Travelling with Babies or Toddlers

First rule about travelling with toddlers that anyone will tell you…Don’t Do It!!! Ha ha ha…Now that we have had our little laugh at that, we can move on and realize that at some point in time, you may have to, or want to, travel with your toddler. After making 3 international trips (to 3 different continents) with my son, all between the ages of 13-21 months, I feel that I have earned the right to share the wee bits of wisdom I have acquired and to share some helpful links found through hours and hours of internet research. Above all, I would like to share my “travelling with toddler” mantra: This too shall end.

While these tips and pieces of advice are meant to be helpful, keep in mind that every family has different needs and expectations while traveling. What worked for me may not be the best option for you. For that reason, I’ve included some links to other family friendly travel blogs at the end. Most of all, try to relax and enjoy yourself and your child(ren). Traveling with young ones can be like discovering the world all over again! Happy planning and happy travels!

Do:

  • Do bring a baby carrier such as the Ergo or a Moby Wrap or Baby Bjorn. You (currently) don’t have to take your baby or toddler out of it when going through security and it will allow your hands to be free so you can go through the ridiculous ritual of stripping at the security gate (OK, I just meant taking your shoes, belt, etc off). The baby carrier does not count as one of your carry-on baggage allowances.
  • Do pack your toiletries (liquids must be in 3.4oz or smaller containers), a couple extra pairs of underwear and anything you think you will need for a day or two if your luggage gets lost – it happens. Most parents plan for this scenario for their child but forget about themselves!
  • Take deep relaxing breaths often, stretch when you can (you might have a sleeping baby on you for 6+ hours at a time!), and stay hydrated so you can be the even tempered, healthy parent you want to be.

Don’t:

  • Don’t bring large, bulky strollers or more luggage than what will fit in a handicap size bathroom if travelling as the only adult. For that matter, if you are travelling alone, consider what you can push alone while also carrying the child. If you are pushing a stroller then you can only really pull one piece of wheeled luggage and wear a backpack. If you don’t have a stroller, then don’t take more luggage than can fit on a luggage cart.
  • Don’t bother to pack anything more than 1 book or magazine for yourself. Chances are you won’t even have time for that unless you are incredibly lucky and your child falls asleep on the plane. (Even then you might be holding them and have no hands free to hold your book!) Although, when my son was 2.5 months old, I took my first plane trip with him (alone). He was in the Moby Wrap and fell asleep for the entire 3.5 hour flight. It was the first time I watched a movie since he was born and it felt like a mini-vacation just being on the flight 🙂
  • Don’t worry about every little germ your little one will encounter. Reminder – I’ve put this under the “DON’T” category! You can pack as many hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes as you want, but your precious petite one will suck on cart hand rails, lick airport chair armrests, hug garbage cans, pick up cheerios off airport carpets, touch toilet seats, get squishy hugs from strangers, trade toys with other kids or find 101 other ways to introduce new germs into his/her system at some point on your journey. Just be realistic about it, try to minimize the exposure to a certain degree and take probiotics, the friendly bacteria, for at least 2 weeks prior to and during your travels. (You can take them all year to optimize your immune system). Culturelle is one brand I like, and is especially recommended for overseas travel to countries where traveler’s diarrhea is more common.

The Criticals:

  • Wipes: pack enough for diaper changes AND cleaning dirty faces, hands and tray tables.
  • Diapers: pack enough for 1 change per hour and enough for a couple changes when you get to your destination in case your luggage is lost and you can’t buy more right away. Keep in mind when you travel internationally, you may not be able to easily find your favorite brand of diaper. You can often check out the availability online before you leave. I packed enough for my entire trip when I traveled internationally. The diapers were light enough and by using them up as we went, it left room in the suitcase for me to buy some souvenirs and gifts abroad to take them home! I packed an average of 7 per day. My son (between ages 1-2) usually only used 5-6 per 24 hours but you want a couple extra.
  • Extra change of clothes TIMES 3! Depending on how long your journey is, I recommend packing 2-3 changes of clothes. Blow-outs are always a possibility and mealtimes on airplanes can get messy! Don’t forget to pack at least an extra shirt for yourself too! The last thing you want is to have to spend the rest of the flight caked in food spills or gulp, even worse…bodily fluids. Enough said.
  • Pacifier x 2 (or more): If you baby/toddler will take one, this can ease pressure in the ears during take-off and landing. Let’s hope it can do it’s other job…to PACIFY 🙂 Bring extras in case you lose one or they get dirty/unsanitary.

Health and First Aid:

  • Pack a fever reducing medication, something for pain (Ibuprofen or Tylenol) and Benadryl. The Benadryl is great to have on hand for unknown allergic reactions but it can also serve other purposes. I am not a medical professional and I urge you to speak with your pediatrician before using any medications with your child, but our pediatrician mentioned that Benadryl can help facilitate sleep for a child on the airplane. You have to take a test run with Benadryl before you travel because a small percentage of children have the opposite reaction and become hyper! I am the kind of person who hesitates to use any medication at all for any purpose unless it seems absolutely medically necessary. BUT…we did use Benadryl a couple times on our travels to help facilitate sleep and it worked beautifully. I didn’t need it for our trip to Italy or Australia, but on the trip to Thailand, it helped my son AND us get through the flight. We were SO desperate!
  • If you or your child is taking vitamins, you can still bring them on your travels. In fact, it may help keep your immune system top notch when you need it the most! For my husband and myself, we packed  EmergenC to try and stay healthy and keep our energy up. 
  • Bring a thermometer (not the kind with mercury in it!) Our son actually ended up having a fever on our first international trip! I think it was from teething but you never know.
  • There are homeopathic drops for ears you may want to look into if your child suffers a lot from ear pain when flying. They are called: Traumeel, Hyland’s or Similasan

Gear What to Bring, What to Leave

  • Stroller: If you are like me and own a nice stroller that costs a pretty penny, then the last thing you want to do is take said stroller on an airplane flight. More often than not strollers are damaged, stolen or “lost” during airplane travel! As far as I know every airline has a different policy for these types of situations. In my opinion, it’s not worth the risk. Besides, many foreign countries are not as stroller friendly as the US. If you do want to bring a stroller, try to bring one as small as possible. many families don’t even realize that when they get to their destination, they can’t fit all their luggage and the stroller in the taxi. Foreign cars can be smaller than what we are used to here in the US. Also, consider bringing a “cheap” stroller. This would be a 2nd stroller   that you find on Craigslist or at a local garage sale that you don’t care what happens to. I found one for $15 and it has lasted through all 3 of our international trips and then some! We ended up taking a stroller that reclined almost flat because we knew that our son would have to take plenty of naps or start his night sleeping in a stroller so we wouldn’t have to return to a hotel at 7:30pm when he wanted to go to bed. It was like a portable bed and it worked like a charm. We could enjoy our evenings out and he was happy.

our 21 month old slept through fireworks on the beach in Thailand on New Years Eve

  • Travel Crib: this is a tough one. It’s extra weight and takes up room in the suitcase (or in the case of a pack ‘n play it’s a whole extra piece of luggage – for this reason I DO NOT recommend traveling with pack ‘n plays!) Call ahead to where you will be staying – many hotels or rental houses offer the use of a baby crib or pack ‘n play (usually at an additional cost). We knew our child well enough to know that when we share a room altogether (which is 99% of the time when you travel), if he can visibly see us when he wakes up (in the middle of the night or as we go to bed) he will NOT go back to sleep easily. For this reason, we invested in a Kidco Peapod Plus and it has been my #1 favorite baby purchase of all time!!! Yes, I LOVE IT and better yet, so does my son! WIN-WIN! It packs up into a 19″ diameter circle and weighs about 7lb so we had no trouble packing it in one of our suitcases. Note: We left the sleeping bag part at home and brought a crib sheet to put over the blow up mattress, then stuffed the air mattress inside the tent and not in the zippered pocket (this was way more comfortable for the baby/child). Read the reviews on Amazon.
  • Car Seat: Bring it or leave it? This is a question I can’t answer for you because it is one based on safety and feasibility based on where you are going. For example, when we traveled to Thailand we knew that the “taxis” or tuk-tuks almost never or simply don’t have seat belts. We were also out and about jumping in and out of taxis while sightseeing so lugging a huge carseat around all day is just simply not an option. Some things to consider when making this decision: Do you want the carseat on the plane? (You can’t bring one if you don’t buy a full fare ticket for the child.) Do the laws in the country of your destination require you to have a carseat? Can you rent one (and are the rentals considered reliable)? Will you be using mostly taxis when you arrive or renting a car yourself? It is much more likely you will need a carseat if you are renting a car (we did this in Italy). We also brought a carseat to Australia because we were visiting family and we were going to be using one of their cars most of the time and renting our own for the rest of the time. Read more here.
  • Travel booster seat or highchair: I’m torn on this one. I wouldn’t suggest bringing anything bigger than something like My Little Seat Infant High Chair. Most restaurants have highchairs handy and you probably won’t want to bring it with you everywhere, opting instead to just hold the baby in your lap if a highchair isn’t available to use at the restaurant. On the other hand, if you’ve had your “hands full” all day with a squirmy toddler, tying them into a chair for 15-30 minutes at dinner might feel like a vacation in itself! I also find these really helpful if you are staying in a rental house with a kitchen, where you tend to spend more time eating in, than if you were just in a hotel room.
  • Baby Monitor: if you are used to having one of these at home (I’m addicted to watching our little one sleep on our video monitor) you will balk at the idea of not bringing it but I urge you to leave it at home. The voltage may be different in a foreign country and you risk “frying” your electronics without the proper adapter and converter. And usually when you travel your accommodations will be small enough that you will be either sleeping in the same room as baby or sitting on the other side of a closed door from where they are sleeping. Point is: you will be in close proximity!

Entertainment 

(for the youngster): Buy some toys new or hide ones you currently own so that they are “new” to the child again. Wrap some of the toys in wrapping paper or cute bags, the simple act of opening the toy will amuse a young child for more time than the actual toy sometimes. Don’t pack too many toys, most kids are entertained for part of the journey by what is new in their surroundings. Be prepared to spend A LOT of time walking up and down the airplane aisles and “visiting” the flight attendants in the back kitchen!

  • Child-size headphones for the toddler or older child (the ones pictured are Califone) 
  • Video podcasts (such as Sesame Street) or movies for the child old enough to be “plugged in”. When travelling by myself I use my iPhone as a portable DVD player (I uploaded free Sesame Street video podcasts BEFORE you take off!) but when I travel with my husband we use his laptop since it’s nice and small with good battery life. My 21 month old son would watch the same Elmo DVD (30 min in length) over and over and over. This is a good thing when you have a 32+ hour transit one way.
  • Books! Choose thin, light, small books. Ditch the board books for babies – they take up way too much room and are heavy. Don’t over pack the books. Many kids are entertained just by reading the in-flight magazines provided in the seat pocket or will ‘educate’ themselves on the aircraft’s safety procedures and exit doors by reviewing the flight safety cards.
  • Crayons, markers, stickers, and paper. When the kids are young, these items need supervision but hey…you’re going to be sitting RIGHT THERE with them (whether you like it or not!) Don’t forget some coloring books and a pad of blank paper.
  • Pack a “Suprise Bag” of little toys your child has never seen before. These can be Dollar Store finds (Michael’s is great too!), random finds from toy stores or little objects from around the home that can be enjoyed safely by little hands.

Snacks and Airplane friendly food

This can obviously be fairly personalized depending on how your child is used to eating. Make sure you pack PLENTY of snacks for 2 main reasons: they pass the time while keeping your child happy and you never know if your child will eat airplane food. Also make sure you bring some sort of sippy cup if your child can’t or won’t drink out a regular cup. Don’t forget some disposable forks and spoons for baby! Here’s my list of snacks to pack to get you thinking and maybe give you some new ideas to try. 

  • Horizon or Organic Valley individual milk boxes (8oz each but OK through security because it’s “for baby”), I brought 2 for our long-haul international flights. They do serve milk on board but you have to rely on the flight attendant to get it (which can take forever sometimes) and they don’t serve organic milk (hey, I try to keep it organic as much as I can!)
  • Mommy or Daddy feeds baby/toddler: Applesauce (if you buy the prepackaged individual ones, be careful – the tin foil lids puncture easily!), PB&J (peanut butter and jelly) sandwich
  • Self-Feeding/not too messy finger foods: Puffs or Cheerios, peas, blueberries, raisins, Annie’s “Cheddar Bunnies” (listening to a 1.5-2 year old try to say the name is worth the purchase by itself), crackers, string cheese (individually wrapped), Lara bars, fruit leathers, apple slices
  • Snacks that need to be eaten on the earlier side of the trip due to refrigeration issues: Chicken (cooked and diced or in strips), Yogurt (I do NOT recommend the self-feed yogurt “tubes” – messy!), hard-boiled eggs
  • Squishable snacks that can get messy in the carry-on for longer hauls, so I only recommend bringing on shorter domestic flights: avocado (pack the fruit whole and cut on plane – plastic knife will do the trick), banana, pear

For the Breastfeeding Mothers:

Read Packing Checklist for Breastmilk Pumping When You Travel by Delicious Baby. Also read the next article below for formula feeding which talks about bottles and expressed milk when traveling. I traveled A LOT with my son while he was still breast-fed. Once I got over the initial “freak-out” of how-the-heck-do-I-do-this?!?!? I thought it was the best. I liked not having to worry about packing extra things (bottles, expressed milk, coolers with ice, etc). I did expressed milk the first flight and ended up dumping it (sigh, what a waste!) because my son preferred the breast anyways. If you like your privacy while breastfeeding, be sure to pack a nursing shawl. Keep in mind it can be a little awkward nursing in your airplane seat as your baby grows taller. The armrests always seemed to pose a problem for me so I felt like a contortionist trying to get comfortable! It was easier when my husband traveled with me and I didn’t have to worry about elbowing the passenger next to me 😉

For the Formula-Fed Babies:

I did not use formula with my child so I have no helpful advice in this category, but I realize that many parents do use formula for various reasons and circumstances so I recommend reading Packing Checklist for Flying With Bottles and Breastmilk or Formula by Delicious Baby for more information.

Tips, Advice and Rules to know:

  • Jet Lag: read this great article from Delicious Baby which pretty much covers it all.
  • Check the travel.state.gov site for specific travel tips and rules pertaining to your itinerary.
  • Don’t plan an international trip for less than 8-9 days. You will want time to get over jet lag and not feel like you are racing from point A to B to C. 
  • Don’t try to change accommodations every night. Plan on staying in one place for a minimum of 2-3 nights or you will feel like you are constantly packing and unpacking.
  • If you are traveling with a lap baby (under age 2 with no purchased seat) try to book a window and an aisle seat with an empty seat in the middle. Most travelers will not book a middle seat if there are others available and you just might get lucky and have that middle seat remain empty! Be wary of the airlines though…they will be sneaky and switch one of your seats from the window or aisle to the middle (claiming they are trying to keep your party together), so keep checking your seat assignments in the weeks preceding your departure!
  • Make sure to find the Family/Medical line at airport security. It’s usually a much shorter line!
  • Take a picture on your smartphone of your parking spot at the airport before you leave for your trip. Last thing you want to do is try and remember where you parked your car when you are jet-lagged after long travels.
  • Wear slip on shoes and try to minimize the amount of “stuff” you have to take off when going through security (belts, watches, etc). As of Feb. 2012, you can still wear your baby in a baby carrier without taking them out as you pass through security in the US.
  • Dress in layers (both you and the baby) for the airplane trip, the temperature is never predictable and don’t count on getting a blanket on board, sometimes they run out and they’re tiny!
  • If you are using your laptop or smartphone as a DVD player or to play games, make sure it’s charged to it’s fullest before take-off. Some international flights also offer certain seats with electrical sockets – be sure to ask where these seats are.
  • Don’t use luggage locks that are not TSA approved.

Documents in addition to all the necessary travel documents (passports, visas, etc) be sure to bring:

  • Hard copies of all your documents (passports, visas, etc) just in case something happens. A good idea is to also email a photo or scanned image of these documents to yourself. That way you can always get access to the digital file.
  • If only one of the child’s parents or neither parent is traveling internationally with your child (only the mother is traveling or only the father is traveling or another relative is travelling with the child) you WILL NEED TO READ THIS!
  • If you are only traveling domestically and your child doesn’t have a passport, bring a photocopy of their birth certificate. If your child is traveling as a lap child (under age 2) the airline agent may ask for proof of age, especially if they look old for their age.

Great Family Travel Blogs to check out!

Ciao Bambino!
Travels with Baby
WeJustGotBack.com
Delicious Baby
Have Baby Will Travel

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2 thoughts on “Travelling with Babies or Toddlers

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the wonderful advice, info, and tips. I will be traveling internationally with my little one in December and I know I will frequent this blog and check out the links for help. Thanks for taking the time to share your traveling wisdom.
    Thanks Leah!! — from Berger

    Like

  2. Daan Spijer says:

    Where were blogs 28 years ago? This great advice would have been very useful. I suppose it could be useful again when I take (still not existing) grandchildren on the world tour. Thanks, Leah.

    Like

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