You've heard the horror stories. But traveling with your 1-year-old can actually be fun -- if you're prepared. Check out expert answers to five common travel problems and discover how to keep your toddler comfortable and entertained on the go.
Q. What if my child has a tantrum on the plane?
A. Stay calm yourself! If your toddler throws a fit, the worst thing you can do is freak out. "When you start panicking, your child picks up on your tension and can get even more upset," says Shelly Rivoli, author of Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children. Do what you do at home to soothe a tantrum: Walk around, hum her favorite lullaby, or distract her with a toy. And while it's only polite to try to keep your child from disrupting the flight, don't worry too much about what other people think. Apologize, but remember you'll most likely never see your fellow passengers again.
You should bring your child's car seat. This means you'll probably have to buy an extra ticket, but holding your toddler for the entire flight can be a drag -- and it's also unsafe. Plus, the car seat is familiar to her, and she's already used to traveling -- and napping -- in it. And don't forget to pack a carry-on bag filled with snacks and toys. Bottles, sippy cups, and pacifiers, in particular, are essential travel tools because sucking on them during takeoff and landing is a smart way to relieve ear pressure in a young kid.
Finally, decide at the gate whether you want to pre-board. "Getting on early gives you extra time to get settled, but it also means your child has to sit for that much longer," says Rivoli. A better idea is to have your spouse get on the plane and install the car seat, while you let your toddler run around until the final call.
Q. What should we look for in a hotel?
A. Before you book, call the hotel directly and ask plenty of questions to make sure the place is family-friendly. Can you rent a crib and stroller? How often is the gear inspected? Do they offer room-service with a kids' menu? "If they don't answer your questions fully, stay away," suggests Marlene Coleman, MD, author of Safe and Sound: Healthy Travel with Children. Some hotels will even babyproof for you if you ask in advance. But you should still do a sweep of the room for potential dangers like unlocked mini bars and unsecured windows or balconies. "In general, nicer hotels have higher safety standards, so when you have a toddler don't skimp on a cheap place," says Dr. Coleman.
Q. How can we make a long drive less painful?
A. Start your trip late at night so your child will sleep most of the way. If you don't feel comfortable driving through the night, stick to early-morning travel and limit time in the car to two-hour stints, with 15- to 30-minute stops to let her stretch and get some fresh air. "You may have a longer day of driving this way, but it's better than a shorter one with a cranky kid," says Rivoli.
If you don't have older kids, you or your spouse should sit in the back with your toddler. It's much easier to engage her with a book or pick up dropped toys when you're at her side. If you're still worried about how she'll behave, consider taking a one- or two-hour road trip ahead of time. The practice run will prepare her for extended periods in the car, and it will give you the chance to figure out what works and what doesn't.
Q. How can I help my toddler deal with jet lag?
A. "Kids this age adjust to a new time zone surprisingly well, if you help them transition gradually," says Dr. Coleman. For example, if you need to change his feeding schedule to sync up with lunch and dinner in the new area, try slowly pushing mealtime back 15 minutes the first day, 30 minutes the second day, and so on until you've reached your desired time.
Another big issue is sleep. If there's just a few hours' difference, try to arrive after dark, which will help you get your child to bed and offset the gap for him. For a bigger time change, take the last flight of the night. This way, he can sleep on the plane and won't be as disoriented when you land. Stick to his normal routine as much as possible, which he'll find reassuring in an unfamiliar place. If you usually bathe him and read to him before bed, do the same while on vacation. And pack things that will make him feel more at home, like his favorite blanket or cuddle toy.
Q. What if he gets sick on the road?
Lost luggage and delayed flights are bad enough. But few travel disasters are more worrisome than having a sick kid when you're away from home. Play it smart by calling your health insurance company before you go to learn about the policy for out-of-town care. Get names of hospitals and doctors in the area you're visiting that are covered under your plan. Be sure to pack your insurance card and your pediatrician's phone number. If your child has a medical condition, carry the info sheet detailing her treatment regimen, including the names and dosages of her medications. Finally, when you get to your destination, ask the hotel concierge to recommend a local pediatrician who's on your insurers' referral list. Keep the number with you at all times in case you need it.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Parents magazine.
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