Travel Advice: Tips for Traveling with Toddlers and Infants

WORDS
Alex Kenney Fergus
PUBLISHED
April 2016 in
Dallas-FortWorthBaby
UPDATED
March 28, 2016
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Being from the Northeast and living in Dallas, I have had the pleasure (I say sarcastically) of taking my two children, ages 2 and 1, on airplanes multiple times a year — often by myself — to visit family and friends in New York. The amount of preparation is a bit absurd, from organizing my carry-on bag to preparing flight snacks and activities, and packing seems to take up an entire day, but it totally pays off. For anyone planning to brave the friendly-ish skies with little ones, here’s some tried-and-true advice and must-have items to help you navigate the whole journey, rounded up by local moms who travel a lot.

Try for an extra (free) seat in the back of the plane: While you are allowed to hold a baby on your lap until age 2, it is much better if each human has his or her own seat. So unless you swallow the cost to buy your baby a seat, go to the gate attendant and if the flight isn’t full, they’ll give you the extra seat for free! Also, consider sitting in the back of the plane. (Depending on your carrier and the ages of your kids, early family boarding might mean paying extra, though most airlines let families with kids under the age of 4 board before coach customers.) The loud engine sound muffles crying and promotes napping (if you’re lucky), and you’re close to the bathrooms and flight attendants should you need help.

Be organized: You don’t want to scramble to find what you need while your child is crying or has a blowout. Have separate, smaller, divider bags (even Ziploc bags work) for everything within your one carry-on bag, including diapers, toys, bottles/food, ID/ticket, etc. Put crucial things like wipes and bottles in the back seat pocket in front of you. Also, bring an extra set of clothes for the kids and yourself (sitting in a poop-stained shirt for hours is so not cool).

Don’t stress over security scrutiny: Yes, there are rules about what you can bring through security, and you should look on your airline's website before you go, but generally, security is very understanding about bringing liquids (milk, water, etc.) on board for kids. You just have to wait a few minutes as they test your hands and liquids (read: give yourself plenty of extra time).

Bring lots of snacks: Eating kills a lot of time on the plane. Swing by Central Market for snacks and the awesome $4 kid lunches, which include a sandwich, carrots, grapes and raisins all wrapped in a travel-friendly bag. As Glynnis Paterson of Fort Worth knows from frequent flights with her 17-month-old son, “The hardest age is around 15 months, when they can’t quite use an iPad, but they’re too old to be asleep,” she says. “That’s when snacks become a crucial activity. My son ate about 300 goldfish on our last flight!”

Snacks are also crucial to prevent ear issues. When you take off and land, feed the baby or give him a pacifier, and have toddlers eat, drink or suck on something like a lollipop. Packit lunch bags, usually in stock at your local Target, are excellent for keeping drinks and food cold for your trip.

Buy a new toy: Get to your favorite toy store (I adore Toys Unique in Dallas and Toy Works in Fort Worth) to get a surprise treat for the plane. The novelty of a new toy is priceless! Toys that have worked really well for us include stickers, Play-Doh, crayons, buckle toys and magnetic blocks by Magformers or Tegu. Pick things that won’t roll on the floor when they inevitably fall.

Load up the iPad: Entertain older toddlers and kids with child-friendly games, movies, shows and apps on a smartphone or iPad set to airplane mode. Let them scroll through pictures of themselves. Get a pair of headphones and a ShockProof case at Best Buy so it can’t be damaged. Once your child is 2-ish, an iPad can go a long way to entertain them on flights, leaving you better able to take care of a baby — or yourself.

“I always put Jack’s (age 3) favorite movie on the iPad and just let him watch,” says Dallas mom Emily McDonough. “Then I can spend my time with Nora (who will be 2 next month), trying to keep her from running up and down the aisles!”

Choose your car seat adventure: There are many different ways to travel with (or without) car seats and strollers for multiple children. You can check it at the gate (most airlines let you do so for free as long as it’s collapsible and doesn’t weigh 20 pounds), rent necessities at your final destination (see the sidebar) or choose to bring a car seat and/or stroller through security and onto the plane. The latter option works well for me since having a second baby. I wear him in the Ergo carrier through security while pushing his infant car seat/stroller frame system, which is now a seat for my humungous diaper/carry-on bag. Meanwhile, I put my toddler on a Skiphop backpack leash (keeps her from running away!). If there’s an extra seat, I then put the baby in his car seat so my hands are free to deal with the toddler. If there isn’t an extra seat, the car seat and stroller get checked (consider getting a car seat cover by J.L. Childress).  

For those who prefer strapping a toddler into a car seat on the plane, there are two good options for getting it easily through the airport: Britax car seat travel cart, which turns your car seat into a stroller, or a J.L. Childress backpack case, both of which are available at Buy Buy Baby, Walmart, Target or through local Facebook yard sale groups.

Flying with kids means conceding to the fact that you’ll likely exit the jetway looking slightly ragged (you’ve been the entertainment for hours) and perhaps smelling questionable (unless you heeded my extra clothing tip), but if you follow all the above advice, I promise you will feel victorious.
SIDEBAR

Travel Light

For families with little ones, the additional costs of flying can be compounded when considering all that Baby and Junior need — like a travel crib, high chair, lightweight stroller, car seat, baby carrier and a baby gate. Luckily, there are a number of companies that rent equipment at destinations throughout the country. Note: most hotels and resorts offer cribs for free.

Baby’s Away rents basics such as Pack ‘n Plays and tandem strollers but also carries seasonal items based on your destination. Going to the beach, for instance? Tack beach chairs and an umbrella onto your order of a booster seat and swing. Rent by the day (a three-day minimum is required) or the week in 70 locations.
Nationwide, 800/571-0077 // babysaway.com

The Denver-based Babie on Board ships toys, rockers, tubs and seats anywhere in the United States, so you don’t have to worry about toting everything with you even if you’re visiting rural Montana.
Nationwide, 720/263-1511 // babieonboard.com

Rent seats, carriers, chairs and sleep options by the week for kids from baby to preschool age through Rent the Baby Gear, a service that ships necessities to you (in the continental United States) and lets you drop them off for free at any UPS when you’re done.
Nationwide, 855/899-7824 // rentthebabygear.com


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