Traveling with your toddler is like traveling with a rock band: it’s all about tote and carry. My motto: you have to be prepared. If you are prepared ahead of time, you and your child will be better suited for a successful travel experience.
Here are 12 Tips for Traveling With a Baby or Toddler:
1. If you’re traveling by plane, book a seat that has a bassinet connection, and a separate seat for your older child, if needed. During the pre-boarding phase, have one parent pre-board the bassinet or the toddler’s car seat, then de-board the plane until it’s closer to take-off time. This way, the bassinet or car seat is ready to go, but you and your child can use the extra 30 minutes walking around being active instead of waiting out that time seated on the crowded plane.
2. Be prepared with snacks and fluids. Be sure to pack nonperishable foods. Keep baby hydrated because airplanes are drying. I also recommend bringing a sippy cup or bottle — something to suck on to help relieve air pressure, especially during take-off and landing.
3. Bring lots of extra clothing and diapers. If traveling by plane, dress your baby or toddler in layers that can be taken off if your child gets too hot, or layered back on if your child gets too cold. A cold baby is a crying baby. And remember, whether you are traveling by plane or by car, messes can happen, so always have an extra outfit and diapers close by and easily accessible.
4. Bring favorite items that your child associates with sleep. Bring his favorite toy, favorite blanket, and favorite pillow, so he is both comfortable and cozy. You want to bring things onboard that your baby associates with bedtime, so that you can give him cues that help put him to sleep, rather than having to give him medicine for sleep. And finally, pull down the shades in the airplane. In a car, you can use sun shades to block light out from the windows. All of this can help baby calm down and go to sleep.
5. Bring your child’s favorite toys. Make sure you bring only soft toys – nothing that has sharp edges or that can hurt him if there is turbulence. Having his favorite toys with him will help him feel secure and comfortable, and keep him happily occupied.
6. Bring wrapped toys, treats, or activities. I used to wrap up small and soft toys for my children, so that it took time for them to open and kept them occupied. A toddler, especially, will industriously focus on whatever is hidden in a surprise package. This can be an exciting activity for him. Keep these toys in your bag until he starts getting tired or cranky, and you will have something new and exciting to both distract him and peak his interest.
7. Pack fun items that have to do with the countries or states you are visiting. Bring snacks that are special to your final destination. Tell him stories about the places you are going. Pack a portable DVD or load up your iPad with apps or games. Also, include games and storybooks about the countries or states you will be visiting. Thus, a family trip can become both a fun and memorable journey, as well as a teachable moment.
8. Try not to take trips that are longer than 6 hours. Children are little people and if they are sitting in a particular spot for long periods of time, it’s unhealthy, just as it is for adults. If you are driving, try to plan stops along the way that are safe, public, and allow you to walk around a bit. Do your homework and plot out well-lit rest stops, restaurants, or malls along your route, so that you can all get out of the car, and so your baby or toddler is not confined to a seated position for hours.
9. Consider scheduling trips around your child’s sleep time. Your child can get into his jammies as soon as he gets onboard a plane or into a car, and, fingers crossed, go right to sleep.
10. Always sit right next to your baby. You are his comfort zone, you are HOME to him… mom and dad are everything. So if you’re driving in a car, have one parent drive while the other parent sits in the backseat with your child. This way, you don’t have to keep looking back to comfort him, because he will feel safe and secure with you seated next to him.
11. When driving, keep your child interested with music and games. Sing songs, tell stories, make up rhymes, and play games… the key is to keep him interested. Playing Baroque music can also help calm and soothe your child; therefore, keep it handy so that you can reach it whenever you need it.
12. Pack fully-charged technology — and don’t forget portable chargers. Prepare ahead of time and make sure that your tablet and phone are fully charged, and that you have extra chargers readily available with you on the plane or in the car, in case the batteries run low during your trip.
At the end of the day, whether you travel by plane, train, or automobile, the idea is to be sure you are prepared. Plan well, pack well, and schedule well. Children will look forward to trips if you make them child-centered, fun adventures. Remember, you are only as happy as your least-happy child, so keep in mind the age and needs of your little traveling companion, and a good time can be had by all.
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post and was written by Dr. Gail Gross