Our first out-of-state trip and flight with my son was when he was only 3 months old. I remember being confronted frequently with questions like “You’re going to travel with a 3-month-old?!” “Are you sure he will be ok on a plane?” And my answers were yes and maybe, because really with children who knows? Luckily, after A LOT of reading on how to make traveling as simple as possible, our trip went extremely smooth. So, a few months later when we were planning another trip to an out-of-state family event, I was confident that I would manage it smoothly (even when I was traveling back home alone with my son). What I was NOT as prepared for was how traveling with a toddler would be MUCH more challenging than with a baby. Don’t worry though, we all survived unscathed! Here are some tips to manage air travel during both stages.
Traveling with a baby (under 12 months)
Once my son had his first set of vaccinations, we were ready to book a ticket! Still, on maternity leave, I took advantage of my husband’s business travel and Liam and I joined him in flying to DCA. My sister lives about 30 minutes away so it all worked out perfectly!
What I will try to emphasize is that if you can travel during this time, DO IT. This is actually the easiest time to travel with your baby! When all they do is eat, sleep and play (minimally and quietly) it makes a recipe for an amazing little travel companion. The only downside? This tiny travel companion requires A LOT more than your pre-baby self was used to traveling with.
Before you go
- Make sure you book your baby as a lap infant. They need to be on your ticket to fly. **Lap infant tickets include a free checked car seat and stroller. They are also allowed their own personal item (like a diaper bag) so you can bring a bag for yourself along with a diaper bag if needed.
- What gear are you bringing? Carseat, stroller, etc. Do you need a carrying bag for it?
- How does baby eat? Will you need to pump? Do you need to warm bottles? Make sure you have a plan.
You will need to travel with a carseat and stroller. Another upside of traveling when they are this little is that if you have a travel system, these will easily click in and out of each other and be one less item to lug through the airport. Gate check these items so you have the convenience of not carrying your baby through the terminals. We bought a cover for the car seat but not the stroller frame since it did not have any fabric to tear. (I found an inexpensive one on Amazon) Also, check your bags if you can to avoid the added hassle of gate checking these things while rolling a carry-on bag and boarding the plane while carrying your baby, putting the suitcase in the overhead…you get the point. It’s just more work.
Now, you’ve made it on the plane! One of the best tips I read was to feed the baby during take-off and landing to help them with the pressure change and avoid an uncomfortable, screaming baby. At the time, I was still breastfeeding so this was pretty easy for me. If you have pumped milk or formula – this can be brought through security in larger than 3oz containers but it will need to be tested. If you need to do this, allow for extra time at TSA just in case. If you can use powder formula and get liquid to add after security, it will be much simpler. With a full belly, my son (both at 3 months and at 8 months) fell asleep for the majority of the plane ride. Smooth flying. Luckily, I used the bathroom before so my chair captivity was no problem. We did have to use the changing table on one of our flights. It is tight, but not impossible. My biggest advice here is to take everything out of your bag at your seat and bring only what you need. There is not a lot of space to be digging around a bag while carrying your baby.
Once we landed, we took our personal bags off, collected our carseat and stroller and were off to collect our bags and enjoy our trip!
Traveling with a Toddler (Over 12 months or walking)
This all changes once your baby becomes a walking toddler. Once your child becomes fully mobile, they will want to walk everywhere and be much harder to contain and entertain. You need to be prepared with activities and (if yours is anything like my son) a lot of snacks!
Traveling light does not exist anymore (this was a 4 day trip!) But look at that smile walking the airport!
Before you go
- Again, make sure your child has a ticket. They can fly as a lap infant until 2 or you can choose to book them a seat.
- What will keep your child entertained for long(er) periods of time with minimal interruption to others? Make sure it is packed and easily accessible!
- Food should be easier now. We made sure to pack all of the favorite snacks for the flight.
Once again, you will need a car seat and a stroller, only this time your toddler may be in the larger car seat. Our son was. We bought a backpack carrying bag for it to make it easier to carry into the airport and chose to bring the smaller umbrella stroller on this flight. Instead of gate checking, we checked both of these items along with our bags and brought only our personal bags onto the plane. We let our son walk all through the airport in hopes this would tire him out for the flight and he would sleep (it failed, but I would still try it again).
Now, for the entertainment. This is where it becomes more challenging with a toddler, all they want to do is roam the aisles. We bought a refurbished tablet and made sure it had his favorite show (Bubble Guppies) and a touch game he could play. When that failed, we started with some snacks and followed with a short period of moving around in the small area by the bathroom. And repeated, for 2.5 hours. We lucked out on the way back, he slept for about half of the flight. Whew.
At the end of it all, traveling can be stressful and it is definitely more-so with a baby/toddler. But, it is all worth the few hours of hassle to be in a new place making memories with your little family! What are some of your favorite tips for traveling with little ones?