Lately, a variety of questions have popped up about traveling with wee ones. I’ve taken about 20 flights with my 16 month old (more than 1/2 were just the two of us). Here are my tips and tricks for a smooth travel day:
• If you travel frequently, it helps to keep a master list of essentials so you don’t have to start from scratch before every trip. My list looks something like this:
day clothes, pj’s, swim gear, meds/toiletries, socks/shoes, favorite toys/books, monitor, white noise machine, sheet/”lovie”, and birth certificate.
It’s reassuring to know you’re covered as long as you have everything on the “essential” list. If you forget something else it may be inconvenient but it won’t be an emergency!
• Don’t pack at 11pm the night before you leave or when you are super tired.
• Cover shoes with a disposable plastic grocery bag and re-use them for soiled laundry. If you have shoes that don’t smell so great (anyone have a teenage boy?) place used dryer sheets inside the shoes. Makes them smell like fresh laundry!
• If you have an item you don’t want to wrinkle, fold it in a plastic dry cleaning bag when you pack it. The plastic keeps it from wrinkling.
• Children that are generally well rested tend to bounce back quickly from having their routine disrupted. I live about 2 1/2 hours from the airport and I try to time it so we’re driving during morning nap time. If afternoon nap doesn’t happen, at least I know he got one nap that day. Do the best you can and don’t stress.
• Once you get to your destination, set up everything you need for bedtime so if he melts down quickly, you’re ready. (Pack n Play, white noise machine, monitor, etc).
• Taking your time with bath and bedtime routine helps children calm down from the excitement of travel, get familiar with their sleeping space, and wind down.
• If you have medicine that needs to be refrigerated, put it in an insulated plastic lunch bag with an ice pack. Keeping the bag in the freezer the night before you travel will help it stay cold.
• Don’t forget snacks! I actually did this once. Not sure what I was thinking??
• Leave yourself plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed. Traveling can be stressful and there are many components you can’t control. Set yourself up for success by being well prepared and on time.
• Keep in mind you will definitely need extra time to get thru airport security and you may need extra time to feed you baby or change a diaper.
• To change a diaper at the airport, I like to take a disposable garbage bag and lay it down on the carpet in a corner somewhere where there’s very little traffic. It’s softer and cleaner than the hard plastic changing tables and you can toss the bag when you’re done. They also take up very little space in your diaper bag and weigh next to nothing.
• If your child is under 2, don’t forget to add them to the reservation as a lap child. Even though they’re free, they still need a reservation.
• To add your child to the reservation, send an email request to the airline. It’s easier than calling the airline and waiting on hold to speak to someone. You will also have written confirmation once they’ve been added.
• Most airlines allow you to check baby items for free including a carseat and Pack n Play (and they do NOT count against your free bags). It’s easiest to keep the stroller until the last minute and check it at the gate.
• Make a note- when you arrive at the gate you DO need to see a gate agent to get a tag for the items you want to gate check. The airline representatives often forget to advise you to see a gate agent and if you forget it will cause a (short) delay in boarding.
• Everyone’s worst fear- your child is screaming on the plane. Eeek. Lets back up- try to set your child up for success by carefully planning the contents of your carry on bag. (Again, 11pm the night before is probably not the best time to think about this). 1 or 2 small, favorite toys, favorite book, “lovie”/blankie can all help keep a smaller child entertained. Don’t get them all out at once. Wait until interest in one wains and then introduce the next…
• Watching a Fisher Price app or a Baby Einstein video on an iPad can work wonders.
• As long as it’s not during takeoff or landing, moving the tray table locking mechanism back and forth and the tray itself up and down can help occupy toddlers. On our last flight, the tray kept my son busy for 45 minutes!
• Use a disinfectant cloth to give a quick wipe to the tray table and arm rests. It helps if you’re not inwardly cringing every time they touch something. I really like Johnson’s brand hand and face wipes. They’re alcohol free and wipe away over 95% of germs, and you can use them on surfaces AND faces.
• A bottle or breast can help reduce ear discomfort (or eating solids).
• As long as the “fasten seatbelt” sign isn’t on, the flight attendants usually don’t mind if you walk your little one up and down the isle.
• A change if clothes is always a good idea. My son almost never has “blowout” diapers and he’s had two on airplanes! What’s up with THAT??
• Be patient and keep your sense of humor! If he cries whats the worst thing that can happen? Someone complains? Smile and say, “When we land wanna share a cab?” Anything funny can help break the tension!
If you do have the “flight from hell” don’t give up completely! I had a really challenging flight about 6 months ago with my son and I was dreading flying with him again. I made sure my husband was with us the next couple of times we flew and they went really smooth. Now, I’m feeling brave enough to take a relatively short flight alone with him later this week!
Friends and family
• If you decide to take advantage of family that is willing to babysit, postpone your night out so it’s not on your arrival day. Give your child and family time to connect and become familiar with each other before leaving them alone together.
• Be prepared to communicate with your friends and family about what you are and are not willing to do. If you’re OK putting your little one down late one night so they can participate in a special activity, explain to those involved it’s a special exception and the rest of the trip you really want them in bed at their normal bedtime.
• Don’t hesitate to change the plan if you feel the current one isn’t working. Ultimately, you are the decision maker regarding what is best for your child!
• Friends and family usually have the best of intentions but they often interfere with consistent routines like napping and bedtime. That’s not always a bad thing. At home, our routine is super consistent and I’m home with my son all day so he can be really clingy. By traveling and changing things up, he’s become much more adaptable and more comfortable spending time with relatives. My point is- trust your gut and don’t forget you are your child’s best advocate.
Like most things with children- a little patience goes a long way! Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Traveling with your little one can be lots of fun and full of adventure. Enjoy yourselves!
Betsy Smith Barney
Pediatric Sleep Coach, Traveler, Blogger