Tips for Traveling with Children
We’re back with the second installment of our two-part series on traveling, and this time, we’re covering tips for traveling with children. (Read part one of our travel series on international travel tips, here.)
In addition to hearing from FIT Founder Kelly McLay, we’ll also hear from veteran flight attendant Lisa Moschella, who will be sharing tips from her point of view as an industry insider.
Lisa has over 12 years of flying experience, is a mom to two boys (ages three and five who have traveled extensively with her — even alone with a rental car), and she’s Kelly’s sister! So we’re extra excited to have her input here on the FIT blog.
But before we get to kids’ travel tips, we want to give a big shoutout to all the mothers, mothers-to-be, and mother figures in the FIT community and beyond! We decided to celebrate the entire month of May as ‘Mother’s Month’ instead of just one Mother’s Day — moms deserve it!
Here are our tips for traveling with children…
1. First things first: Definitely do it — travel with your baby/toddler/child!
Lisa’s advice: “It’s a great adventure and you will learn a lot about yourself and your kid(s). Top tip: just be sure your baby is secure and safe.”
We believe in seeing the world and getting your little one used to exploring! Kelly has traveled to four continents with her daughter, Scarlett, who was a preemie! In fact, her first field trip post-hospital was to the post office for her passport! Now two years old, Scarlett has ready traveled all over the world, including Ireland, Australia, Aruba, Canada, the U.K., and numerous states in the US. Hopefully our guidelines get you FIT for travel with the smaller generation!
2. Passport & Global Entry.
Step one: Begin the passport process as soon as possible (Kelly’s suggestion: “Like as soon as your baby is born!”). It’s valid for five years, and you’ll want to have this travel step sorted out before you book a trip. Getting your newborn to cooperate for the mandatory eyes open can be a bit stressful but you it’s worth it! Also, we recommend registering for global entry — this goes for everyone, not just your baby/child. It especially helps expedite customs upon return home. Remember: if parents have global entry and baby does not, s/he will need to apply! (Kelly has encountered some nice border patrol employees in the past but they’ve always "reminded" her and her husband that Scarlett needs her own global entry registration.)
3. Get kids their own travel items — suitcase, sleep mask, headphones, etc...
Kids can get really excited to travel when they have their own travel items — think: suitcases, sleep masks, and travel pillows. There’s nothing cuter than your littles excitement to travel and explore the world!
Headphones are especially important if your child will be listening to shows or movies, or playing a game with sound (be mindful that other travelers don’t want to hear Baby Shark a million times, or even once 😉). Lisa recommends kids over-the-ear headphones for best fit, but the head wrap versions are the very best — they actually stay on! Plus, volume settings are child-friendly. (Skip ear buds — they don’t stay in.)
Heading to see friends and family? Kelly’s college friend used to ship diapers, wipes, food, and a baby Pack ‘n Play directly to the house. So worth not packing/carrying these on the plane — genius!
Tip for headphones and other travel accessories: take these items for a test run prior to plane usage. Even the best laid plans might not work for your child!
4. Book direct flights whenever possible.
Once you’ve schlepped all your gear on the plane and you are settled, there is peace to know you have just one leg. While international flights don’t always have this option, the most direct route is worth its weight in gold even if slightly higher in price. We promise — it’s so much simpler! Other tips: pick nap time flights, overnights, and even consider splurging for first class, especially for long hauls.
5. Sign your child up for frequent flier programs.
We always encourage everyone to take full advantage of frequent flier programs, and that includes the kids, too! You’re paying for their seat, you might as well start accruing those miles. Depending on the airline, you may have to sign your child up under your name and operate their account through yours, but not all airlines require this (Note: this requires an email for your child).
6. Download movies & shows before you leave your house!
Before your trip, make sure to download any favorite movies or shows you want kids to have access to in case the WiFi doesn't work. DO NOT rely on WiFi at the airport or on the airplane.
7. Make sure all appliances are fully charged.
Not all planes have power outlets, so making sure your items are fully charged beforehand is the best thing to do. Also, make sure you have your chargers, any chargers needed for international travel, and any external charging devices as well.
PLANE & AIRPORT TIPS:
8. Pack extras for the flight.
Flying can be unpredictable and you never know when there might be a delay or a missed flight. So it’s even more important to pack extras when traveling with children.
Extra diapers, pacifiers (they always get lost), sippy cups, wraps, or blankets — remember airplanes can get cold. A change of clothes for your child and an extra outfit for yourself as well. If there’s an accident with food or diapers you don’t want to be stuck in dirty, smelly clothes. An extra adult outfit can go a long way.
9. Changing diapers
Most airline bathrooms are equipped with baby changing tables now. And, policies differ, but for the most part, you're not allowed to change diapers in your airplane seat. Kelly and John didn’t know this on their first journey with Scarlett and were ‘tsk tsk’d’ on the flight when changing a diaper mid-aisle. “So…good to know! This is due to bodily fluids, and to respect other passengers, which is probably pretty obvious, but it seemed very matter of fact at the time to just change the diaper! It didn’t alarm us. But, yes, use the bathroom, and it’s a good idea to pack disposable diaper bags to minimize scent.” said Kelly.
10. Always wear shoes on the plane.
We’ll spare you the germ details — walks are good, just wear your shoes, especially in the bathroom.
Anyone who has flown with a baby knows that the descent can be tough, and sometimes earaches hang around for days after flying too. A few tricks we’ve picked up: 1) breastfeed, bottle feed, or give your child a pacifier on the descent. (But don't stress too much if you are out of milk or your baby just fed. Kelly’s daughter Scarlett did fine on descent several times without those. So, sometimes it just depends.) 2) For older children, gum or other chewy foods can be a lifesaver. 3) If your child has earaches from a flight, try placing dampened towels into two heat-proof cups or mugs, and place the mugs over their ears. The heat from the towels helps to open their ears and relieve pain, pressure, and unclog the ears.
“Remember the b's at take off and landing: boob, binkie, bottle, blankie.” - Lisa
12. Bring your own over-the-counter meds (optional).
Pack Tylenol or ibuprofen because it’s not guaranteed that your destination will have the medicine you need. (Note: Be aware that these can be taken at security in foreign countries.) Pre-medication/medication is not required for any flight. We recommend using it only if needed.
If you’re considering using Benadryl during the flight, it can have an adverse effect and cause children to become hyperactive. We recommend one test trial prior to your flight at home. Again, this is not required.
Some destinations require certain vaccines for travel. If you vaccinate your child, make sure they’re up to date on all medications and double check with your pediatrician for the shots needed for travel, as well as what’s healthy to give to your child at his/her age.
13. Use strollers, car seats, & baby carriers when needed.
Car seats can be great to use during flights, and they’re also necessary for all sorts of transportation during your trip. A big benefit of using a car seat on a flight is that kids are already used to them. The familiar car seat can make them feel comforted in this new setting. Plus, kids will usually sleep in them. For infants, the best/easiest system for seat/stroller is the Snap & Go. It isn’t fancy, but it’s so efficient, light, and usable. For little ones, the ergo or baby bjorn or baby k-tan (or any wrap) is super helpful for moving through the airport and sleeping with baby on board!
Some additional tips:
Car seats can only be used in a window seat — the only exception is if you have two car seats in the row.
Be sure to check that the car seat is airplane approved (look for this label on the seat). If it does not specifically say this, you need a new/different car seat.
To fasten the airplane seatbelt, lift up the car seat fabric to get the seatbelt strap behind the car seat.
A convenient alternative to a car seat is this FAA-approved child safety harness, which is light-weight and easy to carry. This can also only be used in a window seat.
As for baby carriers, you will not be able to have the baby in this when you take off. It just needs to be unclipped. But these are so helpful when you are traveling alone, and also great for when you have a lap baby and need to get some work done (or just have a beverage).
If you don’t feel like dealing with these items during the flight, there are baby and children equipment rental services that can be useful if you’d rather not travel with your own stroller/car seat.
It can also be worth bringing your stroller on your trip. Strollers can come in handy in big airports, and can go all the way to the gate, which is really helpful when traveling with one or multiple children.
It seems like a lot, but it’s simple once you look…seats and strollers can go through airport security, so don’t let that be a reason you don’t take your own. On that note, milk, liquids, and baby foods can also go through security, but just be prepared to have it tested.
14. Book a hotel with a fridge.
If you’re traveling with a baby, we’ve found it’s very helpful to find a hotel with a fridge or small kitchenette (even double check with the hotel before checking in to make sure you’re in a room with a fridge). An Airbnb can be a great option too. You can even book an Airbnb that has children’s toys!
15. Toys & entertainment to avoid...
A few things that Lisa strongly recommends avoiding for in-flight entertainment include play dough, paint, stickers, slime, and glitter (imagine the next passenger is traveling for business and leaves their seat with a glittery bottom — ha!). In general, be mindful of things that are sticky or require more than 20 seconds to pick up.
Also, you don't need a bunch of everything. Just one or two items will do. The rules on the plane are similar to the car — the child has to be in the seat (or car seat) and wearing their seat belt. Try to reiterate these rules prior to boarding.
16. Work Travel or Adulting? (Kelly guiding FIT Tours!)
Traveling for work and don’t want to leave your little one? Recruit a second set of hands. Scarlett only joins FIT Tours if Kelly’s parents or a dedicated caretaker is with them on the tour (with a separate hotel room). Have a sibling, teenage niece or nephew, trusted neighbor who wouldn’t mind tagging along and hanging out with your little one? Great — book their ticket before they can think twice! 😉 This also allows for worry free adult time sans children!
17. Last, but not least — ask for help!
People are really helpful. Okay, we’ve encountered a couple of grumpy stares, but overall people get it. If someone happens to be upset during the flight or another travel situation, try not to let them ruin your day. Stay calm even if your child is flipping out. Hopefully it subsides, and even though you might be really stressed about the impact on everyone else, most people have been there before. Staying calm yourself will help to calm your child, too. And if you need it, just ask for help. 99% of the time someone will lend a hand.
Do you have other tried-and-true tips for traveling with young kids? We’d love to hear them — please share in the comment section.