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Everything you need to know about traveling with kids

If you’ve ever been stuck on a flight with a screaming baby in the row in front of you and thought to yourself, “why can’t those parents just shut that baby up”, I’ve got some bad news for you.  Karmatically, that thought all but guaranteed you would become the parent with the screaming baby on a plane.  Okay, that’s not entirely true, but if you have a young child and travel regularly, there’s a pretty high likelihood that said child will, at some point, cry on the airplane.  And inevitably, another passenger will have the same thought you had all those years ago.  And it will make you feel better to know they are messing with their future airplane baby karma.

My husband and I took Foodie Baby on his first plane ride when he was nine days old and by the time we celebrated his first birthday Foodie Baby had been to California (three times), Wyoming, Massachusetts, New York (twice), Costa Rica, and Wisconsin.  Traveling with an infant requires different tools than traveling with a toddler, but I think we’ve got both down to a science, which is good because Foodie Baby 2 will be here in a few months!

As with most things, fear of the unknown seems to cause the most anxiety for parents traveling with kids for the first time.  I am going to try to put your mind at ease by giving you some general information about what to expect at the airport and on the flight with your kid.  You can also review my infant and toddler travel essentials to get an idea of what to pack for travel with young children.  Most often, the questions I get from parents are about travel gear and airport security requirements, so I’ve tried to pay extra attention to those areas in my posts.

Here are my top infant and toddler travel tips as well as some general information about traveling with kids.  Please post additional tips in the comments!

Toddler Travel Essentials

Entertaining busy hands is the name of the game when traveling with a toddler!

  1. Snacks: try to choose snacks that take TIME to eat.  You can make single serving snack packs with cheerios, animal crackers, grapes, apple slices or cheese cubes.  You can also buy single serving packs at the grocery store.  Ask your kiddo to try to open the package themselves—it’s all part of the time killing strategy—and play a counting game as they get the snack out of the bag.  Don’t forget to pack extra snacks for your flight home (I usually put these in my checked bag or make a grocery store run the day before our flight home)!

  2. Milk: bring it with you because you will rarely find WHOLE milk at the airport.  We put milk in bike water bottles so that it doesn’t leak and pack it into FB’s lunch box with ice packs.

  3. Toys: go to the dollar section at Target or the dollar store.  Buy a bunch of junk that won’t make a huge mess then hide them until you get on the plane.  If you’re an overachieving parent, you can wrap the toys.  If you’re like me, you can just put them in brown lunch bags or just throw them in the luggage.  Anytime your kiddo starts to get antsy, bring out a new toy.  Favorites in our family are army men, rubber lizards, crayons, Mickey Mouse figurines, trains, toy cars, and stickers.  Beware of puzzles, play doh, and anything with small parts that fall under the seat!  Parents magazine posted a great article on entertaining kids on airplanes.

  4. Kid luggage: We got FB this small, rolling suitcase and he LOVES it.  He is so proud when he rolls it down the airport terminal to our gate.  I try to divide our bags up so that we have toys/games in FB’s puppy luggage, food/milk in my backpack and medicine in my husband’s bag.

  5. iPad: Download some new toddler apps and a few TV shows.  My favorites are listed here (new post with favorite apps)

  6. Headphones/Speaker: There are great kid headphones on the market like these.  Although they don’t make headphones for toddlers, most kid headphones work—just make sure they aren’t too heavy!  I recommend “practicing” with the headphones in your car before your trip.  Inevitably, your toddler will want to remove said headphones and play with the cord, eat the earpiece, adjust the height, etc.  That’s fine.  It’s another way to kill time on the plane.  However, if your kid is like FB, he will reject headphones outright after a few nibbles and you will need another solution.  The regular sound of the ipad isn’t loud enough to hear over the airplane engine so I recommend getting a small external speaker like this one.  I like this one because it’s rechargeable and you can twist the speaker down to make it even quieter and smaller.  Technically, these are not allowed during your flight.  However, I’ve found most flight attendants and passengers turn a blind eye if your kid isn’t crying.

  7. Stickers: stickers provide toddlers with endless entertainment AND they are great for developing fine motor skills.  Foam stickers are great for younger toddlers because they’re easier to peel the backs off themselves, but all stickers are winners!  Use a copy of sky mall as your sticker pad and you don’t have to bring separate paper!

  8. Lollipops: I’m not usually an advocate of candy for kids, but lollipops come in handy on flights in two ways—1) they help with pressure on kids’ ears during take off and landing and 2) they occupy kids for awhile during the flight—I HAVE used candy as a bribe during a flight.  I’m not proud of it, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

  9. Car seat: We do not usually take our car seat with us on airplane trips because for a small fee you can add a car seat to your rental car.  Every car and driver I have booked to take us from the airport to our hotel has also had an option to add a car seat.  I’ve seen parents who strap their kids into a car seat on the airplane and I know it’s free to check a car seat.  It’s probably a good idea and definitely safer.  I just don’t have it in me to carry anything in addition to the gear I’m already schlepping.

  10. Umbrella Stroller in a Gate Check Bag:  We have the MacLaren Volo I like it because it weighs only 8.8 pounds and folds easily.  It does not have some of the perks our other stroller has (reclining seat, storage, play tray) but it’s small enough to fit in the trunk of any car and it’s really easy to fit in the xray machine when you go through security.  I always bring a gate check bag as well.  These bags protect your stroller, but they also allow you to shove extra stuff in them if you need to.  I’ve been known to shove jackets, life jackets, larger toys and even xmas gifts in the gate check bag before we board the plane.

  11. Change of clothes:  If we had limitless space in our carryon, I would honestly recommend you bring a change of clothes for everyone flying with you.  These days, it’s usually my husband or I that end up with play doh smooshed into our pants or (the worst) sticky medicine on our shirt.  But I always pack an extra change of clothes for FB.  I consider it a kind of insurance—as long as I bring extra pants, he won’t have an accident.

  12. First Aid/Meds: My medical travel essentials include: Tylenol, Advil/Motrin, Benadryl, a thermometer (learned that one the hard way), TONS of hand sanitizer.  FB has really bad allergies so I like to have the Benadryl on hand in case he has problems.  And yes, I’ve given it to him before on the plane to help him nap.  I’ve read it has the opposite affect on some children, making them wired and jumpy but it makes our little guy extra sleepy.

  13. Diapers/Wipes: Duh.  Bring 2 more diapers than you think you need and plenty of wipes.  You never know.  I also like the disposable changing pads.  The airport bathrooms are germ cesspools.

General Information for kid travel

Identification:  If you have a child under 18, they do NOT need to have photo identification unless they are leaving the country.  http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/acceptable-ids

Liquids: According to the TSA, breast milk and formula qualify as “medically required liquids” and can be carried through security in excess of 3.5 ounces.  You simply need to alert a TSA employee that you have medically required liquids and they will test them.  Some airports have new machines that do not require the liquid containers to be opened in order to test.  Others insert a small paper strip into the liquid and test the liquid that way.  As I’ve mentioned, I have never had a problem carrying whole milk through security either.  http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/food-and-beverages

Airport Security:  Airlines are incredibly tolerant of traveling with baby gear but you must put all gear including food, strollers, car seats, blankets (give your kiddo a warning about this ahead of time!) and bags through the x-ray machine.  Children under 12 do not need to remove their shoes.  If something will not fit through the x-ray detector, do not fear! TSA has other ways to search it.

Individual Screening: Rest assured, TSA will not do anything that REQUIRES you to be separated from your child.  There are two types of devices that screen people—the walk through x-ray machine and Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT).  If a child is able, TSA will ask that the child to walk through the x-ray machine on their own.  When our entire family travels together, we usually go through one at a time with Foodie Baby in the middle.  I’ll be honest with you: he doesn’t love it.  The airport security line is just kind of scary, but it helps if one of us walks through first and then beckons FB to come through.  If your child absolutely will NOT walk through on his own, that’s ok.  The only real drawback is that if you carry the child through and you set off the security alert, you are both subject to “additional screening”.  Anyone can go through AIT, but you cannot carry a child through.  http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/traveling-children

Family Boarding:  When Foodie Baby was born (way back in 2011), airlines allowed families travelling with small children to “pre-board” immediately after the priority/elite travelers.  Although it meant extra time in the confined space of the plane, it allowed us extra time to situate all the gear (link to travel essentials) we had to lug on board.  Unfortunately, in addition to charging for checked bags, most airlines have discontinued family boarding in the past few years.  One stalwart remains that allows family boarding AND doesn’t charge for checked bags—my FAVORITE airline, Southwest!  If you aren’t flying Southwest, you will not have the benefit of family boarding.  However, this blog post gives some tips for boarding earlier which primarily consists of buying credit cards associated with various airlines that give you priority boarding status as a perk.  You can also purchase early boarding on most airlines.  http://boardingarea.com/mommypoints/2012/06/08/yes-boarding-early-matters-to-me-how-to-get-it/#sthash.Pm6jZiiK.dpbs

Seat Sharing: Children under 2 years old do not need their own seat.  They are allowed to ride on their parents’ lap.  Here are a few things to know about seat sharing:

  1. You need to bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate.  The airline might ask you to prove that your child is under two years old.

  2. When you book airline tickets online, you do not need to include your lap child.  Instead, you need to get a “Boarding Verification Document” (BVD) at the ticket counter when you check in for your flight at the ticket counter.

  3. If you decide you WANT a seat for your child (really a good idea and a safer option), most airlines offer REDUCED fares for infant travel.  However, you have to CALL the airline to receive the reduced fare because they aren’t available online.

International Travel: Anyone traveling abroad by air, land or sea MUST have a passport, including infants and children.  We applied for FB’s passport when he was 6 weeks old.  The Walgreens photographer looked at my like I was a crazy person.  Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Take a passport photo (full front view, 2×2 size).  Make sure to bring a white blanket (or in my case a dish towel) to lay the baby upon for the photo.  This will act as the background.  You can also lay a white sheet over the child’s car seat and take the photo that way.  You cannot be in the photo with the child and they need to be looking at the camera…I know…good luck.  http://travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotoreq/pptphotoreq_5333.html

  2. Obtain evidence of your child’s US citizenship (make a copy of child’s birth certificate)

  3. Obtain evidence that your child belongs to you, his parents (make a copy and bring original of child’s birth certificate and your identification)

  4. Complete this form but DO NOT SIGN IT! (http://eforms.state.gov/forms//docs/ds0011.pdf?)

  5. Visit travel.state.gov for a list of current passport fees and write appropriate checks

  6. Make a copy of both parents’ identification document (passport or driver’s license) and bring the orginal with you.

  7. Take your child, along with his other parent to the “Passport Acceptance Facility” http://iafdb.travel.state.gov or passport agency http://travel.state.gov/passport/npic/schedule/schedule_852.html At the passport acceptance facility the agent will look compare the photo of your child to him to make sure they resemble each other and check your documentation.

  8. If only one parent appears at the passport agency, the other parent must complete and notarize this document http://travel.state.gov/passport/forms/ds3053/ds3053_846.html

  9. Wait…Average passport application waiting time is 4-6 weeks though travel.state.gov recommends applying at least 10 weeks before scheduled travel.  There is an expedited passport application process that takes 2-3 weeks.  If you go to a passport agency, you can get your passport much more quickly.

  10. Check the status of your passport application here 5-7 days after applying.  http://travel.state.gov/passport/status/status_2567.html

Make your own olive oil bottles

We all know olive oil has the “healthy fats” that you’re supposed to eat to decrease your “bad cholesterol” (do you like my super technical medical terms?  Yeah, that’s why I went to law school).  But do you ever walk into your supermarket’s vinegar and oil aisle only to have a mini anxiety attack over the plethora of choices (and price ranges!) of olive oil?  No? Oh, me neither…that must be some other foodie family blogger.  Moving on…

When I was at the store yesterday, I estimated there were 20 different olive oils on the shelf, priced from $3.86 all the way to $34.00.  In addition to the price difference, there are also different virginity levels or “grades of the oil: Premium Extra Virgin, Extra Virgin, Virgin, Standard, Super Slutty (just kidding). Some bottles say the olives are hand picked and others brag that the oil is cold pressed or filtered.  To add an extra layer of confusion, you can also choose the country of origin for your olive oil: Spain, Greece, Italy, California, France–and sometimes they blend oil from different countries together to make an olive oil meritage.

I love dipping bread in olive oil while I drink a glass of wine…but if you’re like me you can easily do without the bread and olive oil and just double up on the wine if you have to put too much thought into it.  So here’s what you really need to know about Olive Oil Varietals, a few tasting notes and some great ways to use olive oil after you’ve had your first glass of wine.

Olive Oil: The Quick and Dirty
•    Look for olive oil in a tinted or metal bottle—OO is like a vampire—sunlight kills it
•    Look for “born on” date—olive oil starts to lose its taste after 1 year—Extra Virgin Olive Oil keeps longest
•    If you’re not using it for high heat cooking, make sure it says “unrefined”
•    Store your olive oil in a dark cool place to keep its flavor intact

For dipping, dressing & drizzling: Use Extra Virgin because the acidity level is the lowest and its aroma and flavor can be most fully appreciated.  Premium or Estate Extra Virgin, though more expensive, will make a favor difference in your cooking.
•    One of the best meals I ever had in my entire life was at Don Alfonso on the Amalifo Coast.  I bought two bottles of Olive Oil while I was there and savored every dip and drizzle.
•    On my honeymoon, we did an Olive Oil tasting at Round Pond in Napa Valley, CA.  The Meyer Lemon Olive Oil is perfect for salads.
•    Last Summer at the Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, this guy recommended we try his unfiltered olive oil.  He said it’s like “your favorite song, turned up.”  He was right.  It’s peppery, olive(y) and so flavorful.  Drizzle atop pasta or fish off the grill.

For quick sautéing or when mixing with other ingredients: Use Virgin because the taste will be somewhat diluted by the cooking and mixing with other ingredients.  I don’t have a favorite virgin oil.  I usually look for the best price.
For high heat cooking: Use olive oil or grapeseed oil.  Although Olive Oil’s smoke point is relatively high (400 degrees F) he flavor of the olive oil will disintegrate at higher heat so you might as well use a cheaper oil for high heat cooking.

How to Infuse Olive Oil

Infused olive oil is a great way to add a little extra kick of flavor to your standard olive oil and it makes a GREAT gift.  I still recommend using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but you can save a little bit of money by adding your own depth of flavor with herbs and spices.  There really isn’t a precise science to infusing olive oil.  I’ve included a few of my favorite combinations, but you can really experiment and use whatever you like!*

Tools and Ingredients
Glass or nonreactive metal container
Funnel
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Herbs (i.e. Rosemary, Thyme, Basil,
Spices (i.e. Peppercorn, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes)
Citrus Fruits (i.e. meyer lemon, orange or kumquat)

•    Find an awesome bottle.  Remember: Olive oil is like a vampire and sunlight kills is so try to find a bottle with a dark tint.  Ideally, you also want it to be air tight.
•    After preparing your herbs, spices or citrus fruits by washing, grinding or zesting, place them in the awesome bottle.
•    Pour olive oil into the bottle through the funnel. (Note that most recipes below call for heating the olive oil.  This makes the flavor infuse more quickly but is not necessary)
•    Allow ingredients to “awesomate” (technical term) for about two weeks (feel free to taste intermittently).
•    Make a cool label (or just handwrite the ingredients like me).
•    Enjoy.

Infused olive oil can be kept for up to a year, but tastes best when used in the first six months.
*Beware of using garlic to infuse your olive oil.  When homemade garlic-infused oil is left unrefrigerated or kept for too long, the chance of botulism growing is very real. There have been a number of documented cases of people getting sick from their homemade garlic oils.
*I should also tell you to refrigerate infused oils.  Refrigerated is the safest way to store infused oil.  I store my oils at room temp, but then again, I’m a pretty bold risk taker.

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil
Ingredients
1 cup olive oil
Peel from 2 Meyer lemons
Preparation
•    Warm the olive oil and the peel over very low heat for 20 minutes.
•    Allow to cool for half an hour.
•    Strain and pour into an antique stoppered bottle, or any bottle you may have.

Chili Infused Olive Oil
Ingredients
2 cups olive oil
4 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
Preparation
1.  Combine the oil and crushed red pepper flakes in a heavy small saucepan. Cook over low heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil registers 180 degrees F, about 5 minutes.
2.  Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Transfer the oil and pepper flakes to a 4-ounce bottle.

Basil Infused Olive Oil

Ingredients
4 cups of packed basil leaves
2 cups of virgin olive oil (the flavors of extra-virgin olive oil will compete too much)
Preparation
1.  Combine basil and olive oil in a blender.
2.  Puree the mixture until smooth.
3.  In a saucepan, simmer the olive oil and basil puree over medium heat for 45 seconds.
4.  Pour the heated mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl to remove the basil.
5.  Let the mixture sit for a few hours.
6.  Pour the oil into an airtight jar. (don’t include the dark liquid at the bottom of the bowl, which is water mixed with finely ground basil)

Rosemary Infused Olive Oil
Ingredients
1/2 cup olive oil
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
Preparation
1.  In small saucepan, combine oil & rosemary. Cook over low heat until a thermometer reaches 180 F, about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool to room temp.
2.  Transfer the sprigs to a bottle, then add the oil. Seal and refrigerate up to 1 month

Now, if you’re really interested, here is an in depth lesson on Olive Oils:

Read more

To flapjack or not to flapjack, that is the question.

Pancakes always create a bit of anxiety for me because I never know quite how to classify them—are they a main course or a side? Do I treat them like a quiche, for example, and order pancakes as my entire meal or do I instead treat them like toast and order them in addition to my eggs and bacon? Typically the former leaves me feeling a little carb heavy and the latter makes me feel like a fatty. Usually my internal debate goes something like this:

Fatty Foodie: “OMG pancakes sound so good. They are probably just the run of the mill flapjack, but what if they are extra fluffy or extra thin or something I’ve never even seen before. I should probably try them.”
Fit Foodie: “Pancakes are essentially sugar and carbs topped with fat and more sugar. Do not order them. Get the egg white omelet with veggies.”
Fatty Foodie: “You owe it to your foodie family readers to investigate what could possibly be and likely IS the best pancake in the entire universe. Look, it’s called a griddlecake. That means it’s something really special. And it has at least one egg in it so that’s protein. It’s essentially health food.”
Fit Foodie: “She has a point with the egg. You can go to the gym later. Do it, but get a side of fruit.”
Fatty Foodie: “Good idea. Get a side of fruit and a few eggs. Pancakes are really just bread. You need protein. You can only eat half of the pancakes if you get too full. Oh look, this place already has a menu item consisting of eggs, bacon and 2 pancakes. That means pancakes are supposed to be ordered alongside other food. Get that meal. It’s totally normal and socially acceptable.”

Clearly, the Fatty Foodie side of my brain paid attention in law school while the Fit Foodie side was checking out hot guys. Shit. Saturday morning I was in Oklahoma City for a conference and I ordered the “griddle cakes” (with a side of fruit) from room service at the Colcord hotel. These pancakes were fluffy, flavorful, HUGE and amazingly delicious. I ate half of them (and none of the fruit) and felt like I couldn’t breathe for the rest of the day because I was so full.

When my husband suggested I make pancakes for breakfast the next morning my inner fit foodie cringed. I decided I would make pancakes, sans the side (or main course) of eggs but I would try to make them a little healthier. I added ground flax seed, bananas and blueberries to the pancake recipe I usually use and voila-I had a fiber, fruit and protein(ish) rich meal in one simple flapjack. If I had oats, I would have added them too and maybe even chia seeds or granola.

My Sunday pancake wasn’t as big or fluffy as my Saturday morning rooms service griddlecake, but it was pretty darn good. And I felt better after I ate it too. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it.