Tips for Traveling with Babies & Toddlers Part I

Flying back on the same airlines that we flew on when we first moved our family from Hawaii to Texas brought back so many memories of our fight from hell. We had a 3 year old, 10 month old and I was 4 months pregnant. To say that I was stressed and exhausted would have been an understatement. We flew a total of 9 hours: from Honolulu to Seattle and then to Dallas-Fort Worth. Of that, approximately 8 hours was with a crying/screaming baby and an overly anxious mother.

I remember being near tears as I walked down the aisle of shame as I tried to console my inconsolable baby. When he finally fell asleep (for the last 30 minutes of the flight), I even pretended to be asleep as we deplaned because I didn’t want to face the stares of people who probably thought I was the world’s worst mom. I never wanted to fly again!

But we’d make that trek over the ocean several times over the next few years as I needed to travel back for work. I dreaded having to fly with three children 3 years old and under. Two kids were still in diapers and one still needed to be carried. Over the years, I’ve gotten smarter with how I travel with my kids and have discovered what works and what doesn’t.

Here are a few tips to help you if you are crazy enough, or have no other option but, to travel with babies and toddlers.

What Doesn’t Work

  • Traveling with a recently mobile child (approx. 9 mo.-2.5 years old): Once your child figures out how to crawl and walk, flying in a confined space becomes extremely difficult. They are more aware of their surroundings and sitting still for hours upon hours just isn’t conducive to this new found freedom they have discovered. We traveled with our oldest when she was 6 weeks old and our youngest when she was 4 months old. Traveling was such a breeze back then compared to when they become mobile. When they are that young, all they do is eat, sleep, poop and repeat. As they get older, it becomes more challenging to keep them entertained, especially with other children in tow.
  • Benadryl: Despite the clear warning on the label that reads “Do not use to make a child sleepy,” many parents out of desperation give their child a little dose of Benadryl to make them drowsy. Our pediatrician even suggested that we put a little vanilla extract in the baby bottle because of the alcohol that the vanilla extract contained. While we didn’t go the vanilla extract route, we did give a small dose of Benadryl in hopes that it would having a calming effect and boy did that backfire. Apparently, not all children react the same way to Benadryl. One of the listed side effects is that “excitability may occur, especially in children”. This is precisely what happened and only compounded all the other issues we were having.
  • Car seats: This one is a hit or miss. If you are traveling for an extended amount of time carrying an infant or having a toddler on your lap the entire flight, it can be tiring for both you and your child. Getting an extra seat to put your car seat in is great, especially if your child naturally falls asleep in their car seat. The car seat worked great for our 4 month old. After being fed, we swaddled her up, stuck the pacifier in her mouth, put her in her car seat, closed the cover and she was out. However, once she became mobile, she didn’t want to go in her car seat. She wanted to climb all over the car seat, me, and the person sitting next to me. The car seat was more cumbersome than a mini sanctuary for a sleeping baby. Also, going through security and lugging that thing all around the airport is a bit of a hassle since it’s so bulky and some can be quite heavy. Plus, you have to pay for an extra seat!
  • Sleep training and tossing the binky: Very early on we trained our children to sleep in their own cribs. We never co-slept with our kids and as excruciating as it was, we did the cry it out method. I had also read somewhere that you should take away your child’s pacifier around 6 months to avoid problems with their bite and cavities (which I later learned from our dentist that it’s not true – go figure!). While sleep training and tossing the binky have it’s advantages while on land, they can make flying with an infant really tough. Since my child had been trained to sleep in his crib, he didn’t know how to fall asleep in my arms. I knew he was tired. Probably overtired would be more accurate, but he didn’t know how to fall asleep anywhere but in his own crib.

Stay tuned to find out what I discovered actually worked and made traveling a much more enjoyable experience.

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