mins.). For babies, often mundane objects like an airplane plastic cup, onboard magazines, or a simple spoon can keep them entertained. I like to visit the local dollar store before my flight and pick up a bunch of toys to tinker with. Another idea is to gift-wrap items you may find in the house. This element of surprise will keep the kiddos occupied while on the plane.
Pack the right diaper bag. I prefer a backpack, so I have my hands free. I’m currently using the Skiphop Chelsea Downtown Chic diaper backpack. It’s black, sleek, fashionable, and has a ton of pockets. Staying organized so that everything has a particular place can save you time and frustration when you’re in a rush and are trying to find something.
ASK FOR HELP:
If you need help, ask flight attendants and fellow passengers. In my experience, people are wildly helpful and sympathetic to your parental plight. From helping hoist a heavy bag into the overhead bin to just offering an extra set of hands, fellow passengers can be a lifesaver!! It’s not always easy traveling with the kiddos, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Happy Travels! For more on Family Travel, visit Travel Junkie Julia.com
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