Traveling with children is daunting. And by daunting, I mean it has the potential to be the most harrowing, hair-pulling, horrible experiences you could ever imagine willfully subjecting yourself to. I don’t mean to be dramatic (yes I do), but it’s true.
We’ve all been there. It’s been a long day. You’ve run a million errands and met a metric ton of deadlines. Your head is still pounding from the two donuts you accidentally ate for breakfast. Your hands grip the steering wheel on the drive home while you hit every red light. Your mind swims with the continued mental list of things you still need to do. And then it starts.
From the backseat you hear a faint grumble. If your child is old enough, maybe a seemingly innocuous question will alight to your ears. “Why is it dark, moooooommmmmy?” But you know, YOU KNOW, that within the four walls of your sedan sleeps a lion. A demented lion. A demented lion child who is about to blow their gasket if you don’t answer exactly as they want. You tread lightly. You speak in a hushed, sing-song tone. “It’s dark because it’s nighttime honey,” you lightly say to the tune of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” (Beethoven’s good, right? He’s good for soothing children. Or is that studying? Studying…hmmm, what was the Magna Carta again?) Before you even hit the final note, you know the demented lion angry gorilla child is not pleased.
“IT’S NOT NIGHTTIME IT’S EVEEEENNNNNING!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
You try to quell the tide, but the floodgates have opened. Your child is in full meltdown mode and you’ve sworn off motorized transport forever.
But, alas, we live in a modern era and teleportation is not yet possible—at least not for us huddled masses. You have to get places and you have people to see. Despite your best efforts to cut ties with all friends and family by flaking on each of them in increasing intensity, your company is in high demand. You have to travel with your child.
Do your best to not imagine this after school car meltdown playing out in the confines of a Boeing 737 to the delight of your fellow passengers. Buy those tickets and consider some of the following possibly-but-also-maybe-not-helpful advice broken down by age group.
Traveling with a Baby
I did an extensive literature review before the first flight with our infant daughter. By that I mean I frantically scoured the internet for travel tips three hours before our flight and texted every friend I could think of. The only part I’d spent time practicing for was holding her while she slept. You see, at the time I was heavily influenced by all those baby sleep books about establishing routines, removing sleep dependencies, and all that other mumbo jumbo for new moms. Our daughter was at a place where she slept on her own, in her crib, in a dark room, with a sound machine on. I was all-out stressed that she wouldn’t be able to sleep on the plane in my arms since we weren’t about to pony up the extra cash for a place for her car seat. I spent about four days holding her while she napped and resigned myself to knowing I’d be exhausted when our red-eye landed. This brings me to my advice.
Bring the Car Seat Anyway
Even if you haven’t purchased a seat for your infant, bring their car seat with you to the gate. Ask the nice folks over at the counter if there are any empty seats and if you can have your assignment changed. Worst case scenario, there are none and you can gate check the seat. We had some luck and they accommodated our request, so all those hours sitting in a peaceful dark room actually holding and looking at the sleeping face of my darling cherub were completely and utterly for naught, with no mutual benefit for the two of us whatsoever. If you have the same luck, make sure you have read the directions on how to properly secure a car seat in an airplane. Also, don’t read any of the articles about how gate checking a car seat subjects it to the same conditions as a high-impact car crash. Oh, sorry if you didn’t know that was a thing.
Save Their Ears
I like to play a game where I make a tally of all the times I hear the same parenting advice. I then buy myself a cup of coffee for each tick mark. Actually, I don’t do that at all, I’m just bad at money management. But if I did, protecting little one’s ears during takeoff and landing would get me about 79 lattes this year alone. You’ve likely heard this too. Nurse, feed, or offer a pacifier to the baby during changes in air pressure. This can be confusing because cabin pressure changes more than during those two key times. I found myself trying to feed our baby every time the plane moved vertically which I wouldn’t recommend for a number of reasons.
You are permitted to bring formula and breast milk through security, but read up on the regulations and suggestions to be sure of the details. Try not to make a joke about how the formula is actually drugs. It’s not worth it.
Learn How to Collapse Your Stroller
This one is probably limited to a very small number of people whose lives tend to take them by surprise frequently. If you’re one of those people, hello soul mate! But, if you’re taking a stroller, make sure you know how to collapse it before you get to the airport. Trying to figure it out with a grumbling line of people behind you without shoes on is not the best place.
Bring Lots of Clothing Changes and Diapers
There seems to be a contingency of babies who have complete blow outs on airplanes. Prepare for this in case yours is one of the lucky few. Also practice changing your child on an 11″ x 11″ block of ice because that’s what using the changing table on the plane feels like.
Forget About the Other Passengers
You may have heard about a cute little family who makes notes with candy apologizing to other people on the plane in case their child gets disruptive. If this is something you enjoy doing, then do it. But my take is that notes with candy are for Valentine’s Day in 5th grade and the other people on the plane can just deal if your baby is loud. There’s just no appeasing assholes and I personally wouldn’t go to that effort. Besides, sound doesn’t carry nearly as far as you think it does on airplanes.
Traveling with a Toddler
This is when you might just want to stay home.
If you still need to travel, then you’ve just gotta roll with it. Bring all the tricks you can think of and plan on walking up and down the aisles. Let your toddler stand at your feet and play with toys on the seats. Bring new toys wrapped in sparkly paper wrapped in a bigger box wrapped in an even bigger box. Pack balls of yarn, snacks, and a laser pointer. What I’m saying is pack like you’re bringing a grumpy and unpredictable cat.
Joking aside, there are really only three things I can offer for this age group.
1. Do not try to stick to your usual routine. It’s okay if they don’t nap on schedule or they eat at irregular times. Trying to stick to a routine in an out-of-routine environment just adds unnecessary stress.
2. Window gel clings are a cheap, fun item that our daughter has consistently enjoyed. They’re usually in the $1 section at Target.
3. Wine is your friend. Hit up the airport bar, have a couple on the plane. It’s fine. It’ll all be just fine.
Traveling with a Young Child
The legal age of a child is evidently three. They are no longer a toddler—and maybe a little more predictable. This is when you carry forward all those tips and tricks you’ve picked up from previous trips into one seamless excursion. Well, hopefully but probably not.
There are varying thoughts on screen time for young children. If you happen to be in the camp that feels comfortable with electronic media for your little one, around this age is when they can keep headphones on their head and watch something for a little while instead of just incessantly plugging them in and pulling them out. The same goes for tablet time. Otherwise and additionally, developmentally appropriate activities are good. Bring their favorite make-believe toys, or coloring books, or whatever else keeps them interested and contains their new-found need to kick the seat in front of them.
As for food, we let our daughter subsist on orange juice and airplane cookies for the duration of the flight. Basically we treat her as if she’s just donated blood. There are actually a lot of similarities. Think about it.
Hopefully you’ve found this travel advice relatively informative. If you’d like some other advice, check out my Pinterest board here: https://www.pinterest.com/nickitycole/kiddo/travel-with-kids/.
Godspeed, my friend.
Do you have any other tricks for traveling with children?
Share them in the comments!