Tips for Traveling Safely With Kids This Holiday Season
How to keep you and your little ones healthy while you celebrate.
By Charlotte Settle
One of the best parts of the holiday season is spending time with the ones we love most. But amidst all the excitement and travel, it can be easy to overlook some crucial practices to keep your little ones safe and healthy. Whether you’re traveling down the road or across the country to visit loved ones, these tips will help keep you and your kiddos comfortable in transit.
Things to Consider Before Getting Behind the Wheel
What to know when it comes to navigating car seats, entertainment, and safety on the road.
- Babies and young children should sit in an appropriate car seat in the backseat of the vehicle and always wear a seat belt. Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. At that point, your child should ride in a forward-facing car seat. Find updated recommendations on safe travel here. If your child has outgrown their car seat with a harness, they should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's seat belt fits properly—at a height of about 4' 9", or between 8-12 years of age. All children should ride in the backseat until they reach the age of 13.
- In cold weather, dress your baby in thin layers with a blanket over the top of the car seat harness straps if needed. Bulky clothing, including thick coats and snowsuits, should never be worn underneath the harness of a car seat.
- Adults, remember to buckle up, too. Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Point out interesting sights to keep your children from getting restless on a long road trip. You can also bring soft, lightweight toys, play your child’s favorite music, and stop for a break every two hours. There are many family fun games you can play while on the road.
- In addition to a travelers' health kit, pack some other essentials for the trip: safe water and snacks, child-safe hand wipes, diaper rash ointment, and a water- and insect-proof ground sheet for safe play outside.
Things to Consider Before Taking Flight
From the security checkpoint to your seat on the plane, ensure you and your family have a smooth ride.
- If you can, wait until your baby is 2-3 months old to fly. Crowded planes and airports can increase a newborn’s risk of infectious disease.
- Allow your family extra time to get through security at the airport, especially when traveling with younger children. Have your kids wear shoes and outer layers of clothing that are easy to take off for security screening. Talk to them about the security process before getting to the airport, letting them know their belongings must be put through the X-ray machine and will be returned to them afterward.
- Remember that strollers can be brought through airport security and gate-checked to make travel with small children easier.
- Arrange to have a car seat at your destination or bring your own along. Airlines will typically allow families to bring a car safety seat with no additional luggage expense but check your airline's policy ahead of time, so you know before you arrive at the airport.
- Ask if your airline’s “lap baby” policy will allow you to use an empty seat to install a car seat for your baby. Avoiding the busiest travel days and times will increase your odds of finding an empty seat next to you. Ideally, avoid seating your baby on your lap, as turbulence may make it physically impossible for you to protect them from injury.
- Place your baby or toddler in a child safety restraint (an FAA-approved car seat or airplane harness device) that is approved for your child's age and size and installed with the airplane's seat belt. Booster seats are not allowed on flights, and not all car seats are FAA-approved. Make sure your car seat says “this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
- Tuck infants under 20 pounds into a rear-facing car seat and children 20-40 pounds in a regular car seat. Children cannot use the airplane’s lap belt until they are at least 40 pounds.
- Look for rows with more space, like the bulkhead, and choose a seat close to the window, if possible. You want to make sure your little one is out of the way of hot beverages and carts coming through the aisle. To find an airline that ensures your child can sit next to you at no extra cost, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation Airline Family Seating Dashboard.
- Even on planes, practice safe sleep. If you have an infant sleeping on your lap, stay alert and check their breathing often. Make sure their face is uncovered so they can breathe easily. If your baby sleeps in a car seat or other device, make sure it is firm and flat, with no soft bedding.
- Wash your hands frequently and consider bringing hand-washing gel and disinfectant wipes to prevent illnesses during travel.
- Consult your pediatrician before flying with a newborn or infant who has chronic heart or lung problems or upper or lower respiratory symptoms.
Keeping Your Child Comfortable in Transit
Prevent common stressors that often arise mid-air.
- Dress your little one in layers. This will help ensure your child is comfortable in the wide range of temperatures we often encounter on planes. Choose outfits that make changing diapers in a small space easy, and be sure to pack an extra change of clothes in case turbulence hits during changing or feeding.
- Anticipate ear pain during takeoff and landing, when changes in pressure can cause pain and discomfort. If your child has had an ear infection in the last two weeks, ask their doctor if they are cleared to fly. Having your baby drink from the breast or a bottle, or suck on a pacifier, can help. If your child has a cold or ear infection, check with your doctor before administering a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Bring cotton balls, small earplugs, or noise-canceling headphones to reduce the level of loud jet engine noise your child is exposed to.
- If possible, travel at a time when your little one naturally sleeps. You might also try to put off naptime until it’s time to fly. Keep in mind that sleeping babies are easier for everyone!
- Do not use Benadryl to help your child sleep without talking to your doctor. This medication can have serious side effects, especially if repeated doses are given on long flights. Once you get the go-ahead and correct dose from your doctor, try it at home first. Instead of getting sleepy, some children react to the medicine by becoming more awake.
- Pack toys and books to distract your kiddo. Be ready to play the entire flight, and if toys and books stop working, a tablet with videos can be a good backup.
When You Get Where You’re Going: Reminders from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Remember that the homes you visit may not be childproofed. Keep an eye out for cleaning products, medicines, unattended bags, small objects, and other dangerous items or areas that could be within reach for your kids.
- Keep a list of important phone numbers you or your babysitter might need in case of an emergency. This list should always include the police and fire department, your pediatrician, and the National Poison Helpline, 1-800-222-1222. Laminate the list to prevent it from tearing or getting damaged.
- Stick to your child's usual routines, including sleep schedules and nap times, to help both you and your little one enjoy stress-free celebrations.
No matter where your travels take you, we hope you and your family enjoy a safe, healthy, and fun holiday!