It’s that time of year again: the Holiday Season. Thanks to a quick Google search, I’ve learned that last year 30% of Americans traveled during the holidays. And while I love a good trip just as much as the next traveler, I know how stressful holiday traveling can be when you add a few small children to the mix. Throw in inclement weather, unpredictable air traffic and all the stuff that children require for traveling, and a crippling anxiety sets in. But traveling with children doesn’t have to be a disaster!
My 4-year-old took his first plane ride when he was 7 weeks old; we flew to Chicago to visit my in-laws for Christmas. The trip was so successful that a few weeks later I took him to California to visit my brother while I was still on maternity leave. Traveling with an infant may seem scary, but as I learned with my little one, babies can be GREAT fliers (assuming yours is healthy and doesn’t have an ear infection – in which case, all bets are off). Until my boys were each about 7 months old, they would sleep through every flight. I think the hum of the engine soothed them to sleep. Just remember to bring a pacifier or bottle (or nurse if you’re breastfeeding) during take-off and landing to help with the change in pressure on their little ears.
Flying with a toddler or preschooler is not as easy as flying with an infant, but it can be successful as long as you plan ahead. In a word: snacks. Pack lots and lots of snacks. Consider throwing in an “off limits” snack, but make sure to steer clear of overly messy snacks. As for entertainment, bring some new books (library books work too!) and a few new toys. Many stores have $1 bins of toys that don’t break the bank but are exciting to a toddler who doesn’t know (or care) that they aren’t high-tech or expensive. Sticker books are also good for long flights. And if all else fails, download some fun educational apps or TV shows on your smartphone or tablet which will come in handy if you’re delayed at the airport or when you’ve simply run out of snacks and toys for distraction.
But, let’s not forget about the rest of the stuff. Between the car seat, stroller, crib, diapers, wipes, snacks and entertainment, you’ll wonder how you’re going to fit it all in the car, never mind schlepping it through the airport. For an infant, bring your stroller and infant car seat to the gate and gate-check them. For a convertible car seat, you can buy a cheap tool that attaches the seat to a roller board so you can roll it through the airport. I’d leave the crib at home, if possible, and have your relatives ask friends in their area if they can borrow a pack-n-play – the less you have to carry, the better! I usually bring enough diapers and wipes to get through the travel day and buy the rest when I get to my destination. The last thing you don’t want to forget when traveling with babies: an extra change of clothes – for the baby and parents! Those diaper blow-outs don’t always stay confined to the baby’s clothes…
The most important thing to remember when traveling with children is to enjoy the trip and accept that there are many things you can’t control. Your flight might get delayed, your luggage may not arrive and your child may not nap the entire trip, but that’s OK. Your children will take their cues from you, so if you seem anxious about traveling, they’ll feel anxious too. So just breathe. Remember that riding on a jumbo jet and visiting a new place is a grand adventure for a child. And even if the baby screams the whole flight and you want to crawl under your seat, it’s unlikely you’ll see your fellow travelers again. Sit back, relax and enjoy the time with your family – that’s what the Holiday Season is really about!