I’m a mom. wife, ex-doula, ex-teacher, ex-yoga-teacher, and current Health and Wellness Advocate. The truth is I still love all my “ex” jobs, but made some choices to be home with our two kids. My daughter is almost 2.5 years old. My son is 5.5 months, and we’ve lived overseas since before they were both born. My husband and I were born in America, but lived in Swaziland for 5 years. We have always loved travel, so traveling with kids was just a given. Since children were born, we did a lot of road trips to see other parts of Southern Africa, or flew transatlantically to visit family, take vacations, etc.
Flying with kids is no joke, but it’s also not as difficult as some may assume. Yes, every kid is different, but there are some general hacks that may travel with young ones easier.
Because I’ve flown to and from the USA several times with our kids, I have experience traveling with children aged 2.5 months, 3.5 months, 13 months, 15 months, and 5 months. My husband has solo traveled with our daughter at 27 months, so I’ve consulted him on some ideas.
By far, the easiest age to travel has been before 4 months of age! At this age, Baby sleeps most of the time, is flexible with nights and days, is usually only drinking milk, and sleeping locations are more flexible. When flying internationally, you can also get a bassinet for baby, so big win there. BIG win.
Flying with Baby/Toddler Tips Internationally
Cost: Children under 2 years fly free domestically, but very discounted internationally. Their fare is usually 10% of an adult ticket on the day the ticket is purchased. If you’re booking a ticket before the infant is born, you’ll need to phone back with birthday, child’s name, and gender once baby is born. The child’s ticket price will be 10% of an adult fare on the day it’s purchased (not 10% of your fare). If you want the child to have his/her own seat, you will pay about 80% of an adult fare.
Infants Under 6 months: When traveling with a child under 6 months, you can request the bassinet seat. Bassinet seats attach behind the bulk head (think by the bathrooms, or after first class) to the wall. Bulk head seating has extra leg room, so it’s considered Economy Plus seating and usually costs extra, but with a child, it’s free! Have baby, will travel in luxury! Because of bassinets, I actually think traveling with an infant is easier than on my own! Who doesn’t want extra room to stretch out?
Rules (may vary between airlines, but in general): Infants must be under 10 KG (22 lbs), be unable to sit on their own (the more strict airlines like Lufthansa will not allow a child who sits to be in the bassinet).
How to Book: Book a ticket for all adults, other children, and any Lap Infants. You’ll need the Lap Infant’s name, gender, and birthdate at booking. When booking online, there’s no way to request a bassinet seat. As soon as you book, call the Airline’s Reservations number. You can request a bassinet.
Some airlines allow you request the bassinet seat months and weeks in advance (United, South African Airways are ones). However, some airlines (Lufthansa for one) only allow seat assignments for any Economy passengers 24 hours before check-in. That means no one gets an assigned seat in Economy until just before the flight. It’s harder to secure bassinets in this way, so I always book with airlines when I can secure a bassinet beforehand.
You’ll call the airline, request the bassinet, they’ll assign one if it’s available. Your seat assignment should reflect the bulk head position.
When flying a multi-leg journey, you’ll need to secure bassinet seating for each leg of your trip. If you’re flying with different carriers, you’ll have to contact the carrier of each leg to book the bassinet.
Listen! This may sound like a little hassle, but that extra room with be amazing! You’ll especially want this if your child sleeps independently. Holding even a 10 lb baby in your arms for 10 hours is exhausting.
Even when my daughter was too big for the bassinet, I still requested it, and we got seated by the bulk head. During a mostly-full flight, we swapped our bulk head seating, for a row at the rear of the plane where we had 4 seats together. My husband and I book-ended my daughter & she was allowed to sleep on the 2 middle seats. Game changer for us since airlines don’t allow anyone to sit or sleep on the floor. (boo!)
Sleep: If at all possible, consider your take-off times and landing times. If you can, book a flight that leaves around or slightly before your child’s bedtime. You’ll board early, can feed them, put on pajamas, then hopefully as they take off, they’ll be lulled to precious sleep. If your child does not sleep well in other places, booking a day-time travel may be your best bet.
For jet lag: All of the rules that apply for adults work for babies and kids, too. Eat meals at the “new time zone’s” time, but eat snacks when hungry. While adults may resist napping, I’ve found that letting my kids sleep whenever is better. However, I may wake them from a jet-lag nap around the same time they’d wake from a normal nap (no more than 2.5 hrs of napping).
Talk with your doctor, but we’ve used melatonin drops for our kids at different ages. Melatonin helps their bodies relax into sleep, but won’t necessarily keep them asleep. We gave this to our kids (with PA approval) both on the airplane, and each night at bedtime for several days. Also, some homeopathics may approve Relax-a-Tone for you to give preceding travel.
When the sun is out, let them get sunshine and exercise! Hold them up to a window. Go for a walk. Play outside if the weather permits.
Get Organized: I’m quite the organizing freak who likes to maximize efficiency, so I’ll brag and say I’ve got traveling with a baby on lock-down! I’ve traveled with a 2.5, 3.5 and 5 month old solo on transatlantic flights longer than 30 hours, so I know how to survive.
First. Luggage. You’ll want a baby carrier (I used an Ergo), diaper bag, and carry-on rolling suitcase. Strollers are cumbersome in airports and when traveling alone, it’s tricky having a stroller with other luggage.
In the diaper bag, I pack: diapers for about 8 hrs, wipes, a few toys, an outfit change, snacks & water for me, any carryon items for me (ditch the book, you probably won’t have time!), a blanket/warm layer for the chilly plane, pacifiers, etc.
A neck pillow acts as a great arm rest when you’re holding baby or putting him to sleep/feeding. Those seat arms are uncomfortable!
In the rolling suitcase, I very strategically packed:
- diapers enough for beyond the 30 hour flights. You never know when a stomach bug will be caught, or your stash might go faster than you think!
- several wet bags or plastic bags (for blow outs, wet clothes, etc).
- an outfit change for YOU (we’ve all been peed on before, right?)
- more snacks (you may be up a lot more than you’d like and need a snack)
- any food for baby – bottles, nursing covers,
- If you’re traveling with a child who eats, pack way more than you think. Squeezy-packs are great; freeze-dried meals (found at outdoors and backpacker stores or websites) if kids have dietary restrictions (flight attendants will give you boiling water); dried fruit; nuts, and their own re-usable cups.
- extra of everything your child uses during a 24-hr period.
Whenever I need to get into my rolling suitcase overhead, I restock the whole diaper bag. So dirty clothes go into plastic bags and into the luggage. New diapers, a change go clothes, snacks, and anything else Ill need in the next 4+ hours goes into the diaper bag.
Once You’ve Arrived: Generally, if you have only traveled a few time zones, you may keep your child on the same schedule, especially if your travel is less than a week.
I prefer flights that have us arrive close to the evening. That way baby and parents are tired, and your child will likely pass out!
Expect some rough nights the first few days. I’ve found that fighting a un-tired baby back to sleep is fruitless and frustrating, so don’t do it! Instead, keep the lights low, but let baby play. When she is ready for bed, quickly whisk her back off to sleep. If baby usually wakes up at 5 am, but jet-lagged sleeps till 8, by all means – LET HIM! If you have an agenda when you arrive to your destination, try to keep it light the first few days. You’ll likely be tired.
After 4 days, gently push Baby back onto his normal schedule. You may wake him from naps after his normal duration has passed, but don’t stress yourself too much.
Traveling with kids, especially babies can have its challenges, but remember why you are traveling in the first place – because you love it, you love doing it with your family, and it’s worth it. Travel at a pace that honors all of your family members. Take time to slow down and take naps with your kids. We’ve found that by keeping SOME of our routines, our kids can handle the break of other parts of our daily rhythm. For example, my toddler daughter does best when we eat meals at the same time, have regular snacks, and can maintain bedtime. If she misses a few naps while traveling, she survives, but we can’t forsake all of the routine without having ourselves lots of meltdowns.
And a note on meltdowns – if you notice your baby or child is having more “meltdowns” aka tantrums or behavioral outbreaks, LISTEN. Your child is trying to tell you that they’re tired, stressed, or just cranky from traveling. So LISTEN. Slow down your pace. Re-root yourselves in the aspects of life your child thrives in (naps, playing, nursing sessions, etc). The Eiffel Tower can wait because aint nobody enjoying it with a screaming toddler!
I’m happy to hear some of your tips when flying with your littles! You can contact me with further questions.