Tips for traveling with a baby or toddler- it’s not as bad as you think!

Before Miss Eloise came along, Ray and I traveled a lot.  From Honduras and Belize to Europe and Vietnam, travel has always been our thing. When we first started talking about having a family it was never a question to us- we would continue to travel once we had kids.  It has always been important for us to continue to explore the world and to provide that experience for our children as well.

So, when Eloise was born we didn’t think twice.  We took our first trip with her when she was 3 months old and since she’s been half way around the world with us, literally.   To our surprise traveling with a baby has in many ways been better than traveling alone.  Yep, you heard me right, it can be better traveling with a baby.  For example, you meet and interact with way more locals when you have a baby or toddler.  No matter where you go, everyone loves babies and loves to relate your little one to theirs.  Chatting with locals about their experience as a parent or even a simple chuckle over your baby’s cute gesture makes for a much richer experience.  Plane rides are usually not as bad as you think.  In fact, often times they go by faster because you’re entertaining a little one.  A lot of it is perspective and mindset, but there are also some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the last year and a half (and 20 something flights with a baby) that help make the experience more manageable. So here you have it, here are a few of my top tips for traveling with an infant or toddler:

  1. Allow yourself lots of extra time: This may seem like a no-brainer, but seriously, allow yourself extra time in all aspects of travel, but especially at the airport.  By allowing yourself plenty of extra time, you also allow for a lot less stress for you and your baby.  It takes extra time to load the car up to get to the airport, to get through security, to get to the gate and to get on the plane when you have a little one in tow. Account for that.
  2. Always ask to cut lines: Some airlines have special boarding for families traveling with children, but not all.  We’ve found it’s always worth asking if we can pre-board.  More than half the time they’ve let us, which is very helpful for getting situated before the rest of the plane boards.  Boarding the plane is not the only time to ask.  In some countries, you can even skip the long lines and go to a special line through customs.
  3. Consider investing in a travel car seat and padded travel bag and check it at the gate:  Taking your big, heavy and possibly very expensive car seat in and out of your car to travel with can be a pain.  And while it’s likely to make it through travel just fine, if something should happen to it during the journey, it is expensive to replace.  We purchased a relatively inexpensive car seat from Amazon that is lightweight and much easier to load in and out of planes and rental cars.  Some disagree, but we’ve found it much easier to travel without a car seat on the plane.  In fact, the one time we tried it, Eloise was not at all interested in using it so we ended up with her on our lap and her extra seat taken by her empty car seat.  Check with the airline, but most of the time you are not required to have a car seat on the plane.  While it could be a minor disaster if your car seat got lost with checked luggage, we’ve found that it’s much easier to have one less big item at the gate.  And, though some worry that the car seat will get damaged while checked, consider that car seats are meant to withstand major car accidents…but, of course, do what feels best for your family.
  4. When planning your travel, don’t try to do too much:  This applies particularly to international travel.  Everyone has their own comfort level, but we’ve found that it is best to just accept that we will see a little bit less when traveling with Eloise.  It’s important to take into account that every new destination within a trip requires travel time (car, plane, boat) and a new sleeping situation.  This may not seem like a big deal, but whether your little one is a great sleeper or not, they are likely to get thrown off by constantly changing sleep environments or long rides in the car, etc.  This not only makes the experience less enjoyable for everyone, but also tires everyone out making them more susceptible to getting sick and cranky. Take it slow and enjoy the little things that come along with traveling with an infant or toddler- i.e. interacting with other parents at local parks or museums that you normally wouldn’t have visited without a child in tow.
  5. Be intentional about what you pack in your carry-on: There are the obvious, diapers, wipes, milk or food for baby, a change of clothes, but aside from that consider what would happen if your bag did not make it to your destination and you had to live out of your carry-on for 24 hours.  There would for sure be a lot of items missed, but what are the things you couldn’t live without i.e. a change of clothes for yourself, a toothbrush, and medications for you or baby.  We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t experienced this yet, but I always think ahead just in case.
  6. Bring a stroller AND baby carrier through the airport: This is immensely helpful in getting through the airport with extra baggage in tow.  Many people don’t realize that you can walk through security with your baby in a carrier.  When Eloise was very small, we would put her in the carrier to get through security and often times the stroller would only be used to push luggage to the gate- and it was totally worth it! Check your stroller at the gate, and especially if traveling alone, put your kiddo back in the carrier to board the plane and carry a backpack.  Baby on front, backpack on back.  You may be extra wide, but you’ll be able to manage getting on the plane and situating your belongings.  Unfortunately, you will have to take your baby out of the carrier for take off, so you may want to reconsider letting them fall asleep in it right before you board.
  7. Rent a house or apartment instead of a hotel room: Trust me on this one!  Traveling with a baby or toddler is so much more enjoyable if you have a kitchen, ideally laundry, and a separate sleeping space.  Little ones usually go to bed early and you will likely want somewhere to hang out while they sleep!  Night life will be a lot different with a baby in tow, so grab a nice bottle of wine, a movie or a fun game and have a space to enjoy it! If you must stay at a hotel, consider getting a room with a patio or balcony (if traveling to a location where the weather is mild).  Maybe even splurge on the nice view.  This will be your hang out spot when baby is sleeping.
  8. Avoid layovers or make them extra long: Ideally you board the plane in your home town and get off at your destination, but if this isn’t possible, give yourself plenty of time on a layover.  Not only will it take you extra time to wait for gate checked items and pack up your baby and yourself, a long layover also lessons the chance of your checked bags not making it to the next flight.  Depending on where you’re going, some airlines will even allow stop overs.  We recently enjoyed a 3 night stopover in Fiji on our way to New Zealand!  Not only did this allow us to spend some time in another beautiful country, it also allowed us to rest up for a few days before continuing on our journey.  It made the whole trip more enjoyable.
  9. Bring a few familiar things for sleeping: Especially if you are moving around a lot during your travel, it is nice for your little one to have something familiar at bedtime.  For us, it’s a favorite stuffed animal, a couple favorite blankets and a sound machine.  These familiar smells and sounds seem to make the sleep transition a little bit easier.
  10. Will your destination be baby proofed? Most likely not.  And while you will just have to improvise for a lot of things, we typically pack a box of outlet covers and a few cupboard locks.  That doesn’t cover all your bases but it does cover some and makes for a few less things to worry about during your stay.
  11. And finally, if your baby is old enough for solid foods bring LOTS of snacks on the plane! Often snacks occupy babies better than toys.  Find some new snacks they haven’t tried before and consider things that will take them a long time to eat. Snacks have been a lifesaver for us!

This list could really go on and on, but these are just a few things that have helped us continue to travel with a babe in tow.  Ultimately, you will find what works best for you and your family. The bottom line: don’t be afraid to travel with a little one if your heart desires!  The experience far outweighs the extra hassle as long as you maintain a positive attitude and a sense of humor.  If you have additional questions about our experience traveling with a baby (now toddler), feel free to leave them in the comments!

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