Updated: Mar 12, 2019
Traveling with infants and toddlers IS POSSIBLE and does NOT have to be the nightmare scenario you imagine. RM and JR both took their first flights at five months old and they did amazing. I have flown with just me and the boys and we have also flown as a family. As with any other kind of travel, the earlier you start them the better. I think this is especially true on air travel because of their size alone. There is point between tiny baby until toddler age where they will need the most things and the most focus during travel. When you are in the very young stage and when you are past that three or four year mark you should take advantage and travel to places that require flights.
Kids of all ages, but especially the babies (pre-talking) do not need a ton of things to travel. The biggest gift you can give them and yourself is the gift of calm. Every baby is different, but all babies need to feel secure. The more calm you are during travel, the more calm they will be. I remember when I first became a mother there was this level of calm I was able to tap into for my sons that I still have been unable to replicate for myself. It was a full body calm even if my head was spinning, and that is the kind of calm that I tried to reach on all travel. Do whatever you have to do to settle your body rhythms while you are holding your baby. They feed off of things like heart rate and breathing so if you can keep those things at a consistent level you will all be happier.
Pro Tip # 1: Please remain calm. Babies and children will naturally read you and your emotions. The more calm and less neurotic you are, the more fun you will all have. So stay breathe, stay present and enjoy the flight!
My first time traveling with babies I went on two planes and traveled for half the day with just me and RM. I sat in middle seats and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I decided before I ever even packed a bag that for everyone’s sake I would fake it until I made it and treat this trip like a fun adventure. After turning away from the internet that told me to make treat bags for the whole plane (no pressure there!) and expect the worst from other passengers, I trusted my instincts and focused on me and my baby. As I worked my way through the airport and got through both flights I was pleasantly surprised to find most people to be friendly and accommodating, offering to help getting bags overhead and help me on and off the plane. Not only do babies respond to your attitude, other people tend to do the same, so if you can manage a smile and calm demeanor, people are generally on your side. The ‘worst’ passenger I sat next to was clearly not a kid-person and just didn’t talk to me. That’s it. No rudeness, no drama, he was not against me, he just put in his headphones and we left each other alone.
Traveling with kids in your own car is one thing, because you are the only one that has to deal with a tantrum. Traveling when you will be stuck on a plane with 130 strangers for varying amounts of time is an entirely different prospect. So, how do you deal with that kind of pressure? Travel with your kids and their schedule in mind. For my family, early morning travel is best. We get everything packed into the car the night before so the only thing we have to do in the morning is throw our toothbrushes into our bags and get out the door. We plan everything down to laying everyone’s clothes out so there is no scrambling at 3:30am. While you can hope for the best, you have to plan on the worst case scenario. There will be a lot of fun things for kids to pay attention to in an airport so you cannot bank on them sleeping on normal schedules and you have to be ready and willing to roll with the punches a bit. My boys do best early, as their patience and attitudes can take a wrong turn throughout any given day. If you are confident in your children’s ability to sleep on a red eye, more power to you. There is just no way that would work for me and mine.
Practically speaking, there are many benefits to early travel. Parking spots are abundantly available, shuttles are less crowded, and security checkpoints are more efficient. If you are using airport parking, consider your exit strategy more than your arrival. You will have infinitely more energy on the front end of a trip than you will returning home, so make sure you are one of the first shuttle stops so you can get to your car quickly when you are worn out. Unless there is bad weather, flights do not often get delayed early in the morning. If you are the first flight of the day, its schedule will not be reliant on another flight getting in on time. You will also find many families with small children on early flights since that time works best for most babies. Try to get seats near the back of the plane, its is the unspoken “kid section” and you will be surrounded by knowing eyes more than judgmental ones. As a bonus, kids love looking through the seats behind them, and if there is a kid sitting behind them odds are they will start playing together.
Pro Tip #2: Be the last ones on the plane. I have found, especially with babies, that other passengers and flight attendants are so accommodating in helping you get your carry-on up high or helping in any way. I find if I am the last one on and last one off a plane then we spend as little time in those crowded seats.
If your destination requires that you take multiple planes, I suggest having at least a one hour layover, but less than three hours. This will allow you the peace of mind knowing there is some wiggle room with your previous flight to be slightly delayed. This will also give you enough time to find your next gate, grab a snack (whether you pack one or buy one), take a bathroom break for everyone. Any time you have left should be spent near the gate, kids love looking out the window, running around in circles, stretching, laughing and getting a mental break from the cramped quarters of the airplane. I try my best to find the most empty gate near the one I need so we can really run around, this can also wear them out so they sleep on the second flight. Make it fun, stay present and involved, and answer all of their many many questions!
Small Carry On Bag Contents
Not Pictured: Kids Kindles, Mom and Dad's Cellphones
Plan to carry your own drinks and snack for your little human. There is nothing worse than being in the back of the plane waiting for the snack and beverage cart to come around. Keep it simple: a water bottle, trail mix or some sort of treat that will not get them sugar crazed. For babies try to get them to drink their bottle on take off and landing so they can naturally get their ears to pop, for toddlers fruit snacks will do the trick. Planes are a dry space so the hydration helps with all sorts of minor ailments that can sideline a baby. My oldest drank like a fish on his first flights, which was great, but you should plan to change more diapers than usual if that is the case. For babies I recommend having two diapers and one full change of clothes on hand for each plane you are on. On my first trip with a baby he peed through his diaper on both flights and needed a new outfit each time; the flights were not longer than two and a half hours each so that was much more than usual for us. If you are prepared for these things they will just be a minor inconvenience.
Regardless of how much luggage you will need for your trip, I recommend at least having an overhead carry on and a bag to go by your feet. This way you can be girl scout level prepared for all contingencies with clothes, diapers, food, medicine without having the stress of putting it all in a small under the seat carry on. Make sure your smallest bag is big enough to carry only essentials. Keep baby toys and activities contained to a quart size bag. They do not need much more than your attention, so be prepared to give that to them fully.
DON’T FORGET: Have a plan for when you land. Most people want to go out to dinner on their first night of a trip so they don’t have to worry about preparing or cooking anything. If at all possible, order something to go, or eat somewhere with a play place. If your little one has been on a plane all day, please don’t ask them to sit still and be well behaved in a restaurant. They are little, work with their little bodies and capabilities. Getting the family fed is super important, but so is giving them the space and permission to get their wiggles out.
BASIC FLYING FACTS:
*Babies are allowed to fly as ‘lap children’ up to their 2nd birthday, so take advantage of that if you can. It might seem counter intuitive, but the smaller the baby is, the easier they are to fly with. My boys both got too busy to be true lap babies right around 12 months. With our 1st, we started buying him his own seat after about a year and a half. With our second since we already had a seat for the bigger one, there had been enough room for us to keep him free for the full 2 years. I am writing this from the airplane with three seats between the four humans (my youngest is about a month away from his second birthday).
*Car seats and Strollers check free, and strollers can also be checked at the gate if you want to use one to get through the airport. If you are traveling solo with the kiddo I recommend a bigger stroller with a basket to hold your bags, if you have extra helping hands for baggage during travel on vacation go for the umbrella stroller because it is more compact. Also consider your needs on vacation and use the stroller that will be most helpful on the trip.
*If you are renting a car, you can also rent a car seat. We found the tipping points on cost being travelling for a week or having two kids in car seats. At those points we started flying with our car seat. If you are visiting family and can borrow a car and/or car seat, do it! We were not the first ones in our lives to have children, and usually you can find an extra car seat from someone, it just takes a little planning and coordinating ahead of time. This will be one of the few 'do as I say not as I do' moments when I say to invest in a good car seat bag with wheels if you are planning to travel often with little ones.