I've traveled a lot in the 4 years that I have been a parent. Ian's first trip was from the US to Egypt at 11 weeks old. Here is my experience traveling with children and some quick tips to help ease the pressure.
If you breastfeed, traveling with a newborn is the easiest it will ever be to travel with kids. In fact, you can do a lot from birth to 6 months. It's once they start moving around and being awake longer, then you've got trouble. The worst age is crawling through about 2.5 years old: mobile but not bribeable = not pretty.
Here we are at Dulles on Ian's first trip and on the plane. Ian has always been a great traveler: his ears never hurt, he was easy to nurse to sleep and he never got jet-leg.
He was 9 months old when I had to fly with him by myself for the first time from the US to Egypt. (I had the last leg of an Egypt-US flight from NY to Cleveland when he was 7 months, but that had a friend with me from Cairo to NY, so I can't complain too much). Luckily, we got upgraded to Business Class because they oversold Economy. Ian had his own seat that reclined flat. He was squirmy, but nothing compared to my daughter at the same age.
Eva's first flight was at 7 weeks old from the US to Seoul. We had a layover at Dulles so we met my childhood friend Kristy and her family at the airport. She just nursed and slept on this flight. She didn't have any trouble with her ears either.
But when we went from Seoul to Cleveland for Christmas when she was 9 months old - what a nightmare! She stayed awake for the entire trip, squirming and bouncing. Then, she got severe jet leg for a whole week. Her days and nights were completely turned around and there was nothing to do, but wait it out. (Happened again when we got back to Korea). Even though jet-lag is common, we were spoiled with Ian since he was powerless against the boob and could be nursed to sleep easily, he always stayed in sync with me and never got jet-lag.
I had to travel alone with BOTH kids this past summer from Seoul to Cleveland when Eva was 17 months and Ian was almost 4. It was better than I thought it was going to be, but still a bit rough. Our connection from San Francisco to Chicago was delayed and then diverted to Denver. A few business traveler dads let me and another woman traveling alone with two kids cut the line so we could make arrangements (and then got us food and drinks). I told the agent that if I wasn't able to make it all the way to Cleveland or Pittsburgh, I would rather take a flight in the morning. Thank you hotel voucher!
Here we are stranded at the Denver airport enjoying the rainbow outside. (I also randomly ran into a blogger whose blog I read and said hello). By the time we got to the hotel it was 10pm or 11pm, maybe later. I ordered room service and then we snuggled into bed and took a nice rest. In the morning after bathing everyone, we headed back to the airport and continued on our journey.
Here we are on the return flight: this time my husband was with me.
So here are a few tips for traveling with kids:
1. TRAVEL BAGS
Bring travel bags for your gear like carseats and strollers, even if you plan to gate check them. Travel is rough on gear, even if your gear manages to come through without getting ripped or completely destroyed, it will be FILTHY. Some airlines have large plastic bags, but some don't. You could bring your own large construction-grade trash bag if you don't want to shell out for the bag, but trust me, you don't want to do that.
Next time you take a flight, look outside and watch the baggage handlers throwing the baggage around. Trash bags are not easy to handle so your item is more likely to be dropped. Also, it doesn't look like luggage and may be more likely to get lost in the system.
My advice, especially if you have invested in a high quality stroller like Mountain Buggy, don't cheap out on the travel bag, get it! It protects your gear and is easy for the baggage handlers to handle.
2. PRACTICE BUGGY FOLDING
Practice folding your stroller and putting it into its travel bag AT HOME. Some people leave their strollers set up all the time and don't fold them. Don't try to figure it out at the last minute when you are trying to load your stroller into the car to go to the airport. Same goes for the travel bags, make sure you know how the stroller should go in before you are at the gate and trying to gate check it.
3. DIAPER CHECK
Calculate the number of diapers you will need for your total door-to-door travel time if your child had diarrhea and then bring extra, especially if you are traveling at a time of year known for weather delays. If you do this, you will likely have more than enough and then not need to buy diapers right away at your destination.
Dress you child in layers and bring at least one complete change of clothes. For babies bring a few onesies - that way, if you just have a small diaper leak, you may not have to change the whole outfit.
5. ESSENTIAL CARRY-ONS
Pack carry-ons so that the things you are going to want to have out are in one bag and the rest can be stored in the overhead so that you have more space and aren't going in the overhead bin.
6. LAP CHILDREN
Kids can fly as lap children until they are 2, but the reality is that you really can't hold a child on your lap without disturbing other passengers (and going crazy) after they get to a certain size and mobility. It varies by child, but after about 9 months it becomes painful on the long flights especially, unless your child is very docile (mine aren't). Shell out for the extra seat if you can. Just having the extra space reduces the stress. If you are traveling with one baby and another adult, get two seats together with an aisle separating you from everyone else and then you can have an older toddler as a lap child longer.
The bulkhead is overrated. First of all, you can't count on it even if you think you've reserved it because mileage club members often get priority for those seats. Beyond that, everything has to go in the over head bin and baby can't stay in the bassinet if there is turbulence.
You don't have to worry about bottles or clean water or getting through security. You don't have to worry about running out or getting to a place to feed. Breastfeeding helps babies' ears adjust. Keeps them from screaming during lines and delays.
9. BE LOGICAL
Be prepared, but pack light. Bring things for the kids that you don't mind losing (because you probably will lose something).
10. THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
Take your time and travel with the right attitude. This is probably the most important thing. You will leave a trail of Cheerios from your house all the way to your destination. Don't fight it. You can't sleep on the flight if your baby decides to stay awake. Don't fight it. Plan to be awake for the whole flight and if your baby sleeps, you will be pleasantly surprised. You might not be able to watch a movie because your baby will pull the head phones off. Don't fight it. Download the movie later. If the airline doesn't pre-board families, just wait til the mob pushes through. Same goes for getting off, let the impatient mob pass before you gather all your things. You'll be much happier and less stressed.
We've had some great trips with our kids. The more you travel, the more you learn what works for your family. Bon Voyage!