I’VE SPENT MY whole adult life traveling for work, extensively and regularly. If I’m being immodest, I do consider myself something of an expert on how to optimize the experience, from packing to choosing the best benefit programs. But once I had children, I had to learn how to travel all over again in a much less streamlined way. My older daughter got her passport when she was 3 months old, and for the first two years of her life (while she could fly for free as a lap baby), I took her with me on work trips anytime it seemed even remotely reasonable to do so (and sometimes when, in hindsight, it was not reasonable at all). Traveling with her was hard, but not as hard as leaving her at home. By the time she got to preschool, she had visited more countries than many adults I know (albeit she slept through many of them). Not surprisingly, friends who have recently become parents often hit me up for advice, perhaps thinking I have some secret wisdom to share. I’m afraid that for the most part I don’t — traveling with kids is challenging, even for those who do it a lot. But here is some of what I’ve learned through plenty of firsthand experience.
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Despite what brand-new parents fear, flying with little babies is, in my experience, pretty easy. I have found the trickiest time comes once they are mobile but before they are old enough to be engaged by screens. The crawling age is particularly hard because they just want to move — and crawling on the carpet of an airplane is just so very gross. My advice for this age is really the same as for any age, but more so. When traveling with kids, the plane ride is a job, not a time for relaxation. Put aside any delusions of reading or watching movies, and buckle in to be present. When my kids were very little, I would try to pack a lot of very small, special treats, and dole them out as needed. These could be stickers, Play-Doh, candy, toys, anything that might keep them occupied for a few minutes. And as soon as they got big enough, I let them overdose on screens unapologetically, and just tried to make sure they ate some real food while zoning out.
At the airport, look out for family lanes at security and passport control, a welcome sight after a long flight with tired kids. I have found these godsends to be particularly prevalent in Latin countries — I’ve seen them in Italy, Portugal, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru.
The single best piece of baby equipment I have ever owned is the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light. Most travel cots are very heavy, but this one weighs nothing and is ridiculously easy to put together. My 5-year-old still wants to sleep in it when we travel, even though she is so big her feet poke out the netting. SHOP NOW
I have three kids in the city, and have had a lot of strollers. For anyone who lives in a city, this won’t be news, but the Babyzen Yoyo is the best one I’ve ever had. When traveling with small kids, having a stroller that can be carried onto the plane and stored in the overhead bin is an absolute game-changer. SHOP NOW
For children who are too big for a stroller but still little, the Trunki suitcase is a great transitional device. These hard-sided suitcases come adorned with the face of every imaginable animal (ours is a tiger). It’s small enough that kids can pull it themselves, but when their little legs get tired trekking through a massive airport, they can sit on it while you pull them. I know, I know: pulling a small child on a tiger suitcase through a busy airport is not exactly the definition of nimble, but isn’t it better than carrying them? SHOP NOW
As mentioned above, once my children got old enough, I let them go full digital pacifier while traveling, just like everyone else on the plane. For this, I always make sure they have their own headphones, and that they work well. These noise-canceling ones from Puro come in multiple colors and have volume control to protect their ears. SHOP NOW
Lastly, this came out after my kids were too big for it, but I have seen friends using it and, having traveled extensively with kids on overnight, economy flights, I don’t need much convincing. JetKids by Stokke BedBox turns an economy seat into a bed for kids, and the bottom line is that anything that helps kids sleep on a red-eye flight is a great product. SHOP NOW
Skye Parrott is the executive editor of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor in chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.