By Ashley Campbell, DO with Lee’s Summit Physicians Group
Traveling with young children may seem like a daunting task. There is so much that can go wrong when considering naps, tantrums, boredom, snack time, diaper changes, etc., but with a little bit of planning and ingenuity, travel with little ones can go from anxiety provoking to cherished time and memories with family.
While traveling with kids can cause anxiety for parents, it’s important to remember that new experiences and schedule changes can be overwhelming for little ones too.
Starting with toddlers, it can be helpful to talk about what to expect when traveling.
For example, saying, “This will be a long car ride. We will be in the car from breakfast until dinner time.”
Talk about the sights and sounds you will experience. Consider providing toys or reading books about travel, perhaps even focusing on your mode of transportation. Talk about expectations for behavior while traveling, as well as at your destination. Discussing the trip can assist your child in understanding what he/she can expect when you get to where you are going (what you will do, who you will see, where they will sleep…), thus helping to ease anxiety and concern.
Preparation is key for any family trip, no matter how you plan to get there.
That means Busy Bags, fully charged and updated electronics, LOTS of snacks, and for smaller kiddos/infants, an extra change of clothes that are easily accessible. For plane rides, or in the car, I love stocking up on toys and snacks that: #1) won’t be a giant mess and, #2) are easily packed.
For airplane travel, bring a simple, no-spill sippy cup. We learned the hard way that cups with spouts, valves, and straws may pressurize in flight and leave quite a surprise when opened. Don’t forget pacifiers, bottles, suckers, and/or gum to help with ear pressure changes during the flight.
While I generally recommend limiting screen time, long car rides or airplanes rides are a definite exception.
Tablets can be a life saver in these instances.
I make sure to download parent approved movies, music, and shows ahead of time. In addition, make sure to bring headphones, particularly children’s headphones with sound limits to protect little ears. Try scheduling long drives and flights around your child’s schedule when possible. We’ve found that coordinating with nap/quiet time can lead to a more peaceful journey.
Finally, it may be a good idea to write your name and contact information on your child’s wrist/forearm, in case you happen to get separated in the chaos of any busy, crowded situation (ex. airport, amusement park).
If planning to fly, be aware that flying with children comes with its own set of challenges.
Children under the age of 2 can generally fly as “lap children”, meaning you will not need to buy the child an individual ticket; however check with your airline carrier for requirements regarding lap children. Many airlines will still require a boarding pass that you can obtain at check in, and you may have to provide a copy of his/her birth certificate.
Keep in mind, while this is more cost effective, it is safer to buy a seat and have your child buckled in a car seat in case of in-flight turbulence. Be sure to check with the airline that your car seat is compatible with the airplane seats.
When traveling with kids that require either a bit more attention or gear, I recommend checking your luggage. It’s hard enough to ensure everyone gets where they are going, while also potentially managing a stroller, car seat, diaper bag, and everyone’s carry on item, without the headache of finding storage in overhead bins and having enough hands to manage it all. It might add a couple of minutes to your time in the airport, but it’s worth it.
For preschool age children and older, utilize their desire for independence and put them in charge of their own activity bag/carry on (just make sure it isn’t too heavy for them to manage – I love small backpacks for this). Additionally, make sure to utilize pre-flight check in so you can drop off your bags and be ready to go.
Check the TSA website for information on what can and cannot go through security, and what is required of children when they go through TSA (ex. children under 12 can generally keep their shoes, light jacket, and hat on). If you fly frequently it may be worth looking into TSA Precheck, kids 12 and under can go through with parents (anything to avoid standing in long lines with little ones).
While preparation is important, this does not mean you need to pack everything.
You may already be managing strollers, diaper bags, snack bags, etc; the less you bring the better.
With that in mind, try to maximize resources at your destination. Most rental car companies offer car seat rental. Many hotels offer cribs or Pack ‘n Plays. If you’re staying at a rental (ex. Airbnb, VRBO), many places will offer cribs, Pack ‘n Plays, toys, high chairs, and even baby safety equipment (ex. gates). It’s always a good idea to check before you book.
If a rental doesn’t list these items as an amenity, just ask. We’ve had equipment shipped to a rental to be more accommodating. In addition, most major cities and vacation destinations have companies that will allow you to rent baby equipment by the day.
If available, utilize laundry facilities to cut down on what you need to pack. Also remember you can grab a lot of your day to day necessities at your destination. We plan a quick trip to the store once we arrive for diapers, wipes, sunscreen, snacks… If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can ship some of your necessities for the day of your arrival to help cut down on what you have to bring!
You also want to make sure to address any health concerns prior to traveling.
Make sure you have any needed medications refilled and ready to go.
If your child has motion sickness, make sure to bring bags (just in case), and you may want to talk with your pediatrician about age appropriate medications that you can give to help.
For medically complicated children, it’s a good idea to have a summary of your child’s diagnoses, medications, allergies, and physician contact information in case you need to seek medical care while away. If traveling abroad, it’s always a good idea to check the CDC travel website, or with your local health department, about potential vaccines or precautions that may be recommended based on your destination.
Particularly in this current era of vaccine hesitancy/refusal, we’re seeing a re-emergence of previously nearly eradicated diseases (ex. measles); therefore, in the case of an outbreak at your planned destination, you may want to check with your pediatrician about recommendations regarding booster shots or other potential advice.
Finally, you want to keep in mind that things will go wrong. I’ve been there.
As a mom of three under the age of 6, we have had our share of traveling mishaps (meltdowns in the TSA line, lost devices, car sick children, flight delays…), but none of these mishaps have outweighed the experiences we have shared. Happy travels!