Most parents can probably relate to the stress that accompanies flying with young kids. 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.
The best way to plan a trip is to think through the process from start to finish. If you’re flying- think: check in, security, boarding, layover, picking up luggage, and out of the airport! Thinking about it in layers will help jog your memory for what you may need every step of the way.
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 security 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.
If you are wearing a baby carrier, be prepared to take the child out of the carrier for the security check. Strollers will have to be folded-down and put through the screening machine, too.
Strollers and Cars Seats
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 at the airport (don’t forget to bring a travel bag for anything you gate-check/check-in to prevent it from getting grimy during transport!). Or, consider foregoing the stroller while you travel (check it in with your luggage, so you have it at your destination) and use a baby carrier for smaller children. 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.
Don’t forget that you’ll need a car seat wherever it is you’re going. Either plan to bring yours along, or coordinate at your destination to have one available (some larger cities have companies that rent everything from car seats to portable cribs, strollers, and more!).
What To Pack?
Take a few extra minutes to thoughtfully put together clothes for the trip. It’ll save you headaches during the trip, and also prevent over packing. 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.
If you’ll be able to get to a store once you arrive at your destination, you can also pack fewer diapers and diaper wipes and take only what you need for the flight itself. Don’t pack too minimally for the flight though- it never fails that you need one more diaper than you anticipated! But, not packing diapers and wipes for the entire trip will save you space, and you won’t have to lug extra (it adds up!). Once at your location, you can stock up on what you need for the duration of your trip.
Before your travel date, keep your eyes open when out and about for activities that might capture the child’s mind during the trip. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy, either. One of my friend’s toddlers was occupied for an hour (unheard of when it comes to toddlers!) on a flight while using window clings like these, that were found at the dollar store!
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), the Lego board, 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 stay 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.
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 (and don’t forget a snack for yourself, too!). This idea combines an activity for the kids 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.
The Other Essentials
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.
While we are all trained that the fall and winter are cold and flu season, viruses circulate year-round. 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 or a wet bag 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
- Depending on the time of year, hats to keep everybody warm or to keep the sun off their face.
Just In Case. . .
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.
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