Holiday Travel: 10 tips for happy trips

The holiday season is upon us. For many families that means traveling long distances with young children. My two-year-old is a seasoned traveler.  We have taken several road trips with him and he has flown upwards of 10 times! Many of these flights involved me flying solo with him while my BabyTravelhusband stayed behind. While I feel like we should be experts on flying by now, the truth is I get anxious every time. Here are some helpful tricks I have learned along the way:

1) Bring a baby carrier – My ergo carrier was hands down the most useful thing I brought to the airport when my son was a baby. I prefer using a baby carrier to a stroller. A carrier can easily be stowed away when not in use and kept my son mostly content and contained. I found that a stroller was more work than it was worth and just left it at home.

2) Pack milk/formula/baby food – The three ounce rule does not apply to infant milk and food and you can bring these items through security. You should be prepared for a longer wait in security, however, as packing these items usually leads to an additional screening step. I exclusively nursed so I didn’t need to worry about carrying food until my son got a little older. I always checked my pump with my other luggage so I didn’t have to carry it around.

3) Bring extra clothes – Bring at least one extra outfit for your baby. I like easy outfits such as onesies and footy pajamas. I also used to pack an extra t-shirt and pair of yoga pants for myself. These items do not take up too much space and will save you in the event of a massive spit up or blow out diaper.

4) Use a backpack – I found a standard backpack to be much easier than diaper bag. It allowed me to be hands free and I could still use my baby carrier (with a front carry, not a back carry).  A backpack with several pockets can also be useful to keep items organized.

5) Stay organized – The most helpful thing I did was to organize the things I needed into separate small packs. I used thin cloth zipper bags, but gallon zip locks would also work.  When I needed an item I could simply pull out the correct bag, rather than have to dig through the whole backpack to find the items I needed.  I kept my personal items in a separate small pocket in the backpack. Here is the breakdown of how I packed everything.  I was able to fit everything into one regular sized backpack.

-bag 1: nursing supplies/food

-bag 2: diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, changing pad

-bag 3: extra clothes

-bag 4: toys and activities for the plane

6) Use the bathroom – Use the bathroom right before getting on the plane. You will not want to get up if your baby falls asleep on the plane. Also, change your baby right before boarding to help decrease or eliminate the need to change her on the plane.

7) Board the plane last – If you are flying an airline like Southwest you will want to board as soon as they call family boarding. This will give you the best odds of scoring an additional seat for your child. But, if you have assigned seat, I would advise you wait and board last. In my experience, the less time spent actually on the plane the better.

8) Wait to bring out the toys- As hard as it is to entertain a toddler in the airport, it is even harder to entertain a toddler on a plane. I always save all our toys/electronic devises for the plane ride itself. We use the time in the airport to walk around and hopefully burn off some energy. If you bring out the toys too soon you will have a bored and frustrated child on the plane.

9) Car seat or not? – We have traveled both ways. I prefer to travel without. It is a pain to carry through the airport and challenging to use on the plane. But, if you have to bring a car seat, I would recommend trying to use it on the plane rather than gate checking it. Many children will settle down more easily if they are strapped into their own car seat.

10) After the plane – Ideally arrange to have someone pick you up at the airport. My parents have an extra car seat so they always have it ready to go when they pick us up. If you are bringing your own car seat make sure you know how to install it with both the latch and seatbelt positioning. I guarantee you will not want to spend time reading the owner’s manual in the airport pick-up lane.

It can be challenging to travel with small children. Every plane ride with my son has been stressful, but we have survived them all. Try to keep positive and enjoy spending time with family and friends this holiday season.

Sarah Lenhardt, MD About Sarah Lenhardt, MD

Sarah J. Lenhardt is an Instructor in Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. She cares for children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Missouri Baptist Medical Center, and at Progress West Healthcare. She attended the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, MN and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Dr. Lenhardt completed a residency in Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and worked as a general pediatrician in Minnesota before joining the faculty at Washington University. She is a board Certified pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her special interests include preventative care, integrative medicine, and breastfeeding. Dr. Lenhardt enjoys spending her free time with her husband and 1 year old son.

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