Flight-Tested Tips for Traveling with Babies and Toddlers
As an Australian ex-pat whose heart is equally in the green mountains of Vermont and the wilds of Australia, I’m no stranger to that long plane ride home and had my strategies to cope. Now that my toddler son accompanies me and my husband, we’ve adapted to a whole new way of travel. If you’re planning summer travel - domestic or abroad - with infants or toddlers, read on to learn from my experience.
When I first took the three-flight 30-hour trip to Sydney, my son was around 4 months old and I was traveling alone. I reached out to my friends who are parents and gathered a laundry list of tricks and tips to find some sanity on the international flights. Though toys, snacks and an Ergo carrier had already made my list, my friends added some great ideas to my packing checklist and some strategies for setting us up for success.
Some of my favorite suggestions:
- Try to pick a flight time which departs early in the morning or after naptime. The plane environment is new and full of stimulation and it may take your little one some time to settle down. A well-rested baby will do better with the excitement and be ready to nap after checking it all out.
- Time sleep accordingly. If you need to start making changes a few days ahead of time, do so. If you must, choose an overnight flight so you know sleeping will be semi-regular.
- Pack two bags. One with all your backup supplies to go in the overhead container and another one with just the basics which can live at your feet.
- Extra everything. Diapers, wipes, burp cloths, sippy cups, socks (seriously, where do they throw those socks?) and of course bottles if you choose to pump.
- A pacifier or breastfeeding can help with ear popping during takeoff and landing.
- On long-haul flights with an infant, make sure to request the bulkhead with the bassinet. Although you have to hold the baby in a lap belt when the seat belt sign is on, it's great to have the extra space for sleeping or to put them down for a moment.
- For a toddler, try to get an aisle seat and preferably a bulkhead next to the restroom. There is extra space to get down and play by the exits when the seat belt sign is off.
- Pack away some favorite toys a week or two ahead of time, which can be reintroduced on the plane.
- Tie a soft scarf (or plastic chain links) to a few favorite toys and attach them to the seat (armrest or seatbelt). You won’t spend time with your head under the seat trying to find them after a throw!
- For a toddler, pack some new and interesting food. I discovered freeze-dried fruits and vegetables (they’re not as messy when they spill!)
- Electronic entertainment can be soothing. Sometimes, a little familiar music is just the trick.
- And if all else fails, bribe your neighbors with treat bags!
When we made it to our destination I realized I had been on edge for 30 hours, despite very few actual issues. Though I was prepared with the listed items, I was constantly concerned about a meltdown and hardly calm enough to enjoy the meltdown-free trip! The next time I took the trip, when my son was 16 months old, was much less stressful. This time my husband came too and I was relaxed enough to watch a full length movie!
Have you journeyed far with your children? What tips would you offer for travel with a baby?
Photo: Matthew Levitt