Traveling is difficult enough, but as any parent knows, just the thought of facing a long trip with a baby or toddler is daunting. And when that trip is on a plane with innocent bystanders as reluctant witnesses, just the thought is enough to curl your toes. So do you just grit your teeth and push through it, hoping for the best? Or is there a way to prepare, so the trip goes as smoothly as possible for you, your baby, and the innocent bystanders seated around you on the plane?
What are the best tips for travelers with toddlers?
Lay the Groundwork while Still on the Ground
The first step toward a smooth trip with a baby or toddler is to pack, pack, and then pack some more. Remember that when you are traveling with a baby, they are the rock star and the parents are the roadies. You will be lugging the bags around and making sure your little star has everything she could possibly require right at her tiny little fingertips. Your carry-on should contain enough snacks, diapers, wipes, and spare clothes to allow for any possible layovers or delays. Baby formula or pumped breast milk is allowed on flights and only needs to be screened separately through security.
Be sure to book either a direct flight or one with a long layover. Direct flights are best, because landing and takeoffs are hard on your baby’s ears and should be kept to a minimum. However, if you have to have a connecting flight, make sure you have a long enough layover that you won’t find yourself running through the airport holding a screaming baby and dragging your carry-on, car seat, or stroller. This is all the stuff of parents’ nightmares.
Instead, look for a longer layover so you have ample time for a bathroom break, diaper change, a quick meal, and a little time for toddlers to run around and climb airport chairs to work out some baby energy before boarding again.
If you can fit it into your travel budget, buy a seat for your child. While legally you can hold a baby on your lap until age two, on a long flight you and your baby will be much more comfortable with the extra room. The Federal Aviation Administration strongly urges parents to buy a seat for their child and strap them into a car seat for as much of the flight as possible.
Surviving the Flight with a Bag of Tricks
Pre-boarding is paramount when traveling with a baby or toddler. Some parents make the mistake of thinking they should wait until the last minute so their baby is stuck on the plane for the least amount of time, but that leaves you struggling down the narrow aisle with your baby and carry-on bags bumping seated passengers who will be eyeing you and your baby with suspicion, wondering if it’s going to be one of those flights with a screamer.
Instead, take advantage of pre-boarding so that you have time to get yourself and your baby settled before other passengers board.
For very young babies, the time to give a bottle or to breastfeed is during takeoff. This will help to protect your child’s ears from the pressure change. For toddlers, takeoff might be the best time to pull a special treat like a lollipop out of your bag of tricks. Sucking a lollipop will not only protect your toddler’s ears, it will also protect the ears of your fellow passengers from hearing your child’s screams.
With an infant, there isn’t a lot you can do on a flight except keep them fed, dry, and comfortable and hope for the best-case scenario—that the sound of the plane and the motion of travel will help them to sleep for most of the flight.
For toddlers, in-flight entertainment is the key for smooth sailing—or flying. Pack your bag of tricks with plenty of your child’s favorite snacks, including a few treats that you rarely let her have. These you can pull out to bribe or blackmail your child into behaving if a tantrum starts. Be sure you save the really good stuff for your child’s worst moments. You don’t want to give her the goodies right away and then have nothing left to tempt her away from her temper tantrum if one occurs.
Your bag of travel tricks should also be packed with small, age-appropriate travel games, coloring books and crayons, and an iPad, tablet, or phone with some downloaded kid’s shows. Now is not the time to worry about the amount of screen time your child is getting. Those rules—like the limiting refined sugar rules—can be left on the ground when you take off, and picked back up when you reach your destination.
Hotel Hacks for Travelers with Toddlers
Traveling with a baby or toddler isn’t just about having a plan for the journey, you also need a plan for the destination. This means ensuring that you have a good experience in your hotel or B&B. If you are in a single hotel room, ask for one with a large bathroom so you can fit a travel crib or pack and play in the bathroom.
Unless you bedshare or room share at home, you won’t want to start bed or room sharing on a trip, because a major change like that is likely to result in a sleepless night and a bad start to your vacation. Putting your baby or toddler down in a separate space will allow everyone a better night’s sleep. If your child is used to a dark room, a bathroom is ideal because typically there are no windows. If she normally uses a nightlight, be sure to pack one. The bathroom fan also makes great white noise to soothe a fussy baby to sleep.
Most hotels have small travel cribs available if you don’t want to have to check one with your baggage. However, if you go this route be sure to bring along a travel can of the best bed bug spray you can find and spray your baby’s belongings before packing for home. You should also spray your own things and your suitcases before checking out of the hotel. There are safe, natural bed bug sprays available in travel-sized cans that are ideal for protection against unwanted creepy crawly stowaways making their way into your home.
Be sure to bring along any special blanket, pillow, or “lovie” that your child needs for sleeping.
Hotel rooms and B&B’s should also be baby-proofed as much as possible to avoid any accidents or injuries ruining your trip (or your life).