Many years ago, (prekids) my husband Sandy and I were hiking in Waimea Canyon on the Island of Kauai. After a few miles, we were almost at our destination and could hear the tantalizing sound of a waterfall right around the bend. The issue at hand was that that path was getting narrower and steeper. On my left was a wall of rock, to my right was a sheer drop of thousands of feet (death). I was pushing myself along until I just couldn't take another step. I didn't usually have trouble with heights but this was extreme. I told Sandy that I couldn't keep going. His initial response was to do a little jig on the path to illustrate how safe it was.
Our all time most common travel related question is probably, "When is my baby old enough to fly?" There are many different factors to consider, so there is no one simple answer. Adopted babies might fly within the first few days on their way to their new home. Other folks make the valid choice to fly earlier than we are really comfortable with in order to see an aging relative or deal with a family crisis.
In ordinary circumstances, I would prefer to have the babies wait until they are over 2 to 3 months of age and have had their first set of immunizations (keep in mind that the first shot does NOT give full protection against some serious illnesses, but it is a start.) The size of the baby as well as the time of year are also factors. If there is some kind of crazy flu epidemic, I would think long and hard before taking a young baby on a plane. It isn't unusual for there to be some type of health alert circulating, so keeping current on the news is important. A couple of years ago there was a measles outbreak. A year before that we had the Enterovirus D68 which likely no one even remembers now. As of this month (July 2016) the biggest concerns are probably Zika related. The bottom line is that my recommendations might change depending on what is going around and where you are heading. It does make planning a trip well in advance a bit more challenging.
Regardless of how old your child is, if you are planning a trip here are some tips and things to keep in mind.
Before you leave
I get calls from all over planet from parents who are dealing with a sick child during their trip. Prior to the trip, check with your insurance company to see what the best method is for having out of state or international doctor visits covered. Some plans are much easier to deal with than others. Whether the visit is covered or paid for out of pocket, you also need to figure out what your actual options are. Is there an urgent care facility near by? Do you have a friend or relative with a pediatrician who is willing to see patients who are not in their practice? Does your insurance only cover an emergency room visit?
Hopefully you won't need to use this info, but if you are dealing with a sick child away from home it is nice to have a "Plan B" in place. If your child has a history of wheezing, it is wise to bring all medications along even if they haven't needed them in a while.
Keep in mind that infrequently used asthma inhalers need to be primed before use.
If you are traveling some place exotic it is worth checking with a travel clinic to see if there are special travel vaccines or malaria precautions necessary. The only vaccine that we routinely give here in our office that might be considered a travel vaccine is Hepatitis A. Most other special travel vaccines need to gotten at a travel clinic. A travel clinic keeps current with all the ever changing recommendations and consideration for each country and season. Plan in advance. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/
Surviving the flight.
Keep in mind that a car seat is the safest place for your child.
It is worth checking with your carrier to see if you can get a discounted rate.
A few years ago I sat next to a mom with a very young baby. She was so worried about the possibility of getting evil looks from the other passengers that she had actually brought ear plugs to hand out to the people sitting around her. What she didn't have was anything to soothe her baby. Please always make sure that you have Tylenol or Motrin with you on the plane (not packed away in your suitcase). It is okay to bring small bottles through security. They need to be smaller than 3.5 ounces. I don't tend to give it ahead of time, but I am quick to medicate during the first sign of fussiness. Does your child suffer from motion sickness? Click to review my recent post.
I often get questions about the use of Benadryl. This is an option for a child who is over 8 months with a long flight ahead. It helps dry up any congestion and makes 90% of kids who take it deliciously sleepy. Aha, but what about the other 10% you might ask? It turns those little darlings into hyperactive, wild hooligans. You do not want to find out on the plane that you are the parent of the 10%. There is no such thing as infant Benadryl, We use the children's liquid generic name diphenhydramine.
Many labels will warn not to give to children under 4. We routinely ignore that. You may want to give a test dose a few days prior to the trip to make sure it is a viable option for you. I want parents to have the tools with them to deal with an unhappy child. Don't give any medication unless it is necessary. While I would usually err on the side of less medication, Benadryl and Tylenol/Motrin can be given at the same time.
Many babies and children may have trouble with their ears . For the younger ones, try to nurse or have them feeding during takeoff and landing. Sucking on a pacifier may be helpful as well. Have a lollipop or chewing gum for older kids. Ayr saline gel is a nice thing to have along. A dab at the base of the nostrils can moisturize the dry air and make the breathing easier (use it for yourselves as well.)
If you have a child with a history of ear trouble, have some of the little gel heat packs in your bag. You can activate them as needed and the warmth feels great to a sore ear.
For adults and older kids, you can equalize the pressure by holding the nose and gently blowing until the ears pop.
Take WAY more diapers with you than you think you need for the trip. I was on another flight not too long ago when we sat on the tarmac for three hours. There was an unfortunate family behind me who had planned on a short little trip and was out of diapers long before we took off. It wasn't pretty. Plan accordingly.
Many folks automatically bring a change of clothes for their baby. It is also worth bringing an extra outfit for yourself. If you have a long flight ahead of you with a child on your lap, it may come in handy (I learned that one the hard way and sat for several hours covered with poop.)
Changing your baby on the plane can be a challenge. It is helpful to have little changing packs, with a diaper and some wipes, in individual zip lock bags. This will prevent you from having to take the entire bulky diaper bag with you into the tiny bathroom.
Bring some disinfectant wipes along and give the tray table and any surfaces a nice wipe down before you use them.
You can't count on airlines giving you any reasonable snacks, so it is important to bring along enough provisions in case of delays.
Download some activities or shows ahead of time for your laptop or tablet. None of us want to overdo screen time, but if you have managed to keep it special a long flight is the perfect time to make use of this tool.
Don't forget about the old fashioned low tech options! If you are visiting family, print out a bunch of photos of the people you are going to see. You can use these for all sorts of art projects on the plane. Make a paper doll family! This can help your kids recognize folks that they don't see too much of. Wikki sticks are also a great activity to bring along. They are lightweight and not too messy. Reusable stickers will stick on the window. Don't bring anything that will make you sad if you loose it in between the seats.
Once you get to where you are going, make sure the place is adequately child proofed (this is also a discussion that it is worth having with your hosts before you get there.) I had one situation where a 3 year old opened a drawer and got into grandma and grandpa's medications.
Is there a pet where you are going? Make sure that any dogs are safe with children.
If you are staying in a vacation home, do a quick safety check. Do they have working smoke detectors? A fire extinguisher?
Time zones are tricky. My best suggestion is eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired and just do your best. Staying hydrated and getting fresh air are essential. Sunshine is a bonus.
The link above has wonderful information for dealing with jet lag. Even the best sleepers may have a period of needing a sleep training tune up when you get home.
You can have lots of fun while you are away and it is wonderful to see family. But, in my opinion, if you are traveling with children under the age of seven, don't call it a vacation. It's not. It is a TRIP (we used to call our visits to the various grandparents the "bad bed tour.")
A little preparation goes a long way and remember that some of the more challenging moments make for the best stories!
Here is one of mine..
Many years ago when my daughter Lauren was two, I got creative as I was planning for an upcoming flight as a solo parent. I had seen a craft in a magazine (long before Pinterest existed) where a necklace had been made of cereal and I thought that this seemed like a fabulous thing for an airplane trip. Unfortunately, not all ideas turn out to be good ones. Lauren and I strung some Cheerios onto elastic and she proudly wore her new necklace onto the plane. Soon after take-off Lauren decided to eat some of the Cheerios. I noticed with some dismay that as she bit off a Cheerio, some would go into her mouth while other parts would shoot off like little spitty projectiles. They were landing (unnoticed by anyone but me) on just about everyone within three rows of us. As soon as I realized what was happening, I tried to see if there was a way for her to nibble them off without making a mess. When that didn't work, I tried to take the necklace off to make it easier or to have her stop eating them at all. But as mentioned, she was two. My choices were clear... tantrum on the plane or unsuspecting fellow passengers having little pieces of spitty Cheerios in their hair.
I opted for peace (besides, ignorance is bliss, right?)
Have safe travels and make great memories
One of my wise readers suggests that if you are traveling out of the country it is worthwhile to register https://step.state.gov/step/ with the state department...Great idea!