12 Things EVERY Parent Must Know Before Travelling With Young Children
As much as I enjoy getting away with the whole family once in a while, I have to admit that the very thought of travelling with my kids freaks me right out! The packing, the shopping, the lugging, the tears, the tantrums, juggling the toys, sippy cups, coluring books, “mom, are we there yet?”, “I’m hungry”, “I’m thirsty”, “I need to go to the bathroom”… it puts me in a sweat just thinking about it! Granted, most people don’t have FOUR little monkeys to take on a family vacation but even one or two can be very stressful. With March break around the corner, many families are now in full force, planning their hot-weather get-aways… so here are a few tips and hints to help you keep your sanity as you prepare to travel with your little ones.
1. See your pediatrician: Let your baby’s doctor know that you are travelling, as he/she may have some valuable advice or immunizations to give. Be sure to ask about motion sickness in children and get his/her opinion on anti-nausea medications for children.
2. Plan ahead: Keep your pas sports in a safe place and have a consistent place that you keep them while you are travelling. Whether it is the inside pocket of your jacket or a fanny pack (I know they’re not very stylish but definitely good for travel), make sure that at any given point, you don’t get that sinking feeling as you gasp “OMG! Where are the passports???”. Speaking of passports, make sure that they are all valid and will not expire in the next 6 months (especially if you’re going to the U.S.). I learned this the hard way! I found out at the gate, on our way to Turks and Caicos that my daughter’s passport was expired. Yes, I actually had to stay back with her while the rest of the family flew.
3. Make a list: I’m a big list girl – I have files on the computer with lists of things to pack and their quantities for each child, depending on the weather we will encounter, divided into various categories, with little check boxes beside them, so that once it’s in the suitcase, I check it off.
4. Get to the airport early: there is nothing like being late for the plane to get you sweating! Trying to keep the kids together, shlep the luggage, push the stroller… as that threatening voice gets on the speaker system and says “this is the final boarding call for flight number…”, is more than most people can handle. Get there early, get past all the security points and go straight to the gate to make sure all is in order. Once you have done this, if you have lots of time left over, let the kids run around a bit and get out some energy. Alternatively, strap ‘em into the stroller and go for a walk to the duty-free and get yourself some perfume. What? You deserve it!
5. Luggage: Some people will say something crazy like “don’t bring more luggage than you can carry while carrying your baby”. Great advice, in theory BUT… four kids… really? I don’t have enough hands to carry THEM, not to mention the luggage! Your child’s stuff will probably take up more room and use more luggage than your and your partner’s stuff put together. Just the diapers, wipes, formula, creams, inflatable bathtub, life vest, and a couple of clothes would fill a decent-sized suitcase! My suggestion is: take as much luggage as you need (but don’t go over board – do you really need 6 pairs of shoes for a 7-day trip?), in fact, breaking it up into more medium-sized suit cases is better than stuffing it into one huge suitcase. The reasons are simple: you won’t be able to lift it off the ground AND you’re going to pay through the nose if your baggage is over the weight limit. Take along some extra cash to buy a trolley (they’re $2 at the Pearson International Airport) to pile the luggage on. You can also have a baggage handler help you along. This will cost you more but depending on the situation, may be well worth it. This way, you can focus on the kids and remembering where you put the passports.
6. Harness those toddlers. We’ve all seen the “human leashes” on the little kiddies at the amusement parks. Admit it – you’ve judged the parents who use these things. Alright, I admit that I certainly have… until I had my own little toddler terror! Honestly, some kids really NEED the leash. I’d rather be judged by other parents than lose my child in the crowd (G-d forbid!). Airports are busy places, with so much hustle and bustle that it’s easy to get distracted while your little Houdini disappears! Keep them close by with a harness. Many of these don’t even look like leashes anymore – they look like little backpacks, they’re adorned with teddy bears and pockets for snacks. Kids actually like wearing them! I got my son an Elmo harness and he liked it so much, he would ask me to wear it around the house. To this day, he sleeps with it!
7. Prepare for security checkpoints. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Web site, an adult must carry child who can’t walk alone through a metal detector: You can’t pass a baby to another person behind or in front of you, or to a security officer. If the alarm sounds, both you and your child will be screened. Also, the TSA requires that all carry-on baggage go through the X-ray machine including strollers, baby carriers, car and booster seats and baby slings. If anything doesn’t fit through the machine, officers will usually hand inspect it. Collapse strollers when you arrive at checkpoints. You’ll be required to check a stroller at the gate when you board, then pick it up when you disembark. This can be incredibly annoying if your child has fallen asleep… you will have to take them out and risk waking them.
8. Something to suck. You may have heard that babies tend to cry during take-off and landing. This is because of the changing cabin pressure – it causes pressure in the ears, which can be quite painful for infants and young children. Honestly, I don’t enjoy the feeling myself. The best ways to make the kids more comfortable is to breastfeed or give a bottle or pacifier. Older children may appreciate a (sugar-free) lollipop!
9. Keeping them busy. Depending on the ages of your kids, you will need to bring along some things so that the other passengers don’t throw you and your kids out the emergency exit! For babies, these will be small things like rattles, teething toys, pacifiers, finger puppets… for toddlers, try play dough (thins works well for older kids too), a few pieces of large Lego blocks or wooden puzzles. For older, more dexterous children, crayons and colouring books are always a hit, portable DVD players with some movies, favourite books or hand-held video games work well. You can save yourself a lot of lugging by using a tablet like an iPad, where you can download age-appropriate games, books and movies. Of course, snacks are a must and I admit, I’m guilty of bringing “bribe food” on the airplane, so if tantrums start, you can always fall back on “if you stop kicking the lady’s chair, you’ll get gummi bears!”.
10. Diaper changes: take my word on this one – if at all humanly possible, avoid changing your baby on the plane at all costs. Although the washrooms do have “change tables”, most people have enough trouble going to the bathroom by themselves in a 2’x2’ space! Imagine the squirming baby and a diaper bag… enough said. If you do have to change your little one on the plane and are going to do it in your seat, you should be ready to risk the scorn of other passengers – wouldn’t recommend it for “number two” changes. However, be sure to have some scented diaper disposal bags on hand and don’t hand the dirty diaper directly to the flight attendant. It’s gross.
11. The rules for liquids: If you’re breast-feeding, you do not need to think about this but if your baby is on formula or you have started to introduce solids, be sure to have enough food for the trip and some extra, in case there is a delay. Take powdered formula (liquids spoil quickly) and know the rules for transporting liquids. According to the TSA Web site, liquid formula, baby food and breast milk are allowed in what the TSA considers reasonable quantities for the length of a trip, exceeding the 3.4-ounce limit on liquids. If you do take liquids, declare them at TSA checkpoints. You’ll also need to declare medicines and bring prescriptions. The TSA recommends packing extra liquids in checked bags, but these are usually inaccessible en route.
Visit http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/index.shtm for more information about travelling with kids.
12. Remember the little things… Think about your child’s daily routines at home and make sure you bring everything you need along with you so that you can stick to those routines as closely as possible – children are creatures who thrive in environments that are predictable. This could mean bringing along a CD or an iPod with speakers with their favourite white noise or lullabye music to fall asleep to. It could mean a comfort toy or blankie. Many kids find it scary to be in a place other than their own bed – things look different, they feel different, they smell different – it can all be very scary and unsettling for a small child. Consider this when packing and you will all have a much more enjoyable time!
Finally, when you’re with babies, you must try to relax as much as possible because babies usually pick up on a parent’s anxiety quickly. I know – easier said than done – but the only way to do this is to plan ahead and eliminate as much of the “unknown” as possible. If travel gets stressful keep your cool, take a deep breath, take a break. Bon Voyage!