Travelling with children
This article is a travel topic
Travelling as a family can be a great adventure. Young ones can get to see things, meet people and do stuff that they just don't get a chance to do any other time. Adults often find they gain a very different perspective on a place when visiting with children, and in many parts of the world travelling with children opens up many opportunities to be welcomed by and get to know locals. For the whole family, travelling together can be a time to get to know each other again, away from the pressures of work and/or education.
The definition of a child varies, but normally it is based on age. There may also be minimum weight and height restriction on some attractions for safety purposes.
The minimum age for most airlines is 1 week, infants younger than that may require a document from a doctor. All children should have proper identification and proof of age. See the documents section below.
At the airport
Some airlines, including Swiss Air offer special family check-in areas that often have shorter lines as well as a play area and more space for children.
Large airports often have play areas as well as "nursery rooms" with changing tables and rocking chairs for nursing.
Many parents find a stroller a life saver when flying. You can keep the stroller with you until boarding, and the stroller is brought to the gate at arrival. Other parents prefer to keep their hands free with a baby sling or baby backpack. Slings can be used on the plane with small infants and can give some privacy when nursing. Airlines usually allow one stroller to be check at the gate in addition to normal baggage allowances. Some airlines also allow an additional diaper bag as carry on.
When arriving from an international flight, check with an attendant to find out if there is a family line for immigration to help speed you on your way.
Most airlines consider "infants" to be children under 2 years. Some airlines require a paper ticket for infants (instead of an e-ticket), while in other cases you only need to let the airline know an infant will be part of your group (this usually requires a phone call after an online purchase).
Children under 2 have the option of travelling as a lap infant and will not be assigned a seat. Cost for a lap infant is often nothing for domestic flights and only certain taxes and surcharges for international flights. During take-off and landings, infants should be held in an upright 'burping' position, with their head on your shoulder and your hands supporting their back and neck. Some infants are more comfortable nursing during these periods and most flight attendants will allow it. On long haul flights and with some European carriers, an attendant will bring a lap belt that loops into the adult belt and then around the lap infant for take-off and landings.
If you would rather have a seat for your baby, most airlines have an infant rate, but this can be as much as 90% of the regular price. Seated infants must be in an FAA approved car seat appropriate for their age and weight. They must be buckled into their car seat for take-offs and landings.
On long haul flights, try to request the bulkhead seats (but note that the seats are slightly more narrow!). Some airlines will let you book these when you purchase tickets, others give them out at a first-come-first-served basis at check-in only. If you have infants under 6 months old on a long-haul flights (over 5 hours) you can request a sky cot bassinet which attaches to the bulkhead.
Once in the air, flight attendants should be able to heat milk or water for a bottle, and point out which lavatories have changing tables. Pack a small grab-bag with one or two diapers and wipes for changing, since there's not a lot of room to move around in the lavatories and you wont want to bring your whole diaper bag. Flights with meals can include and infant meal with baby food, but you'll want to bring some favorite snacks in case this is not available.
Young infants are often content to nurse and sleep through a flight, while older babies will require some entertainment. Bring small bags of snacks and toys and dole them out every 10-15 minutes so there's always something new to play with. Small amounts of playdough, books, and crayons are good ideas. Avoid anything messy or with small parts that can get lost under foot. Anything too noisy will probably not be appreciated by other travellers. Take walks up and down the aisle every half hour or so and look for other babies and young children. Making a friend (and commiserating with other parents) can make the flight go faster.
Children over 2 must have their own ticket, often at a (slight) discount. Discounted children's tickets may have different baggage allowances so check before showing up with too many bags. Children's meals are available on flights offering meals, but picky eaters will probably prefer a bag lunch.
Unaccompanied children. An unaccompanied child may be required to travel on a full adult fare, or even a return fare, as the operator is effectively supervising the child. Unaccompanied children will normally need to be collected at their destination by a named caregiver and may be returned to their point of departure if not collected.
Flying in a group can be fun as children can keep each other busy. On a large plane such as a Boeing 747, you will want to reserve the four seats in the middle. The armrests move up allowing for children to sleep. On smaller planes pair one parent or old child with younger children and make sure everyone is supervised at all times.
If trans-continental flights seem too long for children, try planning a stopover or two in between. For example, Air Canada has a five-hour flight from St. John's, Newfoundland to London Heathrow for a trans-Atlantic trip. Trans-Pacific flights are a bit more challenging, but Hawaii and Guam stopovers are possibilities. Keep in mind that this involves more take-offs and landings, as well as getting from one flight to another, so it's a trade off.
Some countries require children to travel in appropriate child car seats when travelling by car.
If you are renting a car, most rental companies rent you a child and infant seats at an additional cost.
In the United States and other countries, taxis legally can not transport infants or children without appropriate carseats. Some taxi companies allow you to request cars with carseats but others require you to provide your own, which can be a hassle.
In other countries, especially in Asia and South America, taxis are either exempt from carseat laws or there are none. In these cases parents must decide how comfortable they are with children riding with only a lap belt (if that). Several companies make small, portable, restraints that act as travel-carseats. These can be folded up and packed in a day bag for use in rental cars and taxis. These only work, however, if there are adult lap or shoulder belts.
Child restraints are not usually used on trains or buses, but you should make sure your children are seated and holding on to something in case of sudden stops. Buses and trains in developing nations, or even in some developed cities at certain times and places, can often be very crowded which may be uncomfortable or upsetting for young children.
When traveling by ferry with children it is important to find out if there are life vests and other safety/emergency equipment available for smaller children. Keep children close by at all times.
Cruising can be a great way to cover a lot of ground with young children or a fun way to relax with the whole family. While some cruises are specifically geared towards families and children, almost all cruise lines now have some services for families. Before booking a cruise you'll want to find out some specifics:
Increasingly, any child, including a newborn baby, needs their own passport, rather than being able to travel on their mother's passport. Check with your local authorities in plenty of time to get a separate passport for each of your children. You may also want to allow time to check into requirements for children's passport photographs as some countries apply the same restrictions to photos of babies as they do to photos of adults. (For example, the United Kingdom used to require that the baby had a neutral expression on its face and was looking at the camera with the colour of its eyes visible—a difficult feat for newborns!)
Many countries will require that all adults who have a legal parental relationship with a child agree to a passport being issued to the child. Allow extra time for the application if you think you will have any difficulty demonstrating this.
Permission to travel with children
Many countries require that visiting children who aren't accompanied by both their mother and father carry documentation to the effect that all legal guardians agree to the child's travel plans. This may apply even when the accompanying adult and the child are citizens of the country they are travelling to. Be sure to check with an embassy of the country you intend to visit if you are taking any children on an international holiday without both their parents. Legal guardians who are not the parents of the child may need documentation demonstrating their relationship to, and responsibility for, the child, and a parent travelling alone may need either proof of custody or written authorization from the other parent.
Countries other than your own typically do not recognize your child custody arrangements because they were determined outside their own courts. This is sometimes used as a way for non-custodial parents to gain custody: they take their child to a second country where they are a citizen and assume custody there. If this is a concern for you, seek legal advice before travel and before allowing your child to travel.
Attractions such as swimming pools and amusement parks generally require younger children to be supervised by an adult caregiver or responsible older child. Age limits vary but if the child is getting in at the child rate, expert supervision is also required. If in doubt, ask.
Many restaurants can accommodate young children and serve children sized meals. However, checking before booking a table is always wise. Some restaurants cater especially for families and offer permanent special deals.
Infants/ Young children
Breastfeeding is by far the easiest way to feed infants and young children on a trip. There's no preparation or utensils required and nothing extra to pack. While some places, including several US states, Scotland, and Canada, have laws guarantee a mothers right to nursing in public, it may be unacceptable or illegal in others. Usually this just requires some discretion such as choosing a private place or using a sling for privacy, it's best to be aware of legal and cultural issues before you arrive. Mothers with new or colicy infants should be aware of the effect of introducing new or spicy food into their diet as this can change the flavor of milk.
Bottlefeeding Preparing milk or forumla for young children while travelling requires some planning. On an extended trip or road trip it may be worth brining a small electric kettle for boiling water unless you know you will have a kitchen/kitchenette available. Bring a bottle brush and soap for cleaning bottles and/or pumps in bathroom sinks. Check the availability of formula at your destination especially if your child has special needs (such as soy based or organic/wheat-free formula).
Places that serve alcoholic drinks may prohibit children. Check the local bylaws before entering bars and restaurants. There may be a special family entertaining area that can be used.
Many accommodation places are set up for adult singles and couples. Travelling as a group of 3 or more may require you to reserve an extra room or a special family suite. You should always reserve such accommodation well in advance so that the proprietor can make appropriate arrangements, such as installing an extra bed. There may be additional charges for extra people as well.
Hotels often offer in-house babysitting services or can refer you to a local service.
At least consider the issue of children getting lost. Your children should have age appropriate knowledge of what to do when lost: generally stay where they are, and wait for you to find them. If speaking, they should be taught their name, and ideally where they are staying.
Consider carefully what to teach your children about strangers: it's true that some strangers pose a threat to them, but many more will be able to help them if lost or in trouble. Children who are taught to "avoid talking to any stranger" have been known to hide from rescuers or would-be helpers when lost.
Children may have special health needs while travelling: