Hey friends! Long time no post...whoops! But, it's that time of year when holiday travel is upon us. While I'm no travel expert, I do feel pretty experienced hauling babies to all ends of the earth. Grace flew ten times before hitting 6 months old, and t 6 months Ben has now been to almost half the US states. I've traveled with them as nursing babies, formula-fed babies, and normal food eaters, changed time zones, and done it solo several times, so at this point I'm pretty confident as we prepare for holiday travel! Over the next two weeks, I'm going to share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me get my kids from point A to point B without losing my mind! Today's topic: Flying with little kids!
First and foremost: make sure you get the ticketing thing right! With most airlines, infants and toddlers under 2 years old can fly as "lap children" or "infants in arms," meaning you don't need to buy them a separate ticket. BUT they still need to be on your reservation by-name and still need a ticket to get through security and on the airplane.
The easiest way to take care of this is to call the airline ahead of time and add your child to the reservation. You will have to budget extra time at the airport, because you will have to go to the ticket counter and provide proof of you child's age (via a birth certificate, shot record, etc) to get his or her lap child ticket.
What to carry on
Personally, I have found it easiest to fly with a diaper bag backpack, a small carry-on, and my pump bag (when applicable). The backpack diaper bag is a MUST. Having two hands free is SO key when you're moving through the airport! We use this Fisher Price backpack and love it. If you're looking for a more stylish (but still affordable) option, I also like this MB Krauss bag. You can use a regular backpack, too! Just throw a small changing pad clutch inside!
When I travel with the kids, I prepare a few (usually 4, depending on the length of travel) gallon-sized ziplock bags. Half the bags contain a diaper, a few wipes, and a full change of clothes; the other half, just a new diaper and a few wipes. That way, if I need to change them in a small space (like on the airplane) I only have to grab the changing pad and a ziplock bag. If there's a blowout, you can put the poopy outfit back into the ziplock bag.
I also pack one or two small muslin blankets in the diaper bag. I can use them in the airport so baby can sit on a chair or play on the floor without getting all the airport germs, or to keep baby warm. These are great because they're warm but breathable, and don't take up a ton of space. Finally, I pack feeding essentials -- which I'll cover shortly.
My small carry-on is a wheeled suitcase, and inside I pack 48 hours of kid essentials. That way, if there's some unforeseen delay or luggage gets lost, I know I have enough diapers, wipes, food, and clothes to keep my babies comfortable for about 48 hours. This typically amounts to 10-15 diapers, a pack of baby wipes, a few zip-up sleepers, a familiar blanket, and a few small toys. I'll also add back-up feeding items (extra snacks and formula powder).
If you are a nursing mom (or even if you formula feed), your breast pump is considered a MEDICAL DEVICE and not a carry-on. You can use it as an extra bag to stash stuff! It is one extra thing to carry, but if you're planning to pump at your destination, it's a must-have. I personally loved my Sarah Wells Lizzy pump bag. It's got a pocket for the pump, an insulated pocket for milk storage, and a TON of space on top for other items.
Which brings me to my next topic: Feeding.
If you're a breastfeeding mom, the biggest piece of advice I have is don't be afraid to feed in the airport and on the airplane! 99.9% of people are okay with seeing a mom nursing her baby, as long as you're being relatively discreet. When you get seated on the airplane, I've found it's helpful to let your seatmates know you will be nursing at some point during the flight. That way, if they're uncomfortable, you can ask the stewardess to be re-seated before takeoff.
Wearing the "right stuff" can make the experience much easier for you. I live in the affordable and comfortable nursing wear from Latched Mama, like this pullover. It has a little slot in the front that opens up so you can feed, and you only have to expose a small sliver of boob. I often choose not to use a nursing cover when I wear it, because it's so discreet. If you prefer a nursing cover, I'm a fan of this infinity scarf style cover because you can wear it when you aren't feeding!
If you are brining a pump and/or breastmilk, make sure you allot extra time to go through security. Declare to the TSA personnel that you have a pump and human milk, so they know to check it. Ask the TSA agent to use clean gloves when he or she is checking your milk, too. Frozen milk must be FROZEN SOLID, and same with cooler packs. Gel cooler packs, etc. will get confiscated. Liquid milk is subject to testing...so if you don't want anyone opening the bottle/milk bag, just freeze it!
I recommend "double wrapping" any milk you may bring along -- put the primary container (bag or bottle) in a large ziplock bag, and wrap it in paper to contain any leaks.
Also keep in mind that if you need ice for your milk once you get through security, most restaurants/coffee shops in the airport will gladly provide you with some. I recommend bringing a large zip-lock bag to hold it, though.
If you're travelling with formula, you'll also need to declare it to TSA (hello, white powder!). You can also bring pre-mixed formula with you, but it's subject to chemical testing by TSA. I recommend getting a small travel formula container like this Munchkin one, and pre-measuring as many servings of formula powder as you'll need for the travel day.
Pack empty bottles and nipples, but also bring an empty travel coffee mug. When you get through security, go to a coffee shop or restaurant and ask them to fill the coffee mug with warm water! Now, you have warm water to use when you mix formula. I LOVE this coffee mug. It seals tight so you can throw it in your bag easily, and it absolutely will keep the water warm for hours! (When I take it with me to Army field training, it keeps my coffee hot ALL day). When it's time to feed, pour some hot water into the bottle, add your serving of formula powder, and ta-da! You have a nice, warm bottle of milk ready to go. (And obviously, if the water is super hot, you'll want to mix it with cold water when it's time to feed so it doesn't burn baby).
I'd also recommend filling a small, 3-4 cup tupperwear with extra formula powder and placing it in your carry-on. You never know what delays or emergencies you could run into, and formula is not something you can find easily in an airport.
Food for older kids
Snacks and drinks are life for toddlers. We all know this! We always bring a water bottle or cup for Grace, like this Contigo straw cup that NEVER LEAKS. We try to pack a lot of healthy-ish snacks that take her a while to eat: popcorn, raisins or cranberries, small pretzels, blueberries and strawberries, oranges, etc. We also rely on these snack cups so she doesn't spill everywhere. Pouches are another great option, but kids go through them FAST!
What to do with the Stroller and Carseat
To check, or not to check? Obviously, everyone's situation is different. We prefer to do "gate checking" for our strollers and carseats. Yes, it means we have to haul them through the airport...BUT the airports/airlines are not liable if these items get lost or damaged, so it's always felt like the safer option to me. I have many friends who have ended up with a broken stroller or lost car seat, and I don't want that to be me.
One benefit of gate checking an infant carrier is this: If the flight is underbooked, there's a good chance the airline will allow you to bring it on board and have it occupy a seat, even if your lap child technically doesn't get a seat. Which means you don't have to hold your baby for 6.5 straight hours from Philly to Phoenix!!! You can always ask about this at the ticket counter, too.
When Grace was still in the infant carrier, it was easy to snap it into our Graco stroller and just push it through the airport. When it came time to board, I'd fold everything up, stick it all in gate-check bag, and be a hot mess for about 2 minutes when I carried Grace in the Ergo Baby and the massive stroller bag down the ramp. But on the flip side, as soon as I got off the plane, I had a stroller and carseat. We'll be travelling with her convertible car seat at Thanksgiving, and plan to use this carrier to get it through the airport.
One option we've also tried is renting a car seat with our rental car. It's inexpensive, and if you don't mind that some other kids have used the car seat, it's no big deal. (The car seats are purchased new by the rental company, so they know if they've been in an accident/etc). We've done that twice now and have no complaints. If we rent a car seat, we tend to use a smaller umbrella stroller instead of the full sized one.
A final option that I plan to test at Thanksgiving is using a rental service for a stroller or carseat at your destination. BabyQuip.com lets you search the area your travelling to for vetted providers. You can pick the equipment up, or arrange for drop-off. Since we'll be in the Phoenix area for several days, but I don't want to bring the jogging stroller on the airplane, I'm going to rent one while we're travelling!
One final thing I want to cover is boarding and pre-boarding. And no, I don't mean the airline's "pre-boarding" -- unless you have a disabled family member, you aren't typically eligible for that just because you are travelling with kids.
I've made it a point to have a pre-boarding routine with the kids. About 15-20 minutes before boarding starts, we go to the bathroom for a diaper change, reallocate space in the diaper bag so that toys and snacks are easily accessible, and put away the stroller and car seat. When Grace was little, we used a soft, structured baby carrier (Baby K'Tan when she was little, and Ergo Baby once she was over 15lbs) to carry her on and off the plan. Now, she doesn't love that! But we'll still use the Ergo for Ben.
Our go-to travel entertainment are these Melissa and Doug Water Wow books, and our iPad with this cover on it. We also got some headphones, but its a total toss-up if she'll use them or not. Yes, we let Grace watch iPad. Sue us. Then try to keep a 2YO happy for a 6 hour flight, and apologize!
So anyway...that was long-winded but hopefully full of good information for you! Remember, travelling with kids is stressful...but most people know that. Things will go wrong and feel chaotic, but keep a positive attitude!
I'll be back with car travel tips soon, too!