When boarding a plane, it’s natural for people to scan the seats around them to survey who they will be sharing space with in the hours to come. The sight of a baby or toddler can make many of them dread the possibility of a noisy flight.
But if that young child is yours, there’s no escaping it. Traveling with kids can be challenging. However, there are ways to alleviate much of the stress – and it starts with planning.
“Book early,” said Maureen Jones, a travel agent at All Horizons Travel. “A family needs some good advice and a lot of organizing.”
She added that when people don’t book ahead of time, it’s often difficult to get the accommodations they need – especially when traveling in a large group that wants to sit together.
The first thing to decide is the destination – and when to go. Jones said that in high season, travelers encounter many eager tourists and high prices, while in low season they get a better price break but less desirable weather conditions. To avoid the legion of tourists and uncomfortable weather, Jones advised, “do not go anywhere in August.”
She recommended doing homework when scheduling trips to determine the best time to visit the desired destination. For example, Jones said, it’s best to visit the Netherlands in spring, when the flowers begin to bloom.
Before booking a flight, travel experts agree that it’s a good idea to check the airline’s policies when it comes to food and carry-ons – especially when traveling with children 8 and under. Does the airline cater to those with dietary restrictions? Does it offer children’s meals?
In many cases, car and booster seats can be brought onto a plane without being counted as a carry-on. Like in a car, using a car seat on a plane is often considered safer, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, though it is not required. Some rental-car agencies also offer car seats.
Most airlines do not allow strollers in the cabin, but they can be checked later than luggage – as far as the airplane door.
Then there’s travel insurance, which Jones said is something “you must not leave home without” – especially when traveling with a large group. She suggested that travelers purchase the insurance through a third-party seller. Jones explained that those who buy it through a cruise company or airline could be left with nothing if the company goes bankrupt.
Packing in advance
After booking the flight and purchasing insurance, the next thing to do is pack. Start packing a month in advance, according to Jones, and keep in mind the weather of the country you’re visiting when choosing clothes.
Other packing tips include bringing mix-and-match clothing options for greater variety as well as items that can be layered in cold weather. Don’t forget to pack duct tape and sealable plastic bags, which can prove useful in a number of ways.
Jones warned against packing everything in one suitcase. The longtime travel agent said she packs at least one outfit in her husband’s suitcase in the event hers is lost or delayed in transit. Also, pack at least one change of clothes and toiletries in a carry-on bag in case your luggage doesn’t arrive with you, which is especially relevant when taking connecting flights.
Once the bags are packed and ready to go, make a plan for your departure. Jones said when a large group or family travels together, the airline may require in-person check-in, time that should be accounted for when planning when to leave for the airport. She recommended arriving at least three hours before an international flight and two hours before a domestic flight.
It’s important to have that spare time – especially at airports in the U.S., where the pre-board routine is “a lot worse than in other parts of the world,” Jones said.
To prepare for airport security, make sure to bring the required documents. Jones suggested keeping all documents in one folder, including your airplane ticket, visa and passport (if necessary) as well as shuttle confirmation and any other reservations.
After passing airport security, travelers often face long hours before leaving the ground – from sitting at the gate to waiting onboard for takeoff. Jones suggested that children carry backpacks that include toys to help pass the time. Parents are advised to pack snacks and sanitation products (like wipes and hand sanitizer) and a small first-aid kit.
Packing craft projects – such as stickers and coloring and activity books – may help keep kids occupied and excited. Travel-sized games with magnetic boards can provide entertainment as well. Tablets, smartphones and laptops are another way to occupy kids’ time.
Essential travel tips
Jones’ last-minute tips for travel:
• Book early.
• Travel insurance is a must.
• Frequent-flyer miles start a year before.
• Do not go to Italy or Spain in August – it’s too hot.
• Check your passport to ensure that it will not expire when you are traveling.
• Don’t forget to pack medicine, chargers and adapters.
If you have done all your packing and preparations, you should be ready for a good trip.
“You’ve got all the world you can fly to,” Jones said.