Most parents can probably relate to the anxiety that accompanies planning travel with young children. Accounting for all their gear, anticipating unexpected situations, not to mention keeping them busy and content throughout the trip can be a lot to organize and execute. Here are a few ideas for how to pack everything you need, and also keep the travel portion low-stress and fun.
Start by planning a couple of weeks ahead.
Get a hold of the airline you’re flying with to know what identification documents you might need for your child, like a copy of their birth certificate. Once you know what you need to have, make the copies and put them in a Ziplock bag in a secure spot on your carry-on bag. This way you always know where they are, and aren’t digging around all the pockets during check-in time. It’s probably a safe bet to have an extra copy in your luggage in the event you lose the first set.
Familiarize yourself with the check-in process at the airport if you haven’t traveled with a child before. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows “Formula, breast milk and juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in carry-on baggage. [It does not] need to fit within a quart-sized bag. These items should be separated from other liquids, gels and aerosols limited to 3.4 ounces. You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food in carry-on baggage. These items may be subject to additional screening.” You can read more about the guidelines here.
While having the stroller with all the gizmos can be a lifesaver on a daily basis, is it something you want to travel with? A lightweight umbrella stroller might be a better option to gate check (don’t forget to bring a travel bag for anything you gate check to prevent it getting grimy during transport!) at the airport. Or, consider foregoing the stroller and use a baby carrier for smaller children, and take the layover as an opportunity for older kids to get the wiggles out and stretch their legs.
If your child still needs a car seat, decide whether you will check the car seat in with your other luggage. If your child is 2 years old or younger, most airlines allow you to choose if you want your child to sit on your lap, or if you want to purchase an additional seat for your child. If you’ve purchased an airplane seat for the child, you can bring their car seat on board (rather than check it at the gate), as long as it is TSA approved.
Keep your eyes open when out and about for activities that might capture the child’s mind during travel. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy, either. One of my friend’s toddlers was occupied for an hour (an unheard of time span for a toddler!) on a flight while using window clings like these, that were found at the dollar store!
Gathering the clothes they will need for the trip ahead of time saves a lot of last-minute over packing, too. If you will be able to throw in a load of laundry where you’re staying, it’s even easier to cut back on what you take. One great way to keep track of what you have while traveling is to pack each day’s clothing in a storage bag. This also allows for willing relatives to help with the kiddos without having to fuss with what to choose.
Remember that during flights the changing altitude can cause pressure in the ears that can be uncomfortable and difficult for a child to overcome. Young children can easily counteract the pressure by nursing or having a bottle of milk or water, or using a pacifier. Older children can chew on gum or suck on a lollipop- don’t forget to pack this so you’re prepared! If the discomfort can be avoided on the initial flight, it might be a smoother ride on the way home without them fearful of the pressure in their ears.
It can be tough to keep a good eating schedule while traveling, and like most adults, children’s temperaments will start to reflect their hunger sooner or later. To avoid any unnecessary meltdowns, be prepped with snacks. This idea combines an activity with snack time:
Fill the compartments in a storage container with a variety of snacks your child enjoys. This keeps the child occupied while choosing their next snack, and takes the guess work out of what they might want to eat at the moment. If anybody has ever packed a snack, only to have their kid refuse and then slowly move into meltdown hunger mode, having a variety of snacks on hand is a no-brainer. This keeps it all in one easy container.
If the child is a little bit older, activities like Legos are a great open-ended travel activity. Keeping the Legos from falling into every nook and cranny on the airplane or car can be a nightmare. Taking five minutes to make your own Lego box is an easy fix for this problem. All you need is a glue gun, a case with a lid (like a tin lunchbox), and the Legos:
The same idea can be done with crayons and post-its:
Finger puppets are another great way to have fun without packing a lot of extra stuff. You can even make them ahead with the kids, then pack them as surprise travel buddies for the trip.
There are many great activity books available that help kids busy and are easy to clean up and pack away.
Classic games like checkers, chess, tic-tac-toe, and others are also easy to find in magnetic form.
As though traveling during the holiday season isn’t hectic enough, keep in mind that it is also cold and flu season. To avoid anybody coming down with something, keep hand wipes or hand sanitizer close for when you aren’t able to wash hands.
Don’t forget to pack:
- An extra change of clothes for any unexpected spills or accidents during travel (and bring along some empty Ziplock bags to stash that wet clothes!)
And for once you’re at your destination, it’s always handy to have:
- Sun screen (even in snow covered areas, the sun can be harmful)
- Bug repellent
- Hats to keep everybody warm
With all the extra travelers and activity at airports, it isn’t unheard of that luggage gets lost or temporarily misplaced. Be ready for this by keeping your most needed items with you, like medications, glasses, any of your children’s sleep companions, even a few extra diapers to tie you over until you can purchase more or be reunited with your belongings.
And if traveling becomes too much for your child and a meltdown ensues, don’t forget that most people can relate to the stress you’re feeling and sooner or later, you’ll reach your destination.
Window cling image from: krazycouponlady.com