Posted on Mar 26, 2019
By Danah Shuli
It’s that time of year again where many of us are starting to plan our summer vacations, and although the destination may be exciting, the process of getting there can feel like a daunting task - especially if you have little ones. My husband and I have done quite a bit of domestic travel with our daughter, who is now two. But, last year we took our first family international trip where we visited five countries in two months! To my surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I was making it seem in my head, and I’m here to tell you that no matter the type of trip you are taking with your kids this year, you can do it!
I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks while traveling with my daughter, Kinzah, that I want to share with you. While this post will reflect my experiences traveling with my family via airplane, the tips found here can be adjusted and used for any form of transportation and travel you will be taking.
Secure Your Seats
Traveling on a plane can be a very nerve wracking experience, especially with little ones aboard. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to book your seats ahead of time to avoid any last minute surprises, like sitting apart from one another on the day of travel. If you’re traveling with an infant, keep in mind that domestic flights don’t offer bassinets. For these flights, I’ve found that booking a window seat is the best option because it allows for more privacy when feeding, calming baby down, as well as something for the parent to lean on.
If you are taking an international flight (and can afford it), I think it is well worth the extra money to book front row economy class seats that provide extra legroom and a bassinet. It’s often referred to as “bulkhead seating.” It’s important that you contact your airline and request a bassinet prior to the day of travel to ensure that you will get one. The weight limit varies from 20-25 lb,s so be sure to check your airline’s weight restrictions before requesting a bassinet.
Last year during our international flights, Kinzah was able to utilize the extra legroom space as a play area, which allowed her to move around a little bit as she played (when the seatbelt signs were turned off) instead of feeling strapped for several hours. This was a major life savor and helped everyone enjoy the flight.
Packing and Carry on Items
Overpacking is one of my weaknesses and something I am working on and getting better at the more I travel. Resist the urge to pack more than necessary. You’ll quickly realize that all those extra outfits were a waste of space (and money if you end up paying extra for weight). A general rule that has helped me minimize the amount of clothing I put in our luggage: two outfits per day for baby or kids, one outfit per day for adults with one extra outfit overall.
Another helpful tip is to try and stay somewhere that provides a washer and dryer. This will help minimize the amount of clothing you pack, because you can do laundry and rewear your outfits. Another way to keep your packing at a minimum is to design a capsule wardrobe for each member in the family. A capsule wardrobe is made up of a limited number of essential and versatile pieces that can be worn in different ways to create new looks. To learn more about how to build a capsule wardrobe of your own, check out this article on capsule packing for kids. You can also check out this video on packing tips for the family and how to get your kids involved in the process.
When it comes to carry on items, it’s always a good idea to check your carry on item allowance prior to packing. The general guidelines for most airlines is two carry on items - your purse or baby bag and another item such as a roller bag. I recommend a backpack-style diaper bag to help free up both hands especially when traveling alone. Depending on how long your trip is, I would try to minimize the amount of carry on items to avoid handling too many things, especially when going through security.
Packing carry on items for an infant is very different than for a toddler. In both cases I wear my diaper bag. When Kinzah was an infant I would also have an additional roller bag that contained some extra items depending on how long we were traveling. Now that she's a toddler, she gets her own bag filled with all of her favorite things to keep her entertained. Here are some examples of what I’ve packed for my daughter during both stages while traveling. You can adjust to your personal needs.
- Travel wallet (passports, pen, birth certificate and child travel consent form)
- One outfit change and one pajama
- Rash cream
- Changing pad
- Two bottles prepped with formula/breast milk
- Ice pack (for keeping breast milk fresh) Two bottles prepped with amount of water needed for formula
- Formula (even if you breastfeed, it’s good to keep just in case)
- Baby’s water bottle
- Baby food pouches
- One toy
- Muslin blanket
- Burp cloth (Great for burping but also comes in handy when things get messy!)
- Nursing cover
Additional Infant Carry On Items
- Extra bottles prepped with formula and water
- Baby food pouches
- Change of clothes (one outfit, one pajama)
- Burp cloths
- Baby carrier or sling
When it comes to packing liquids and gels for your toddler, you are allowed to carry them as long as your child is under the age of two. More information on this can be found on the Transportation Security Administration website under the tab “formula, breast milk and juice.” You will be asked to wait until TSA scans your items separately and runs a test, but I’ve personally never faced any issues while carrying Kinzah’s liquids.
Toddler Busy Bag
The idea behind this bag is to fill it with items that your toddler has never seen before in order to spike their interest or items that they always reach for while playing to keep them entertained for as long as possible. During our summer trip I tried to take out one new activity every two hours or so in order to keep the excitement going. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on these items nor do you have to fill up your toddler’s bag with too many things.
I realized that some of the items I packed in our last trip were too advanced for Kinzah at the time, or she wasn’t interested in them. But I think they’ll work for our next big trip! Here are some suggestions and a list of the activity items I was able to find at a dollar store and the dollar section in Target (great spot for affordable, educational and fun kids activities).
- A new coloring book & jumbo crayons
- Melissa & Doug On the Go Magicolor Mess-Free Coloring Pad
- Glow Sticks (Great for evening flights.)
- Mini fun-shaped flashlight necklace (Also great for night travel.)
- Mini dry erase board and markers (to be used under supervision)
- Lacing shapes activity (This is great for building fine motor skills. Kinzah tried doing it but gave up quick, it was a bit advanced for her age.)
- Plastic beads with string to make a necklace (Also great for fine motor skills but probably for an older toddler.)
- Two small tubs of play dough
- Sticker book Jelly stickers to stick on the plane window (Kinzah LOVED these!)
- Alphabet/Numbers flash cards
- Favorite board books
- iPad with three games and one movie (Your choice if you want to bring electronics for your little one or not.)
Pack some of your kids’ favorite snacks in their backpacks - fruits such as tangerines, bananas and grapes are great choices since they are easy to peel, relatively mess free and easy to eat. I also packed cheese sticks, applesauce pouches, small juice boxes and goldfish along with my daughter’s water bottle. Whatever your child likes to snack on - pack that.
Check your baggage allowance early on. Depending on your airlines and the type of flight (international vs domestic), you may or may not have to pay for your luggage. If you are traveling with children under the age of two who do not have a purchased ticket (lap infant), they are not given baggage allowance. Kids two and over who need a purchased ticket are usually given the same baggage allowance as an adult. Some airlines may have different rules, I would recommend checking with your airlines prior to the day of travel on baggage allowance for both adults and children. Carseats and strollers can be checked in at no charge.
I prefer to keep my stroller on hand and have it gate checked while boarding the flight. For the carseat, I’ve been able to box it up in its original packaging and check it in with the luggage. I highly recommend purchasing a protective travel bag for both your stroller and car seat in order to prevent any damage caused by rough handling of these items.
Baby carriers and slings are a true lifesaver when it comes to comforting your baby while traveling. I personally prefer a ring sling. There are many options out there but this is the one I own and love to use. It comes in handy during times when your baby is getting too fussy and doesn’t want to stay put in the stroller or just wants some extra comfort amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy airport. Traveling can be an overwhelming experience for us adults, so just imagine how confused and scared your baby may be.
Often times Kinzah would fall asleep immediately or calm down once I have her strapped in, which allows me to relax and focus on what I need to get done.
Another great tip is to nurse or bottle feed your baby during take off and landing to help soothe them and keep their ears from popping. If your child takes a pacifier, that is also a great time to use it. For children that are older you can give them a lollipop to suck, on gum to chew or something to drink.
Kids are unpredictable and although these tips may help, sometimes your baby is just not happy and will cry. Try not to panic and acknowledge that they are babies; that’s what they do. They sense their mother’s emotions, and if you are flustered and panicking over the situation, they will only feed into that and become more uncomfortable. In my experience most passengers are very friendly and understanding, especially when traveling alone. Don’t be afraid of being “that mom” with the crying baby, and don’t hesitate to take advantage of the flight attendants if you need anything. They are there to help!
Changing Diapers on the Plane
Did you know that there is a changing table above the toilet in every bathroom on a plane? I had no idea prior to having kids. I think the first time I noticed it I was literally mind blown! It’s crazy the things you have to take into consideration once you become a parent.
Book a Hotel Room for Long Layovers
My last piece of advice would be to consider booking a hotel room close to the airport or within the airport (again, if you can afford it) for long layovers on international trips. My family did this last summer, and I cannot express how much it helped us all recharge. We were able to take a good nap, shower and have dinner before one of our long flights versus spending countless hours in the airport. During some layovers we were able to go out and do some sightseeing but for stops that did not grab our interest, this was an amazing alternative.
I hope you found this post helpful and has given you some peace of mind as you gear up for your next adventure! I would love to hear about your own experiences traveling with kids, be sure to leave a comment and let me know what has worked for you and your family!
Danah is wife to Kareem and mama to their daughter Kinzah (aka Kiki). She was born and raised in Charlotte, NC, and loves all things food, fashion, photography and home decor. After having Kinzah, she created her blog, Mother of Pearl, where she shares a glimpse into her life as she navigates motherhood and hopes to build a safe space for other mamas to connect. You can follow her on Instagram.