My daughter’s earned nickname is Travel Trooper. At two-and-a-half years old, she has already been on at least 20 plane rides, some of which spanned the United States from coast to coast.
My job as a travel writer has me on the road a lot, sometimes as often as once a month. My daughter has accompanied me to Steamboat Springs for skiing, Santa Fe for weddings, Los Angeles for family visits and New York City for work trips. And although I’ve been blessed with an easy-going, pint-size travel companion, I’ve learned a thing or two about globe-trotting with a tot.
Here are four of my favorite tips for keeping little ones in good spirits en route to any destination:
Manage your luggage and your child.
Traveling alone with an infant or a toddler necessitates paying attention to detail — right down to how you plan to navigate an airport while transporting luggage and a curious little traveler.
My advice? Wear your baby. Use a soft-structured carrier, like a Babybjörn or an Ergo, and strap your child to your chest. (You can even go through security that way.) Then use your stroller to cart purses, diaper bags, backpacks and carry-on luggage to and from your gate.
You can gate-check your stroller for free at takeoff and pick it up planeside when you land at your destination.
Nurse, bottle-feed or use a pacifier at takeoff and landing.
One reason babies cry on planes is they don’t know how to clear their ears when the plane is taking off and landing. Sucking can help. If your child uses a pacifier, this is the perfect time to employ it. You can also breastfeed or give your baby a bottle or even a sippy cup of water during elevation changes. The suckling motion will help their ears clear naturally so uncomfortable pressure doesn’t cause problems. Nursing covers, like Udder Covers, are great for privacy, but a large blanket or scarf also works — and doubles as a cozy companion at naptime.
Coordinate your flights with sleep schedules.
Once your child becomes a routine napper, try to schedule your departure times slightly before naptime and stick to nonstop flights to avoid unnecessary wake-ups for plane changes. If you’re flying far, consider a red-eye flight and ask flight attendants for a bassinet.
Don’t get frustrated if your little one doesn’t go to sleep like clockwork on the plane — let him or her explore the surroundings first (seatback trays, window shades, unfamiliar faces). This will help tucker your baby out and, when he or she is ready, snooze happily. Up until our daughter was 2 years old — the age at which airlines require the purchase of a separate seat for children — she napped lying across a nursing pillow on our laps.
The younger the baby, the easier it is to travel with one, especially if he or she isn’t mobile yet. Songs, small board books, plastic water cups and even the airplane safety card in the seatback pocket are exciting distractions. As your child grows into a full-fledged toddler, bring along crafts that challenge fine motor skills, such as pipe cleaners and coloring books, and be ready to switch activities early and often.
It’s tempting to zone out in front of a movie as your toddler stays busy by your side. But he or she will likely be more inclined to play with what you’ve brought if you participate, too. Sometimes, you need a secret weapon: Ours is an app called Metamorphabet. This interactive game turns the letters of the alphabet into creatures and actions (A ambles, B grows a beard) and can supply several hours of educational fun.
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