After traveling solo with my 18 month old to South America, I thought I’d share some of what I learned as part of a series of posts on traveling with a toddler. In case you missed it, here is a link to Part 1: What to Pack in Your Diaper Bag.
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Handling the airport–whether it’s the check-in and wait time before your flight (which is longer than usual for international flights) or just hanging out during your layover–can be stressful. Here’s my Top 10 List of ways to best maneuver the airport with a toddler:
1. Dress Comfortably
Some people are old school and like to get dressed up to go to the airport, but you will need really comfortable shoes to be able to chase your toddler. Plus, you will have lots of stuff to carry, so heels really aren’t going to cut it.
Also, nursing tops are a must if you are still breastfeeding. I’m sure it goes without saying, but you should always dress in layers. The airplane tends to be cold, but the airport might not be. There is pretty much nothing I can’t overcome if I ask my daughter whether she wants some “na-na.”
In some mom circles, baby wearing is considered weird or “granola,” but I can guarantee you will thank me for this if you haven’t tried it yet. Now, I’m not a radical, leftist hippie who refuses to vaccinate. I’m actually a pretty normal mom that happens to live in West LA. For a little more about me, you can read this post.
In any case, I would NOT have survived the airport (especially with all the bags I had) without my ErgoBaby. Also, if you have a toddler that is teething–mine had all four canines coming in at the time of our trip–you should bring drool pads.
The Ergo allowed me to be able to carry/wheel all my bags and still have total control over where the baby was (you certainly cannot leave your bags unattended). It is also wonderful if you happen to be at the airport during nap time. Also, my kid really likes to look around a people watch whenever we’re in a new place, so she loved it!
3. Ask for/Accept Help!
I notice that Americans never offer to help me. Thankfully, we were traveling to South America, so there were plenty of South American men–including some agents for their equivalent of TSA–who offered to help me load my bags onto the x-ray machine or into the carry-on bins on the plane. Each time this happened, it was a HUGE HELP! If I could do it over again, I’d probably ask for help a bit more along the way.
4. Early Boarding/Upgrades
Most airlines have a policy that allows people traveling with infants under 2 years of age to do early boarding. If you are flying with American Airlines, you do not get early boarding with children in the U.S. In other countries, the crew members (and passengers) are more polite than in the U.S., so they’ll let you go, but just know this in advance if you fly American.
You will need extra time to get settled, so I say go ahead (especially if you have a ton of bags and things to set up). If you’re traveling solo and have the window seat, just take advantage of this time to use the restroom and change the baby. A fresh diaper always makes for a better take off!
5. Global Entry/TSA Precheck
Having Global Entry for this trip saved me more time and stress than I could possibly explain here. Global Entry is basically a way to get pre-screened for expedited check-in and customs clearance while traveling. It costs about $100 and is valid for 5 years. If you don’t plan to travel internationally, you could accomplish the same thing with just TSA Precheck. Precheck is included in Global Entry, so it’s totally worth it!
Also, just to be clear, each individual traveling should really have Precheck. However, to the extent you are traveling with an infant, and both parents have Global Entry or Precheck, TSA will usually just let everyone through. However, if your kid is old enough to have his or her own seat, he or she is probably old enough to have her own Global Entry approval (otherwise called a “known traveler ID” number).
6. Look for Other Families
This one kind of goes without saying. My daughter is at an age where she is fascinated by other children. If we managed to sit in an area of the airport where there were other children, she would just sit and observe (or try to play with them). It was such a great way to keep her occupied. That said, be sure to have hand sanitizer handy!
7. Ride Along Carts
You know those glorified golf carts that take people around the airport. The ones you are always worried will run over your foot? Those are MAGICAL when you have a kid at the airport! I’m pretty sure anyone can hop in, but it makes more sense to have the cart drive you around if you are traveling with an infant.
First, the kid will love it! There’s a ton of people-watching. It zips through the airport very quickly. You get help with your bags. Of course, it also helps to tip the driver a few dollars, as the carts are operated by private, third-party companies that contract with the airport. Enjoy the ride!
8. Pack Well
This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Have everything you need to get out quickly within arm’s reach. Packing well is so important that I wrote an entire post about what to pack in your diaper bag. That said, you also get a carry-on. So, use all that space as best as possible.
Restaurants are a great place to take a break with a toddler. Everybody’s gotta eat. Most restaurants have high chairs or booster seats for your infants, so you can eat without having to chase them around. Plus, there is great people-watching at restaurants. (In case you haven’t noticed yet, most of my suggestions involve a change of scenery and people-watching.)
The only caution I will say about restaurants is try to eat bland food. Don’t try anything you’ve never eaten before, and don’t eat anything too spicy. It is a pretty bad situation if you are trying to care for a toddler and traveling with an upset stomach. (Also, a toddler with an upset tummy is not a happy camper, which can make your travels a nightmare.)
10. Timing is Everything
Toddlers need schedules and boundaries. On our first long flight with our daughter, she was only five months old (much easier time to travel). We made the mistake of scheduling our flights either during naptime or doing the time we’d normally be doing the bedtime routine.
Timing is everything! I cannot stress this enough. What worked for me was scheduling our flights for the time our daughter normally would wake up from a nap. This way, you can either stroll with (or wear) your toddler during naptime and have them sleep at the airport. My daughter is happiest right after she wakes up from a nap, so it’s more likely that she’ll have a good flight if she just woke up.
Some airports also have Nursing/Pumping stations. These really are meant to be used strictly for nursing or pumping, so don’t take advantage of them. On the other hand, do take advantage of them if you want a nice, clean peaceful place to set your stuff (and your kid) down and nurse.
Don’t forget to use the restroom (for you and the baby)! Things can get stressful, and with all the stuff and the stress, it’s important to take care of yourself. Also, kids tend to be more irritable when there’s pee or poop in their diapers. This goes back to my post about what to pack in your diaper bag.
Call Dad! I know my kid lights up whenever I say we’re going to see/talk to “Dada” soon. Even a quick telephone call to Dad (or any special loved one) can be the difference between a meltdown and a happy camper.
Plan ahead. Know who your ride to the airport will be, if you are not planning to leave your car there. Know what time you need to be there and what terminal you depart from.
Chill Out! Our kids can sense our energy. If you are freaking out and rushing and crying and getting anxious about every potential problem that might occur on this trip, guess who else will be? Your toddler, and that is never fun.
Now that I’ve gotten through how to maneuver the airport, my next post will have tips about how to handle long airplane rides. If you have any thoughts about this post, including additional suggestions or anecdotes about how you handle waiting time at the airport, please leave a comment.