This week the American Music Therapy Association is hosting it’s conference in St. Charles IL. In a field where the majority of professionals are women, it may not come as a surprise that there is a fairly continual stream of babies being born. Which also means that at any given conference, you’ll generally run into at least one cute little kid (I’m planning to see two this week!).
So how does this traveling with babies and young kids thing work? I’ve had my fair share of traveling experience, so hopefully some of the ideas and tips outlined below will help…
- Pack your carry-on carefully. The good news is that you won’t have to worry about reading your beloved Vogue magazine—you won’t have time to read. I have found it helpful to make sure I have my big purse handy under the seat in front of me and that said purse is full of kid-friendly goodness. Here’s my personal carry-on bag list: Small toys (preferably ones that don’t make sounds, which is surprisingly hard these days…), snacks (preferably ones that don’t make a huge mess when spilled…again, not always easy), small books, pacifiers, kleenex, baby wipes, diapers, hand sanitizer, gum or mints (for the descent for kiddos who are old enough), coloring supplies, DVD player/iPad (bring headphones please), extra change of clothes for the infants. And don’t buy coffee before you have to board the plane—it takes away an extra hand and I’ve found it just a little too much to juggle.
- Allow extra time. If you’re traveling with a baby, you’ll need the extra time to maneuver the stroller and the mountain of things your 15 lb bundle of joy requires. If you’re traveling with a toddler or preschooler, you’ll need the extra time for potty breaks and to allow for their slow, meandering walk. Plus the extra time will give you a slice more piece of mind since there is A LOT to coordinate and keep track of when you travel with kids.
- The stroller—to bring or not to bring. When I first traveled with my kids, I brought anything and everything I thought I possibly might need. If I were to do it again now, knowing what I know, I would leave the big infant stroller at home and hold the baby in a carrier. Once you’re in the sweet spot where the baby has out-grown the carrier but is not a strong enough walker, I would move to one of those super-portable strollers that fold up nice and small. All this is contingent, of course, on not needing a stroller on your trip. But in general, I’m a fan of being a streamlined as possible. So if you can leave the stroller at home, do.
- Plan bathroom and potty breaks. Remember that extra time I recommended earlier? You will use part of that time for a diaper-changing and/or potty break. Even if you don’t need to go or it’s only been a couple hours and the diaper still seems clean, have your bathroom break. It is soooo much easier to use the bathroom in the airport than the one on the airplane. Same for layovers. If at all possible, build in bathroom time on your layover.
- Accept help. This is true in general, but especially if you are traveling by yourself. If someone offers to help, smile and say “Yes please. Thank you.” The most difficult trip I ever had involved traveling solo with a 7 month old, a 2.5 year old, a gimpy left hand (even though only one finger was stitched up, functionally my hand was useless), and a two-plane-and-1-layover trip from Knoxville TN to Denver CO. I could not have made it without the help of kind strangers and airline personnel. I said “yes please, thank you” to every person who offered to help when they saw me juggling and struggling.
- Going through security—what’s allowed and not allowed. You are allowed to bring a drink for your child through security. Don’t forget to take it out of your bag like any other liquid. Security will swipe it, but that’s okay. Your kid will not need to take his or her shoes off. If you have a stroller and infant car seat, you can gate check them. Some convertible car seats are airplane-safe, but once you get to a booster seat, you’ll need to check that (airlines won’t charge a fee for that). If you check your carseat, some airlines have huge plastic bags to put around the seat to help protect the fabric. If they do have those plastic bags, don’t be surprised if it costs $5. If possible, try to remember to save the bag, at least for the return trip home.
- Fussy kid? Now what?! I used to pray that my kids would fall asleep on the airplane, because that was about the only time I felt I could relax. But what if they are wide awake…and worse yet, fussy?! There are lots of ideas for redirecting, distracting, and calming your kids down. I have found that the easiest travel ages are 0-6ish months and 3 years and over. The young infants just nurse, sleep, and are—generally speaking—a lot less interested in what’s going on around them. Then, once a kid hits 3, you can (1) start to reason with them and (2) just let them watch a movie or cartoons. But what about those “sweet spot” years where kids are active, squirmy, and a little more difficult to manage? Here are some several tricks or ideas, a few my own and few courtesy of friends with kids: bring new toys (check out dollar bins for this), bring lots of snacks (including some special sweets and treats), walk up and down the aisle, let them explore the bathroom, sing songs (quietly), let them sit in your lap (after take-off for those in their own seat), and have a few choice bribes ready to go. Finally, be mindful that the descent is often hard on their inner ears, so plan accordingly. Use that for nursing/feeding time and have gum or mints for older kids.
Finally—and this may be the most important tip of all—be flexible. I have a good friend who says “god bless the flexible for they never get bent out of shape.” You and every other parent out there knows that you are doing the best you can with your child in a stressful, highly stimulating situation. If someone makes a snooty comment about you or your kid (and I’ve gotten a couple myself), just ignore it. Focus on your kid, focus on your plan of action, focus on being present so you can attend to what needs to be attended to.
God speed and good luck 🙂