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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.