My eldest son was 2 months old when he traveled for the first time on an airplane. As new parents, we really didn't know what to expect and packed everything but the kitchen sink -- cramming as much as we could into our carry-on and checked luggage, as well as packing the overflow into our golf bags. I remember marveling at how such a tiny person could need so much stuff. It turns out he didn't, but more on that later.
Instead I have learned over the years that the thing you really need for traveling with young children is an abundance of savvy. You have to plan for all eventualities, but in a smart and efficient way. You also need to go into the travel experience with an open mind and a willingness to flex in the face of the unexpected.
The first step is research. If you are flying, make sure you are aware of airline, FAA and TSA policies.
For instance, did you know that on domestic flights, you may be required to prove the age of your lap child before being allowed to board? It is therefore a good idea to travel with your child's birth certificate -- especially if they are getting close to age 2, or look or behave older than they actually are. And remember, if you are planning to travel internationally, all individuals (regardless of age) must have their own passport. Lastly, make sure that your child has a Boarding Verification Document (the lap child equivalent of a boarding pass), something you can get at your airline ticket counter on the day of travel.
You should also make it a point to know your rights. Recently one couple ran into a problem when they were told to turn around their rear-facing car seat, or disembark the plane. It turns out that the FAA not only advocates the use of child restraint systems (CRS) over holding your infant in your lap, but it also urges securing your child in an aircraft-approved car seat based on weight. In other words, if your child weighs less than 20 pounds, a rear-facing CRS should be used, regardless of how inconvenient it is to the passenger in front of you.
That being said, smart seat selection can go a long way toward mitigating the wrath of other passengers. If you plan on using a rear-facing seat, consider requesting a bulkhead row where there are no other seats in front of you. The added bonus is that there is extra crawl space where your tot is free to move around mid-flight. The bulkhead row can also be a good choice for transatlantic flights because some airlines like Virgin Atlantic offer a built-in flip-down shelf on the wall that they use to secure a cot for your child to sleep in. Requesting such seats may cost a little more, but can be well worth the peace of mind.
If you are a frequent traveler, you are no doubt aware of the TSA 3-1-1 limitations for carrying liquids in your hand luggage. However, as with medication, there are exceptions for carrying breast milk, formula and juice for your infant or toddler. Just make sure to declare such liquids to the TSA officer in advance of the screening process, and be sure to keep them separate from your other 3-1-1 items. Lastly, a word of warning based on personal experience. Security officers at some airports may ask that you open and sample what you are carrying. As liquid formula tastes horrible, you may be better served taking the formula in powder form. Enfamil makes individual sachets, or you can purchase a special formula container that has powder compartments for multiple servings.
This brings us nicely back to packing. When you are already laden down with car seats and strollers, the last thing you need is copious amounts of checked luggage. Instead consider using what you would have spent on luggage fees toward renting things like cribs/pack-n-plays, high chairs and other baby gear. Better yet, if you plan to stay at a hotel, check to see what they have available for free. You may be surprised at how many hotels provide complimentary cribs, bed-rails, sand toys, and more. All you have to do is ask.
As for hand luggage, advanced planning is good, but don't overdo it. Aside from the necessary snacks, beverages and medicine, only take what you think you might need. For little ones this should include a change of clothes (for them and possibly you), diaper paraphernalia, tissues, a very basic emergency kit (think Band Aids, antiseptic cream and Tylenol), one or two small age-appropriate toys and maybe an individual Shout Wipe & Go sachet or two.
Michelle Erickson is the director of public relations at Fly.com and is based in California. A British native, Michelle has lived on three continents and is an avid traveler.