On the eve of the busiest travel day of the year, I thought this would be an opportune time to discuss most adult’s nightmare: travel with small children. It is amazing how an already unpleasant experience like being screened by TSA or having the person in front of you lean their seat back immediately after take-off can be exponentially more-so by adding small children in the mix. It doesn’t have to be as drenched in misery. I have traveled with kid(s) on both domestic and foreign (mostly foreign) flights and have learned some tricks to making the trip that much more pleasant.
- Car Seats: Infant carriers seem like they would be so easy to deal with, but in reality, lugging that giant car seat around while trying to maneuver airports and airplanes is its own special circle in Hell. Rather, check the carrier and opt for something more portable that leaves your hands free. I’ve used Ergo Carriers in the past and it’s made things much easier. Convertible car seats usually need to be checked. Most airlines allow this free-of-charge but you’ll want to review your airlines policies first. I HIGHLY recommend buying a decent car seat luggage bag before you check your $100-$300 car seat. This will keep it protected (plus you have an additional place to throw some extra stuff!) Finally, boosters are easy, but I just discovered this little inflatable booster from Bubble Bum that has changed my traveling life. Not even joking, if you have a child in a booster and are traveling, buy this.
- Strollers: Umbrella strollers are the way to go on nearly all travel. I have made the mistake of thinking my jogging stroller would be a better option and paid for it. I do recommend that you purchase a few extras for your umbrella stroller, like a waterproof rain protector. I’ve had to jerry rig a poncho to cover a stroller on an impressively freak rain shower in Paris once. I was not very successful. Obviously, if your infant is too small for an umbrella, you will need to take your main stroller. Make sure to buy a gate check bag for your stroller. This keeps it clean and slightly protected. Most importantly, make sure your stroller is fully closed and locked in before you hand it over at the gate. I have had my stroller returned to me bent and ruined because someone couldn’t figure out it was closed all the way and tried to pry it open. That was awesome….
- Chow time: Nothing is more fun than trying to cox a grumpy and exhausted kid to eat something they aren’t used to. It’s always a good idea to bring a few tastes of home. I try to pack enough small quick snacks to last the trip and a few easy meals when they really aren’t in the mood to eat. This isn’t as much of an issue on domestic travel, but I find this particular helpful with foreign travel. Also, if your flight offers a meal service, it’s a good idea to order a kid’s meal in advanced.
- Carry-ons: For being so small, babies and toddlers require a lot of stuff; however, most of that stuff we don’t need on the flight. Pack light. Extra outfit for babies and toddlers new to potty training are important, but you don’t need a giant diaper bag with enough muslin swaddling blankets to burrito-wrap the plane. Bring essentials onboard, pack the rest.
- Keeping them occupied: Here is where I begin my Ode to the iPad… Definitely top on my list for onboard entertainment. Obviously, a tablet isn’t a travel necessity, but you do need to bring something to keep your kids entertained or they will devise their own fun by kicking the back of the person in front of them. I like activity books, favorite stories, flash cards, etc. Keep their little minds busy!
- Get up and move around: Toddlers can’t sit still for multiple hours at a time. Do a few laps around the plane. It will get the bounce out of them.
- You will need more time: Arrive to the airport early, much earlier than if it was just you. I’m there two hours prior to departure on domestic, 3-4 hours earlier on foreign. You’ll need the time to corral the kid(s), get through security, take 52 bathroom trips, etc. Nothing will make you more stressed than feeling rushed.
- Mostly importantly, remain calm! If you were only going to remember one this from this post, this is it: Remain Clam! Children feed off your energy. If you are a high-strung stress ball, your kids will be too, and that will special disaster for your travel. Just take a breath, understand it’s not going to be perfect, and relax.
Traveling with kids is harder than adult-only trips, but it doesn’t have to be an impossible or miserable experience. I hope these tips, learned from some dismal errors in my own travel, will help you have a wonderful trip!