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As a mother of 3 (now ages 9, 14 and 15) who has now been traveling with kids to places near and far — as far as Fiji — for years, I have some experience traveling with kids and tips to make it a little less stressful for parents.
Whether your children are nervous or excited about traveling, their emotions are on high alert and their energy is increased. If you are prepped and armed, getting there can be half the fun — on the road or in the air!
Tips for traveling with kids via plane
1. Plan ahead
You have to determine what works best for your child’s age and temperament and try to plan your flight times accordingly. For instance, if your child sleeps great in the car and you’ll have a car seat on the plane with you, you can try to plan a direct flight that starts around nap time. If you have somewhat older children who are less likely to nap, you can plan multi-leg trips to allow for movement between flights. True it takes a little longer to get there but sometimes you get off the plane at just the right time before your kid flips out. Of course you are at the whim of the airlines’ time frames. You’ll need to do the best you can.
2. Check your passports
If you are traveling with kids internationally, you’ll want to check that their passports are still within the expiration date for the whole period of travel. Children’s passports only last five years and they have a habit of running out when you least want them to. Allow at least four weeks to renew one.
Hiring a service to get you an expedited passport is very costly and although they claim to be able to get you a passport in 24 hours or less, they don’t always follow through.
It’s little known and will take some of your time, but you can get an expedited passport on your own in many major cities at a regional passport agency. Trust me on this one. I have personal experience when I realized my passport was expired while packing for a trip to Mexico the next day. After much frantic research thinking I had to cancel the trip, I found a regional office close by which luckily took walk ins. I was lucky enough to go when there was a short line. Ba da bing, ba da boom, I had a new passport within a few hours. I missed the original flight but made the trip.
3. Think smart, think light while packing
You want to be thoughtful about what you bring. Think smart through each step of the travel to get prepared. Of course you want to bring everything you need while keeping it to a minimum so you can carry it all. One thing that has been a life (and back) saver for our family is using the RideSafer travel vest instead of car seats once our children turned 3 years old. True, they can’t use it on the plane (yet) but attaching it to the kids’ carry-on backpacks is way easier than lugging a car seat! Ha, and they carry their own seat!
4. Don’t leave home without it
There are a few things you definitely want to find space for. Like baby wipes. Actually I’m beginning to believe you should have baby wipes handy even when you don’t travel with children. I found this out on a recent trip with my dad who coincidentally ALWAYS has baby wipes on hand and hasn’t traveled with a kid for I don’t know how long.
If you are potty training, you’ll want to bring pull-up diapers. Don’t think of it as a potential set back. Think of it like a barf bag, hopefully you don’t need it but thank goodness it’s there if you do. You can call them travel pants for your toddler and explain that your child is still expected to go on a toilet but these are just in case. You never know when they’ll have to go and it seems to happen right when the fasten seat belt sign gets turned on.
Whether they catch a bug (thanks airplane air) or get bit by a bug, you’ll want to have your tried and true medicines handy in case your location doesn’t have children’s medicine or you need it when the store is closed. Of course, if there’s an allergy, remember the EpiPen.
If you are traveling with young children, ALWAYS bring an extra pair of clothing for all the children and for you as well. A flight covered in vomit or a lap full of messed diaper is no fun for anyone. Have clothing available so you can change as soon as possible.
And last but certainly not least, snacks. If your kids are even half as picky as mine, you’ll want to bring snacks they are familiar with. This reduces their anxiety and will in turn reduce yours. Bring more than you think they’ll eat on the plane, after all there’s always the plane ride back and times in between meals during your trip that having a snack on hand is helpful.
Speaking of not leaving home without it. Don’t leave home without the best travel car seat, RideSafer!
5. Give yourself extra time
Have you ever noticed everything takes longer with a kid? Sometimes my youngest walks… so… slow….
I don’t think I need to say more. Just remember, there are lines, there is security, there are bathroom breaks, there are snack breaks, there is goggling at, well, everything. Factor all of that in.
6. Time to consider safety
Car seats are a heavy, bulky hassle (no argument there!) and recommended by safety experts. Experts agree that while the airlines’ lap policy for children under age 2 does save you money, infants and toddlers should have their own airline seat with their car seat installed.
If the child is still in a infant car seat carrier, you can bring just the carrier and install it on the plane and in the car at your destination without the base. We recommend bringing along a beach towel to roll up and put at the foot of the base to help keep it at the proper angle.
For toddlers who are in convertible car seats, we recommend getting an inexpensive, lightweight child restraint for travel. Leave the heavy, bulky, expensive one at home. This will save your back some aching and make sure your usual car seat is safe and sound at home ready for use when you get back — no lost luggage or damage to the car seat to worry about. All car seats have to meet the same crash test standards so while your usual car seat may have extra padding or other bells and whistles, your travel car seat will have passed the same safety standards yet be easier to carry.
As mentioned earlier, RideSafer is an easy, lightweight travel car seat solution for children who are at least 3 years old. While not FAA approved yet, the RideSafer is working on getting approval. In the meantime, the RideSafer is a great option for traveling with kids who may not otherwise use a car seat on the airplane. It allows parents to easily attach the vest on the child’s backpack or stuff it in a carry-on so they are ready to drive safely when they reach their destination.
7. And then there was… TSA
Navigating airport security is tricky with all the… stuff! It’s easier now that children don’t have to take off their shoes too. (And with the RideSafer there’s no bulky car seat to lug.) We line up one parent at the front and one taking up the rear. We are all ready with shoes off and backpacks open (to take out iPads and computers) and we fill tubs and walk and guide the children through. On the other side we do it backwards. Grab out of the tub; stuff back into the still open backpack; grab our shoes and herd the kids out of the way. Wearing flip flops or slip-ons also makes it easier.
8. Move while you can
Don’t sit and wait for the airplane. Your children are going to be stuck in an airplane seat (or climbing on top of you in your airplane seat) for hours. Get them some movement before getting on the plane by walking or finding a place for them to crawl and play. Some airports even have play rooms now.
Though flight attendants recommend doing slow laps on the plane, you never know when you’ll be stuck in your seats because of turbulence or the flight attendants delivering drinks.
9. In case they move too far
Invest in a child locator ID Bracelet. I’m not a fan of leashes for children but realistic that sometimes they get away from us. For instance, in a crowded area where children sneak between people and parents get stuck. (This happened to me as a child.) Some security here is helpful. An ID Bracelet that connects to information like how to contact a parent can be a sanity saver. Let’s hope you never need it but just in case, teach your child to find an employee or another mom (those are easy to spot) and ask for help.
10. Stay calm and travel on
Perhaps the best advice though is stay calm. Kids can pick up on the vibe you are giving off. Everyone knows kids can be rambunctious. If you are stressed, your children will likely be more so. If you stay calm, they will likely be calm… er!
Tips for traveling with kids via car
Some of the tips above work for road trips as well like:
2. Think smart, think light while packing
While you are in the car and can fit more than on a plane, you are in a car and can only fit what will fit in the car while allowing comfortable space for you and your children. Another reason to use the RideSafer, allows for safety and extra space.
4. Don’t leave home without it
All of these pretty much apply to travel by plane or car. Have spare clothes handy without having to unpack half the car. Have plenty of baby wipes for washing hands, washing gas station toilets, cleaning up messes in the car and more! If you are all comfortable using the great outdoors as your restroom, you may not need the pull-up diapers. If not, sometimes the next restroom is miles down the road. Better safe than sorry.
It’s a good idea to also bring the child’s blanket and stuffy from home. Not only do these provide a familiar cuddle item, they can keep your child warm during naps or giving your child something to lean their head against in their car seat or against their Cardiff headrest.
and 5. Give yourself extra time
The last two years when I planned my single mom road trip (hubby stayed home) with our 3 kids, I used Roadtrippers to help me plan the trip. I wanted to give the kids a break every 2 or 3 hours. Roadtrippers helped me find and plan fun stops, food stops or park stops and overnight stays. I planned everything online and used the app to track the trip and plot each destination.
We had great fun visiting all sorts of cool places from the world’s largest painting (in Kansas) to the worlds largest fire hydrant (in South Carolina) and lots of car or airplane museums in between. We tried (but couldn’t always find) to make it to a hotel with a pool before the pool closed so the kids could take a dip before bed.
Other tips include:
1. I drive, you sleep
When you have two drivers, travel as much as you can during the night, when the kids can sleep. When we were often driving between Colorado and Arizona, we would leave late afternoon, stop for dinner, change the kids into pajamas and let them sleep for several hours before arriving home or at a hotel in the wee hours of the morning for them (us all) to sleep until our normal wake up time.
2. What to do
Road trips are long. First thing first, forbid the “when will we get there” question! My kids have long stopped asking that question because no matter if we are 5 minutes or 5 hours away the answer is always “we’ll get there when we get there”. Since the answer isn’t very helpful, they’ve moved on.
They are responsible for packing a bag that can be near them holding books, small toys and their iPad. We’ve loaded classic car games on their iPad. Between movies or Minecraft, they’ll watch the road and see who can get the most license plates from different states. They also have car bingo on their iPad. And I can’t tell you how many blurry pictures they’ve taken of windmills or clouds. But I’ll take clearing off blurry pictures to whining about being bored any day.
3. I can’t hear you
We’re past the crying stage now. But I do recall one joyous 6-hour drive with our oldest when he was just a few months old. We were delivering a wildland fire truck from Colorado to South Dakota. It was just me in the car with our son following Greg in the truck. Our son started crying at 45 minutes in and cried until we stopped in South Dakota. Of course we stopped a few times and tried to console him and feed him. Nothing doing. He cried. And cried. So be prepared to withstand the crying.
Do you have any additional tips for traveling with kids? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2020 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in June 2017. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.