Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Traveling With Your Baby!
Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Traveling With Your Baby
Traveling with babies can be an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t have to be! With a little bit of knowledge, some great tips and a few shortcuts, you’ll be headed over the mountains and through the woods to Grandmother’s house (or a resort in the Caribbean) with ease.
Take A Breath and Downsize
Diapers take up a lot of space and formula/baby food is heavy! Pack what you’ll need for a couple of days and plan on visiting the local grocery store to replenish. If your baby is formula fed, you can purchase convenient single serving packages.
One of the sometimes overwhelming aspects of traveling with babies is the sheer amount of stuff they seem to require. The first, and sometimes most difficult, concept is that a lot of it simply isn’t actually required. Babies are incredibly adaptable and changing their environments will be a cue for them to expect new circumstances. There will be new faces, new places and schedule changes to drink in. Your child will nap even if you don’t bring his favorite swing, she will be entertained even if you don’t pack a suitcase full of toys, and there will probably be extra hands just waiting to hold your little one or follow your new walker around while you take a shower thereby removing the need for his beloved exersaucer.
Tip: Savvy Mompreneurs all over the country are making it easy for families to travel lightly while still having plenty of gear handy. Baby stuff rental companies provide you with cribs, high chairs, car seats, toys, baby bathtubs, strollers and more for a daily or weekly fee. Follow this link to a great resource for finding one in your destination area.
Things to Have in Quantity
I learned from hard experience that the things your babies and small children love should always have duplicates (duplicates, not replacements – they know the difference)! You can never have too many pacifiers while traveling. They will be dropped, tossed and left behind. Beloved blankets and stuffed animals should also be multiplied. In addition to being accidentally left behind, you’ll also face the very real possibility that your child will spill something, get sick on it or experience a diaper malfunction. If your little one is like mine, sleep will only come once the exhaustion of sobbing kicks in or until the hotel returns the freshly laundered lovey .
Gallon sized ziplock bags are perfect for stashing soiled clothing, toys and loveys in transit. They also work really well for stashing dirty diapers especially when you are visiting great-grandma and don’t want to leave anything stinky in her garbage can.
If you’ll be attending special event, consider packing an additional dressy outfit. We were at an out of state family wedding when my son had a major diaper event which required a change of clothes before the wedding even started. Rather than having to dress him in the spare set of play clothes I usually carried around with me, I was able to change him into another adorable wedding-appropriate outfit.
Traveling By Car
All of us will take a long car trip with our babies at least once. They can be stressful, they can be unpredictable and they can be shockingly uneventful. To sum it up, there’s only so much that you can control when it comes to traveling by car with your baby. If you are lucky, you’ll be traveling with another adult or older child and/or your baby will sleep the entire time, loves her car seat or is a natural born traveler. Try to remember that it’s never a good idea to remove your baby from his car seat while on the move. Ever. Just don’t consider it an option at all.
Plan ahead: If you need to be somewhere far away at a specific time, leave extra early. Chances are good that you’ll need to pull over for a feeding or diaper change. You should also add extra time for periodic pauses for some fresh air or to relieve the discomfort of being in one position too long.
Take advantage of scheduled sleep times: Try to travel during times when your baby is accustomed to sleeping and keep to the routines as much as possible. Give your baby his binkie, stuffed animal and favorite blanket. If your baby gets a story or a few songs, do this as well. If there’s a naptime cd, pop it in.
Babies like company: While your baby might not have company when you run errands, during long car trips it will be helpful to have someone sitting next to your baby. With our first child, my husband and I would start our son off in the backseat by himself until a bit of fussiness set in. Then, one of us moved to sit next to him. This is probably most helpful with older babies who need to be distracted during the trip. Playing peek-a-boo, retrieving tossed toys, reading, holding a bottle, and singing songs are only possible of your baby has a buddy nearby.
Stuff: We tend to be traveling minimalists, but there are some things we wouldn’t travel without. Probably the most helpful is a shatterproof mirror which fits over the seat back. Don’t underestimate this. Babies love looking at faces and they don’t get to look at their own too often. Plus, they’ll figure out that by shifting their position a little bit, they’ll get to see all sorts of different things in the reflection. Another advantage is that you’ll be able to adjust your rearview mirror and make sure that your baby is A-OK. The two of you might even be able to catch each other’s eyes every once in a while. Just don’t get too distracted yourself! Some parents swear that adding window shades during day-time travel helps their little ones realize it’s nap time. If your baby has a sunny bedroom, don’t worry about the shade.
Mealtime: Unless you have someone in the seat next to your baby, you’ll need to find a safe spot to pull over and feed her. If you are nursing, don’t plan on removing your baby from his car seat while the driver continues driving. Some nursing moms use expressed breast milk stored in a bottle to feed their traveling babies or even use formula. Whatever you do, don’t leave your baby unattended while they are eating or snacking. It’s probably also a good idea to make sure it’s an adult minding a snacking baby and not their 4 year old brother.
Keep in mind: You can only control the physical aspects of your journey. “Flexibility, patience, serenity;” try to make this your mantra. Your little one will be able to tell if you are stressed out or anxious and will begin to feel unsettled as well. Stay positive and relaxed, even if it’s only on the outside. Even the best travelers have off days so your otherwise laid back baby may spend a healthy amount of time yelling and screaming for absolutely no reason you can determine. Unexpected traffic or bad weather might make it impossible for you to hit a rest area at the scheduled time. Or, your baby might be completely fascinated by the changing scenery and delighted by a break from her routine!
Traveling By Air
Just thinking about flying with your baby probably makes you anxious. Air travel has become complicated and invasive for everyone and even if you travel regularly for work, it’s different with a baby.
To Buy a Seat or Not: Most airlines do not require babies under 2 years old to purchase a seat. That being said, it’s much safer for your baby to fly in their FAA approved car seat in their own ticketed seat. If you are wondering what it would be like to fly holding your baby the entire time (remember, you can’t count on there being extra seats available,) give it a try in your backseat. One strategy is to plan to lap sit and hope for an available seat the airline will let you use for your baby. You’ll need to carry your baby’s car seat to the gate in case luck is with you. If there are no extra seats available, you can gate check your car seat.
Tip: If you plan to purchase a seat, ask your airline if there is a discounted ticket available.
What to pack: Imagine your plane is stuck on the tarmac for hours while some problem is resolved or your flight is delayed or even canceled due to weather or mechanical issues. Bring more diapers, wipes, breast milk/formula, and snacks than you think you will use just in case. Pack a ton of gallon sized ziplocks for soiled clothes (yours and your baby’s), tossed pacifiers, empty bottles etc., make sure you have a couple of changes of clothing for your baby and an extra shirt or two for you. Of course, you can always dress in layers and remove them as you get spit up on. Don’t go crazy packing all of your baby’s toys. Traveling is entertaining and stimulating all on its own! My son LOVED playing with the Safety Cards and airsickness bags (we wiped them down with wipes first).
Gear: There are many options for you to consider. Some will make flying easier, most will make traveling more cumbersome than necessary.
Many parents who lap-sit their babies take advantage of a carrier of some kind. Slings, ergos, and front carriers are popular choices. This makes it more convenient for you, allows your babies to nap and breast feed comfortably and provides a little more security in case of turbulence. Be aware that, because of FAA regulations, you will not be allowed to use any of these during take-off and landing. It’s nonsensical, but there it is.
If you purchase a seat for your baby, you’ll need an FAA restraint system. For babies 20 pounds and under, this is her car seat. Many models can be attached securely without needing the base. If your baby is greater than 20 pounds and you either won’t need a car seat or will be renting one, the CARES Harness is a great solution. This harness safely secures your older baby/toddler to the seat without needing to confine them to their car seat. The downside to this is that your little one won’t be high enough to see out the window.
A small umbrella-type stroller or stroller frame which can accommodate your car seat might be helpful if you are traveling with your baby and another young child (especially if you are the only adult). Your usual heavy-duty stroller probably isn’t a great idea. Some don’t fit through the security screening stations and it would be a major ordeal if it was damaged once checked. Strollers and car seats can be gate checked as you are boarding the plane. These items will be available immediately upon exiting the plane. You can’t leave home without a diaper bag. Do yourself a favor and either find a backpack model, or just use an actual backpack. The more hands you have available, the easier you’ll have it.
GoGo Babyz looks like a moving dolly, but instead of moving big boxes, it attaches to car seats and turns them into something like a stroller. If you’ll be using (or hope to be using) the car seat, this gadget might be a huge help to you.
Logistics: If you are the only adult traveling, navigating through security might be the most stressful part of your entire experience. Don’t worry too much! You’re not the first one who’s had to do this and, remember, people love babies! Wear slip on shoes and dress your walking kids in them as well to make the security check as easy as possible. Keep in mind that your baby will probably not be allowed to remain in his stroller or carrier going through the security check. They don’t care if your angel is sleeping for the first time all day as their job is to keep everybody safe. Any gear you bring with you will need to go through the security screening machines.
Pack all the small stuff you’ll need in clear ziplock bags so that security will be able to identify everything more easily.
Not all planes have baby changing stations in the restrooms. A good idea is to ask the nice folks at check in and/or change your baby right before boarding.
Baby Comfort: Many people experience discomfort due to the changing cabin pressure during takeoff and landing. Giving your baby a pacifier or bottle during these times will help alleviate this sometimes painful situation. Nursing would also help, but you may not feel secure – especially if you’re a nervous flyer.
Climate control on planes is hit or miss, so make sure your baby is dressed in layers and that you have a small blanket to keep her comfortable.
TSA: If you are familiar with the TSA regulations and procedures before you leave the house, you will be ahead of the game!
General Screening Information:
Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screening.
TSA will not ask travelers to do anything that will separate them from their child.
Passengers cannot leave babies in an infant carrier and attempt to put it through the X-ray machine. Babies should be carried through a walk through metal detector by a parent or guardian.
All carry-on baggage, including children's toys, bags and items, will be screened. Please let your child know that their blanket, favorite stuffed animal or toy will have to go through the X-ray machine and then will be returned to them.
All child-related equipment that can fit through the X-ray machine should go through the X-ray machine. Examples include: strollers, umbrella-strollers, baby carriers, car and booster seats, backpacks, and baby slings.
If possible, please collapse or fold strollers and any other child-related equipment while in the queue. Please put any items in the stroller pockets or baskets, in a carry-on bag or in the bin X-ray belt for inspection. Plastic bins are provided to deposit such items.
If any equipment will not fit through the X-ray machine, security officers will visually and physically inspect it.
Ask a security officer for help gathering bags and equipment, if needed.
Traveling With Baby Formula, Breast Milk, And Other Liquids For Infants And Small Children
In September 2006, the TSA enacted rules for carrying liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags. All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in 3.4 ounce (100ml) or smaller containers, and packed in a one quart, zip-top bag. Each passenger can take one zip-top bag in their carry-on. Larger quantities of liquids may be packed in checked bags.
Medically required liquids, such as baby formula and food, breast milk and medications are allowed in excess of 3.4 ounces in reasonable quantities for the flight. It is not necessary to place medically required liquids in a zip-top bag. However, you must tell the Transportation Security Officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the beginning of the screening checkpoint process. Medically required liquids will be subjected to additional screening that could include being asked to open the container. We recommend, but do not require, that medication be labeled to facilitate the security process.
Passengers going on long trips should only carry on the medically necessary liquids and gels needed for their infant/toddler’s immediate comfort during the flight. Please pack larger amounts of liquids for the remainder of the trip in a checked bag.
Avoid any delays by making sure nothing you plan to pack is on the TSA’s list of prohibited items.
*****Make sure you check the TSA website for the most accurate, up to date information!
Everybody I know, including myself, who has traveled by train has found it to be much more civilized than other modes of transportation. People are friendly and helpful, seats and the space between rows are roomy, you can stroll around, field trips to the snack bar or dining car are fun and it’s less complicated. Of course, there are downsides. Most notably, delays are not uncommon and the travel time is longer than flying.
How it Works: Like flying, babies under 2 can ride Amtrak for free (one per each paying adult) as long as they lap sit with a parent. Extra room might be available if seats remain unsold. To make it even sweeter, on most rides, two kids between the ages of 2 – 12 receive ½ price tickets per paying adult! Booster/Car seats and foldable strollers, all weighing 50 pounds or less may be carried onto the train or checked (if your train has baggage check service available). Robust strollers (for multiple kids, all-terrain, jogging…) might require checking or will not be allowed on board at all if your train doesn’t provide the baggage check option. FYI, strollers, diaper bags and car seats don’t count towards your baggage allowance if your child is 2 or under.
Depending on your train's itinerary there will be a snack and/or dining car for you to take advantage of. You'll be able to get warm water for bottles or have the staff reheat something for you. As I'm sure you suspect, meals can get pricey. But, taking a field trip to the car is the perfect way to get a leg stretch, feed your kids' curiosity and give them a really fun experience!
Things to Keep in Mind: Amtrak seats do not have seatbelts! While acceleration and deceleration is much more gradual on a train then on a car, this fact might make you nervous. Some parents who utilize car seats secure them to the train seat using bungee cords! A plus is that train seats are considerably more spacious than on planes and there is more leg room as well.
Rooms and Roomettes: My favorite feature of train travel, by far, is the availability of rooms and roomettes! What's the difference? Roomettes are perfect for two (or two and a baby) while rooms are more spacious and can accomodate up to 4 people (or 4 plus a baby). They offer privacy, extra room, a "bathroom," bigger windows and your own personal Red Cap (sort of like a hotel's Bell Boy). The tickets are significantly more expensive, but they do include your meals in the dining car!
Red Caps: My second favorite part of train travel are the Red Caps. These friendly folks are super friendly, super helpful and usually bend over backwards to make traveling a little easier for you. Red Caps are available for everybody! Those with rooms or roomettes get more personalized attention, but Red Caps are plentiful and easy to find no matter where your seats are.
Now, Get Out There And See the World!
Helena Robin is President and CEO of the Robin family. She coordinates and executes all family operations including (but not limited to) communications, transportation, management, catering, maintenance, troubleshooting, and cultural development. Her Executive Team comprises a Husband/Creator of Chaos and three unpaid interns. She's also the Launch Editor for KidsOutAndAbout.com.
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