Traveling with Kids

Traveling with Kids: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

OK, I really just have tips about planes and automobiles. But I have wanted to go on a train trip, just need to wait until the kids are a bit older.  As our family prepares for our annual trip to Maine, traveling with small children is on the forefront of my mind.

Planes

The first time I made the transition from traveling solo to a parent with kids was when my oldest was 6 weeks old.  I was flying by myself with the baby from Seattle to Ohio.  You can imagine the scene as I have the newborn strapped in the Bjorn, trying to get my boots off and all the baby gear through security.  By the time we got to the gate, the baby was hungry and crying and I was getting the “oh great, there’s a baby on our flight” looks from everyone in the gate area.  As I was trying to get organized to board the plane, a man in a suit walked up to me and offered to trade his first class ticket for my coach seat.  I almost cried.  While I also have stories of people being less than accommodating, I tell you this to remind you that there are sympathetic travelers who have been where you are.  While it may seem daunting, the first 8 months are the easiest time to travel with a baby, so take advantage of that time.  Here are a few tips that have helped me travel with my little ones.

  • Book an early flight – while it may not be fun to drag your child out of bed before sunrise, you are more likely to take off on time, make connecting flights, and in some cases, pay less for your ticket.  If you are traveling with children with food allergies, the first flight of the day also means the cleanest plane.
  • Give yourself plenty of extra time – if your kids are like mine, they have no sense of urgency.  This is especially true if you have never traveled with kids before – everything takes longer than you think.
  • Put all your liquid items in 1 large Ziplock bag that is easily accessible – then when you get to security, you are not digging through all your bags to get out the requested items.  Don’t forget that diaper cream and hand sanitizer count too.  Check the TSA webpage for updated travel information regarding carry-on items, but I have found that they are much more reasonable when traveling with kids.  Formula, breast milk and baby food are not included in the 3-1-1 rule.  I have traveled with breast milk in large quantities in a carry-on and as long as it is declared at the security station, they don’t bat an eye.
  • Consider renting some baby gear at the other end to cut down on the “stuff” you need to carry.  Many destinations have companies that rent swings, boosters, high chairs, pack and plays and wagons for incredibly reasonable prices.  They deliver the items to your hotel or condo before your arrival and pick them up when you are done.  If you choose to bring your own, check with your airline to see for which items you will have to pay the checked luggage fee.
  • Ask for help – getting on the plane is the trickiest part of all, but with a little forethought, it isn’t too bad.  Most airlines still let you pre-board – DO IT!  Don’t forget that you will have to fold up the stroller at the end of the jet way, so take out all of the stuff in the basket and carry it, so you aren’t unloading the stroller with a whole line of impatient travelers behind you.  Flight attendants are there to help you, so if you need someone to hold a child for a second while you get organized or put in a car seat, don’t feel bad about it.
  • Securing your child on the plane – the safest way to fly.  If it is financially feasible, it is ideal to buy your child of any age a seat and bring on your car seat.  Children are accustomed to sitting in their car seat in the car – there is no argument, that’s what they do, so they are more likely to stay in their car seat on the airplane as well.  The seatbelts on an airplane are very interesting and easy to operate in the hands of an 18 month old, and it is very difficult, especially on longer flights, to keep a child seated for the duration of the flight if they are not in a car seat.  Make sure that the car seat is FAA approved.
  • In flight entertainment – it’s you.  My husband and I recently flew for the first time without our kids.  As we were getting ready for takeoff I told my husband to disregard me if I kept passing him snacks and toy cars, as I had no idea what to do with myself on a flight without kids!  A trip to the dollar store and half-priced books is a must for me before plane trips.  I load my bag with snacks, books and toys that the kids have never seen before, and it is usually enough to keep them occupied.
  • Layovers – let them “shake their sillies out.”  Some airports have play areas for the kids.  If not, try to find a spot where the kids can run around a bit, play duck-duck-goose or tag.  We bring some baseball mitts and a baseball and find an area without any people and throw the ball around a bit.
  • Enjoy – air travel is a big adventure and a great opportunity to make memories.  With a bit of planning it can be pretty enjoyable for kids AND grownups.

Automobiles

While driving can logistically can be easier than flying, it can get very monotonous for kids. For older kids there are lots of travel games that you can find online, in addition to all the electronic entertainment devices available.  For the smaller kids, entertainment is not so easy. Here are some things to keep in mind, safety first, of course!

  • Car seats/seat belts are a non-negotiable MUST – no matter how bored or fussy your child gets, they need to stay buckled into a child passenger safety seat for as long as the car is moving.  Car crashes are the leading cause of death in children ages 1-12.  If you are not sure what the proper child passenger seat is for your aged/sized child, please refer to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • The driver’s job is to drive – not to play DJ, movie changer, iPod adjuster, waitress, etc.  If there is another adult or older child in the car, they can do those tasks; otherwise it will have to wait until the car is stopped.  This is a general policy that we started in the car just running around the town; otherwise I am constantly distracted by switching out CDs and changing the radio station.  As I think down the road to when my children are new drivers I want them to remember how important it is to minimize distraction while driving.
  • Plan for the worst possible scenario – if traveling in the winter bring warm coats and/or blankets in case the car breaks down, in the summer, bring extra water.
  • Plan your travel around nap times – They may not actually sleep, but if 2-3 hours of your drive can be filled with a nap, it will be better for everyone.
  • Pack lots of snacks – but make sure you include some healthy options (boxes of raisons, baby carrots, applesauce in the pouches).  Pumping them full of junk and sweets can make their tummies upset.  You can cut down on stops if you are able to provide multiple snacks along the way.
  • Plan breaks – plan ahead for restaurants that your family enjoys, or parks that provide the kids a little physical activity to break up the sitting for a bit. Be realistic, you will be stopping more than you did pre-kids, so know that going in and plan accordingly.
  • When the car stops – EVERYONE needs to potty (or at least try!), otherwise you may be finding yourself stopping once an hour for potty breaks.  A portable potty is worth throwing in the trunk in case of emergencies.
  • As mentioned in the airplane section, a trip to the dollar store and half-priced books is a must for me before trips.  Some new activity books, crayons or markers, combined with some new games or toys may buy you a few more hours of productive driving.

Going on trips with small children requires a lot of packing and A LOT of planning, but it is totally worth it.  Take lots of pictures, make lots of memories and have fun!

Sarah A. Denny, MD
Sarah Denny, MD, works as an attending physician in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Emergency Department with a focus on injury prevention. She is the mom of three energetic little boys (ages 2, 4 and 6). In her free time, Dr. Denny runs half marathons, loves to travel and is learning to garden.

2 thoughts on “Traveling with Kids: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

  1. LaraLara on said:

    Thanks for your great article Traveling with Kids. We are going on a vacation to the New Jersey shore starting this weekend. This will be a 9+ hour car ride with 2-year old triplets. We need ALL the tips we can get!

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