Survival Tips for Traveling with Little Ones 

Published on: May 14, 2017

Traveling with an infant or young child can be a daunting thought. Read on for some tips to help put you at ease and make your travel as seamless and smooth as possible! Words and photos by Heather Burtch   Given the nature of our lives as expats, there is bound to come a time when we will feel pressure, either from within or from the other side of the world, to travel ‘home’ and show off our new bundles of joy. In theory, this should be an amazing time filled with excitement for both parents and children. Traveling a great distance can be fun and exciting and relatively painless if parents are prepared. The following are a few tricks and tips I learned through long-distance and local travel over the past few years.

Packing smart 

Packing properly can save a great deal of stress when cruising at 35,000 feet. Follow these tips to help you get sorted and organized before you travel: 
  • Find a bag you are comfortable wearing and accessing with ease, often with one hand.
  • Contact your airline’s local office and ask about amenities available on board. For example, Emirates has almost anything you could want for young children and babies, including diapers, formula, wipes, baby food, etc., and the flight attendants are more than willing to help.
  • Use pouches and bags to organize the contents of your carry-on bag. Tag labels on them which will allow you to grab whatever you need with minimal fussing mid-flight. I purchased half a dozen A5-sized zip-pouches from Jim Thompson and used a different bag for changing diapers, snacks, coloring items, small toys, and a bigger pouch with a few different busy-bags inside. Easy access is critical, especially when you are traveling alone with a baby.
  • Keep a few surprises for your child to provide sufficient distraction during the course of your travel. I like to pack some ‘new toys’ for my daughter that she hasn’t seen before, and these were always a highlight.Her favorite ‘toy’ was a box from Daiso intended for pills with different compartments. I filled these compartments with pompoms and she loved opening and closing the box, moving them around and squishing them in her hands.Being able to switch activities easily and not having too many pieces was essential. Puzzles, for example, would not be the best idea. 
  • Don’t forget to pack snacks for mommy, a change of clothes for both of you, and the emergency iPad with toddler-sized headphones. 

Eat first

If you have booked a seat for your child, his/her food should come before any other meals. However, if you are flying with a baby under two without a seat, it isn’t a bad idea to pre-order a ‘special’ meal for yourself (vegetarian, dairy-free, etc.). This means your meal will come before other meals and will give you time to adjust your space before it becomes inundated with trays and hot cups of coffee. If you can get your eating in before everyone else, you can try to get your baby settled and fed with plenty of time before the lights go off (finding a stray pacifier on a plane in the dark is a nearly impossible task!).

Don’t fear the kindness of strangers

Don’t be afraid to let people help you. Airline staff members are there to help, but sometimes on fully-booked flights they can’t give you the attention you need. Don’t be shy to get up and ask for items you need. Flight attendants are happy to warm bottles, show you where you can fill up a water bottle and point you to the good snacks. We all know about Stranger Danger, but when it comes to flying alone, or even as a couple with a young baby, if someone is willing to help, say ‘yes’! Trying to balance a screaming baby on your knee in those minuscule toilets by yourself can be made so much easier by taking a fellow passenger up on ‘letting them know if you need any help’. I am forever grateful for that group of women I met in Dubai who approached me as I was exiting the bathroom wearing my daughter in her carrier and struggling with my suitcase and purse. They carried our bags to our seats, brought me juice a couple of times throughout the flight and even helped us find our bags once we got to New York.  On the other hand, take the dirty looks you might get as your baby cries with a grain of salt. That dirty look comes from someone who could never handle what you’re doing. Always remember, you will never have to see these people again. Though it may seem hard at the time, try to take long-distance travel as optimistically as you can. It can be stressful, tiring and emotional, but don’t forget the loving arms at the other end of the ocean that are waiting for you and your beautiful bundle(s) of joy to arrive.  Bon voyage!   Cover image by Eugenio “The Wedding Traveler” WILMAN via Flickr; other photos courtesy of the author.

About the Author

Thirteen years ago, Heather came to Phuket to pursue her love of philosophy and Buddhism intending to head home to further her education. After one tsunami, one coup d’état, and many phone calls from her mother gently suggesting ‘coming home’, Heather has found comfort in her home in Thailand with her nearly-3-year-old daughter and Thai husband. Originally from Ontario, Canada, Heather works and lives on ‘the other side’ of the river in Thonburi where she is the Head of Kindergarten at a private Thai school.
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