You want to make the overall travel time as short as possible for you and your child. The longer the travel time the more tired your child will be and the crankier. There is no guarantee that they will sleep on the flight so don't use that as a reason to make two extra pit stops to save $40. If you travel on an early flight odds are that your child will be in a better mood and thus your fellow passengers more forgiving. If you find yourself on a flight in the middle of the night after an already long day, be prepared FOR TODO (for everything) from your child, to passengers giving you dirty looks, eye rolls, and in some cases telling you to "control your child!" Set yourself up for a win situation.
So my philosophy is, younger child middle seat and parent aisle, older child window seat and parent middle seat. My daughter is almost 3 and a half and we have just started traveling with a window (her) and middle seat (me). Up until recently we only did an aisle seat (me) and middle seat (her). Now that she is fully potty trained can focus a bit more she is able to stay in her seat longer. However, if your child needs to get up more often I recommend a middle and aisle seat If they have a meltdown you can get up. If they have to go to the bathroom you can get up. If they gets too fidgety you can get up. Sitting still for long periods of time is VERY HARD for young kids. As they get older, they are able to focus longer, control their bladders more, and thus a window seat is ok.
Most airlines will allow your child to start earning miles after 2 years old. Depending on the airline, you can either sign them up online or you may have to call and speak to a representative. When you first board, ask the flight attendant if the airline has a special junior passport, pin, or child perk. We've gotten a passport, taken tours of the cockpit, received wings pins, and even stickers. For a young child any of these things can be a big deal and will add a special touch to their trip. Who knows, maybe by the time they're 18 they can become million milers and take YOU on a luxury vacation!
Tell your child a couple of days before you will travel. Children are creatures of habit. Any change is disruptive in their lives. Letting them know ahead of time prepares them mentally. Telling them too far in advance can create unnecessary stress as is waiting until the last minute. Make sure you don't make any abrupt changes in your routine or schedule prior to traveling. Decided that you want to potty train? Probably not a good idea the week before you're traveling. Traveling in itself will be a big change for them. Try to keep the disruption to a minimum.
I am sharing with you my personal travel checklist. Every time I travel I print one out and go down the list. Every trip is different and sometimes I'll need additional items or less items to pack. I've modified this list over the months as my daughter has gone from infant, to toddler, to now preschooler. I use this as a general guide for my child and me, sorry esposo (hubby), I have enough to deal with already so you worry about your own underwear! It's a great feeling to scratch things off the list and not have to worry that you forgot something.
When I travel alone with my daughter these are the pieces that I always travel with. If I am traveling with my husband we are likely to take and extra carry on bag, but in general we try to keep it light.
I avoid bulky strollers. I travel with an umbrella stroller that I break down and strap to my suitcase as soon as I get to the airport. I don't use it at the airport until AFTER I check my luggage as I cannot push a stroller and a suitcase at the same time. When my daughter was an infant I simply carried her in my Baby K'tan and took the Gb Qbit stroller that folds with the push of 1 button. If you're not traveling alone and you have the extra help then a bigger stroller may be ok, otherwise less is more.
Less is more, if you know how to coordinate. First, I only pack knits for my daughter and me. I can't deal with having to iron on a trip, unless it's a wedding that I'm attending. You don't want to over pack or over stuff your bag on your way to your destination unless you want a guarantee that you'll either pay extra in hefty fees, buy another suitcase, or be one of those people at the airport pulling stuff out of their bags! Pack smart.
Pick solid bottoms that can coordinate with multiple style tops. I also like to pack a light weight dress. Pick items that you can dress up or dress down by adding a simple accessory. If you pack your luggage full of denim jeans, it will be heavy, too casual and will limit your outfit looks. Lay out your wardrobe so it tells a color story and that all the pieces can work together and can be interchanged easily. Select no more than 3 pairs of shoes. I usually pack a pair of sneakers, a pair of business casual shoes, and a dressier sandal. Obviously, depending on your destination you'll make modifications, but don't pack a pair of shoes for every outfit.
You can use your packing principles and apply it to your child. Pick solid bottoms that can coordinate with multiple style tops or shirts. For babies, skip the white onesies and opt for fun prints that can go with solid bottoms. If you have a spit up accident it won't show in your pictures if it's camouflaged. For toddlers I like layers, tank dresses, leggings, and a light jacket. They can get fussy about their clothes...too cold, too hot, too itchy so giving them options is best (but not too many)!
Child luggage or backpacks? THEY love it...for the first 10 minutes. Then you're stuck lugging their crap along with your crap. Instead, you can pack a small canvas bag like the one below. I usually include 2 pullups or change of underwear, 1 mini coloring book, 2 WASHABLE markers, 2 crayons, some stickers, mini flashcards or picture card game, mini Ipad, travel size wipes, headphones (for both of us), 1 magazine for me, hand sanitizer, wallet, sippy cup, snacks. I put this bag INSIDE my backpack and when we get to our seats, I put the heavy backpack with laptop, extra diapers, clothes, toys, etc. in the overhead compartment and PULL THE CANVAS BAG OUT and put in under my feet in front of me. If we have to go to the bathroom, get a quick snack, etc, I can just reach down and grab what I need. If you have a baby the same applies, just modify the content to suit you baby.
There are things that are important that are easy to pick up if you forget like sunscreen, bug spray, or a sun hat or scarf. However, there are those things that if you forget can seriously make a fun trip a nightmare. Believe me, I know from experience!
If your child has a specific medication for a special condition, this is at the top of your list. I have to travel with an Epi-pen at all times in case my daughter has a severe allergic reaction. If you do forget you can go to the same pharmacy chain like CVS, Walgreens, or Rite Aid as long as they have your prescription information and have them fill an emergency supply. If you don't have a chain pharmacy then call your pharmacy and have them send the prescription to the pharmacy where you are at. You will be able to pick up the prescription and relax.
In case your child does have an emergency while you travel (like mine, twice), you want to make sure you have all health insurance cards on you and a copy of their birth certificate. If you do end up in urgent care or in the ER, you want to call your insurance and make sure that your child is covered. I made the mistake of taking my child to urgent care only to find out hundreds of dollars later that her visit was not covered by her insurance. Don't assume because it says urgent that it means your child will be covered.
I shared what to pack and what not to forget, now let talk about how to maximize your space and how to pack. I roll everything, as I can fit a lot more items and the wrinkles are significantly less. I use many ziplock bags for small items (jewelry, hair accessories, toiletries, child socks, etc). If space is limited (usually on way back from a trip), I stuff all these small ziplock backs into my shoes to make better use of space. I also pack an extra fabric tote bag so that if I buy anything on my trip I can have an extra bag handy just in case. Make sure it's not heavy or bulk, a thin canvas bag works great. I also pack an extra plastic bag for dirty clothes (or vomit), 2 heavyweight grips (like the one below) and a bungee cord and I'll keep them on the outside pocket of my checked luggage. You never know when you may need an extra hand and these have saved me many times. P.S. They attach great on larger strollers.
If it's a family trip and your partner can give you a hand, then yes, as this is the safest option. If you're traveling alone just with your child then I suggest to look at your options. I've done both. I've traveled alone with my daughter and had to carry a car seat, pain in the ya tu sabes! (you know). Some cities offer car rentals with car seats or car services with car seats, like Uber or Lyft. Laws are different in every state so do your homework ahead of time and don't assume that because you can hail a taxi in NYC with your baby you'll be able to in California. See what and see what your options are. If you must travel with a car seat, there are some cool gadgets out there that make your life easier. I use the Britax car seat travel bag, though I think the cart is pretty cool too. The cover is huge and can hold just about any car seat. I've used it on 3 different car seat brands and they all work. It has a handle on top and straps to carry as a backpack. I slip the handle on top of my checked luggage so it stacks.
Airports and train stations are big and kids can easily get lost. You want to make sure that whether you are traveling with your family or alone with your child, that you have one free hand at all times for your child. It is better to lose a piece of luggage than a child!
If you dress your child in a bright colored top or jacket it will make spotting your child much easier in case they get lost or make a run for it. If you wear something bright it will also help them spot you, even if it's just a hat or accessory.
I've traveled on about 2 dozen flights with my daughter and I can tell you from experience that people are a hit or miss. Sometimes I end up on flights and people will bend over backward and help and then there are times when people are just too involved in their phones to notice the world around them. Never assume that people will help but also don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it, especially the airline attendants.
Delays can happen. If you're stuck with a delayed flight due to weather or a missed connection walk with your child. Afraid you'll miss the announcements? Then find a small area nearby and let your small child jump and let some energy out. Some airports even have play areas. Don't confine them to a stroller or seat before the flight. If you tire them out before the flight they are likely to fall asleep during the flight. If you don't let them get out their energy, they will save that energy for the plane.
Not all airplanes are equipped with built in TV screens. So if you happen to be on one of those flights without a TV screen, resort to electronics LAST. Try to entertain your child with coloring, games, books, etc for as long as you possibly can, especially on long flights. If you pull out the electronics at the very beginning, once they get bored, if you pull out a book or something non techy it will likely be less appealing.
Felicitaciones (Congrats), you're a smarter traveler. Enjoy! Try to relax, you deserve it.
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