Friday, June 3, 2011

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers and Babies - Know Before You Go

We have seen our fair share of airports since Little Sweets was born 2 years ago. Everyone in both of our families live in California, and we live in North Carolina.

Couple that will our love of travel, and our daughter had been on 24 airplanes by the time she turned 24 months. (I was the sole adult with her on more than half of those flights.) She's already been to 3 countries, 6 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. If she hasn't caught the travel bug yet, she will soon.

Chalkboard U.S. Map by shopdirtsa on Etsy
Chalkboard United States Map by shopdirtsa

I think that gives me some qualifications to provide tips for when you are traveling with your tots! Of course I know nothing of traveling with more than one child, and we haven't exactly traveled around the world (yet). But hopefully there is something in here that you can take with you for your upcoming summer travels.

I'll be posting 4 parts to this series, one on each Friday in June:

Traveling with Toddlers and Babies Series
Part 1 ~ Know Before You Go (you are here!)

Let's get started with the tips!

Getting ready for your trip

  • Start writing out a packing list the week before your trip. Update it as you think of things and as you pack so it's ready for your next trip. Check out my Tips on Packing for the Trip.
  • If you're staying in a hotel, do your research on their cribs. Hotel cribs may present size and safety concerns. (Source)
  • has tons of travel solutions including portable cribs, inflatable bed rails and more. I have been eyeing this travel bed for Little Sweets now that she's too big for hotel cribs but not yet ready for a big girl bed.
  • Mix up the bedtime routine for a few days before you go. If there are parts of your routine (rocking in a certain chair, for example) that you can't incorporate on your trip, get your little one(s) used to going to bed without them. (Thanks, Mom, for this one!)
  • You can help a baby acclimate to a different environment by putting him/her to bed in the Pack 'N Play and moving it into different rooms for the few nights before your trip. The smells, sounds and sights will be different, just like they will be on your trip.
  • Take down the blackout curtains in the bedroom... you'll quickly find out whether it affects sleep habits. 
  • Some people prepare for time zone changes by changing bedtime a little at a time in the week leading up to your travel. We've never done this with our daughter because we'd rather just deal with the sleep disturbances when we get where we're going. (It always takes a few days for her to get used to the new time and surroundings, but we know that she will eventually get back to her usual sleep habits.)

Booking plane tickets

Ticket to Happiness by folded heart on Etsy
Ticket to Happiness by foldedheart

  • To buy or not to buy for children under 2? That is the question.
    • How long does your baby want to sit on your lap at home? Practice sitting with baby on your lap for awhile and see how you both handle it. If you have a snuggler like Little Sweets, it might be worth saving money and not booking a seat. But if your baby doesn't like to touch you while he sleeps, get him his own seat.
    • Do you want to be able to eat, read or use your tray? If so, book a seat!
    • If you decide not to book a seat, your chances are best for having an empty seat next to you if you fly on the slowest travel days (Tuesdays or Wednesdays, whereas the busiest are Mondays and Fridays), choose seats toward the back of the plane, and leave an empty middle seat in a row (i.e., if there are 2 adults and 1 child, the adults should book the aisle and window of one row).
    • Some airlines have discounted fares for children under 2 years old but you may have to call rather than book online.
    • Personal experience: Of all 24 flights Little Sweets took before she turned 2, we never booked a seat for her. However, we ended up getting an empty seat next to us for probably 2/3 of the flights we took. The other 1/3 were challenging but we lived to tell the tale. Being the sole adult with her helped get that sympathy seat next to me. =)
  • Avoid flying on the airlines on this list, if possible.
  • Check out the best and worst airports on this list and don't forget to think about layover airports.
  • Once you've chosen your airline, go to their website and look for the page on traveling with children for helpful information.
  • Swing by Seat Guru to help you choose your seats. You'll see which seats to avoid because they have no trays, less legroom, or are the loudest.
  • Book a flight with the fewest connections possible. Shorter overall travel time and less opportunity for flight delays, being bumped, flight cancellations... enough said. 
  • Some airplanes do not have microwaves (for heating bottles) or milk on board, so plan accordingly. 
  • Resources:

    International travel

    Miniature Pocket Globe by beepalix on Etsy
    Miniature Pocket Globe by beepalix

    • Newborns and infants are required to have their own passports when traveling internationally by air. (Source)
    • Passports for kids 15 years old and younger expire in 5 years instead of the usual 10 years (but you'll save $30 in fees).
    • For more U.S. passport information, see the U.S. Department of State website.
    • If you are traveling with a lap child under 2 years old, you'll still have to purchase a ticket for her. You pay the taxes on a regular plane ticket at the time of booking... since airfare typically gets more expensive as you get closer to the day of travel, taxes go up, too! Call the airline directly as soon as possible after booking your tickets.
    • If you want to book a seat for your child under 2 years old, you may be able to get a discounted fare of up to 50% off by calling the airline directly.

          Airport security

          Vintage Samsonite Suitcase by Bright Wall on Etsy
          Vintage Samsonite Suitcase by Bright Wall

          • Medications, baby food, formula, breast milk, and juice can go through security "in reasonable quantities" and do not need to be in a zip-top bag, but you should declare them before you go through security. Gel-filled teethers are also permitted. (Source)
          • You can wear your baby in a carrier through security checkpoints. I seriously suggest you do this!
          • Empty water bottles are allowed through security. Fill them up at the water fountains on the other side of security for drinking or for mixing with formula.
          • Older children must walk through on their own and cannot be in a stroller.

            Carseat basics

            • Does your child need to be in a carseat? The FAA recommends, but does not require, carseats for all children up to 40 pounds (Source - pdf download). Check your airline's website to see airline-specific requirements.
            • If you're unsure of whether your carseat is FAA-approved, look for this on it: "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." You may not be allowed to use it on the flight if it doesn't say those words. (Source)
            • Carseats will always have to be placed at the window seat so they don't obstruct you or other passengers from getting out in case of an emergency.
            • If you are bringing a carseat for an older baby or toddler (those giant "convertible" ones, not the infant ones that fit into strollers so nicely), there are a few options for getting it through the airport, but here is what I use, available on for less than $15. In my opinion, compared to wearing a giant carseat on my back or paying $80 to put some wheels on it, this is definitely the most economical, smallest and easiest method to use.
            • If you don't want to lug the carseat(s) around the airport, there are a few other options for safety on the plane (though I haven't tried any of these): FlyeBaby, CARES flight harness and the Toddler Flight Vest Travel Harness.

            Whew! Is that enough to get you started? If you have any questions that you'd want answered in the rest of this series, post a comment below and I'll do my best.

            What else do you do even before you start to pack? (I want to learn from your experiences, too!)


            1. Hi

              Oh she is destined to be a traveller now : ) How exciting for her : )

              I don't have children yet, but my friends and family members do, so I know how much planning is involved, if even for a short day trip - so this will be so useful. Great knowledge to share for summer!

              Have a great weekend ahead : )

            2. Hi SisterBatik, Your comment reminded me that when you travel with kids, it doesn't matter if it's an overnight trip or a month-long still need a huge amount of stuff, at least when they're babies. =) You are so right!

            3. Awesome tips! I travel quite a bit with both of my children too (2 yrs & 9 months). You are absolutely right in that you have to plan ahead for peaceful travel.

            4. Excellent detailed article, great advice, and well written. You kept my attention all the way through.

            5. What great tips for parents travelling with kids:)

            6. Tricia,
              PERFECT! We are flying in July. Abram has only been on one plane trip, we were moving so much his first year we didn't get to fly much. We didn't buy Abram a seat, at the time his was 1.4 yrs, but I did tell the agent at the gate when we were waiting to board and they gave me isle seats with open window seats so he just jumped around in the empty seat the whole ride. We rented a carseat along with our car rental, expensive...about $10/day, but no hassle in the airport. I have no idea what is better. So excited for our next posts!

            7. Thanks Shelley, Fabric and Kala!

              Briita, I am so glad you mentioned that... I had totally forgotten about renting a carseat with a car rental company. Gotta add that to my next post! Isn't it glorious when they give you that extra seat on the plane?!

            8. What a great idea!! I am your newest follower! I would love if you could link this up to my Delicately Constructed Friday!! Thanks so much!
              Have a great weekend!

            9. Wow! That's some detailed advice! You have some tips even I hadn't thought of (like moving the baby around from room to room before you travel). Thanks for stopping by my blog and introducing yourself. I really like your blog too (I'm a new follower!) and will stop by to read your other weekly Friday travel tips!

            10. That's a lot of info in one post! Impressive! One Step Ahead is fantastic - and if you look, there's a 'daily deals' button at the top where they offer significant discount (usually at least 50%) on one item. I used that to buy those inflatable bed rails, and we've used them through three kids now!

              Hope you enjoy your summer travels!

            11. Just linked, Michelle. Thanks!

              Sonja, Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

              Kristen, Thanks for the tip on OneStepAhead. I hadn't noticed the daily deal but that is great! Hopefully that travel bed I want will be featured soon. =) I've seen those inflatable bed rails before, good to know they last awhile. Thanks!

            12. Thanks for all the great advice! I wish we could travel more, but with 7 kids it is to pricey for us! We take road trips in our giant van, though!

            13. You are definitely well-qualified to give this advice! I'm impressed. We are traveling the country in an RV this year so I know quite a bit about road trips, but we have yet to do any international flights.


            14. I would love for you to link it up to my party that is running now. Any linky goes.


              Come strut your stuff.

              I have done a lot of traveling with my boys. We took a road trip from southern cali to Michigan when my oldest was two. Not sure I would do it again.

            15. Thanks for stopping by, Darcee, Stephanie and Mindie! I haven't done many road trips, so any advice you ladies would have to add would be great!


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