Do your family values include showing your children as much of the world as possible..but the idea of traveling with children overwhelms you? We see the dilemma, and we won’t try to convince you that there’s an easy solution. Traveling with kids is absolutely harder than traveling without kids. If the guy from Around the World in 80 Days had brought a child with him instead of a devoted personal assistant, the story would have been more like Around the World with 80 Snacks (And My Kid is Still Begging for McDonald’s at the Airport).
Since spending time with family is pretty important to parents (most days, anyway), and because we’re confident you don’t want every summer vacation to take place depressingly close to your own zip code, we’re here to offer a few tips for traveling with children. Here’s to making memories without losing your mind!
Up in the air
Leavin’ on a jet plane with little ones can be daunting, but it’s totally doable! Just take a deep breath, do your research, and have a plan…and maybe consider travel insurance in case your family catches one of those dreaded daycare stomach bugs the night before your departure.
In some ways, a newborn baby might be the easiest of diminutive flying companions. Infants aren’t mobile yet, they sleep a lot, and they couldn’t care less about the giant wall of jellybean dispensers at Hudson News. However, maybe because the universe likes to keep things balanced, you’ll find that the smaller your child is, the more STUFF he or she requires. Also, the only way babies really know how to communicate is with soul-piercing screams of discontent. Here are a few tricks for navigating all that.
Know the rules. Can you imagine the frustration of researching the best vacation spots, booking flights and accommodations, and getting your family to the airport only to find out you might not be able to go anywhere? *shudder* Make sure you’re familiar with all the rules, regulations, and options available to you. If you’re traveling with an infant in your lap, you don’t need to buy a ticket, but you’ll probably need a copy of your child’s birth certificate. If you’re planning to spring for that extra ticket so you can use a car seat or other child safety restraint, you’ll want to make sure you select seats on the plane where those devices can be used. Even if you’ve already been to TSA’s website, it’s a good idea to check in with your specific airline as well.
Wear your baby.
Babywearing keeps your little one close to your heart (literally) and frees up your hands to dig through your purse (AKA, the diaper bag) for your ID, show your boarding pass, and chug your latte as you hustle to the gate. If you aren’t used to wearing your little one, make sure you find the right carrier and practice before your trip. babywearinginternational.org is a great resource to check out!
Gate-check your stroller.
So we just told you to wear your baby, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the stroller at home. When it’s not transporting your child, a stroller makes a great luggage cart, and most airlines will let you check it at the gate versus the rest of your baggage.
Make sure your baby has something to suck on.
Changing air pressure and the ear-popping associated with it can make babies pretty upset, and since you can’t exactly give your baby a stick of gum, something to suck on can help (not a lollipop, though). Try to time breast or bottle feeding with takeoff and landing if possible, and if your baby takes a pacifier, keep it handy.
Learn how to use your infant seat without the base.
If you’re renting a vehicle and have time to install a car seat base, go for it. But if you’re hopping in a cab, Uber, or Lyft, know that you can safely strap an infant seat in with the lap belt pretty quickly. If you’ve never done it before, practice at home, and maybe tuck the manufacturers manual in your purse (or save the online version on your phone).
As your children get older, you’ll be able to travel a little lighter…which is good, since you’ll probably be chasing your now-mobile offspring around trying to keep them from getting stuck in a moveable walkway, spilling their milk on someone’s Louis Vuitton carryon bag, or committing security infractions that will get you all kicked off your flight. If there was ever a valid time to be a helicopter parent, it’s ironically as you’re about to get on an airplane. Here are a few things to help keep the madness to a minimum.
Remember when you used to bring your tablet along on vacation to read a book on the beach or catch up on celebrity gossip? Well, go ahead and wrap that sucker in a kid-proof case and download a few episodes of Daniel Tiger (or whatever your child is currently obsessed with). But remember that toddlers probably won’t be enthused about earbuds, and the other passengers definitely don’t want to listen to what your child is watching, no matter how useful the life-lesson songs might be. So consider a pair of kid-friendly headphones that will be comfortable on your child’s head and limit the volume so they don’t end up with hearing impairment from blasting “Baby Shark” too loud at the tender age of three.
ALL the snacks.
Unless you want your kids to arrive at your family vacation destination with (expensive) tummy aches and sugar highs, it’s a good idea to pack lots of healthy snacks and have water on hand. Pack more than you think you need just in case flights get delayed. You can’t bring bottled water through security, but you can bring empty water bottles, so have one on hand for each family member to fill up at a drinking fountain on the way to your gate. Will your little angels still want every french fry, Cinnabon, and orange soda they see? Probably, but at least you’ll have some leverage if your backpack is full of trail mix and fruit snacks.
Rent a car seat.
If you’re renting a car upon arrival but aren’t planning to use your own car seat/booster on the plane, consider renting what you need along with the vehicle. It’s one less thing (per young child) that you’ll need to lug to the airport/pay to have checked.
On the road
Sometimes the best places to travel are within driving distance. Just remember that while the distance doesn’t change just because you have a kid or two in the back seat, the travel time almost certainly will. Pre-parenthood, maybe a road trip involved a great playlist, a couple of power bars, one gas stop, and one Starbucks stop for coffee and a reasonably clean restroom.
If you factor in gas, Starbucks, diaper changes/potty stops, actual meals, more Starbucks, more diaper changes/potty stops, and “we all need to get out of this car and run around for 10 minutes for the preservation of our mental health” breaks, it takes significantly longer to get where you’re going. Also, your road trip playlist will probably be voted out in favor of the Moana soundtrack, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Don’t be in a hurry.
One of the nice things about driving is that your schedule is typically a lot more flexible. Sure, you have goals for when you’d like to be where, but you don’t have to worry about vehicles that will actually fly away without you if you’re a few minutes late. Do you feel like you spend most of your life saying, “Hurry up”? You’re not alone. Whenever possible, give yourself (and your family) the gift of simply not rushing.
Comfy clothes are everything.
If you’re going to be in the car for a long time, and even more importantly if your young children are going to be with you in that car, make sure everyone is dressed for it. Soft fabrics, non-bulky layers, and minimal zippers, buttons, buckles, etc. are the best way to go when you’re buckled into a small space for hours at a time.
A moment of acceptance
Before kids, maybe you took an impulse trip to Dubai to drink tea at the top of the tallest building in the world. As you become accustomed to planning play dates weeks in advance and Target runs that somehow take all day to execute, the idea of that much spontaneity will make you laugh and laugh.
Before kids, maybe you hopped on a flight to Paris with nothing more than a carryon bag and an intense appreciation for wine and cheese to get you through the next two weeks. Reflect on that the first time you travel as a new mom, as you’re waiting in line to check your suitcase (which, let’s face it, probably exceeds the weight limit), baby strapped to your chest, diaper bag over your shoulder, surrounded by a car seat, a stroller, a pack’n’play, and a sneaking suspicion that life will never be the same.
Spoiler alert: life WON’T ever be the same, but it will absolutely be a different kind of awesome!
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