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traveling with children

Traveling with Children? Pack Your Sense of Humor

As restrictions on our ability to travel lighten up you may be planning some summer trips. My 3 children have traveled a lot since they were very young. With my mother living in New York, family in Southern California and Colorado, and dear friends in Seattle and Switzerland, my children have grown up taking long car rides and plane trips.

In the early days, those trips weren’t always so easy!

My first plane trip as a mom was when I had a 2-month-old. I waited to introduce him to the family until he had his first set of shots, so he was protected and cleared for travel. We preboarded and sat in our front-row seats in coach. He was fussing already. I felt nervous and worried. Young babies sense their parents’ anxiety – and he was on to me.

I knew he wanted to breastfeed but I was uncomfortable and trying to wait. He began crying and I began sweating as the other passengers passed us as they boarded. One grey-haired woman stopped and held up the line as she leaned over to say:

“Sweetie – just remember that every single person on this plane was a baby once and you’ll be fine.”

It still brings tears to my eyes to recall how it felt to hear her kind words.

Traveling with small children is hard! I have enlisted the help of a close friend – a flight attendant and mom of 2 frequent travelers – to help me with some tips to get you through the journey.

Plan, plan, and plan some more. The more time you spend thinking through your trip and anticipating your child’s needs, the easier it will be. Make a packing list and write down what you will need at each stage.

Be sure to pack your sense of humor. When you travel with little ones, things often don’t go as planned. Your flight may be late or your car might be stuck in traffic. Try to accept these challenges ahead of time. Use your sense of humor to turn them into fun and memorable experiences!

Traveling with infants

  • Ask for a discounted seat for your infant and be sure to reserve the seat next to them when making reservations. The safest place onboard for your infant is in their car seat.
  • Have them feed or suck on a pacifier as the plane takes off and lands if they’re fussy. Most babies’ ears do just fine when flying!
  • Allow extra time to get through security.
  • Bring extra formula, food, diapers, toys, and clothes in case the trip takes longer than expected.

Traveling with toddlers

Don’t be surprised by the occasional meltdown. One way to prevent meltdowns is to stick to your child’s usual routine as much as possible. We all like to loosen up or relax on vacation, but with kids, too much loosening leads to trouble. Have fun and:

  • Try to stick with your child’s usual meal and sleep routines.
  • Plan time for breaks in your day.
  • Don’t stray far from their normally nutritious food. (A few treats are fine, but sneak in the healthy stuff too.)
  • Carry a backpack with water and snacks.
  • Enjoy the adventure at your child’s pace. Going too far, too fast, and doing too much will only lead to an exhausted and cranky child. It’s better to have fun doing less.

Set clear expectations about what you’ll be doing. Young children do better if they have an idea of what to expect. Before you go, talk through what will happen.

  • Explain: “Tomorrow we’ll get up early and drive an hour to the airport, where we’ll wait in line to check our bags and go through security. It’s important for you to be quiet and calm while we wait. I bet bringing your doll and book will help you be quiet. When we go through security, your backpack will go in a machine but you’ll get it back on the other side. Then we’ll wait for the plane. Once we get on the plane, you get to sit in a comfortable seat for the whole 5 hours.”
  • Talk again about the plans before each new part of the trip.
  • Include your expectations for their behavior whenever you can; your child will usually live up to these. If you expect them to be well-behaved and give them the tools to succeed, they will.

If you’re traveling out of the country 

Before you go, here are some additional brief tips for travel. Bon voyage!

Car trips can have challenges, be ready for them:

  • Put one-gallon freezer bags in your glove box for carsick kids to use.
  • Prepare for breakdowns and traffic jams; pack snacks, water, books, games and whatever might entertain everyone if stuck.
  • Plan breaks in the drive about every 2 hours. Bring a ball and take a few minutes to play together at rest stops. My family still loves to play four-square at stops on the way!
  • Give everyone a water bottle, toys, and healthy snacks within reach. It’s amazing how many carrot sticks and apple slices kids will eat when stuck in a car!

When you travel by air, pack a carry-on with:

  • Books, games, and small toys. It works especially well to bring ones they have not seen before.
  • Food for the flight.
  • Large plastic bags for soiled clothes, vomit, and trash. Diapers, extra wipes, and a change of clothes.
  • Light jackets, even in summer, to use as a pillow or blanket.

Keep your children comfortable during take-off and landing by:

  • Giving them a sippy cup or pacifier to suck on to help relieve ear pressure. Avoid choking hazards like hard candies.
  • Giving them a pain reliever, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), if needed, about an hour before you get on the plane. Follow dosage instructions on the package.
  • Bringing an empty sippy cup through security and filling it at a drinking fountain.
  • Explaining to your child that it’s not OK to put their feet on or pull the seat in front of them.

Most important, don’t worry too much if your child cries or fusses. Just remember – the other people on board were once children too, and you’ll be fine!

Find more resources for parents

My Doctor Online:
Personalized Advice from Our Travel Health Care Experts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Federal Aviation Administration:
Flying with Children

American Academy of Pediatrics:
10 Tips for Flying with Breast Milk

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