Thursday, January 27, 2011


Closely related to the car seat decision point is the decision about whether or not to bring a stroller when flying.

For some families, I'm sure, the answer to "Should we bring a stroller?" is as emphatic of a yes as our answer to "Should we bring a car seat?" But we really aren't a stroller family in general, preferring to babywear instead. With both kids, I've used a Moby Wrap in the early months. Around 4 months of age, they've both transitioned into an Ergo carrier, which is nice because Hubby will wear it as well as me. (He says the Moby Wrap is too "girly." :)

That means we don't really need a stroller at our destination.

Now, strollers can make it easier to navigate the airport, since they're a convenient place to put the car seat -- which we always bring, as I mentioned in my previous post. When Littles was in the infant seat, we brought a Snap-n-Go stroller frame. The infant seat hooks into the stroller frame. The frame itself is lightweight and easy to deal with, so we didn't mind bringing it along, even if we only used it in the airport.

We brought our travel system stroller (Graco Metrolite) along on the first few trips after Littles moved out of the infant seat, but we quickly discovered that it was more trouble than it was worth. As I mentioned in the car seat post, we stuck the car seat in the stroller to wheel it around the airport, but this meant we had to do a lot of unfolding/folding of the stroller -- when getting on the parking shuttle, when going through security, at the plane itself, when getting on the rental car shuttle at our destination...

Instead, we purchased a GoGo Kidz Travelmate, which is a set of wheels that hooks onto a convertible car seat. This was perfect for us. It allowed us to wheel the car seat easily around the airport, but it was much easier to deal with than a stroller. Then, at our destination, we simply used the Ergo when we needed to transport Littles. On our vacations, we tend to go a lot of places that aren't stroller-friendly (crowded aquariums, hiking trails, etc.) so we really don't miss the stroller.

We went back to using the Snap-n-Go with Noob's infant seat after his arrival, but now that he's out of the infant seat, I fully expect that we'll go back to flying stroller-less. It's certainly not for everyone, but I find it much easier to travel without a stroller!

No stroller? No problem! Noob in a mei tai wrap (Littles was in the Ergo) on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park (8 months old)

Friday, January 14, 2011

To car seat or not to car seat

Littles snoozing in her infant seat + Snap-n-Go during a layover in Atlanta (3 months old)

Another key decision point that we make on each of our trips is around car seats. Specifically, should we bring a car seat with us? If yes, should we check it with our bags, gate check it, or bring it onboard?

The answer to the first question has always been straightforward for us: Yes! We have brought a car seat on every single one of our trips. Most of the time, we rent a car on the other end and do a significant amount of driving. Rental car companies do rent car seats, but it's usually expensive (around $10/day), they are not guaranteed to have an appropriate seat when you arrive, and the seat may be in very poor condition. It's much less stressful for us to bring our own.

Once we're at the airport, we do different things with the car seats depending on the situation. Our general rule is that car seats do not get checked with luggage. Reason being, if the car seat gets lost or damaged, we would be stuck in a strange airport with no way to transport our kid. And that would suck. (We do sometimes check it on the way home, since this is less of a concern.)

This means that we've needed an easy way to get the seat to the gate. Car seats are fairly bulky and heavy, so wheels are the way to go:

  • Littles was in her infant seat until 10 months of age. In this phase, we traveled with a Snap-n-Go stroller frame. This made it easy to navigate the airport with the car seat.

  • When she moved out of the infant seat, we initially brought our travel system stroller (Graco Metrolite) and simply stuck her convertible seat in the main part of the stroller. This was much easier than attempting to carry the car seat around the airport. It was not sturdy enough to place Littles in the car seat while we wheeled it around, but we usually had her in a baby carrier anyway. (We use an Ergo.)

  • After a few trips with this setup, we realized that we were almost never using the stroller anywhere besides the airport. So we started leaving the stroller at home, and purchased a GoGo Kidz Travelmate to attach to the car seat.

Once at the gate, we gate-checked the seat if Littles did not have a seat. But as I explained in a previous post, we opted to purchase a seat for her on every trip past 10 months of age. So when she did have a seat, we brought the car seat onboard. We found that she did really well sitting in it, probably because she was used to it from the car.

Around her second birthday, she discovered the joy of kicking the seat in front of her. Unfortunately, the car seat put her in the perfect position to do just that. She was also starting to do activities that required the use of the tray table, like color, play with Playdoh, and watch DVDs, and her car seat did not allow the tray table to fold out fully. So her last trip in the car seat was at 27 months. These days, she sits directly in the airline seat, which gives her full use of the tray table and prevents seat-kicking.

When Noob came along, he was also in the infant seat until about 10 months of age, so we pulled out the Snap-n-Go again for use with his seat. We continued to use the Travelmate for Littles' seat.

We haven't traveled yet with Noob in a convertible seat, but we plan to put him in Littles' old convertible seat, using the Travelmate. For Littles, we recently purchased a Safety First Go Hybrid Booster seat. It is super lightweight (less than 10 lbs) and folds into a small bag for travel. I think it will be a lot easier to deal with than a second convertible seat on a Travelmate! I'll be sure to post a review of it after we do travel with it for the first time.

Updated July 2011: We now travel with Noob in a convertible seat (Britax Roundabout) on the Travelmate, and Littles in a Go Hybrid booster seat. That combination is very easy to transport! Here is a link to my review of the Go Hybrid Booster.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tips for traveling with a lap child

I talked about the lap child vs. purchased seat decision in my last post. If you do decide to fly with a lap child, a few important notes:

  • Domestically, lap children fly free, but this is not always true internationally! When we flew to Mexico with Littles as a lap child, we had to pay a fee of about $20 each way. I've heard that for longer international flights, the fee can run $100 or more, so it's worth a call to your airline to confirm. That way, you can budget appropriately.
  • Children do not generally need ID to fly, but lap children are an exception. Some airlines ask for proof of age for a child who looks like s/he might be older than 2. Other airlines require proof of age for all lap children. If your airline asks for proof of age and you cannot produce it, you'll need to either buy a seat for your child (at the ridiculously expensive last-minute ticket price) or leave him/her behind... so it's a good idea to bring it, just in case! A vaccination record serves as proof of age, and is easier to replace if lost than a birth certificate or passport.
  • This is probably obvious, but when flying internationally, everyone needs a passport. Lap children included.
  • A lap child does not receive a separate boarding pass. Instead, s/he must be added ("plus infant") on the boarding pass of one of the other people traveling. If you're checking in online or at an automated kiosk, there is usually a question that asks something like, "Are you traveling with an infant?" Be sure to answer yes! If you're checking in with an agent, ask them to add your lap child to your boarding pass if they don't prompt you to do it. Once you receive your boarding pass, make sure that you can see some sort of "plus infant" designation. Trust me, it is no fun to get all the way to the front of the TSA line... and then get sent back to the check-in counter because your lap child wasn't added to your boarding pass.
  • Even if you chose not to purchase a seat for your infant, ask the gate agent whether there are any empty seats on the plane. If there are, you might be able to snag them for free! I always bring the car seat all the way to the gate (rather than checking it under the plane), even if I didn't purchase a seat for my infant, just in case there is an empty seat available

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lap child vs. purchased seat for an infant

In my first few posts, I'll cover a couple of crucial decision points that come up over and over when traveling with our kids.

One of the biggest ones, at least during the first two years? Whether to purchase a seat for an infant.

Most (all?) airlines do not require children under age 2 to sit in their own seat -- but, of course, if you want to buy a seat for an under-2-year-old, they will happily take your money! When I was pregnant with Littles, I was adamant that we'd always buy a seat for her. In the event of a plane crash or even just severe turbulence, it's undeniably safer for small children to be in their own seat, strapped into an appropriate restraint device (such as a car seat).

Hubby said that that was crazy. In the event of a plane crash... well, a car seat probably isn't going to do a whole lot of good. And obviously, it's a lot more expensive to purchase an extra seat every time you fly, in the off chance that you happen to be in a plane crash.

As with so many parenting-related decisions, we've moved from two extremes to a position of compromise.

With Littles, up till about 6 months of age, we generally did not purchase a seat for her. She spent a lot of time in my lap nursing anyway, and was reasonably content to cuddle with Hubby or me when she wasn't eating, so there was less of a need for her to have her own seat.

She started crawling around 6 months of age. Past that point, traveling with her as a lap child was miserable. We flew with her right when she was first starting to crawl, and then didn't fly again until she was 10 months old. It was just a short hop from San Francisco to Los Angeles (about 1 hour), so we figured she didn't need her own seat. Big mistake. All she wanted to do was get down and crawl, and restraining her was very difficult. That was the last time she flew as a lap child.

Noob didn't fly at all until he was nearly 6 months old. But once we started flying with him, we quickly determined that he, too, needed his own seat. Even though he wasn't mobile at that point, he has never been the type of child to drift off in our arms: From his earliest days, he's always liked his space while falling asleep. So he had a hard time settling down to sleep in our arms, which meant we had a cranky, overtired baby to deal with -- no fun, especially on an airplane! He got his own seat starting at 9 months of age, and everyone was much happier.

I think the decision to buy an extra seat depends a lot on the child. I've seen friends whose kids are perfectly happy hanging out in their laps. Frankly, I'm amazed by them! But that type of child will probably do quite well as a lap child, even into the toddler years.

And, well, it's not always financially feasible to purchase an additional seat for an under-2-year-old. You can certainly survive a flight with a lap child, even if said child is one of my wiggly kids.

But I wouldn't automatically dismiss the idea of purchasing an additional seat. I think it's worth seriously considering in the following circumstances in particular:

  • With an older baby or toddler, especially if they're wiggly like mine!
  • For an overnight (red-eye) flight. I can't imagine having to hold even the most placid of babies while trying to sleep myself.
  • When one parent is traveling alone. Even if the baby ends up in your lap the entire time, it's nice to guarantee that you won't have strangers on either side of you, and have some extra room to spread out.
  • For longer flights. Obviously, it's easier to survive a 1-hour flight with an unhappy lap child vs. a 10-hour flight.
  • If safety is your primary concern. There is great information on lap child safety (or lack thereof) here and here.

Hopefully that gives you some things to think about when deciding whether or not to purchase a seat for your infant!

Littles and me on the ground at SFO -- August 2007 (6 weeks old)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Traveling Tots

From the beginning, travel has been a big part of Hubby's and my relationship. We said our first "I love you's" while I was visiting my parents in Atlanta and he was on a business trip to Australia. He managed to find a day when we were in the same place to propose to me -- but just a few hours later, I hopped on a plane to Toronto for a business trip. We lived in the San Francisco area but got married in Austin.

So in October 2006, when I found out I was pregnant (while I was in Seattle and he was in Dallas, naturally), it wasn't so much a question of if we would travel with our kids, but when.

Nine months later, we found ourselves preparing to get discharged from the hospital with our brand new daughter, Littles. Amidst the standard new-parent questions ("Why is she crying?" "Is her poop supposed to look like that?"), we had another very important one: "Is it OK if we fly with her? Like, in four weeks or so?"

The pediatrician said yes. And so, at just over one month old, Littles took her first flight, from California to Austin, Texas, for the wedding of Hubby's best friend.

In the three and a half years since that first flight, Littles has earned enough frequent flyer miles for her own free ticket, visiting 13 US states and three foreign countries. She's been joined by another traveling tot, Noob, who arrived in early 2010. And Hubby and I have figured out a lot about what works and what doesn't when traveling with our kids.

So I figured it was time to start blogging about our travels. My motives are partially selfish: I don't want to forget some of those things that have worked well for us, or revisit past mistakes!

But I also want to share our experiences with other parents. I find that I'm asked many of the same questions over and over: What toys work well on the plane? What should my baby sleep in when traveling? How on earth do you get two kids, two car seats, and all that luggage through the airport without losing a piece, or a kid, or both? Some of my answers to these questions are long-winded, and some change based on the age of the kid, the type of trip, etc. So I'd like to type them up once and then refer people to them.

Most of all, I want to encourage all parents -- myself included! -- to get out there and go. Traveling with kids is not always easy, but it certainly doesn't have to be painful.

And the rewards? Well worth it.

Littles in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming - September 2008 (15 months old)