Every year, for the past four years we’ve been on vacation with our children – including surviving an eight hour flight. Each time we continue to learn how it’s possible to travel more easily with small ones and how to keep them occupied. It’s a matter of trial and error but this is what we’ve learned in the process.
Before you leave:
- We check with the doctor to make sure the kids’ immunizations are up to date. Depending on where you are traveling the doctor may offer some suggestions regarding what to watch out for or what medications might be handy to have on hand. We do keep Gravol on hand, but discuss it with the doctor in advance.
- If you plan to give your child some medication, try it in advance. You’ll know then whether there are any adverse reactions. At 17 months our daughter became more active after Gravol – something that the doctor warned us might happen but unfortunately, we waited until we were in flight to discover.
- Invest in or borrow a baby carrier if you don’t already have one. It’s great if you find yourself taking a tour or on a hike. Depending on your travel destination, strollers can be less than ideal. If you’re flying, being able to use your stroller in the airport is never a sure thing. Depending on airline regulations and the available storage you may find yourself carrying your child through customs and baggage claim.
- Diaper changing can be a hassle when you’re on the road or in a plane. I’m not sure truck-stop bathrooms or airplane lavatories were designed by or for people with children. There’s no room and never enough hands. Besides the baby you need to carry, you need hands to carry a change pad, wipes, a diaper and diaper crème and still manage to open doors, flip tables and move in a very small space. We prepare a travel bag/diaper bag that contains several one-stop diaper changing kits. Each kit contains a Ziploc bag with one diaper, a snack size bag with a few wipes, sample-size diaper crème and a kitchen catcher. The kitchen catcher is our diaper pad. For hard surfaces I put a sweater underneath the bag. When I’m done all the used items go in the Ziploc and in the garbage. Yes, I realize this is not the most environmentally sound practice. I don’t do this under normal circumstances but desperate times call for desperate measures.
- Snacks. Prepare tons of sugar-free snacks like Cheerios, crackers, raisins and any other snacks your baby enjoys will help keep them busy. Yes these little snacks make car seats and airplanes messy so we recommend the snack trap. If you keep snacks sugar-free at least baby won’t be bouncing off the roof of the car, bus or airplane.
- Pack an activity bag. When we travel, each child gets a small backpack with a bag of snacks, their own diapers or extra change of clothes and lots of small, easy to pack activities. We love the travel size doodle pads – the magnetic wipe-away kind. Other essentials include stickers, crayons and books. When we started traveling with two children we kept both child’s items in one bag. Now we separate everything. Each child gets a bag. We each have one of the children and on occasion have either been separated in the airport or seated separately on the plane so we need to be sure we have everything we need to care for them.
- Portable DVD Player. This is something I never imagined buying. Other parents however tell me over and over how helpful this item is when they travel. So we tried it and they were right.
- Labels or identifiers. We got a lot of curious smiles from fellow travellers who eyed the baggage tags tucked and fastened in our kids’ jean pockets. It sounds funny but you tag your baggage because its contents are valuable right? How much more valuable are your children? When we leave, depending on the type of travel, each of the children has some form of identification with a name and our cell phone number.
- Many major cities have companies that rent baby equipment so that you don’t need to pack it all. We also rent car seats from the car rental agency because it’s just too much to take them with us. The only challenge we have faced is how to ensure we have car seats when we taxi to and from the airport. We’ve had some luck with local services that will deliver our car seats to a designated location after taking us to the airport and pick them up again before they retrieve us, but this is cumbersome. The only other option we’ve used is park and fly. If anyone has great solutions to the car seat dilemma, we’d love to hear them.
A Few Extra Tips if You Plan On Flying
- Try to take a night flight. You spend less time occupying a toddler who is discontented on your lap or in their seat. If it’s night time hopefully they will use the time to sleep. Depending on the timing of the flight this also seemed to help our kids get over jet lag more quickly.
- Ask for the bulkhead. Depending on the age of your baby you can use a bassinet that attaches to the wall in front of the bulkhead seats.
- Let the toddlers blow off some steam in the airport terminal before they board the plane. There are usually several playgrounds to help them do that.
- Feed and change the baby just before boarding the plane. If you can avoid a diaper change in the lavatory, all the better. In small quarters changing and feeding can be difficult.
- Ask for help. Flight crews understand how challenging it is to travel with a baby. In my experience they are happy to warm bottles and on this last flight even brought the children’s food before serving the rest of the passengers and provided an activity bag.
- Feed the baby during take off and landing. The change in cabin pressure can be uncomfortable and swallowing helps. If you’re breastfeeding this may be challenging with the extra safety belt provided for the baby and I’ve had the cabin crew suggest a variety of safety concerns about shifting the baby in the belt for this purpose while others voiced no objection.
- Be prepared for delays and the unexpected. Our daughter decided to get a small bout of stomach flu just an hour before departure. We went through twice the number of expected pull ups and almost needed new clothes. I had wished I’d packed both extra diapers and a change of clothes in my carry-on.
- Get the children use to the current time zone as soon as possible. From the moment of departure we set our minds to the new time zone and try where we can to schedule sleeping around this time. We plan walks or trips to the closest park to delay naptime.
For the most part the children seem to have fewer problems with jet lag than we do.
Having a baby or small children may change the type of vacation you choose but doesn’t need to mean putting on the brakes for travel until they grow. A little advanced planning can bring a new whole set of adventures and a great opportunity to build wonderful memories of your new family. We wish you happy travels.
About the author:
Yolanda Mol Amelink travels with Madeleine and Aaron, ages 4 and 2, along with her husband Frans every year overseas to visit the children’s grandparents and extended family. Frans and Yolanda’s third baby is Newmarketbaby.ca a website for new and expectant parents living in York Region and South Simcoe. The site can be found at www.newmarketbaby.ca