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Family Travel Guide - Tips for families on the move

I travel with my two young kids - a lot - and I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Some days we get lucky and the travel gods are on our side. Other days, I’ve been the one whose child is having a complete meltdown and WILL NOT buckle her seat belt as the plane has to circle due to bad weather!


We all read headlines and hear stories about children being kicked off flights, families not being able to sit together, additional fees popping up all over the place and even whether or not it’s fair for families with young children to board the plane early. According to what I’m seeing in the media, the perception is that families are being burdened with many travel issues, especially when it comes to dealing with new airline policies.  It seems the perception of the state of family travel is just that - a perception - that depends, quite literally, on where you sit.



One issue travelers can’t ignore is that of added fees – everything from checked bag fees, to hotel wi-fi fees, to “resort fees”, whatever those are. Today, travelers have to budget beyond the base price, since it’ll likely only be a portion of their total bill.


The airline industry, in particular, is known for charging a lot of extra fees. One reason might be because the revenue created from these fees is not generally subject to the same 7.5 percent federal excise tax levied on all airfares, according to a New York Times article published in July.


So for airlines trying to stay profitable, it’s good business sense to avoid more taxing. I can understand that. However, some of the things they’re charging for are frustrating and expensive for everyone, particularly families.


For example, Delta, American Airlines, US Airways, Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant have all implemented charges for "preferred seating,” leading some to believe that families have to pay more just to sit together.


This happened to me recently when I was buying tickets for my family of four. I got all the way to the end of the process and was given the option to select seats. But, when I was shown the diagram of the plane, there wasn’t an option for four seats together. In fact, there was only one place where there were even two seats together and those were located in what I call the “more legroom, more money” area.


For me, this is clearly an issue. We are traveling with two toddlers - neither is of lap child age, nor are they anywhere near old enough to sit alone.  Was I expected to PAY for the expensive seats just so that one parent/child combo could sit together while the other parent begged some unsuspecting passenger to trade seats? Or was I actually supposed to consider the option that my 3-year-old would be seated alone? That’s preposterous, isn’t it? Or, is it? I had to consider what I’d actually be willing to give to someone to get them to give up their good seat for my middle seat. After all, it’s not that traveler’s fault.


What’s a traveling family to do?


One mom I know swears that the key to good family travel comes with higher status. Her rule of thumb after gaining platinum status with Continental Airlines (now United Airlines) is that it’s an absolute must for traveling families to establish a relationship with one airline.


In her experience, by having a frequent flyer account with Continental/United and purchasing all tickets through that account, she says every flier gets the benefits of the account holder. As your status goes up, you gain access to perks like free baggage, upgrades to seating and access to lounges. Also the miles/points accumulate faster, earning you free tickets.


Kids on a Plane & Much ‘Ado About Candy


Much is made in the media of children traveling by air. But what is the real problem: The unrealistic expectations of childless passengers? The parents failing to actively parent their children? The children themselves? In most instances, a combination of all of these things is probably at play. 


It is not a guarantee that family members will be seated together even if their tickets are purchased at the same time; it is getting increasingly difficult to select seats near each other in the wake of extra fees for premium seating; and parents are often left to rely on the kindness of strangers. In my experience, this often works out. However, I just heard from a friend who witnessed a traveler flat-out refuse to switch seats so a mother could sit next to her child. If stories like this didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. And we wouldn’t hear about parents bringing candy or other gifts to sweeten the pot for their seatmates when boarding a plane with young kids in tow.


In terms of the behavior, is an unruly child more or less problematic than an obnoxious adult? For instance, we’ve all been stuck next to the large smelly guy, the annoyingly loud teenaged girls who can’t stop yelling and giggling, or that crotch that ends up in your face while the other passenger loads his/her bag into the overhead bin. That’s never fun.


No one is talking about the millions of well-behaved children in the friendly skies. They don’t make good headlines.


Everyone’s got a perception. Mine is that in most cases, travelers are doing the best they can to be nice and treat one another with respect amidst travel policies that don’t always make traveling easy. Case in point: the lady who became fast friends with Littlest and I when flying alone this summer. If it hadn’t been for the many tricks up her sleeve to help me keep my baby happy, it would have felt like a much longer trip for all of us.


Family travel takes a village. Every village has an idiot. Unfortunately it’s the village idiots who make the headlines.


What’s your perception about the state of family travel? Share your story with me in the comments below.


Diana Heather is the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip or read more at her blog:


As a follow up to my previous post, International Family Travel (Part 1): Passports, Jetlag and New Food, Oh My!, I’ve included a few more tips here to help make your family vacation more like something you want to make a photo book out of and less like something out of a horror story.


What to Pack:

Make a list and check it twice. I like to make a checklist as I go through a normal day with my kids - this way I don't forget anything when I’m preparing to globetrot with them. While this tactic is useful for any type of family vacation, it’s particularly helpful when traveling abroad because there is more to keep track of. 


> Baby items. It can be stressful to travel with tons of baby gear (see Tips for Flying with a Newborn or Infant), so it’s always a good idea to keep your child’s gear needs in mind when deciding on a place to stay. Your choice can cut down on how much you end up bringing from home. Many hotels will offer a crib and maybe even a highchair, but if you need more than that, it’s often easy to find vacation rental homes pre-stocked with additional baby-friendly extras like bouncy chairs, swings, toys and more. You can also consider a baby gear rental company for bigger items; however, you’ll have to search locally at your destination for these services.


For every-day items, sites like can ship baby supplies like diapers, wipes, formula and more to your destination ahead of time. They have great packages that can jump-start your own packing list and have an experience-driven international shipping policy. When traveling to Mexico, Mexico Lots for Tots provides both daily-use items and rental gear. As they say on their website, “Enfamil, Enfapro and Similac infant formulas are readily available in Mexico, so why not order before you go?” 


If you're traveling with infants, in my experience, it’s easiest to pack powdered formula because it’s lighter than liquid and won’t spoil. Also, when I have access to a microwave, Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam bags are my secret weapon for sterilization on the go. (Hello clean bottles, teething rings and pacifiers!)


> Medication. I recommend bringing a few basic over-the-counter (OTC) medicines in addition to any prescription meds your family takes regularly. Especially for your kids, pack at least one medication for common ailments such as pain, cold/cough and stomachaches. I travel with basics like children's ibuprofen, allergy medicine and homeopathic teething drops. 


Also, make sure to pack a travel-sized first aid kit, or at least the basic items from one. You never know when you might need something simple like a Band-Aid or antibiotic ointment – or as my kids call it "hurt cream." Find out how to put a great travel first aid kit together at


If you purchase OTC meds at your destination, remember that the dosage can be different there and it may not measure the way you're used to (metric system, for instance). Another thing to remember in this regard: know the current weight of your kids for before you travel (you may also need to know how to make weight conversions for proper dosage).


Medical Needs:

> Getting your shots. There are all sorts of things you and your kids can be exposed to when traveling to a foreign country. Let your doctor and your kids' doctor know where you’re headed as soon as you book your trip so you can plan any  shots needed ahead of time. Some shots require an incubation period before they become effective making it necessary to get them weeks before you leave.  


It’s a good idea to make a copy of your family’s vaccination records and keep them with you while traveling. Also, scan them and email them to yourself so you have duplicate access on the road in addition to hard copies. My favorite new app is called Genius Scan, which makes a scanner out of your iPhone. It doesn’t get any easier than that.


> Medical treatment abroad. Each country is different in the way they handle patients and if you do end up needing a doctor you'll want to know ahead of time exactly what to do and what you’ll need. It’s always a good idea to call your health insurance company before you leave to find out if you have coverage abroad. Ask questions like: Does your health insurance work at your destination? Do you need your medical records with you if someone in your family suffers a chronic illness? And, make sure to carry your medical insurance card with you, regardless.


I hope you enjoy globetrotting with your kids as much as I have.


Diana Heather writes at She is also the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip


The CARES System: A How-to Video

Posted by dianah May 23, 2012

As a follow up to my post about flying with a newborn or infant, I wanted to share this video from straight from the field, or the runway as the case may be.


One of the most helpful pieces of equipment we use while traveling with the kiddos on a plane, especially now that Little is a tad older, is the CARES1 harness.  Here's a quick demonstration about how it works!


A special thank you to my assistants: Little, Littler, and famed videographer, Hubs!




1 CARES, the Child Aviation Restraint System, is the only harness type child aviation safety restraint ever certified for airplane travel by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).


Have you had success with this product? Or do you prefer something different? Please share your feedback in the comments below!



Diana Heather writes at She is also the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip.


The first time I flew with my oldest daughter Khloe (now almost three), she was only six weeks old! It was a lovely, yet sleepless, time in our lives, but it soon became very clear to me that if I wanted to see my parents during these precious first weeks of Khloe’s life, and spend time with my husband, who was very busy at work and couldn't leave New York, I’d need to work up the courage to take my tiny baby on a big, scary airplane – every new parent’s worst nightmare!


Khloe’s pediatrician told me that ideally she would have had her eight-week shots first, but if I had to fly before then, it wasn't going to be the end of the world… I was not completely convinced.


The night before our first flight, I spent hours packing and almost zero time sleeping. I found myself pondering a LOT of questions - Why do little bitty babies need so much stuff? And how does all that little stuff take up so much space? Would she cry the entire flight and force everyone to stare at me with those annoyed looks that all non-parents give? If she needed her diaper changed, how would I do that in a TINY bathroom – and what if

there was turbulence?

Lola on Plane.jpg

I called friends for reassurance, but they didn't sugar coat it – it was going to be tough, but we’d survive.  Sure enough – they were right. 


Soon, we were pros at flying with a newborn. Well, I should say we were pros at flying with a newborn on a domestic flight.  However, my rose-colored-glasses wearing Hubs took this to mean that we were ready for a seven-hour international flight to see his family in England for Christmas. By now, Khloe was six months old, but my husband’s nonchalant attitude was vaguely soothing and annoying at the same time.


It turns out, mastering the flight is only half the battle. Next comes figuring out how to schedule your child’s sleeping and feeding needs when traveling abroad, but I’ll cover tips on adjusting your baby to a new time zone in a future blog post!  


Once my second child, Lola, was born, I had the experience of traveling with a newborn under my belt, but adding a second baby to the mix presented a whole other set of challenges.  Picture this – me on a flight (without the Hubs), Lola was just three-months-old and Khloe a “spirited” 18-months-old. That three-hour flight became a balancing act of me trying to hold on to the newborn in a baby carrier, while lassoing a feisty toddler into a CARES1 harness. All I know is I still think I should have earned a medal – or maybe it was the lovely passenger sitting in our row who deserved one! 



Through it all, this is what I learned about flying with a newborn or infant:


  1. Do fly while baby is still a newborn – The rumors are true – the younger babies are, the easier it is to fly with them. The only downside is the frequent diaper changing, but it’s worth it to see the look on your relative’s face when they meet your new bundle of joy!
  2. Carry two diaper bags – a large one and a clutch-sized one – There will be many times that you'll need to change your baby in the lavatory, which is a tight squeeze by yourself. Add a squirmy child, a changing table that’s propped up over the toilet and a large diaper bag to the mix and you're asking for trouble. Avoid this problem by investing in a small case just for diaper-changing necessities. My personal favorite clutch is by Bella Tunno - they come in crazy fun patterns and have a metal ring handle for easy carrying.  (Tip 1: Take the hard wipes case out and use the diaper case with a few diapers in it as a “pillow” under babies head during changing rather adding discomfort to baby’s head on the hard table. Tip 2: Carry a separate clutch for each baby. We have one pattern for Little and a different one for Littler. This helps because size does matter when diapers are concerned!)
  3. Pack a change of clothes - for Baby and Mom – It seems obvious to pack spare clothes for baby in case of a diaper leak or spit up. However, many moms forget to consider what those same accidents do to their own clothes! Avoid having to travel in smelly or wet clothes and pack at least two simple easy-to-roll-up changes of clothes for you and your baby. You'll be glad you did!
  4. Take some weight off your shoulders by nursing or using powder formula – Nursing while traveling is not only the quickest and easiest way to feed your baby, it also requires the least amount of “supplies.” However, if it makes you uncomfortable toKhloe.jpg nurse in public, or if you aren't nursing, use a powder formula. You can store it in pre-measured containers or buy the single-serving packs.  This way, all you have to do is pack empty bottles and add water, as needed. Plus, powder formula lasts longer than the pre-made kind, so you'll waste less!
  5. Pack extra wipes – They come in handy much more than you'd think – wiping off trey tables before use, cleaning your hands or washing your face after a long flight, etc. 
  6. Don’t forget the entertainment – It’s no surprise that the older a baby gets, the quicker they can get fussy during a flight. Minimize mid-flight tantrums by having a few tricks up your sleeve. In my experience, a combo of old favorites like books (especially those with interactive features) or stuffed animals and snacks can get you through any rough patches. Also keep in mind - no child regardless of age, is immune from the always amusing game of flip the tray table down and slap it back up, so try to stop them in their tracks with non-disruptive distractions. Your seat neighbors will thank you!
  7. Reduce crying during takeoff and landing - Make sure your baby is either nursing, bottle-feeding or has a pacifier during take-off and landing to combat ear pressure. If your baby is teething, be prepared for more irritability. Our pediatrician suggested administering ibuprofen or acetaminophen about 45 minutes prior to takeoff when our baby was teething to reduce pain.
  8. Check the stroller at the gate until you can no longer fit baby in the baby carrier- This is especially helpful if you’re traveling with baby solo. Otherwise, it’s really a clumsy situation to fold the stroller at the gate while holding the baby and dealing with diaper bags and carry-on luggage. For toddler travel bring the lightest and least expensive stroller you have – it might not be the most fashionable, but sometimes you have to go with function over fashion when traveling! 
  9. Leave the car seat at home - Wait…Hear me out. I’m certainly not suggesting that you drive your baby around without a car seat, but I am saying you can travel without bringing your own. In my experience, we’ve been able to rent a car seat with our rental car or borrow one from friends/family when we arrive. It may take a little more coordination before your trip, but it saves so much space and weight when traveling by plane.  
  10. Relax - Once you're in the air, remind yourself you will eventually land somewhere and get off the plane. And yes - you and your baby will live to tell about it. 


1 CARES, the Child Aviation Restraint System, is the only harness type child aviation safety restraint ever certified for airplane travel by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).



Diana Heather writes at She is also the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip.