We recently returned from a two-week trip to “the homeland,” spending time with my family and sharing the joy of our son with them for the first time.
It wasn’t his first time away from home on vacation, but it was his first flight and trip overseas. As a result, we were eager to poll friends, family, and online sources for the best tips on traveling with a toddler.
Here are 10 observations I made during the trip that could help you if you’re considering flying long distances with a child:
- Flight Timing. Planning to fly around the time of our son’s natural nap and sleep cycle helped alleviate the traveling parent’s worst enemy: boredom. Instead of being “confined” to his seat, our son was happy to sit or lie down and pass out for the majority of the flight (and overall trip).
- Healthy, clean snacks. Our favorite is the banana—at the same time, it is healthy and nutritious, relatively clean to eat (no juices), and it happens to be our son’s favorite. When nothing else comforts his cranky self, a banana is sure to come in handy.
- Flight hopping. We were hoping to score a direct flight to our destination, but that simply wasn’t an option. Instead, we took advantage of relatives who live near a major airport and stayed over for nearly a day between flights. This helped us avoid a non-stop travel schedule that could have stretched to almost 24 hours.
- Broad research. You owe it to yourself to at least Google “travel with a toddler” and understand some of the common tips that seasoned family travelers will share, including where to sit, what to bring, and how to keep the little ones entertained for the duration.
- Getting excited. Parents surely realize that their approach to something is highly contagious. If you’re stressed and anxious about the trip, your kids will do the same. Instead, get excited about it—play up the experience of traveling and the flight as something fun to look forward to, not just an inconvenience.
- Familiar and unfamiliar experiences. While new experiences will be exciting, children also like to feel the familiar comforts of home. Bring a few of their most favorite toys along, as well as some they’ve never seen. You’ll end up with a nice mix of things that comfort and stimulate.
- Extra help. If you can bring extra family members along for the trip, they might come in handy when you’re trying to deal with the ticket agent at the airport while also tending to your bags, your child, your sleepy spouse, a ringing phone, and filling out bag tags.
- Who and what to fly. Different airlines will provide a completely different travel experience. Among them are the types and ages of aircraft offered, which will affect the legroom, available seating, amenities, and other creature comforts (like the free TV offered on some airlines). The quality of food and level of service will also vary widely.
- Where to sit. Some aircraft will offer a bulkhead aisle that provides extra legroom (in most cases, you can’t sit with a toddler in an exit row). There are multiple sites that allow you to view airline seating charts by the type of plane you expect to fly, or contact the airline directly to get the information. In many cases though, these seat changes will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis at the airport, so plan to arrive early.
- To seat or not to seat. With a child under two, you have the option of buying a separate discount seat (typically 80-90% of the full price), or paying the lap fee for international flights (most domestic lines will fly lap infants free; international flights charge a small fee). You can also pay for a lap seat, but hope a spare seat will open up or ask for the bulkhead row (the option we ended up going with). A lot of parents are concerned about safety when buying a separate seat, but do take into account that a lot of airlines won’t even think about letting a car seat into their passenger cabin, so your little one will be sitting in the regular seat.
Sound off! I know many of you are parents, so I’m curious to hear how you’ve dealt with past travels and made it work. Did you have a similar experience or did something completely different end up being the saving grace of your sanity?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.