Bonjour! Ciao! Aloha! G’day, mate!
Janelle here–giving you some tips and tricks on how to travel long distance with babies and kids. I’m not nearly close to an expert, and am not claiming to be, but I’ve picked up a few things here and there that have helped for a successful travel experience and wanted to share with those who are crazy enough to take on the challenge.
My kids are currently 8, 7 and 11 months and so far traveled by plane to Quebec, Australia, Hawaii, Italy and Disney (which has been, by far, the most exhausting trip!). So if you read no further than this…my best piece of travel advice, and parenting advice in general, is to expect the worst…because then you won’t be disappointed. I know I sound like a complete pessimist there, but it seriously is the best advice I can give so that your memories will be happy ones and not that of frustration. So if you’re thinking of taking your kids to the sky, read on…
Here’s the thing…there’s certain ages of kids that are better to fly with. Have a baby 6-10 months? Fly all you can! A toddler just learning to walk? Don’t do it. (The 2 hour flight we took to Quebec was FAR worse than any other flight we’ve had because Leo had JUST learned to walk and refused to sit still in the airport or airplane. It was a nightmare.) Once your kid can sit with an iPad? YOU’RE GOLDEN. Our flights to Australia and Hawaii were honestly the easiest ones since both boys were thrilled to get unlimited iPad time. Anything between the learning-to-walk phase and the not-able-to-sit-with-a-device phase, are going to be more of a challenge.
People who know me will laugh at this one because I am the Queen of Last Minute, but if you take a few minutes to check out your hotel accommodations to see if you can secure a crib, it will save you tons of space lugging one in your suitcase. Some airlines also provide bassinets for your babies to sleep in, but you need to make sure your seats are in the bulkhead to get one. (None of my kids have successfully slept in airline bassinets, but I hear rumor that other babies have so it’s worth a shot!)
Flight Logistics (and what to buy NOW on Amazon!)
Packing efficiently is crucial when traveling with a baby. You’ll want to make sure you check a stroller/car seat (which is usually free) in a high quality travel bag. When we’ve checked our big Uppababy stroller, we used the Uppababy travel bag (be sure you know how to take the wheels off your stroller! I remember watching a youtube while the flight was loading the first time we flew with Leo). This last time we put our Doona car seat in the travel bag instead and then walked Cecilia around in our Uppababy umbrella stroller, leaving the bulky stroller behind. We used a thin car seat bag to pack the stroller at gate check, though I’m honestly not even sure needed it. Think about the terrain at your destination and only take what will best suit your travel.
In your carry on, you’ll want to bring all the things you might need during the flight. Obviously snacks and bottles, lots of diaper and wipes, a change of clothes for you and baby. If your baby sleeps with white noise, highly recommend bringing this travel white noise machine. Although there’s lots of white noise on the plane, I found Cecilia was too stimulated by people to sleep unless the sound machine was right by her head.
If you are taking an overnight flight, you’ll want all the things in your carry on to put your baby/child to bed. Do what you’d do at home on the plane. That means, change your baby/child into pjs, read them a book, feed them snacks: all the same things to settle them in for sleep.
And before you put them to sleep, get yourself comfy! Neck pillows are key for me. I usually put mine on before trying to put the kids to sleep because inevitably, someone is going to fall asleep on my while I’m in the most uncomfortable position ever. (Highly recommend this cushy neck pillow that rolls into a little bag and can clip on to luggage. It’ll save you space in your carry on!) A friend also bought me this foot rest that goes right around your seat tray in front of you and elevates your feet. It’s been a game changer.
If you have older kids who might be restless and a lengthy flight, I found filling these pill packs with little treats and letting them open one an hour gives them a sense of time. I also have a travel backpack for each boy filled with new Dollar Store toys and their own iPad, headphones and neck pillows. I really like the Walker Family Goods backpack because they have lots of pockets that help the kids stay organized. Playdough, pipe cleaners, markers and paper had the most longevity for us.
*If you have a long layover, I suggest booking a hotel room. When we flew to Sydney, we had a layover in Houston and got a room at a nearby hotel with credit card points–the boys swam in the pool and we were all able to rest in an actual bed before taking the longer flight. It saved us.
Don’t be afraid of the flight–don’t expect it to be enjoyable, but know you’ll get through it and the destination will be worth the journey.
If your baby is in a bucket seat, you need the Doona. I just can’t recommend it enough. We once got a rental car in Quebec with a car seat that literally looked as though it was made in 1975. I was grateful to have our own. If your kids are in boosters, we always brought our own travel seats. We have the MiFold brand which I love if you can find it! I’ve also heard good things about these blow up seats.
SLEEP and Time Change
OK–here’s the sticky pickle–I NEED sleep, but I also want to travel. I want to travel but I also have kids. Having kids means you don’t get a ton of sleep…taking those kids on vacation and dealing with a time change usually means you’re not going to sleep at all. It’s just something I usually have to come to terms with and the sooner I accept it the better off I am. In Hawaii, we were up every morning at 4am. In Italy, we were out every night ’til 1am with dinners starting at 10:30. We were exhausted but the benefit is that the vacations felt extra long and both times we were in sunny, warm places that made it more enjoyable to be exhausted. Coffee is key. People will recommend that you split the difference in time zones. So if you’re 6 hours different, push bedtime and wake up by 3 hours.
For sleeping accomodations…people love slumber pods! (We didn’t use it in Italy because I was worried about how hot it was) but I totally think this would work if you were in a place with strong central air. None of my kids were fans of protable cribs and we were staying with family in Italy, so I ended up purchasing this travel bed for Cecilia. We threw blankets under it to make it cozier for her, but I loved that I could lay next to her while she fell asleep and sneak out without making noise. We also brought her sound machine and our NEST camera (though I don’t think we used it.)
Don’t forget melatonin. My kids are always amped up the first few nights so it helped settle them. (And while we’re here…also bring a first aid kit because someone is bound to get a sliver or need an ice pack.
Here’s the thing…you’re going to have to decide if you want to live by your child’s routine or not. When we had Leo, our oldest, we lived by his nap schedule. With Cecilia, we decided to just give up the schedule so we could really embrace the culture. There was lots of variables between babies though (tempermant, having siblings etc.) so you just have to do what will work for you.
Your Stroller or Baby Carrier
Since we knew that the places we were staying in Sicily were on hills and old roads, we opted to bring our baby carrier and an umbrella stroller vs. our big stroller. I really liked the Uppababy umbrella stroller because it has a strap that lets you throw it over your shoulder which came in handy on steep roads.
And have I mentioned I love the Doona? <wink>
Lots of friends swear by the baby carrier for the plane–we found it more of a nuisance, but it came in handy the most during trips while we were at our destination.
Stay Flexible and Don’t Plan to Do Too Much
While it’s important to plan, it’s equally essential to remain flexible. Babies and kids are unpredictable, and their needs can change quickly. All the trips we’ve taken have been pretty relaxed in that we planned a lot of beach/pool time and skipped museums and monuments. There’ll be time for that in the future, but not right now.
I usually bring a professional camera with me on my travels, but honestly come home with less than a dozen images. It’s big and annoying to take in and out of the case. And honestly, iPhone cameras are pretty sweet. This last trip I discovered the CAEP system for my phone while allowed me to wear it around my body and gave me really easy access to capture moments. It also kept it safe from pickpockets. I purchased the wristlet (which is mostly for show and not super useful) and later added the longer chain so I could wear my phone and give me easy access for when I wanted to snap a picture. Don’t forget to take some video in addition to still images. It’s always fun to look back at the videos and fun to make reels later on.
Not to toot my own horn, but I think the pictures I did take on my iPhone looked wayyyy better because I added a Janelle Carmela Photography preset to them (shameless plug! but one you really want to take advantage of!). I took 1,000,000 photos per trip, but anything I put on social media went through a preset before. It’s super simple and an easy way to make your photos look good enough to hang on your walls. This picture of little Nico was edited with one click!
How many times do people say “it’s not a vacation, it’s a trip” in regards to traveling with kids? I disagree. It absolutely won’t be a vacation like it was before you traveled with kids, but there is something so memorable about sharing the world with your children. You’ll be exhausted, you’ll want to sleep for ten years when you come home, but the time you spend with your little ones in another place will be nothing short of magical and a gift they’ll never forget!
Have I scared you yet? I know I didn’t make it sound like traveling with kids was easy or glamorous, but I hope you take the trip anyway! Because the memories you make are well worth it all.
OK Family Travelers! What have I missed? Leave suggestions in the comments.