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Tips for traveling with young children

Traveling for the holidays?

Whether you’re packing the car for a road trip to grandma’s or have tickets on hand for a flight to your brother’s house, traveling with young children requires a little more planning ahead than traveling on your own. You need to make sure you keep your child safe and comfortable for the journey...and you want to make it as stress-free as possible for yourself! Here are some tips to make the trip a little easier for you and your children.

Mother with children on airplane

Traveling by Air

From getting everyone - and everything - to the gate, to keeping your children as comfortable as possible during the flight. We’ve got you covered.

Before you leave:

  • Preparation is key. Organize and pack well. Use a checklist. Let a child who can walk carry his/her own backpack. This can lighten your own load and also make things fun. You can let your children pick out some of the books or toys they would like on the trip. You also have the opportunity to teach them the art of packing light (always a good lifelong skill!)
  • If your baby is on any specialty formula (i.e. - soy based, hypoallergenic, etc.), take ample supply when traveling to resort locations. Check regulations from your airline and the TSA to see how much liquid is allowed on the plane and any packaging requirements. Review TSA procedures for traveling with children.
  • Plan ahead for delays, cancellations, lost luggage etc. In addition to the usual recommendations (medications, valuables, etc. ), carry-on plenty of diapers, wipes, and changes of clothes. It is not easy to find these things in an airport terminal.
  • Take a light stroller with you. You can check and retrieve it right at the boarding point, and having it will allow you to put your baby down somewhere safe and clean in the airport. This also gives you the option to be "hands free" while picking up luggage, getting your rental car, using the restroom, etc.

At the airport:

Airports and airplanes are full of germs, but most of them are spread through the "mouth/nose to hand to surface to hand to mouth/nose" mechanism rather than through the air. If your baby is not crawling, you can keep him/her in the stroller and sanitize your own hands (which have just touch spots that 100 other people have touched in the last hour) before touching the baby. Sanitize before you touch your own mouth, nose or eyes as well. This will keep you from getting infected by some of the airport germs and being sick on vacation! If you have a crawler or toddler, you may be out of luck. They touch everything and put whatever they can reach into their mouths. Keep them in that handy stroller if you can, or find a small play area that you can wipe down first!

On the plane:

  • Buy your baby his or her own seat! While airlines will still allow certain-aged babies to sit on parent's laps, it is not only extremely uncomfortable, but not very safe. For a smaller baby, you can bring his/her car seat on board so they can be safely belted in if there is turbulence or a hard landing. Plus it gives the baby a place to sleep and you can relax hands-free! You can check your older kid(s) car seat(s), or rent at your destination.
  • Offer a pacifier, bottle, or nurse during takeoff and landing to help with ear popping. Toddlers can try drinking from a sippy cup. Older kids can try the old standby of chewing gum.
  • Finally, if your child has one of those all-out 'fits' that cause everyone in the airplane to keep glancing (or glaring!) your way...smile sweetly, sadly, apologetically, and accept the fact that you have done your best.
Learn more about how to keep children safe when flying from the FAA
Family friendly flying tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Traveling by Car

Woman buckling baby into carAlways use a car seat for infants and young children. And consistently use that seat for the entire trip - even when your child is fussy and tired of being strapped in. All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Once your child has outgrown the rear-facing height or weight limit, she should ride in a forward-facing car seat. Click here for updated recommendations on safe car seat travel.
Children often become restless or irritable when on a long road trip. And being strapped into a car seat doesn’t help matters. What can you do to help the trip go by smoothly for everyone in the car?
  • Keep them occupied by pointing out interesting sights along the way and by bringing soft, lightweight toys and favorite music for a sing-along. Audio books and/or a DVD player are more good options to keep your little ones distracted and occupied.
  • Plan to stop driving and give everyone a break about every two hours.Look for rest stops or areas with a large grassy area so you can get out and run around for a bit.
  • Pack an outdoor activity bag: jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, frisbees and balls can help everyone get the wiggles out.
  • Never leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute. Temperatures inside the car can reach deadly levels in minutes, and the child can die of heat stroke.
  • In addition to a travelers’ health kit, parents should carry safe water and snacks, child-safe hand wipes, diaper rash ointment, and a water- and insect-proof groundsheet for safe play outside.
Traveling & healthy eating: Avoiding food traps (an AAP article)
More travel tips from the AAP

One Last Tip

Children can get sick (or sicker) in less than 24 hours, so even if they have a normal exam before your leave, they may still need seen by a doctor while you are at your destination. If you are traveling in the U.S., there are pediatric hospitals in most large cities that have an urgent care clinic or pediatric emergency department. If you are staying with friends, their own children's doctor may be able to see your child for an appointment. If those options aren't available, go to the biggest hospital you can get to, since larger hospitals usually have more pediatric emergency doctors and nurses. We will help over the phone where we can, but most children have similar symptoms (fever, cough, runny nose, not sleeping) that have very different causes. That is why they will usually need an exam before they can be treated. If you will be going out of the country, we recommend you call an international travel clinic for medical recommendations for that specific area.

Check out our app NP PEDS MD for further information and home care advice.

Baby girl with pony tail in white