When I was little, we road-tripped every summer up to New Jersey and then down to Hilton Head. The Aerostar was packed to the gills with suitcases, coolers, beach towels, and anything else my mom could fit. We’d drive for hours and hours, each of us with a small duffel at our feet filled with toys, books, and other entertainment (including small surprises my mom would always add at the last minute!).
I don’t think I even rode on an airplane until our big trip to Disneyworld at age eight. And in the years that followed, I rarely went on another until I started flying by myself for things like spring breaks. These days, living out on the west coast, we find ourselves in the friendly skies quite often!
One of the things we weighed heavily when we moved out to Seattle, was just how far we’d be away from family. Of course there were the day-t0-day concerns of not being close, but also the logistics of not even being a car-ride away. But the pros outweighed the cons, and travel is just a part of our life! And we do it enough that it’s not even all that stressful anymore, although of course every new age brings new challenges and changes. I have no idea how many flights Cullen has been on at this point, but Graham has done three in his first 9 months.
It’s worth noting, that we are also very, very blessed to be able to pay for almost all of our trips with air miles. Casey travels for work enough that the miles he accumulates covers the cost of tickets for me and Cullen (Graham is still free). Something I try to remind myself of when we are missing him when he travels!
I get lots of comments and emails from terrified parents who are about to taking their children on first plane rides, looking for tips and advice. And while I only know what works for my kids and our family, I am happy to share a bit of guidance for those traveling with young ones…
At the Airport
Even when we traveled with just Cullen, we always took both a carrier and a stroller to the airport. The carrier is much easier with babies, because you can leave them strapped on through security, and it feels more secure in crowded spaces. Some babies will even stay in the carrier snoozing during flights!
In the past, I’ve always taken my traditional Ergobaby carrier – which I LOVE for daily use. But it’s a bit bulky when you are traveling, and it’s one more thing to lug around on the plane and through the airport when not in use.
This time I tried the Ergobaby Stowaway carrier (which I’ve had for a while, but hadn’t used much!) and I absolutely loved it. It is perfect for summer, as it is much more lightweight and a thin, nylon material. The whole thing folds down into a tiny pouch that fits into a diaper bag – amazing! (Also just noticed that for some reason the green color is half price on Amazon right now – a steal!)
We also took our Britax B-Ready stroller with the second seat attached (you can read more about the stroller in this post!). In our day to day life at home, I prefer to use our BOB Duallie to stroll with both boys. But it is super wide and I thought it would be obnoxious in the airport, not to mention I didn’t want to risk it being damaged during gate check.
Cullen is perfectly capable of walking through the airport, but actually prefers to be in the stroller in big crowds (which is fine with me!). And even though we didn’t use the second seat at the airport, we needed it at our destination – so it served as handy storage for diaper bags and other carry-ons. We have always checked our strollers at the gate, and have never had any issues (knock on wood). Just don’t forget to grab it if you are connecting <— we actually did this once!
On the Plane
Air travel is a constantly evolving process, depending on the ages (and number of!) your children. So let’s start with the easy one. I know there are parents who fill backpacks with stickers, books, crayons, toys, and more – and who tirelessly entertain their toddlers for hours upon hours in flight. God bless these people, but I am not one of them.
From somewhere around age two and beyond, flying with our toddler became much, much easier. Snacks + iPad + toddler headphones = not a peep for five hours.
We have a ton apps and games downloaded for him, as well as some episodes of Sesame Street, Super Why, and Daniel Tiger (the favorites!). While he usually gets to watch one TV show a day while I put Graham down for the morning nap, he never gets to play on the iPad for several hours – so this is a fun treat!
I always pack things like a sandwich, bunny crackers, sliced fruit, pouches, and an empty water bottle (the flight crew will fill it up for you!), so there is plenty to eat. Depending on the length of the flight, sometimes we’ll buy a fruit and cheese plate too.
With all that said, I DO always still pack Cullen’s backpack with a few fun things – one or two new small books, a Water WOW coloring book, some mini puzzles, and a few tiny cars or trucks. He rarely plays with any of this on the plane, but it is there in case of a long delay or an iPad failure, and it doubles as something to play with when we get to our destination.
Traveling with a baby is a bit more complicated, and it’s something that so many parents fear. I assure you, while not always a walk in the park, it is not THAT bad. We flew with Cullen for the first time at 9 weeks, and Graham’s first flight was at 11 weeks. From infant to about six months, it’s actually fairly easy. I would always try to time takeoff with naptime (keeping him up a bit longer if necessary to avoid a short airport nap!) and a feeding, which usually results in a long airplane snooze (love that white noise!).
If you are breastfeeding, it’s a simple as a boob and a blanket or cover (and a window seat if you can snag one!). For bottle-fed babies, flight crews are always willing to warm up the milk or provide water for formula, so don’t be afraid to ask! I also always travel with my Boppy pillow – even now at nine months old. It is much softer and nicer for both mom and baby, and provides a cushy spot to take a snooze. (Worth noting that they do make a travel Boppy, and I kind of wish I’d gotten one years ago!)
When Graham is awake, he is generally very happy to chew on toys, bounce on our laps, and play with non-toy items like hats, airplane cups, and straws. For that reason, the minute we sit down on an airplane I immediately wipe down all reachable surfaces with baby wipes – tray tables, arm rests, windows, seat belts, etc. There is no way to avoid a curious baby (or toddler!) touching everything, so the best I can do is clean it and stop thinking about it.
Once babies reach the solid food age, things get slightly more complicated. At home, Graham does a lot of self-feeding of soft foods in the high chair. But that doesn’t work on an airplane! He is not a big spoon fan, and likes to grab them and then throw food all over, so that wasn’t going to work either.
For this past trip (at nine months old), I packed a lot of fruit and veggie pouches, along with no-mess finger foods like puffs and freeze-dried fruits. Over the course of a four and a half hour flight, he got really bored sitting on my lap. So I did something kind of weird, but it totally worked…
I strapped him into my seat, and I sat on the Boppy pillow in front of him on the floor! This only worked because we had the bulkhead, which had extra floor space and no one in front of us, but man – it sure made a difference! I sat like this for an hour or so, and honestly I think we were both more comfortable. He ate his snacks happily, and my arms got a nice break.
I love this Oxo roll-up bib because it packs and cleans really well. It also acts as a serving vessel! Once Graham was tired of taking puffs one by one directly from me, I’d put a few in his bib and he’d have fun fishing them out. Endless baby entertainment!
The thing about traveling with kids is that, despite the urge to arm yourself with as much as possible, you want to travel as light as you can so that you are able to tend to your kids easily and not be weighed down. Here are the basics that always go into my travel bag:
- Full pack of wipes
- Two times as many diapers as I actually need (in case of delays)
- Outfit change for Graham (gambling on Cullen not needing one)
- Several different snacks for each child
- Snacks for mom and dad (usually Larabars)
- Baby teethers and toys (note: nothing that makes noise! Sorry, Sophie)
- Two Aden + Anais blankets (one for covering, one for snuggling)
- Wallet, sunglasses, phone, etc.
And that is IT. I try to really only take what I need for the flight itself, and I put all other non-essentials into my luggage to be unpacked when we get there. Also worth noting that I don’t bother with things like books or magazines for myself. The chance of actually reading something is so slim, and if it does come I can always just take a nap. Cullen has all his things in his backpack (other than snacks), and Casey packs the iPad in his computer bag.
A few other miscellaneous thoughts on air travel with kiddos:
We have this car seat travel bag, and we check our car seats with our luggage. Having a bag with wheels makes a HUGE difference! Also, there is a good amount of extra room in the bag (in the space where a child goes in the seat!), and I usually fill this with a small duffle of toys, packs of extra diapers, and bulky things like extra blankets or Cullen’s puddle jumper.
Be kind and be respectful of the people around you. Most people don’t want to sit next to a young child on an airplane (for many good reasons!). But remember that you and your kids also have every right to be there. Babies have grandparents to visit, just like adults have business meetings. You don’t need to apologize for being there. You just need to do your best to keep things under control.
I don’t think it is necessary to hand out chocolates or earplugs or buy drinks for all the people around me. If your kids are acting out or being obnoxious, devote all your energy to making it stop quickly. Get up, walk around, take a trip to the back of the plane – whatever works. Air travel is not the time to practice hard discipline or new parenting strategies.
Have a little faith in your kids. We’ve had a few bad flights, but we’ve had mostly good flights. We’ve flown straight through nap times and we’ve all survived. Kids are usually so excited for the big adventure ahead and all the fun that comes with planes, airports, pilots, and little wings – try to relax and have fun with them!
This is much longer than I anticipated, so I’ll follow up with part two – feeding kids on vacation! I feel like I’m forgetting something, so feel free to ask in the comments if you have specific questions. I hope some of you parents find this helpful for your summer travels!