How To Fly Lighter With A Toddler in Tow

You might like these holiday travel tips and these tips, too.

Whether it’s summer vacation or the holiday season on the horizon, it’s certain that far-away relatives will start clamoring for you to hop on a plane and fly home for a visit with your little one—again. They seem oblivious to the headaches of holiday travel or can’t believe you would really want to spend the summer with your new mom friends, in your own home, when you could be back wherever you’re from.

We can’t make the family pressure disappear, but if you have to fly, we can make doing so easier with this guide of what baby and toddler gear to bring along and and what to leave home.

make sure you really need that car seat before you fly with it.Your New Carry-On

Before my daughter was born and carry-on rules were considerably more lax, my husband would pressure me to not check luggage for any trip shorter than ten days and I usually managed. Until my daughter was 3 or so,  I considered her to be my “carry-on.” Nuisance fees be damned I checked my luggage.
But I still pack from the point of view of “what can I get away with leaving home” and am mortified (perhaps overly so) at the prospect of being that disorganized person with too many things holding everyone up at the security check-point.

The One Essential: A Stroller

I always brought a stroller. In an airport it carries kids and/or bags down long airplane terminals and ferries sleeping toddlers through customs and baggage claim. Most airlines will let you check a stroller at the gate for free and will hand it back to you when deplane (though in Mexico I had to retrieve it at baggage claim).

Still, my travel stroller had to be light enough to carry up a flight of stairs with one hand while holding a squirmy child in the other. I had to be able to fold it with one free hand. And it had to be inexpensive enough that if it got lost of broken I wouldn’t be upset (and indeed my stroller was handed back to me after one flight with a dented axel.

Chicco, Baby Trend and Summer have strollers that fit the bill, with sun canopies and some storage.

The Debatable Item: The Car Seat

If you really feel you must bring it for when you land, but don’t want it on the plane, some airlines will let you check it for free at the gate or check-in counter. But check with your carrier for specifics. I would also print out the airplane’s policy from its website; don’t rely on the staff to know all the rules.

If you primarily need a car seat for the plane, consider a CARES harness. It seems pricey but if you can fly four or five times before your child outgrows it or you use it with multiple kids, the per-plane-ride cost is worth it.

If you only need it to get to your hotel and back, look for a car service that has car seats. Ask your hotel for a referral. Try our list of taxi services. Or Google your destination and the word taxi. A taxi service that’s big enough to have a website is likely to have child seats.

If you’re renting a car, consider a AAA membership. One of the perks is a free car seat rental at Hertz, which all by itself justifies the membership fee.

The Non-Essential: Portable Cribs

kids and parents can fly happllyWhen you have a newborn it’s easy to believe that you’re going to be using baby gear for years. But by age 2 or so, the travel crib starts getting a little cramped (sooner if your child is long) and improvising becomes more possible. Given this, it’s hard to justify buying and bothering to fly with a portable crib.

Just about any hotel will have cribs or pack-n-plays, usually for free. They aren’t always the newest models but I found they were usually too basic to have safety issues (no drop-down sides, etc.).

Note: Hotels that have playards or cribs often tuck a regular sheet around the mattress, which I wasn’t crazy about. So I carried a fitted crib sheet and playard sheet with me.

If you really must bring your own, try this inflatable toddler bed (and inflatable sides), which might be easier to pack and last a few more years.

When we rented a condo in Mexico the rental agent referred me to a local concierge service that rented a Graco pack-n-play to me for $15 for 5 days, a small price for enormous convenience. You can rent baby gear almost anywhere these days, though prices will vary according to what you need and where you are.

But before you rent, check with any family or friends at your destination to see what they can lend you or borrow on your behalf.

Happy—and light—travels.

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