Family Travel With Babies and Toddlers

By Melissa Klurman

With a little bit of preparation and an open mind, you can travel with your young family AND survive to do it again. Believe it or not, family travel is often easier with an infant than an older child. Infants are very portable, they can sleep nearly anywhere, and if you’re breastfeeding, you don’t need to find the nearest supermarket as soon as you land. Toddlers, with their new awareness of the world, make family travel seem like fun. They’re fascinated by everything: snack trays, miniaturized food served at mealtimes, earphones for the movies, movie screens, things they see out the window --- basically everything to do with family travel.

Toddlers are a bit more work. Toddlers do NEED to run and jump and do toddler things. So make sure you let them blow off steam before you start your trip. Run them through the airport and take them to the playground before a long car trip, but don’t be afraid to travel with them or your baby. Remember, getting there is often half the fun! So pack your bags and let’s get going!

The Great Blue Yonder

Flying is great, but first things first: yes, it’s possible to have your child under two sit on your lap for free, and yes, there may be a free seat on the plane for them. But ask yourself if you really want to hold your squirming one-year-old for several hours in a tight airplane seat with almost no legroom. Probably not. If it’s financially feasible, book an extra seat for your little one. Most large airlines offer discounts (usually half-off) for children under two in their own seats.

If you have a baby less than a year old, ask your airline if it offers bassinets. These flying, mini-sleeper seats clip onto the wall directly in front of a bulkhead seat. They’re offered on a first-come, first-served basis to those who know to ask for them and reserve them in advance. Bassinets are usually available on large jets that travel longer routes.

At the Airport


* You will have to take your baby out his carrier and your toddler out of his stroller.
* You will then have to fold your stroller and place it on the X-Ray conveyor belt.
* You will have to take off your coat as well as your small child’s.
* Security staff has the right to ask you to remove your child’s shoes. Really. Your shoes will most likely have to be removed as well.
* Plan for all of this when you’re dressing for your trip and remember to keep clothing as simple as possible.

Checking In:

* Use the advance online check-in option to print boarding passes and check seats before going to airport
* Use curbside check-in if possible to unload heavy bags before ever having to enter the airport (remember to tip the porter).
* DO NOT CHECK YOUR STROLLER! Airports are always bigger than you think. Gate check your stroller when you’re boarding the plane.


-- Avoid prime time flights. Shoot for middle of the week and middle of the morning flights when the plane might not be full.

-- Never take the last flight of the day! If you’re on a morning flight, and you’re bumped or bad weather strikes, you have a good chance of being put on the next available flight. After bad weather’s been rolling all day, there are hordes of people clamoring for available seats. The later your flight in such a scenario, the greater chance there is of you and your baby spending the night in the airport.

Keep in Mind:

* Remember, flight attendants might be parents, too, and they miss their little ones. They’re a great resource for tips on soothing ear pain, finding an extra carton of milk, or just playing peek-a-boo while you store your bag.

* Portable DVD players are a great resource, but remember that portable electronics need to stowed during take-off and landing, which can often mean almost an hour on the descent. Also, choose DVDs where sound isn’t the most important aspect for your child --- earphones and small children aren’t usually good matches.

* Get your baby a frequent flier card as soon as you start paying for a seat for him. Even if you’re paying the discounted fare, he’ll still receive full mileage credit for the flight.

Ride the Rails

If your schedule allows, the train is a wonderful treat for small children. Babies snooze with the motion of the train, and toddlers are delighted with the extra space and the chance to get up and move. The snack car is a great place to hang out, and there are often chances for your little one to stretch out and nap.


* Pick a non-rush-hour train. Travel at off-peak times so you have the maximum amount of room. (Not sure about when the least traveled times are? Call Amtrak and ask.)

* The snack car is an easy resource if you’ve forgotten food or want a snack, but not a wonderful first line for healthy meals. Bring your own and ask the steward to use the microwave to heat them up.

* Bring a friend! Unlike airplanes, where a flight attendant can keep an eye an a sleeping baby while you use the facilities, the transient nature of trains – people coming and going at each stop -- requires a more vigilant eye on your child. Having a friend to tag-team break trips with is good idea.

* Bring the DVD player. This is the perfect opportunity for your portable electronics since the only other entertainment is looking out the windows.


* Infants on laps (0 to 24 months) travel free – one per adult – and can occupy a seat if there is one available.

* For children over 2, half-price seat are available, one child’s ticket accompanying one full paying adult.

Get Your Motor Running

Car travel is one of the easiest ways to get your family on the road. Advance preparation is the key to a happy, no tears for anyone, trip.

* Plan on lots of stops. Add an hour to your travel schedule to allow for real run-around, change diapers, relax and eat lunch, stops.

* Try to drive when your child is scheduled to sleep --- the car is a magical somnolent.

* Create an easily accessible box of toys and snacks. Small, pre-portioned, and individual packaged snacks are great for toddlers. If you’re driving without another adult, you should be able to get into the box without taking your eyes off the road.

* Baby and toddler friendly music --- proven choices you’ve tested before you get into the car for a long trip.

Think twice about bringing the DVD player on a road trip. Backseats are often conducive to bringing on bouts of carsickness when toddlers are watching TV.

The Travel Diaper Bag

* Extra diapers

* Wipes, wipes, wipes

* Plastic bags (for dirty diapers, banana peels, used wipes…..)

* Disposable, self-sticking placemats to cover tray tables on planes and trains

* Disposable changing pads

* Change of clothing for both yourself and your child

* Children’s Tylenol

* Children’s antihistamine for ear congestion (ask your doctor about this before you travel)

* Bottles and sippy cups (extra drinks for planes, since sucking is the best way to keep ears clear and air travel is very dehydrating)

* Snacks. Individual packages are great. Large snacks that take a long time to chew – bagels, soft pretzels, apples – work well for both teethers and toddlers

* Stickers. The best-kept travel entertainment secret --- they don’t stain; weigh and cost almost nothing; stick to clothes, skin, paper, trays, and then peel right off; come in every color, style, and character under the sun; and are appealing to babies as young as six months.

* New toys and surprises. Head to your local $1 store and buy a bagful of small toys. For babies, simply pulling a new item out of your bag is enough to make them happy. For toddlers, wrap a few small items (even a box of raisins) and give it to them as a “present” or a reward for being good during the flight. The joy of gift-wrap is not diminished by altitude.

* Carry with you anything that you need and can’t replace easily, or anything that you’ll need immediately upon arrival such as medicine, written prescriptions, and your little ones’ favorite toy or blanket

Pack it UP

* Make lists! Write it down, then stick to your list while packing. Bring your list with you and use it to repack when you leave --- this greatly reduces your chance of leaving your toddler’s favorite dress hanging in the closet.

* Share pack --- if you have multiple suitcases and are flying, put at least one outfit for each person in everyone else’s bag. That way, if a bag goes missing, everyone will still have a change of clothes.

* One word --- plastic. Use plastic bags for dirty clothes, wet bathing suits, bottles of shampoo and creams, and sandy shells from the beach.

Resort and Hotel Checklists

Before you go, call and ask the resort or hotel if they have the following.

* Portable crib AND crib sheets and bumpers

* Bed rails

* Childproofing kits

* Toys (many resorts keep a supply of water and sand toys)

* High chairs, booster seats

If your lodging option doesn’t have the basics, consider bringing:

* A pack-and-play (an especially easy option if you’re driving)

* A supply of plastic outlet covers

* Masking or electrical tape for baby proofing– good for securing washcloths to table corners, covering outlets, taping cord blinds out of the way, etc.

* A light cotton crib sheet

* Inflatable balls that pack nice and small

* A flat-folding booster seat

-- Travel writer Melissa Klurman has worked at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s Travel Guides, covering everything from Southern Florida to Southern Africa, where to honeymoon to how to pack. She’s also mom to two-year-old Aidan, whose frequent flier miles are quickly adding up.

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