We travel a fair bit as a family. Magnus took his first flight at 6 weeks old and in his 27 months he’s been to Florida (every couple of months), Ohio (every couple of months) , New York, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, England, France, Italy, Germany and Ireland. Charlie at 4 months has only been to Ohio and Florida so far, but he’s a natural traveler with his easy-going temperament. I even took both boys on one airplane leg by myself. On the whole, travel with small children is very do-able. And when they’re under 2 domestic air travel on the lap adult is free and internationally you only have to pay their taxes and fees, so enjoy that while you can!
Some people think we are insane. Maybe we are a little bit? In some ways it would be easier to just stay home, or to leave the kids behind with sitters and travel as a couple more and wait until our children are older and blah blah blah. But the thing is that unfortunately, like so many things in life, the best way to learn to be a good traveler is to practice. We want good travelers. And since we want also flexible, resilient, curious children, and travel is a great opportunity to practice those skills ,we are working on practicing those skills from the earliest ages. I think my kids will benefit from experiencing new and different things, from connecting with friends and family who live far away, and from seeing their parents prioritize parental fun too. Also there is so very much world to see and so many of the people we love are far flung, so I don’t really want Aaron and I to press pause on doing the things we love and want just because travel with kids requires more planning.
But it does tend to require a little bit more planning and can go a lot smoother if you are prepared. So here are a few tips and tricks that have helped us to enjoy travel with our little ones:
General Tips & Tricks for Travel with Baby
- Have reasonable expectations – you move slower with babies and toddler and that’s okay. It’s a different travel experience, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great
- Think about nap times and sleep schedules when planning your day
- We aren’t rigid about a set schedule, but it helps to think through where you’re going to be and what you’re going to be doing during a normal nap or bedtime. If your baby is like Charlie is and Magnus was, as long as you have a baby carrier and/or a stroller with full recline you’re probably good to go. Now that Magnus is older, he has a harder time getting a good nap just anywhere. Still, it’s nice to plan a block of time in the day that’s back in your room or somewhere calm and quiet. But we go with the flow, if he misses a nap or gets off schedule, we just adjust our expectations and try to help meet his needs the best we can understanding that we might have a few more meltdowns if he’s overtired.
- Talk to your child about where you are going and what you are doing.
- Children as young as six months start to understand you when you are talking and even before that, they love the eye contact and attention and I believe it helps babies integrate into their families. There’s also a direct link between how many words a baby hears each day and his or her language skills. One study found that babies whose parents spoke to them a lot scored higher on standardized tests when they reached age 3 than children whose parents weren’t as verbal. Also imagine someone just kept moving you through space and into strange settings without explanation, wouldn’t it be unsettling?
- Wear your baby – It makes everything easier because baby likes cuddles and you like having use of your hands. We love our Ergo and get a ton of use out of it especially while traveling.
- Use your stroller as a luggage cart
- Pick seats and board strategically, many airlines will let you early board for free to prevent the slowdown during regular boarding. This can be a great option, but it means more plane time. The other option is to board as late as possible to minimize plane time. Pros and Cons to each approach, also consider if you want seats near the front for easier, faster exits or near the bathrooms
- Screenshot airline and TSA baby policies – Unfortunately in my experience you can’t rely on them to know or apply their own polices so I always have a copy ready in case someone tries to make me throw away my baby food or pay for a check-free piece of baby gear
- Nurse (or bottle feed) on take-off and landing
- Pack only 1-2 days of essentials with you, if it’s a longer trip. You can either send supplies ahead or stock up on arrival
- When we go to my parent’s Florida cottage we have an amazon delivery of diapers and other necessities waiting for us on arrival and many hotels will also accept deliveries
- Make sure to give baby floor time, no one likes to be cooped up all day, even your littlest ones can benefit from the ability to stretch out on the floor and be free for a bit
- Consider larger known hotel chains – we like Hilton, we know what to expect, they have global customer service to solve problems and they’ll always provide a pack n play (but not always a proper play yard sheet)
- Another approach I’ve seen lauded by those who travel with babes, is to book Air B&B’s that are family focused and can result in having to bring less gear
- Be prepared to diaper change in strange places, this is especially true in Europe where few places have public restrooms let alone changing facilites
- Make sure to have passports/birth certificates and insurance information available
- Invest in packing cubes and spread your families cubes around in your bags if you have multiples (a lifesaver in the event of lost luggage)
- I’ll do another post soon about packing cubes and how we use them
- Plan for the climate on both sides when packing
- Google Family-friendly or baby-friendly restaurants in the city you are visiting
- – We’ll take our kids almost anywhere, but sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere you know has highchairs and good changing facilities and doesn’t mind chaos
- Find the baby friendly places
- Domestically, if you’re out and about and need a nice place to nurse or do some baby care- pop into a Nordstrom, Babies R Us or Buy Buy Baby. They all have nice “Mother’s Rooms”. I’m shameless at this point and will feed my baby whenever and wherever he needs to be fed, but sometimes it’s nice to have a calm comfortable room where no one is leering or giving you side-eye
- Pack as lightly as you think you can tolerate for yourself and partner since you’re going to also be carrying another person and all of his stuff
- Practice with your gear, if you buy new stuff for a trip make sure you know how to use it, trust me you don’t want to be learning how to fold or unfold your stroller with a airplane line of people cuing behind you
- Expect some adjustment struggles on both sides. If your sleep trained baby or toddler is used to sleeping solo in a crib or room and then gets to share a room or bed with you for a few nights, you might have to recommit to solo sleeping when you get home
Toddler Specific Tips & Tricks
- Download a few episodes of their favorite show (for Magnus this would be Daniel Tiger or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) onto your phone, even if you have a tablet for their use
- Remember that tickers provide endless entertainment – We really like the Usborn sticker books and my bff happens to sell them if you want the hook up
- Consider a snack tackle box, you really can’t pack too many snacks
- Plan for finger puppets or other small pretend play – think what can be done on an airplane tray table
- Find somewhere to run and play ASAP
- any airports have play areas, so do most Chic-Fil-as and don’t forget public parks, before and after sitting still for hours your little one needs to PLAY
- Protect little ears, We have these kiddo-friendly earphones
- Consider leaving your big fancy stroller at home and taking a travel stroller.
- We have a Recaro easylife, which we enjoyed all over Europe. We liked it so much that we stopped using our bigger stroller entirely and used this one all the time. It’s incredibly lightweight and can be folded with one hand. However since we bought ours they’ve been discontinued and this very similar one came on the market, and it looks even better because it comes with a travel backpack and has more accessories available
- Give your toddler opportunities to chart his/her own course.
- Travel constrains a lot of our choices. We have to be somewhere at X time, we don’t have all of our usual stuff, we are locked into specific plans. If you don’t intentionally make space for your child to choose things, they can end up being frog-marched through a trip. This is bad for your child’s general development, and your travel experience. You’ll have to draw a hard line on seat belts, and flight times, but letting your kid pick which book to read or which of an approved offering of snacks to enjoy or which sticker page to play with helps your child so that she will feel some sense of control, which contributes to healthy personality development by building up a sense of autonomy.
- Start practicing important skills before a big trip
- So this mostly applies if you’re considering extended travel time (we took a European vacation with Magnus at 16 months)– practice safe behavior in public places like staying together in stores, holding hands in parking lots, and working against the toddler tendency to bolt off at the first-chance. At least for Magnus, repetition is the key to new skill-building, so we try to avoid putting expectations on him in a crunch-time situation unless he has had a chance to practice the skill before.
Things to add to your Diaper Bag
- Infant Tylenol & thermometer – or risk trying to find a pharmacy open in the middle of the night in a strange location
- Baby finger nail clippers & file –
- I just got this set and it’s a game changer in reducing fear of clipping and you’d be surprised how handy these can be not just for stabby little baby nails but also cutting plastic tags, etc in a pinch
- 2 more backup outfits that your usual stock – we like sleepers for babies who don’t walk because it’s all one piece and no hunting around for
- Backup Wubbanubs in individual ziploc bags – Wubbanubs are life and you need extras for when you kid invariably drops one on a filthy airport bathroom floor
- Snacks or baby food if baby is on solids
- Manual breast pump, I have this one since it’s interchangeable with our bottles – even if you’re traveling with your real pump, keep this one in your diaper bag just in case you get stuck
- Disposable diaper bags – these things will contain a mess in the event of a poopmergency
- A blanket if you don’t usually stock them – we like the Aden + Anias muslin blankets because they are large and lightweight so good for a nursing cover, swaddle, car seat drape, impromptu play mat, etc
- A weather-appropriate baby hat
- A shirt that Mom Dad or alternate caregiver could wear in a pinch – I’d recommend a nice black v-neck that could look good on a variety of sizes and shapes, so that if your kid barfs or pees all over one of you, you have something easily accessible
What travel tips do you have for enjoying trips with your littles? Share in the comments!