Travelling with babies and toddlers can seem cumbersome but much of the stress can be alleviated with increased planning and lowered expectations. When I first started travelling alone, I used to overpack so much that I took almost a whole closet full of clothes. Over the years I learned how to pack light and thought I got everything down right until we started travelling with our daughter.
We have now travelled by airplane twice with our toddler, one long haul flight (8 hours) and a recent short one (4 hours) and have done a few short road trips. I think my daughter has my travel gene because for a toddler she is an excellent traveller. Other than being a fussy eater, she does not whine or cry about the waits, the crowds or get cranky on the plane. Nevertheless she is a toddler so I spend a lot of time planning our trip details to try to minimize any potential meltdowns.
Here are some tips and tricks I have learnt along the way and through reading through some great travel forums. Some may be obvious and some may not work for you, but if you’re like me, you can never read up on too many travel tips. Mine are mostly based on my experience with my toddler but you may find it helpful for kids in general.
Before the trip:
1. Plan your destination accordingly. If you care about having a relaxing vacation, roughing it out in the jungle or backpacking through South America may not be a good idea.
2. For long haul flights book night flights as it would help keep your child’s routine. Our daughter was 21 months when we travelled to Europe and slept all the way on the 8 hour flight as it was during the night. Contrary to what some may say, you don’t need to skip your child’s naps. Just keep their routine for the day and try to avoid them sleeping on the way to the airport if possible.
3. Make a list of items to bring so you can figure out what you really need and take enough of everything your child would need, i.e diapers, wipes, clothes etc. I find the process of making the list itself is helpful especially when travelling with children. Plan to take medications for your children as you may not find the same brands or tastes where you may be going (a good idea for yourself too).
4. When you purchase seats for children on airplanes it’s not always guaranteed that they will be provided with a kids meal. You would have to make your meal selection alteast 72 hours prior to your travel to be guaranteed. So make sure you go online and do this prior to your travel, or when you check in online. We definitely learned the hard way as airlines seem to not provide enough kids meals for all the kids on board.
5. Did i say checking in online? I always check in online whenever possible prior to going the aiport. It’s helpful when travelling alone or with kids.
6. Check to see if your airline has a special kids club or benefits for kids. I accidentally found out that Air Transat has a kids club and registered my daughter. For Kids 2-11 years old you get benefits such as priority check-in, seat selection etc.
7. Clothing: you may be ok with wearing those black pants 3-4 times but take enough clothes for your children as per their regular wear and throw in a few extra while you’re at it.
8. Vaccinations: Check with your pediatrician or travel doctors about any required travel vaccines for your children. It may not be necessary for all destinations but it’s a good idea to check atleast 3 months prior as some vaccines like Hep A and B would need to be administered in multiple doses at different times.
During the trip and in-flight:
1. There is a general rule that you take a toy for every hour on the plane. It doesn’t mean you have to carry a suitcase full of toys for a 12 hour flight. I found that taking a variety of small toys, colouring books, crayons and stickers (which my daughter loves) really helps on the plane as every so often I bring out something new to keep her occupied. Tip for toys: take items that can’t be lost easily..i.e. puzzles on a plane won’t be a great idea, but magnetic stickers or magic colouring markers that only work on special paper would be great. I took about 6 different items on our 8 hour flight. I also take a few new items to use at our destination. This is particularly helpful if we are out on a long tour that might not interest our daughter, so when she gets fidgety, I just pull out a new toy that keeps her occupied for a while.
2. Older kids may keep themselves occupied with the on-flight TV, but younger ones may need other activities to keep them entertained as well. Given all the distractions on the plane, your little one may or not be glued to your ipad or other tablet, so plan on taking a variety of activities for them.
3. Make sure you take along a few snacks for the flight and for your destination as it helps to bring out familiar snacks if your child is a picky eater. Goldfish is always a favourite for my daughter so I make sure that’s always available.
4. Younger kids may experience the ear-popping sensation on flights during take off much more severely than adults. Since chewing gum may not be an option try to get younger kids (babies and toddlers) to suck on a bottle, sippy cup or drink through a straw bottle during take off. A pacifier may help if your child uses one. Other options are helping them yawn or swallow. Just get them to keep opening their mouth and show their lovely teeth 🙂 Ear plugs are an option but most kids won’t keep them on.
5. If possible try to keep the same routine for your child. During our trip to Paris it was not possible to come back to our hotel for an afternoon nap but my daughter managed to always sleep in the stroller after lunch. We planned a lot of our walking during that time so the movement in the stroller also helped soothe her to sleep. However when we went to an all-inclusive resort, we always made it a point to come back to the room in the afternoon or early evening for a quick rest/nap and it helped tremendously. Toddlers still need their naps or they get tired and cranky well before the day is over.
6. Pack a stroller for babies and toddlers. I cannot stress this enough. Even if you think you may not need it, you would need it, trust me! You may not want to carry them around all the time, or after a short walk your independent toddler who loves to walk and run everywhere suddenly decides she wants a ride with mommy because she sees a baby being carried by her mommy. My daughter has pulled this stunt one too many times.
Get a lightweight stroller that has more support than a mere umbrella stroller. Your regular stroller could get damaged on the gate check so buy a cheaper one for travels. We normally use a peg perego stroller, but I bought a Hauck Turbo for cheap for all our travels. I like that this stroller was light and small like an umbrella but it also reclined since my daughter loves to nap in the stroller on a long walk or tour. When she was younger, it was also a great spot for me change her diaper in the reclining stroller so I could change her literally anywhere I wanted…bonus right? Use a stroller cover or get a clear plastic cover at check-in as strollers can get dirty thrown around and/or get wet if handled during rainy conditions. You want to be able to use it right away at the aiport after getting off the plane.
7. Car seat or not? For children under 2 you don’t need to get a seat on the airplane so we never really considered to take a car seat on the plane and pay for an extra seat. But when it comes to toddlers, and petite ones like my daughter, I read that it would be safer to take the car seat. But i’m glad we chose not to. Taking car seats can be bulky and awkward and your toddler may not even stay in it. We kept explaining to our daughter to stay buckled in or she may fall off and when the seatbelt sign was off she was able to stand up and stretch if she wanted. With a car seath it wouldn’t have been possible and if a toddler decides not to stay in her seat then car seat or not, it won’t happen 🙂 It is really a personal decision but there are other options available to help keep your child more secured to the seat if you’re concerned about safety. Check out the C.A.R.E.S harness that is airplane approved for use by kids, teens and adults with special needs (pretty expensive to buy around $80 but worth it if you travel a lot, can also be rented).
After the trip:
1. Booking return flights on a time that’s suitable for your child’s schedule would be a good idea. I find that return flights that arrive home at night rather than the day works well. In general you are very tired after the trip, the flight and all the checkout procedures. It’s easier to get your children and yourself to sleep at night and start the next day as per regular routine. If there is a time difference, it’s always easier to break the jet lag as soon as possible.
From our London/Paris trip last year, we arrived home around 9 pm in Toronto. Even though there was a time difference we all slept through the night and the next day I made sure I kept my daughter up during the day for her normal routine and only let her nap for a couple of hours although she wanted to sleep longer the next day. It may seem hard to not sleep all day after a long trip, but it’s a lot easier to break the jet lag immediately. This was very helpful for us as we had to get back to our work and daycare routine in a day.
I hope these tips will help you with your travel planning.
The world is such a beautiful place and even young kids can benefit from travelling to new places. If you think your child may not adjust, you may be surprised as children are more resilient than adults. So I hope you keep travelling with or without kids and get to enjoy new adventures.
Feel free to drop me a line or comment below for any questions. It’s also a great idea to talk to other parents who travel with kids your age to get some real-time tips.