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We asked, you answered: Parent-approved tips on traveling with kids under 2

Photograph of a baby sitting next to an open carryon suitcase filled with clothing and other travel items, all against a light pink backdrop.
Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Last month, Life Kit asked parents to share their go-to advice for traveling with babies and toddlers under age 2 as part of an episode we did on the subject. Over 200 folks responded with tips they wish they'd known before taking a big trip with a little one.

Reading through these responses, it became clear there's no magic hack that works for every kid. Some parents swore by sticking to their kid's sleep schedule on a trip, others said their vacation was smoother when they let the usual routine go. Some sang the praises of the overnight flight (so their child would sleep on the plane), others said their child has never slept more than 10 minutes on a plane no matter the timing.

A few pieces of advice held true throughout. A hungry kid is an unpleasant kid, and children are messy. So packing lots of snacks, extra diapers and a change of clothes ranked high on the list of must-dos. Almost 40 of over 200 responses suggested packing extra outfits in your carry-on for your kid and for you. (If your charge spits up, throws up, blows out or spills it will also get on you!)

So here's a non-exhaustive, impossible-to-be-comprehensive, but-hopefully-still-helpful round-up of your top advice for traveling with little kids. These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What to pack

A stroller that can be stored in the overhead bin. It's a game changer to not have to check clunky strollers at the gate or check-in counters. —Amy P.

A change of clothes for yourself. If the baby spits up or has a blowout, there's a high likelihood that the mess will end up on you too, especially if you're holding them. Also, be sure to bring a bag to put messy clothes in. Reusable waterproof bags are great and they keep the smell in! —Jenna Yount

Extra diapers. You think you will be fine but if something comes up it's not a good situation to be in. —Jeanna Limtiaco

Overnight diapers. Fewer diaper changes in transit makes everyone happier. —Samantha Warren

Snacks. Remember, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration allows for any size baby food [and baby or toddler beverage], so pack those pouches! —Clara W.

Meds you and your kids might need in flight. That includes chewable Tylenol, Imodium, Dramamine, Zofran, ginger chews, Band-Aids and alcohol wipes. —Paige Ellis

A dark-colored bath towel. It's a blanket, it's for tidying up, it's a tablecloth, it's a sun cover, it shields bottoms from hot slides, it dries off swings. It's a multi-tasking powerhouse. —Judith Heise

Consider what may make sense to buy, rent or borrow upon arrival. You don't need to stuff everything into your suitcase. Buy some of your diapers and snacks at your destination. See if you can borrow or rent large, bulky items like car seats or travel cribs from Facebook Marketplace or your hotel or Airbnb. —Jocelyn Newman

How to get through the flight

Get to your gate an hour before boarding. It gives you time to feed your child, change their diapers, have a cup of coffee and fill your water bottle. It can also help your kid let out their energy before they have to sit on the plane. —Shelly C.

Check the airport for family friendly spaces. Use nursing spaces or pods and family restrooms to reset as needed. Check lounges for nursing and play rooms. —Sara Conger

Take an early morning flight. Those are least likely to get delayed, which is important when traveling with kids. —Carina Ochoa

Board with your partner separately. If you're traveling with two caregivers, have one go on the plane first with all the stuff and do the gate-checking of the stroller while the other hangs back with the kids until the last minute. It gives kids more time to run around! —Andrea De Francesca

Get a plane seat for your kid. Even though many airlines allow kids under 2 to fly for free as a lap baby, if you can afford to get them their own seat, it is worth it. It is recommended for safety to have them in a car seat, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and the extra space for them to move around is nice. —Nicole Shelledy

Be ready for motion sickness. We were not prepared for how easily some little ones get motion sickness on an airplane. Have throw-up bags handy at all times. —Tiff Bankhurst

Prevent ear discomfort. Sucking during take off and landing may help relieve ear discomfort. My babies have flown with me from 4 weeks onward and never had a problem as long as they had a bottle or sippy cup or straw to suck on. —Shelly Ransom

Don't plan on them sleeping on the plane. It's great if they do, but if it doesn't happen, you'll be frustrated. —Colleen Mayerhoff

Don't worry too much about your kid "bothering" other people. The vast majority of people don't care, and many have been in the same situation you've been in and feel nothing but empathy for you. As for those who do care, they are not guaranteed a child-free existence in public. Kids are part of society too, and they are also allowed to take up space. —Jenna Yount

Make friends with the flight crew. They're going to help, they've got more experience than you, and they also want the flight to be pleasant. —April Graham

Save the screens for the flight. If you're using a screen, wait until you're on the plane. While you're waiting in the terminal, let them move as much as possible. Find an empty gate and play Simon Says, see who can jump in one place the longest, do animal charades. Let them go wild. —Paige Ellis

Download age-appropriate shows for your child on an iPad. (But know that if your kid is under age 2 they'll mostly just want to push the buttons.) —Chantel Dockstader

Travel hacks

Find a lodging close to a grocery store and a park. It makes it easy to buy last-minute things and burn off their energy easily at a park. —Gillian Molina

Dress your young kids in bright, matching shirts. I once traveled alone when my kids were 2, 4 and 6. We all wore matching yellow shirts so people could see we were together. —Emily Hernandez

If you want to let your little one crawl around, bring a pair of socks that you can put over their hands. Then you don't have to worry about dirty hands afterward. —Shannon Geraghty

Hire a photographer. You'll have photos with everyone in them, maybe get to see some scenic parts of the city you hadn't seen before. Dress up, wear matching outfits, be extra! They're only little once. —Tina Doyle

Helpful mindsets

It's not a vacation. It's a trip. You're just parenting in a new place. Set your expectations accordingly. —Laura Henriquez

The airport/train/bus/car is not the time to enforce the normal at-home rules. Do you want Doritos at 7 a.m. at the airport? OK. Do you want to watch 20 episodes of Blippi on the plane? No problem. There are no rules when traveling. This also makes traveling fun for kids because they get to do something different. —Meg Houston

Build in extra time to do things. It will decrease the chances of you and your child getting into stressful situations. —Cori DeLano

You're not going to get as much done as you think with a kiddo in tow. Think about things like nap schedule, traveling with a stroller, meltdowns, diaper changes. On my most "successful" trip with my kiddo, we planned one big activity a day and left the rest of the day open with some general ideas and left room for flexibility. —Whitney Winters

They might not remember, but you will. —Nina Hartman

The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at [email protected].

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Becky Harlan
Becky Harlan (she/her) is a visual and digital editor for NPR's Life Kit, which brings readers and listeners actionable advice on health, finances, relationships, parenting and more.