We've done a lot of travel with our kids; I think that's pretty evident from the blog here and shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone. I belong to a few Facebook groups and the one thing that I see asked over and over again, "We are headed to X with our toddler. Any tips for the long flight?" I also get asked if I have any tips for traveling with kids by many of my friends. Of course I have tips! So many tips! But, I've gotten tired from writing out the same one over and over again, and figured that writing a blog post about it would be easier for everyone. Most of these were learned the hard way, some were shared with us by fellow travelers, and others seemed natural to us, but have gotten the, "That's brilliant!" response from others.
I decided to break this up into three parts in an attempt to limit the length of individual blog posts. The first installment is everything we have learned about the transit portion of any trip.
If you're traveling with an infant in arms, you're best friend will be a good quality carrier. I have a Lillebaby Complete All Seasons that it awesome. I tend to stay away from wraps and mai tais because they can be hot and cumbersome to put on while on a plane; a soft structured carrier is my preference. Babywearing will make everything about the journey with an infant easier - it leaves your hands free, makes boarding and deplaning easier, will let you snooze while the baby snoozes on the flight (because we all know to sleep when the baby sleeps!), and generally keeps strangers from touching a baby. Many times, unless we need a stroller at our destination, a baby carrier is all I bring.
Make SURE you arrive at the airport with plenty of time to get through security. Security is already a nightmare. Security with kids while rushing to catch a flight is near heart attack-inducing. Save yourself the stress and get there at least 30 minutes earlier than you think you need to. The TSA allows parents to bring an unlimited amount of breast milk, baby food, formula, and bottled water through security - in other words, it is not limited to the 4 ounce rule. However, make sure you are familiar with regulations if you are traveling outside of the USA. They will need to screen your stroller and car seat if you are traveling with them. We sometimes ask for a hand screen; they usually get huffy, but will do it. Otherwise, you may be asked to collapse everything and feed it through the x-ray scanner. If you travel a lot it might be worthwhile to look into getting TSA precheck - it will allow you to keep on your shoes, keep stuff in your bags, and make going through security with kids a bit easier.
Car Seats and Strollers
Critically think about whether or not you need these items at your destination. If not, leave them at home. It will be much easier to travel without them. Since we gate check these items, we have purchased travel bags for them. Nothing fancy, just something off of Amazon to keep the car seat clean. We did have a custom bag made for our full size stroller after the manufacture's one fell apart on us.
If you plan to use a car seat on the plane, cross check the seat width and the car seat width to make sure it fits. Not all seats fit in the airplane seats. The other critical thing to check is whether or not there is a sticker on it that says "Certified for use in aircraft." Without this, you won't be allowed to use it on the plane and will be forced to gate check it. For a baby under 1, we choose to travel with the infant carrier. Once our girls reach 1 though, we usually rent a car seat at our destination. Some people don't recommend this, but we have had good experiences so far. Do some research on renting them with a car rental to determine if this works for your family.
Another option is to purchase a car seat at your destination. All car seats have to meet minimum standards. If the cost of renting on is high, and the hassle of traveling with one is unwanted, then buying one at your destination may be the best option. We are planning on doing this on our next trip to Germany. I'll come back and update how it all worked out for us.
On the plane, in lieu of a car seat, we use the CARES harness for our oldest. It runs about $70 on Amazon. It adds a harness with a chest clip to the standard lap belt making it safer during turbulence.
On the Plane
It's rare, especially on long haul flights, for every single seat in an airplane to be occupied. On long flights, we always ask the gate agent if it's possible to be seated next to an open seat. In our experience, gate agents are able to accommodate our request about half the time. We then bring the infant carrier on board and buckle it in to the seat. Assuming you are traveling with a lap infant, this will give you a little more elbow room on already cramped flights. Trust me, this extra room, and the ability to put down your baby someplace safe, is definitely nice to have.
Little ears can sometimes have issues with the pressure changes inside the cabin. We have helped our girls clear them by nursing them on take off and landing or giving them a pacifier. If your little one can use a straw, having them drink through a straw also works great.
Make sure you bring snacks! Budget airlines are starting to skimp on their snack offerings, or your kid may just not like what is being offered. We bring enough snacks to feed the entire plane. Not really, but we bring far more than we think we will need. When our kids are running low on sleep due to messed up nap schedules or late nights, having extra snacks on hand keeps the peace. I try to make them healthy, and something that they don't get to have very often. Usually it will mess up their next meal, but it's a small price to pay for a content child on a cramped airplane. A sippy cup or a refillable water bottle isn't a terrible idea to bring along either.
If your trip involves a long haul or over night flights with young kids, don't worry. The idea is scary, but our kids usually do great with these. On overnight flights, we change them into PJs and "put them to bed." On one of our transatlantic flights, a flight attendant showed us this brilliant trick to make a safe sleeping space for a young child. Take one of the airline blankets, tip back the tray table slightly, and then tie it around the table. Lock the table again. Then, take the other two ends and tie it around the headrest. It creates a sort of hammock that will prevent them from falling on the ground. Evelyn slept in this for HOURS on our last flight back from Germany. It's honestly the most creative and easy thing I've seen. Special suitcases that turn regular airplane seats into beds for kids are also available, but the hammock trick is free and easy, and doesn't require any special equipment.
Don't be afraid to get up and let your little one walk the aisle for a bit or hang out in the galley. Just not while they are trying to do meal service of course. That bit of movement and exercise will be a sanity saver for everyone.
In the Car
We've done fewer car trips than plane trips with our girls, so we don't have a whole lot of advice here. The one HUGE benefit to a road trip though is that you generally have a bit more leeway with regards to luggage capacity. When we take a road trip, we try to bring along our travel crib. It gives our younger one a familiar place to sleep and a safe place to play if we need to keep her contained.
Snacks are just as crucial for road trips as they are for plane trips. Make sure you have plenty on hand. Either let them eat in the car or stop to have some snacks and run around a bit.
Whenever we travel, I try to bring along a couple new toys or activities for our girls. The novelty holds their attention for longer than the same old toy they play with every day at home. Some of the things we like work equally well for both plane and car travel - Crayola color magic markers, the little magnetic doodle boards, reusable stickers, little toys from the dollar store or Target spot. I try to keep them small and lightweight so I'm not lugging around a giant bag of toys.