Traveling with kids can be paralyzingly difficult. Whether trying to show off your newborn to your Alaskan Aunt Abbey or taking the kids on your first family vacation, there are loads of stress-inducing decisions to make in preparation for such events. We’ve put together some words to live by when traveling with your young ones.
Traveling with Tots
Is it worth it? An important thing to think about is the value of this proposed trip. Is it worth it to you as a parent to make this trip and potentially upset your baby’s delicate sleep schedule? Is the destination you’re traveling to equipped with all the amenities that you require to keep you and your baby happy? Is the financial cost of the trip worth the hassle?
A lot of times, the answer is no, and that’s okay! While the pressure of visiting friends and family with your baby can be substantial, many people don’t realize how difficult it is to care for a newborn (surprisingly, many people who may have once raised their own) let alone to travel with one. It’s okay to say no and tell people that they can visit you instead.
When you must, you must. Sometimes a trip with a baby is unavoidable or maybe desirable: a wedding, a funeral or a once-in-a-lifetime event for instance may compel you to take a trip with your young one. In these cases, don’t panic and get out your pen and paper. It’s time to make a checklist! The first thing you’ll want to do make a list of what is absolutely essential for baby and make sure you have enough, plus a little extra, on hand for the total trip time.
Plane, Planes and Plane-mobiles. For obvious reasons, you’ll want to be extra thorough about packing everything you need when flying as there are no pit-stops along the way. The list should primarily consist of the basics: food, extra clothes, burp cloths, diapers, wipes (lots of wipes), and any soothing toys that may help your baby. Anything else will just be extra carrying weight so try to limit what you bring to the bare minimum.
When we made our trip from Boston to California with our 9 month old for a funeral, it was a less than ideal time (funerals never are of course). But in terms of child development, we really didn’t want to travel across the country at that time. We had just gotten baby on a semi-regular sleep schedule, he was still breastfeeding and the total travel time door to door would be in the vicinity of 10 hours. We had to in this instance and learned a lot about what to expect.
Now, while it is easier to take a child on an airplane who can’t quite walk yet in some respects, baby food consumption is quite a specialized affair and something that we had to consider. We had some logistical concerns with transporting breastmilk for instance. Keeping it cool, producing enough for the trip, and dealing with TSA when bringing all the extra food and whatnot. We ended up using prepackaged formula bottles for the trip. We were comfortable supplementing with formula at the time so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but if you are exclusively breastfeeding, either just feed in the seat or break out the lunch cooler, or some combination of the two. Pumping will undoubtedly present its own issues and may not be feasible to effectively execute during the flight with possibility of turbulence. For us, using formula took the stress out of transporting the breast milk which we weren’t sure would make it through TSA or stay fresh.
Regardless of what the TSA website says, be prepared to take extra time and lobby for your child’s necessities when going through security. We invariably had trouble when trying to bring in food pouches and fluid as you might expect.
Two Pro-Tips. #1 When boarding the plane, send one person on with all the bags when your zone is called and leave the other at the gate with baby. Baby can board last at the very end to minimize time in the seat.
#2 Bring your baby carrier of choice. If your baby does well in carriers, use it to walk up and down the aisle with her. It’s save your arms, which you can then use for balance and whatever else needs doing at the moment.
Courtesy and Etiquette. There is a recent trend for parents to bring little packets for their flight neighbors on the plane that have ear plugs, candy and cute little messages to pre-excuse their children from the inevitable hollering they will do at one time or another. This is kind of a cute idea that I am personally 50/50 on. It’s a nice gesture and maybe even advisable if your kid is colicky or notoriously loud, but it is a little too ‘precious’ for me personally. Remember, a lot people have kids and know what to expect (or should anyway). The biggest effort you can make on your fellow humans’ behalf in regards to travel is to do so during the day. This way, you won’t ruin many people’s sleep, regardless of how loud baby is. Red eye flights are good in theory and if you’re confident in your baby’s sleeping abilities, more power to you, but I for one, always opt to travel during the day as a courtesy to other passengers. Also, who can sleep sitting up in a seat?!
Traveling with Older Kids
Easier, Riskier. While traveling with older kids is a lot easier in terms of keeping them calm and reduced noise levels, there are some legitimate concerns that arise once these tiny humans get their legs under them. For one, they can get away. There are things like child locators, but seriously, it’s kind of ridiculous. Instead, why not use some good ol’ fashioned pen and paper to write your contact information somewhere on an info card they have that they can show a potential officer or employee trying to reunite you? You can even do so on their clothing to ensure it remains accessible.
Are You Not Entertained? It’s easier than ever to keep kids entertained these days. Rather than bring a ton of physical toys and books, everything can be housed in a single tablet or phone. Books, games, music, movies. These sweet little devices can do it all.
Journal It! A great way to teach your child to reflect on their experiences (not to mention occupied), is to to have them keep a journal of their experiences on your trip. You can get them a diary or use your trusty tablet or phone and have them recount their experiences daily so they can share with their friends, classmates or just to have to look back on later.
Engage Them. As kids get older, even if they don’t show it, they like to be engaged. Ask them what they’d like to do in the planning stages or give them options during the day. Little gestures like this may just have a profound effect on their engagement level during your trip.
While traveling is undeniably more difficult with children than without, with the proper planning and expectation, it doesn’t have to be blindsiding-ly terrible and can even be quite enjoyable to view the new experiences through their eyes. A great rule of thumb is to think through the steps of your trip, imagine delays, and think about how your child would deal with hunger, needing a change or to be entertained in that moment. Overpack for changing times and snacks, and underpack for superfluous things like physical toys. We’d love to hear some of your ideas in the comments below. Let us know what some of your favorite tips and tricks are in planning and executing the most serene trip when doing so with kids.