Traveling with young children is a humbling experience. Gone are the days of relaxing flights spent reading or watching movies. Now you’re in survival mode, transporting live cargo from one place to another. The best thing to do is accept that fact that it’s going to be a challenge, and then take it all in stride and try to find the humor in it. Here are eight tips to help you navigate the friendly skies while traveling with a baby or a toddler (or both).
Allot extra time
Traveling with young children will most certainly add time to your airport experience. From getting through security with all the accoutrements to unexpected diaper changes, things will simply take longer. Make sure you get there with plenty of time so you don’t have to rush.
If someone offers to help you with a bag because you’re busy wrangling toddlers, then by all means accept the help! Now is not the time for pride—it’s OK to allow kind strangers to help you if they offer. Likewise, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. On a trip last year from our home in Hawaii to Atlanta (alone with a 2-year-old and a 9-month-old) a gate attendant held my toddler’s hand while I folded up the stroller, my seat neighbor (and fellow mom) held the baby while I installed my toddler’s car seat, and a flight attendant held the baby once we landed so I could get all of our stuff together. People are often more willing to help than you might expect, so be gracious and accept help if you need it!
Bring a car seat for your young toddler
Keep in mind your toddler’s personality when it comes to deciding whether or not to bring a car seat on the plane. I knew my son would not sit still and he would need to be restrained on the flight. He just wasn’t mature enough or ready to sit in a seat on his own. While lugging a car seat with you does add a bit of difficulty, it can also be an absolute lifesaver. He knew that the car seat meant that it was time to be still, and shockingly he didn’t fight it at all. Conversely, if your child hates the car seat and they’re mellow and listen well, then don’t bother with a car seat. This is all personality-dependent and you as the parent know best!
Bring a stroller with you
As with the car seat, my son knew that the stroller meant it was time to stay seated. Some airports are monstrous and the last thing you need is a toddler going limp half a mile from your gate. (Although you do want them to get their energy out before the flight, so plan for that!) If you’re traveling with only a baby, a baby carrier may be all you need within the airport. That way, you’ll still be able to use the escalators and you won’t have to worry about folding up the stroller at the gate. (You can check a stroller and a pack-and-play for free with most airlines.)
Don’t beat yourself up about screen time
If you need to give your child the tablet to keep them quiet, don’t feel bad about it. You’re trying to get from point A to point B without everyone losing their cool, and sometimes coloring and playing with toys just won’t cut it. For infants, I’ve found that showing them videos of themselves playing or laughing can really help distract them for a while!
Bring lots of good (but not too messy) snacks for your kids. Never underestimate the power of snacks to boost morale and prevent meltdowns. And make sure to keep wipes readily available to clean sticky hands and any messes that will inevitably happen.
Buy a few new toys beforehand
A few small new toys presented one at a time throughout the trip can work wonders, especially if you have toddlers. I’ve even heard of parents wrapping them up in streamers or paper so that the kids also get to open them.
Plan for sleeping
If you’re on a long-haul flight and flying with an infant in arms, ask about the bulkhead infant bassinet that many wide-bodied aircrafts have. We were able to get one (it plugs right into the wall in front of the center bulkhead seats) and my daughter was able to sleep six hours straight on our 12-hour flight. They often can’t guarantee you’ll get one, but you can call the airline ahead of time and then mention it when you check in and then again at the gate. This was a game-changer for us! If you aren’t able to get this on your long-haul flight, bring a nursing pillow that wraps around you so you’ll be able to put your baby down when they sleep.
Traveling with young children is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared for all sorts of curveballs and try to keep a sense of humor. And if things don’t go as planned, just remember that the flight won’t last forever and you’ll probably never see the other passengers again!