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How to Navigate an Airport with a Toddler in Tow

Traveling with a little one is not a task that most parents look forward to undertaking. Most anecdotes shared between parents regarding air travel tend to lean more in the direction of “harrowing” than “uneventful,” making those who haven’t previously taken that plunge hesitant to do so while their children are still so young. Airports are daunting places for parents with small children due to the sheer number of strangers milling about and the prospect of missing a flight should complications arise. Traveling with your children, however, can be done with a minimal amount of trouble if you’re properly prepared for the situation. To make the most of your family trip and ensure that it’s one your family remembers for years to come, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Arrive Early – It’s almost impossible to arrive at the airport too early, for a variety of reasons. Wrangling an inquisitive toddler away from all of the unfamiliar and intriguing sights that an airport has to offer is a time consuming task all by itself. Taking that fact into consideration, along with an understanding of Murphy’s law, is the best way to make sure that you don’t run so far behind schedule that you ultimately miss your flight. Preparing for your family trip should start with a generous head start. If you are very early and everything goes smoothly, it will give you the opportunity to take your child on a short exploring expedition to satisfy some of her boundless curiosity.
  • Gate Check Your Stroller – If you’re bringing a stroller with you, it’s best to gate check it so that you can keep your child contained in a mobile unit, rather than chasing her down or using a leash to keep her nearby. Some children may become fussy at the prospect of walking a long distance in a crowded, unfamiliar airport, and holding her leaves you to juggle your carry-on luggage and adds to your burden as you make your way to the gate.
  • Limit Layover Times – It may seem like an obvious statement, but structuring your itinerary so that layover times are minimized is one of the best ways to ensure that your time in the airport is limited, and thus less likely to lead to disaster. While it’s often cheaper to opt for connecting flights, it’s well worth the added expense of a direct flight if your budget can bear it. Young children tend to become restless very quickly, and may not react well to a long layover.
  • Consider Wearing Your Little One – Slings and harnesses that allow you to wear your child are great ways to keep her close to your body, eliminate the need to gate check a cumbersome stroller, and still leave your arms free. Older toddlers can be quite heavy after enough time has passed, so be sure that your harness or carrier is designed for her advanced age and increased weight. It’s also wise to make the parent with the most upper body strength responsible for wearing the carrier.
  • Pack as Lightly as Possible – Limiting the amount of luggage you bring with you not only allows you to save money on checked baggage fees, it also allows you to navigate your arrival and departure from the airport with as little hassle as possible. Managing your toddler along with a large number of bags will leave you both irritable by the end of your journey, so do your absolute best to minimize your luggage burden.

Getting through the airport and boarding your flight can seem like the greatest challenge of your journey, but you should remember that little ones become restless very quickly after the novelty of air travel wears off. Be sure that you have plenty of diversions on hand for her during the flight, to prevent her from becoming fussy and disturbing other passengers. While it’s also tempting to take advantage of some airlines’ policies to let children under the age of two sit in a parent’s lap to avoid the cost of another ticket, it’s best to take on that expense if your child is nearing the age limit. A long flight with a squirmy, irritable toddler is a recipe for parental frustration, and is likely to put a damper on your trip before you even reach your destination.

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