Travel can be an exciting and rewarding experience where you can build wonderful memories with your family. Setting out on a road trip or flight with little ones can also create unforeseen challenges and fears for any parent. After traveling extensively as a mom, I hope to pass on a few things I have learned the hard way.
On our tip list, we will include helpful ideas for air and car travel in hopes to minimize the challenges and prepare you to focus on building lasting memories with your children.
Traveling with Kids
Some of our tips work well whether in a car, train, plane, or van. Whether traveling to visit family, on a road trip, or on vacation, these few ideas will hopefully make for a fun and exciting time without all the extra hassle.
Take plenty of snacks! It is so important that you are prepared with snacks for your children. You will thank me! Snacks can be a great distraction while on the road or in the air. A full belly can help your child feel happier and more secure in a new situation. If you plan to bring a few things with you from home, then you can avoid some less healthy options that are more than likely, also well overpriced.
This is particularly true when flying because everything sold on the airplane is more expensive than in stores outside of the airport. Airline snacks are also often limited in selection and in quantity.
I typically load up on store-bought granola bars as well as trail mixes. I have made muffins and granola bars before traveling when I had the time. They all travel pretty well.
Bring Entertainment! I would suggest bringing a few small toys, a few crayons, and a coloring book to distract your toddler while waiting to board, on the plane, or in the car.
These items can also be helpful to occupy your child if you need to stop to eat at a restaurant. If you have a tablet or phone, you can easily download a few episodes or movies that will work without access to Wi-Fi. Do not plan on downloading anything at an airport or public wi-fi location. The internet access is not always reliable or very fast and often is not conducive to downloading entire episodes or longer movies.
Take plenty of supplies. It is incredibly easy to overpack when traveling with children. But, you do not want to find yourself on the road with little ones and not have what you need. Be selective so that you do not have to carry around extra heavy bags. I would suggest adding a few things to what you already normally carry in your diaper bag. Include extra diapers and wipes, several changes of clothes for your baby or child, a few toys, and maybe even an extra shirt for yourself. Extra clothes for the little ones are an absolute must! Unexpectedly, my little guy ended up wetting three different pairs of pants through his diaper while on a plane. Thank goodness I had clothes with me!
Flying with Kids
Before having children, I knew all the little tricks to move quickly through the many security obstacles at the airport. I would prepare by printing my boarding pass at home or I would have it on my phone. I could pack everything I needed in just a purse and a small carry-on bag. I would wear slip-on shoes and quickly pull my computer out before going through the security screening. It all seemed to work seamlessly and with little bother.
After having children, it was much harder to navigate the challenges of the TSA security with my overstuffed, heavy bags. Plus, you not only have your stuff, you have your little ones to manage! They do not care that you have to follow certain rules or that other people are around. When they are hungry or when they want a certain toy at that exact moment, they won’t hesitate to let you know LOUDLY.
Over time, I became aware of the rules that are involved when flying with children. Everything from dealing with liquids for babies, strollers, and car seats. After several flights, I learned what was essential to make check-in, the security line, and a flight much smoother for my little one and for me.
Here are a few tips I have learned through making mistakes that I hope will help you to have a more enjoyable time traveling with your little one. At least, I hope that you have a less challenging time than we did when we first started traveling with kids!
Window Seat Magic! When you select your seat assignment, be sure to request a window seat. If you are traveling with a lap baby (any child under two years old), it is extremely helpful to be able to lean against the window for a bit of support or rest. Once your child is a toddler and requires their own airline seat, you can place your toddler in the window seat while you sit in the middle seat and somewhat contain your energy-filled little person between you and the window. This helps minimize how much they affect other passengers. Another bonus to having access to the window is that your little one can be distracted by looking out at all the new and exciting views below.
Water Bottles/Sippy Cups: Many airports have water refilling stations near the restrooms. Bringing an empty water bottle for yourself and a sippy cup for your children will save you money. You will not have to buy the overpriced bottles of water from the shops in the airport. Also, it can take a long while to get the in-air hospitality water and snacks. It is much easier to have water readily available and it is free!
Give yourself plenty of extra time. The long lines at the security point check-in are often unpredictable and traveling with children will certainly increase the amount of time it will take to be screened. If you need to bring breast milk, formula, or any liquid for your baby or child, it will need to be screened separately and will certainly take extra time. It can take as few as five extra minutes or even twenty-five extra minutes depending on the TSA staff. If your stroller is too large to fit through the x-ray screening machine, it will have to be inspected and approved by an individual TSA agent as well. Be prepared with extra time for a screening of your hands as well.
Take a stroller. If you are flying with an infant, you will likely have a larger stroller with storage as well as an infant car seat. I highly suggest bringing the stroller. You will not regret having a stroller with you as you wait in the long lines for the TSA security check. You will also have to walk to and from the gate, to baggage claim, and out of the airport and the stroller is extremely helpful. They will also come in handy if you end up with an extended delay.The airline will allow you to check the stroller at the gate and then you can pick it up when exiting the plane. Be prepared that you will likely have to wait for it to be brought to you. There is no additional charge for your stroller whether checked with large baggage or checked at the gate. If you have a toddler or young child, I would suggest taking an umbrella stroller, particularly for children under the age of four. Some airports will require walks up to a mile from the gate to baggage claim. It is incredibly challenging for their little legs to go that far, especially after a long travel day. It is also quite challenging to keep up with the moving crowds of people hurrying to gather their baggage. Trust me, it is incredibly challenging to carry your purse, diaper bag, carry on, and your little one through the airport. A stroller can simplify all of this for you and your child.
Relax. There is something to be said for the phrase, “There is no place like home.” When you are traveling with little ones, you are out of the comfort of your home. Your kids are experiencing lots of new things too. It can be pretty overwhelming for them. Crowds of people, trying to nap in a new situation, new sounds are all things that might overwhelm your little people in tow. When my baby would cry on the plane, I would get so stressed about the other passengers. When my toddler threw up all over the floor of the airplane, I was mortified. After a few more years of traveling, I have come to realize that if I take some deep breaths and relax a bit, then my children will learn to follow my lead. If I am beyond stressed and tense, they will follow my lead as well. Just last week, my son threw up in the airport and my response this time was collected and not frantic like it was in years past. I moved him towards the trash can, pulled out the wipes, changed his shirt, and moved along. It is not easy to relax in these moments but it does help when it feels like everything is falling apart while traveling.
Consider when you board. You will likely be allowed to board early if you are traveling with a baby or with young children. It can be helpful to get settled before the plane fills up with all the other passengers. If your baby is a bit fussy or your toddler is full of energy, you may choose to board after the crowds to avoid extra time sitting on the airplane.
Bring a friend! If you are planning to fly alone with an infant and a toddler, way to go! You can request a pass from your airline for someone to escort you to the gate. You can also request someone else to meet you at the gate in your arrival city. These helpers will definitely need valid identification, the pass from the airline, and to go through the security checkpoint to be allowed at the gate.
Take care of painful popping ears. Allowing your little one to suck on a pacifier, bottle, or sippy cup can help alleviate the pressure in your baby’s ears. Doing this during take-off and landing is particularly helpful when it can be most uncomfortable for your child.
Diaper changes on the plane. Most airplanes will have a changing table in the bathroom. To use it, fold it down off the back wall. Because of such limited space, I would suggest taking just a diaper and wipes, and not the entire diaper bag into the bathroom. The changing table is pretty small but it does hold up to fifty pounds. This is particularly helpful when you need to change a potty-training three-year-old. It can still be quite a challenge!
Practice flying! Depending on your child’s age, it could be helpful to play pretend and practice what it is like to go through the security line, buckling up the seat belt, and sitting on the plane. Talk about some of the new things they may see and noises they may hear. It was incredibly helpful for our young son to know that his “Pooh Bear” would need to go into the bin so he could “get his picture taken” at the security checkpoint.
Last Thoughts on Traveling with Kids
It can certainly be overwhelming to plan a trip with children. But, with a bit of preparation and planning, it can actually be fun too. Hopefully, a few of these travel tips will help you create a great travel day for you and your whole family, whether getting on a plane for the first time, on a road trip to someplace new or to see your extended family. Have a great trip!
Which of our tips worked best for your family? Do you have any tips or tricks that have worked when traveling with your kids? Share below!