“Mommy, are we going on the airplane today?” is a question that I get asked at least every other day. Ah, the life of a traveling tot!
In her two and a half years, my daughter has racked up more frequent flier miles than most people I know. Her first cross-country trip was at 8 weeks old. Since then, we have made over 3 dozen round-trip flights. Most of them just me and her. International flights, red-eye flights, multiple stops, 18 hour days, missed flights, we have done it all.
By now, we have the routine down to a science. What to bring, how to pack it, and what we can live without. I get asked about flying with babies / toddlers all the time, so I am sharing what I have learned, and hopefully it will help some of you. Because it has taken me some pretty messy situations, literally, to learn the easiest and most effective way to do things.
And while there are always going to be hiccups and unforeseen challenges, traveling with babies and toddlers does not have to be a miserable experience.
The key is preparation.
First, check the regulations for the airline you are flying. If you are flying domestically, most airlines will let babies under age two sit on your lap for free. But they still have to be on your reservation. Unfortunately, this is not the case on international flights. You end up paying almost half of the full price fare for the baby to sit on your lap. If your child is over 2, they will need their own ticket no matter what.
If your baby doesn’t have a Passport, always carry a copy of their birth certificate with you when you fly. I have been asked for it many times.
The day before your flight, have everything packed and ready to go. This way you can be sure you have everything you need, and that you can carry it all. Especially important if you will be by yourself, like I usually am. You really want to travel with the absolute least amount of things possible. Ideally, I like to check one rolling suitcase for both of us, have a large purse or small carry-on for myself, a small bag for her, and a small insulated bag of food and water. Thats it. Anything more and it is too hard to hold, carry, and keep track of.
Once you have everything packed, figure out how you will be carrying your child through the airport (a stroller, a baby carrier, rolling the car seat, etc). Then practice. Pick up everything that you will have in the airport. Walk around. If you can’t carry it all, or you are not super comfortable, reassess.
This is a list of what I consider to be the essentials for traveling with babies or toddlers. I try to travel very light, but there are some things that you just really can’t be without.
Diapers and wipes – Take double the amount of diapers you think you might need. Then throw in a few extras just in case. Trust me on this one. Even if your child is potty trained, the middle of a 6 hour flight is not the time to have an accident. All over them, you, and the seat. Not that I have any experience with that or anything. And forget the cute plastic wipes case that came with your diaper bag that holds like 10 wipes. Bring the whole bag of wipes. You will use them for everything from wiping down the tray table to cleaning sticky fingers.
Clothes – Two extra sets of clothes for your little one, and an extra set of clothes for you. You don’t want to sit for 8 hours smelling like a dirty diaper. People will stare and you will be gagging. Again, I learned this the hard way.
A bag to hold soiled clothes – You can use a special wet bag, or a gallon size Ziplock bag. Just have something on hand that can contain the dirty clothes, and keep the rest of the items in your bag clean.
A comfortable baby carrier – If your child doesn’t have their own seat, this is the way to go. Strap the baby on in an Ergo, a Moby Wrap, or whatever carrier you like, and leave your hands free for your carry on. It’s as easy as that.
GoGo Babyz Travelmate – If your child has a seat on the plane, it is safest for them to be in their car seat. And dragging a car seat through the airport without this would be a nightmare. I would say that this is the one thing that I couldn’t travel without. If I somehow forgot it I would probably have a panic attack. It is that good. You basically attach the toddler / convertible car seat to the base, strap your little one into the seat, and wheel them through the airport like a rolling suitcase. Every single time I travel people ask me where they can buy one, or say how much they wish they had one when their kids were little.
Plenty of food – Airport food is expensive, unhealthy, and not always available. Plus, food on a plane can keep even the crankiest, most bored toddler quiet for a while. I always try to bring a lot of variety, and way more than I think I will need. (Having plenty of food saved me on an un-planned, over-night stay in the Miami airport) I swear by the Zoli Sumo Snack Stack. I have a few of them, and fill each section to the brim with a different type of food so that she has plenty to choose from. They are the perfect size, they don’t leak, your snacks don’t get smashed, and best of all, they double as little dishes on the plane.
Water – If you tried to bring a regular bottle of water for your little one, you would never be able to get it through security. But if it resembles a baby bottle, and you refer to it as “the baby’s sippy”, or “the baby’s bottle”, they will usually just do a quick test on it then let you through. Worst case scenario you dump the water in the trash and refill it after security. We use the Nalgene Kids Water Bottle and have never had a problem. (Update 3/16 – we now prefer the Contigo Trekker Kids Water Bottle.)
A Lightweight Blanket – Not just to snuggle with for nap time. It can be draped over you for breastfeeding, laid on the ground for your little one to have a place to sit or play, and even used as an extra burp cloth or cleaning rag if needed. My favorite is the aden + anais Cotton Swaddle Blanket.
Pacifiers – Babies sometimes have trouble with their ears on planes. If they suck on something during take-off and landing, it helps regulate the pressure in the ears and relieves the pain. If your baby doesn’t use a pacifier, try to breastfeed or give them a bottle during take-off and landing. For toddlers, if they seem to be in pain, try having them eat something chewy, and drink water. If you bring pacifiers, bring at least 3 or 4, since they inevitably end up on the dirty floor.
A few toys or books – I usually bring 2 books, a coloring book and crayons, and maybe one or two small toys that are new to her. Your kids are not going to entertain themselves while you sit and read a magazine. I know, I have tried. You are going to be entertaining them the entire time. So don’t go overboard with the toys, it will only make a bigger mess on the plane and a make a heavier bag to carry.
And that’s it. Like I said, I keep it pretty minimal. Now I know there are a lot of other frequent flying mommas out there, so please add to this list. What are your must-haves?