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How to Travel With Children

Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 27, 2022

Family travel is a great way to make memories or mark a special occasion. Many people have fond childhood memories of family vacations or taking a long trip to visit a family member for a special holiday. However, traveling with children can be challenging. It takes your family out of their usual routine and may cause sleeping disturbances, behavioral issues, or digestive problems in children. 

By following these travel tips, you can make traveling with kids easier and more predictable.

Safe Travel Tips for Families

Perhaps the most important thing when traveling with family is to plan ahead and do your research. What exactly you need to plan for depends on how you will be traveling and where you will be going.

In general, you can entertain your kids while traveling with light, easy-to-carry toys like stuffies, travel games, books, activity books, and electronic devices with headphones for movies and music. Bring plenty of snacks in your travel bag to keep kids from getting irritable from hunger.

Road trips. Traveling by car with kids? Get your car serviced before the trip to make the drive as safe as possible. Research the car seat requirements in the states or countries you will travel to. You can even work with a certified car seat technician to verify everything is installed properly and safely.

Take driving breaks every few hours to keep yourself fresh and alert. Stopping also gives kids the chance to burn off some energy and use the bathroom.

Car rental agencies can include a car seat with your rental. When you pick up the car, make sure the car seat is appropriately sized for your child. You should always read the instruction manual for any new car seat that you use.

When driving in a foreign country, make sure each passenger is wearing their seat belt and is properly buckled in. If you hire a driver or a taxi, let them know you expect them not to use their cell phone and that you do not need to hurry. Give your drivers gratuity for safe service.

Follow usual car seat safety. Children under age 13 should only ride in the back seat. Babies and toddlers should go in a rear-facing car seat, which should only go in the back seat. Once they outgrow the maximum height and weight limits for the rear-facing seat, your kids can sit in a forward-facing seat. Once they have outgrown that, they should sit in a booster seat to ensure the seatbelt sits at the right height.

As always, never leave your child alone in a car. Temperatures can rise quickly, leading to heatstroke and even death.

Plane travel. Prepare your child to go through airport security by describing the process to them so they are more comfortable with it. In your explanation, you should also make it clear that making threats, even as a joke, is not OK.

Leave early so you have plenty of time to get through security. Children under 12 do not need to remove their shoes in the United States. However, you should make sure kids wear easy-to-remove garments and shoes just in case further security checks are needed. 

On an airplane, it is best for young children to go in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved car seat. Children who weigh more than 40 pounds can use the regular plane seatbelt.

The FAA allows children under 2 years old to sit on a family member's lap. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting each child their own seat.

During takeoff and landing, your child may experience ear pain due to changes in the cabin pressure. To decrease the chance of this, nurse your child or give them a bottle during takeoff and landing. Your child should be sitting upright for maximum effectiveness.

Tips for International Family Travel

Traveling to a new country is exciting and fun, but there are some things to keep in mind when traveling with children.

Immunizations. If you plan to travel abroad with your baby, your doctor may recommend accelerating their vaccine schedule. They may also recommend new vaccines depending on where in the world you are going. For example, your children will need the vaccine for yellow fever to visit some tropical areas in South America. 

Your child should receive any necessary vaccines at least one month before traveling because they take some time to become effective at preventing illnesses.

Jet lag. To help kids adjust to a new time zone, start to shift their sleep schedule a few days before the trip. When you arrive, try to keep children awake until their normal bedtime. Go outside during the brightest part of the day and encourage plenty of physical activity to help their sleep rhythms adjust.

Diarrhea. Traveler's diarrhea can be caused by drinking water in a foreign country where your body is not used to the local microorganisms. Research where you are going to find out if the water should be safe for you to drink. If not, drink only bottled water on your trip. Use bottled or purified water for cooking, ice cubes, baby formula, and even brushing teeth.

Tips for Traveling With Children Who Have Special Needs

Traveling with children who have special needs requires even more advanced planning. According to the Transportation Security Administration, you may carry your child through security if they are not able to walk through the metal detector. Otherwise, children are allowed to use their own mobility devices to go through security.

Travel with a copy of your child's medical history and research the closest hospital or urgent care center in case you need to seek medical treatment while abroad. Bring all prescription medications, medical supplies, and medical devices you may need. If possible, bring extras just in case. Certain medications or supplies may not be available in all countries. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

healthychildren.org: "Travel Safety Tips."

Kidshealth: "Flying and Your Child's Ears," "Staying Healthy While You Travel."

Michigan State University: "Ten tips for a successful family vacation!"

Seattle Children's: "The Dangers of Leaving Your Child Alone in a Car."

Transportation Security Administration: "Traveling with Children."

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