Traveling with Babies and Toddlers

As a SAHM (stay-at-home mom), who arrived in Korea with a one-year-old and later traveled back to the States with a three-year-old, I am now psychologically and emotionally ready to share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way about traveling with babies and toddlers. I have to thank all of the moms who share their stories on social media because their stories helped shape my content through my own travel experiences. 

Choosing Flights

When possible, opting for an overnight flight saved us the most both in setting up a quiet and more manageable flight and also in helping our little one acclimate to changing time zones. If you are able to secure an overnight flight, avoiding naps and sugar on the day of the flight, as well as dressing your little ones in comfortable, bedtime clothes help to set the tone for the night.

Creating Comfort

Creating a comfortable space for your little one during a long flight is in the best interest of everyone. While the FAA recommends safety harnesses for children under 40 pounds, don’t assume that your car seat is FAA approved. We were disappointed to discover ours was not because our one-year-old always slept comfortably in their car seat. Always check in advance. 

We purchased an FAA-approved CARES or Child Aviation Restraint System. Looks like a complicated set of straps but the instructions are fairly simple and of course, flight attendants can help you.  CARES also works on bus rides, such as the shuttle bus to Camp Humphreys, and tours that you may opt to go on while in Korea. 

During the flight, we brought an inflatable travel footrest, which fit comfortably in front of the seat on our Korean Airlines flights, which have much more leg room than some other airlines, such as Delta. The inflatable footrest just barely fit on our Delta flights . When fully inflated, the footrest creates an extension to the seat, much like a small bed. This recommendation came straight from Facebook moms and my husband and I were grateful. Our little one slept throughout most of the 9-hr flight, sometimes curled up in a ball, using the footrest as a pillow, other times, using it as a footrest. If you have a tall toddler, this option may not be very comfortable.

 Another option, which worked on our flight back, was to place a small pillow on both arm rests, again Korean Airlines comes in clutch with pillows and blankets.  Once I reclined the chair, they were off to dreamland.

In-flight entertainment 

Comfortable headphones, both for entertainment purposes and as noise-canceling devices make traveling with babies and toddlers much easier. I have purchased window clings, travel magnets, activity books, magnetic erase boards, dry erase books, color wonder mess-free pens, and yet none of these options could compete with the availability of music, audiobooks, and screen entertainment during the flight. Bring activities that your little one enjoys prior to the flight. Remember that you also need to sleep and rest as much as possible. 

If you’re traveling on a budget, Daiso has lots of affordable activity books, sticker books, and toys. Otherwise, consider creating inexpensive craft toys that are easy to pack prior to leaving, such as creating your own dry-erase boards with cardboard and clear packing tape. Maybe a fun activity to do with your toddler a month or so in advance. 

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Food options 

Bring snacks that your babies or toddlers enjoy while traveling, as long as they’re not over 3.4 ounces of liquid or cream. Korean Airlines fed us two meals during our 9 or so hour flights to the States and back. Our persnickety toddler and I benefitted from the Western and Korean options for meals on Korean Airlines. You may also request ramyun as a snack.  For our non-Korean Airlines flights, I needed to purchase toddler-approved food and snacks in advance.  Don’t wait to stock up on expensive airport options. 
If you’re traveling with babies, you should be able to bring a cooler with ice to store bottles. You’ll of course need to bring the formula and purchase water in the airport, after TSA screening.  Incheon Airport has a separate TSA screening area, with a much shorter wait, for those traveling with small children.

Preparing a backup plan for the plane

Adults don’t often think about how the changes in cabin pressure is experienced by children, who also may have trouble vocalizing their needs. My toddler started screaming that her ears hurt as the plane prepared for landing. I gave them a lollipop, since they’re not accustomed to chewing gum, and they were just fine.

Prepare for messes, as usual, including slip-on diapers, extra clothes, and wipes. We tried to keep our one-year-old hydrated on our way to Korea, which resulted in diaper overflow. 

My Final Thoughts

Finally, when in doubt, bring all the tricks! Since we checked in most of our luggage, my carry-ons included 1) my purse and 2) a backpack strictly for airplane needs, which fit easily under my seat. Since I was alone with my toddler on our return to Korea, it helped to have everything within reach. If you aren’t carrying too much, consider bringing your stroller since you can check it in prior to boarding and it may help take the burden off your shoulders.

Give yourself some grace.  Once, while traveling during my college years, a couple, with children, sitting next to me on a flight, purchased an in-flight meal for me, to apologize in advance for anything their children may do during the flight.  It wasn’t necessary and their children hardly drew attention to themselves. But what I did notice was the display of patience and understanding the couple gave to one another during the flight. We’re parents. We’re really trying our best.