This section is intended to provide for you tips and advice on baggage, packing and getting the family organized for a trip. When you are traveling with a infant, baby, toddler or small child a few extra steps can go a long way towards a great holiday.
- Baggage Considerations
- Gear to Get You Through the Airport
- The Personal Entertainment System
- Packing for Success
- Carry-on Considerations
- Get to Know Your Airport
- Practice Makes Perfect
- Time Zone Adjustment
- Mother’s Little Helper
- Keep Your Routine
- Be Organized
- Mental Preparation
- Dress for Success
- Online Check In
1. Baggage Considerations
Airlines have become increasingly strict with regards to how much luggage you can bring with you. To save yourself a big headache and an expensive surcharge, use the following link to familiarize yourself with your airline’s baggage policy. Many airlines allow you to check a stroller, playpen or car seat for free.
If you are traveling with a large stroller, you will likely be asked to check it. It is strongly recommended that you bring with you a small travel stroller instead. The advantages of this are numerous, including the fact that you can take it right to the entrance of the plane and it will easily fit through the security x-ray machine.
If you plan to bring a car seat with you that you are not using during the flight, it is highly recommended that you check it at the gate, instead of with your regular luggage. Airlines rarely take responsibility for car seats that are damaged in transit, and this reduces the probability of rough handling.
One final note on baggage. Keep in mind how you will be getting around at your destination. If you are being picked up by a shuttle bus, a large amount of luggage will not be a problem. If, however, you have rented a car in Paris, you might find that you do not have a hope of getting all your bags in the car.
2. Gear to Get You Through the Airport
It is worth taking some time to consider how you will get through the airport with a baby or toddler in tow. It’s not just the sheer distance you often have to walk or on occasion run, but it’s also the hassle of dealing with lineups and security checks. Here are some suggestions to make it easier:
With a Baby :
- Carry your baby through the airport in an infant carrier or sling. This allows you to keep your arms free. Be advised that you will be asked to take the baby out of the carrier at security and for takeoff and landing.
- Push your baby in a small travel stroller. Roll it right to the entrance of the plane and pass it on to the ground crew to be returned to you at the end of the flight.
- Carry your baby in an infant bucket car seat. If you have purchased a seat for your baby, or, if there is an extra one beside you (and a compassionate flight crew), you may be allowed to secure your baby in it on the plane. Otherwise the car seat will need to be checked at the entrance of the plane and you will hold the baby in your lap for the duration of the flight.
- Use a combination of infant carrier, car seat and travel stroller. The author used an inexpensive travell system that allowed for the bucket car seat to be clicked into it and rolled through the airport, with an infant carrier tucked away in the diaper bag just in case. Bucket car seat stroller frame can also be a good solution).
See also this post on the best travel strollers for airplanes.
With a Toddler or Small Child:
- Put your child in a small travel stroller and gate check it at the entrance to the plane, to be returned to you at the end of the flight.
- If your child likes to walk, get them a backpack with a tether strap such as the GoldbugSafety Harness so they can be independent, but remain close to you. Keep in mind, however, that you may have to travel a fair distance through an airport, so a backup plan may be necessary.
- Invest in a piece of ride on, carry-on luggage for your toddler such as the Trunki Ride-On Suitcase or the Diggin Skootcase . Not only does this give kids a great place to put all of their stuff, but it is also an awful lot of fun.
- If you will be bringing a car seat on the plane for your child, you may want to invest in the Go Go Babyz Travelmate rolling car seat frame. This items allow you to roll your child through the airport in the car seat rather than in a stroller, although keep in mind the fact that you may still need a stroller at your destination.
The Personal Entertainment System
Oh we know, you never let your child watch TV, but the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, personal DVD player, Nintendo DS, or whatever else, is a huge life safer when traveling with a child. If you feel a bit funny about it, use it only as a last resort or only let them play educational games. You are going on holiday ! You can wean your child during the other 50 weeks of the year.
Don’t forget kids headphones, as the ear buds that typically come with these devices are not great for little ones (they are too big and fall out). Also important if you have more than one child and only one device, is the Belkin Rockstar Splitter, allowing you to hook up more than one set of headphones. Yes, it is true that most airplanes these days have personal entertainment systems, but unfortunately they don’t always work. Take things into your own hands and bring your own. They are also handy to have while waiting for airplanes, meals and shuttles.
For further information on headphones see this post on the best headphones for kids.
4. Packing for Success
As a busy parent, you are sure to know the value of a good list. Make your own packing list, or take a look at our kids packing list at least two week before your trip so you don’t have any surprises. Keep this list on your computer, and update it when you get home for future reference. It is true that you may not need to bring everything with you since you could purchase some items at your destination, but if you are traveling internationally you may find that your particular brand may not be available.
In recent years baggage fees have become a huge (and potentially expensive) issue. To keep your luggage weight down, it may be cheaper to use a service such as Babies Travel Lite (will ship items such as baby food, diapers etc. right to your hotel). Renting baby gear at your destination is also an option ( see our baby equipment rental directory).
Help to keep your family’s gear organized with mesh packing cubes. They are relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of colors, allowing you to easily find each family member’s belongings.
5. Carry-on Considerations
There is almost no way to avoid bringing a carry-on or diaper bag when traveling with a baby or toddler. This is the one time that having more stuff, and preparing for the worst, is a very good plan.
When selecting activities to pack for your child, try to choose things that will hold their attention for the longest period of time (ideally things they haven’t seen before). Try to avoid toys with many parts that you will spend a lot of time picking up from the floor. Plan to present them to your child on the plane as slowly as possible to make sure you don’t run out of entertainment (and saving stuff for the trip home).
Include in your carry on more spare clothes (for you and your child), diapers, wipes, formula, snacks, pacifiers and medication than you actually think you could possibly need. Ziploc bags are also very helpful for wet clothes, dirty diapers, leaky bottles or sippy cups. Preparing for the worst will either have you patting yourself on the back for being so tremendously organized, or put you in a complete state of relaxation knowing that you are ready for anything.
Note: After more than 60 flights with my kids, always toting extra clothes in my bag, my daughter spilled her juice and threw up twice on a long haul flight to Paris. It made all those years of carrying around extra stuff completely worth it.
One of the most challenging parts of air travel, is making sense of the restrictions on liquids in carry-on bags. In a nutshell, the rules for bringing liquids are as follows:
When traveling with a baby or toddler under 2 years:
For this age group you are allowed to transport enough liquids (breast milk, regular milk, formula*, water, juice etc.) for the flight. Put these bottles and sippy cups in a clear resealable bag to be presented at airport security (this is allowed in addition to your 1 bag full of liquids per person). Keep your liquids cool with ice/gel packs that are 100ml each or less (these are available for use with medication), or use a bag of ice that you can toss out before security screening.
*If your baby is formula fed, you may want to either buy tins of pre-made formula for the flight or use pre-portioned formula so you can easily make up bottles in flight. As the airline will not guarantee that their water is 100% sterile, you can bring with you a thermos full of sterilized water.
On most flights the method of warming a bottle is for the flight attendant to bring you an air sickness bag full of hot water. I know, it sounds gross, but it’s just a bag. It’s not like it’s been recycled or something. Other alternatives include a Travel Bottle Warmer or getting a large take out cup full of warm water from a cafe, once you pass through security.
When traveling with a child two years and older:
Any liquid item that you would like to bring on board the plane (make up, medication etc.), must be presented at security in a clear bag that is no larger than 1 litre/1 quart in size (this is not the big freezer size), and individual containers must not exceed 100ml/3.4oz. To save any additional hassle, put all non essential liquids in your checked baggage in a sealed bag.
This can obviously make it difficult if your child has a specific thing that they like to drink, such as milk, which is often not provided on a plane. The best thing to do in this situation is to bring an empty sippy cup and purchase the beverages you need from the airport stores on the other side of the security check.
Also helpful is the following iPhone application
- my TSA – which gives you answers to frequently asked questions (free on Itunes)
6. Get to Know Your Airport
Take some time to study the layout of your departing or stopover airport. It is helpful to know where the playgrounds can be found, and the closest cappuccino bar. You will also find information on parking and any traveler updates (such as airport delays due to construction) that will help you plan better. For your convenience we have provided a link to frequently used airports. Also helpful are some of the airports phone apps now available.
A couple well reviewed ones are:
- gateguru – a complete airport guide including play area locations (iPhone/iPad)
- wifox– map of wireless passports for airports and lounges (iPhone/iPad)
7. Practice Makes Perfect
A good piece of advice regarding traveling with kids is that your kids will behave on a trip as they behave at home. If they regularly kick the front seat when in the car and do not sit during meals, it is very likely they will do the same on a trip. It worth taking note of these things before a trip and either making some small adjustments to get them ready, or getting your expectations in check.
Some things that can help include:
- Positively reinforcing good behavior in the car.
- Going out to restaurants or staying overnight at someones house with your child to get a feel for what is going to work and what isn’t.
- Making observations on what kind of activities your child enjoys doing for extended periods of time. An “extended period of time” may make you laugh, but this is a relative statement. Plan to pack these, or similar items in an activity pack for the plane.
- If they are old enough, read books to them on going on an airplane to familiarize them with how things are going to work on travel day.
8. Time Zone Adjustment
If you will be traveling to a different time zone and you think that it may be difficult for your child, you may want to adjust their schedule by a few hours beforehand.
Domestic Flights in Economy
Unfortunately the food offerings are pretty dismal and limited when it comes to flying domestically in North America. Although many flights offer a children’s option on their Food For Purchase menus, quite frequently they run out. Either see if you can order this ahead of time, or pack with you enough food to easily get you through your travel day, even if there is a delay of some kind. Keep in mind the fact that toddler snacks, such as Gold Fish crackers, can be a great time consuming activity if you feed them to your child one-by-one. For formula fed babies, make sure you pack extra in case you get stuck somewhere in transit or you luggage is delayed.
International Flights or Business/First Class Domestic Flights
If meal service is offered you may also be able to pre-order a baby or child meal. Check on your airline’s website to see what their offering are and how you go about ordering a special meal.
10. Mother’s Little Helper
Wouldn’t it be amazing if your child would magically fall asleep within minutes of takeoff, and awake on landing? When discussing traveling with a child with other parents, inevitably the question of sedation comes up. Some parents swear by Benadryl for Kids or Kids Gravol. Others who have used such products have seen their kids experience the opposite effect and bounce off the walls for hours. This is a hotly debated subject and is really a matter of personal comfort, but regardless, we suggest you discuss it with your family doctor and give the following articles on about.com and mcleans.ca a read.
11. Keep Your Routine
Most children respond well to routine. Try to keep things as normal as possible in the days leading up to the trip. You may not even want to mention to your child that they are “leaving in the morning for Disneyland” or anything like that. Take a look at what can go wrong with tired kids on vacation by viewing this hilarious youtubel clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTONQkDplXE)
12. Be Organized
The days of “winging it” are over. Babies and toddlers have an incredible way of throwing the unexpected at you, so don’t leave anything until the last minute.
Go over your packing list to make sure nothing is missing. Have all your documents and itineraries in order and ready to go. Check online to make sure that your plane is on schedule and make arrangements to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
13. Mental Preparation
After a flight with four young children, a friend of mine had this sage advice; “You can have all the gear and toys in the world, but if are not in a positive frame of mind, you will find yourself swimming upstream”. I am paraphrasing a little because I believe that “swimming upstream’ was actually a more colorful phrase. I agree with her 100%. A good sleep the night before, a calm demeanor, and the ability to let the little things roll off you like water off a duck’s back, is essential. Also important if traveling with a partner, is to remember that you are working towards a common goal, in order to avoid turning on each other if things get momentarily a little hairy.
14. Dress for Success
When selecting travel day outfits, choose dark colors as they will hide a lot more than lights, and consider dressing in layers (cardigan sweater over a t-shirt) to allow for a quick change. Don’t forget to pack extra clothes in your carry-on for everybody.
A tip for those parents traveling with multiple children is to dress your children in the same color of shirt (preferably something bright). During your travels you will spend of lot of time doing head counts and this strategy helps to locate your kids fast.
Any larger metal items (belts etc.) will need to be taken off when you go through security, and for adults shoes will need to be taken off, so choose a slip on and keep metal accessories to a minimum. As of Sept 2011, the Transportation Security Administration in the U.S. eliminated the need for children 12 and under to remove their shoes during screening.
15. Online Check In
This is a very attractive option, available on many airlines 24 hours before flight time, allowing you to gain peace of mind with regards to your airplane seats, as well as the ability to arrive at the airport later than you would otherwise. Unfortunately this is only an option if you have purchased a seat for all family members. If you are traveling with a child on your lap (under 2 years of age), regulation requires that their birth date be verified by an agent before a boarding pass can be issued, requiring you to check in at the airport. You also need to check in at the airport if you have requested bulkhead seating and a baby bassinet.
Next up: Taking Flight