The Best Tips for Traveling with Small Children

07/09/2019 | 11 min. read

Dr. Briana Sinatra

Dr. Briana Sinatra

We travel A LOT with our children! We love our family and value our time together. Since we live either on a different coast or in a different country from our children’s grandparents, this means a lot of back and forth travel and especially a lot of airplane flights! We have learned from experience that anything can happen — from multiple explosive infant diapers to a toddler who won’t stay in their seat and only wants to play in the (oh so clean, ahem…) airplane bathroom! You might worry over being embarrassed or overwhelmed about traveling with your children. Hopefully, this article can be a resource to help minimize the stress and maximize the adventure of traveling with your young kids. 

Exploding diapers aside, one of the biggest stressors when traveling can be ensuring that your family stays healthy. And, airplane travel can increase your chances of getting sick. No one wants to get sick on vacation or show up at grandma and grandpa’s house with a virus to share. But don’t dismay, here are some simple techniques to help keep everyone’s immune system strong before, during, and after a flight.

Before Your Flight

Lack of sleep, early flights, and time zone changes can be exhausting. Air travel threatens to disrupt regular rhythms, so it definitely helps if you can pack on some extra zzzzz’s preflight. Include nap times and try to keep your routine as consistent as possible before flying.

The dry air in the plane causes whole body dehydration, so make sure to pre-hydrate with plenty of water before your flight.

I like to pack a little immune boosting kit before heading to the airport. This allows me to have my essentials easily accessible to dispense to our entire family before and even during and after the flight.

Supplements we always take and bring with us:

Probiotics

Giving our guts a boost of good bacteria helps to keep our immune systems in tip-top shape. I carry individual servings of probiotic powder for easy distribution while onboard.

Antioxidants

Being high in the sky and closer to the sun exposes us to higher amounts of radiation, and air travel results in inhaling chemicals from jet fuel. To boost our antioxidant status and help our cells process these exposures, we take a liposomal glutathione (our body’s master antioxidant) and/or N-acetyl cysteine (the precursor to glutathione, which also boosts our immune system and aids our liver in detoxification). I also bring green tea in tea bags to have as a warm inflight drink. (If you’d like to give green tea to your kids but want to minimize the caffeine, give yourself the first steep and give the second, third, or fourth steep to your child. Use less than boiling water and steep for only 2–3 minutes to avoid a bitter taste.)

Electrolytes, B vitamins, and trace minerals

Electrolytes help combat dehydration, while B vitamins and trace minerals are important cofactors for many enzymatic reactions in our body. We like to bring little powdered packets that we can easily add to our water bottles or to water that is given out on the plane. Avoid real juice that can depress your child’s immune system and increase their urinary frequency requiring frequent trips to the back of the plane.

Antivirals

We’ll often take and bring a homeopathic form of Oscillococcinum (a flu remedy derived from duck livers and hearts) as well as a travel-size bottle of elderberry — my favorite kid-friendly antiviral that also is high in vitamin C and supports the respiratory tract!

Rest

In flight, have what you need to support your child to sleep. A light muslin blanket that packs up small in a carry on will help create a calming shaded environment that encourages “lights out.” When possible, plan a flight during nap time. Because of this, our youngest would fall asleep on takeoff during every flight, without fail, which meant I could relax and read a book! Pack an eye mask and neck pillow so you can sleep too while your little one does on longer flights.

During Your Flight

Shared spaces and close proximity to others and rushed or minimal cleaning between flights can impact your immune system. Dry air onboard can cause dehydration. And during flight, you may be exposed to EMFs, free radicals, and chemicals. There are a few things you should do during your flight to make traveling more comfortable for you and your little one. 

Clean your personal seating area.

I always bring travel-size baby wipes and an essential-oil–based spray hand sanitizer. Before we sit down, I spray the food tray, armrests, and windows (anything my kids will touch, put their mouth on, or place their food on) and wipe them down. I’m always glad I did when I see the dark marks on the wipe that could have ended up in my child’s mouth.

Take control of your air.

Having control of your personal air vents can feel good when it gets hot and stuffy, but it also imparts a double whammy of vulnerability. The low humidity at high altitudes causes the moisture in our bodies to evaporate, leading to dehydration. We can feel this dryness especially in our eyes, nose, and throat. This causes irritation and inflammation which decreases our protective defenses, allowing easier penetration for viruses. Turn off all of the individual air vents and keep them off throughout the flight. Additionally, if you or your child suffer from congestion and the dry air onboard, you can try the Ayurvedic technique of lubricating the inside of the nostrils with a small amount of sesame oil or ghee. Apply it gently with a pinky finger.

Take control of your temperature.

Dress in layers so you can stay warm and adjust your temperature as needed. Keep the back of your neck covered. In Chinese medicine, the back of your neck where your neck and upper back meet is called your “wind gate” and that is where “wind” (what Chinese medicine uses to describe a cold or flu) can invade and make you sick. 

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Bring your own water bottle to fill up outside your boarding gate once you’ve gone through security and drink extra fluids throughout the flight.

After Your Flight

Here are some measures you will want to consider taking after you've reached your destination.

Wash your clothes.

Remember to wash your clothes and shower once you’ve reached your destination. You don't want to be carrying around any germs from the flight any longer than necessary. 

Take another dose of supplements.

This will help your body's immune system  fight off any bad bacteria you might have encountered on your journey. 

5 Tips for Flying with Young Children

Now that your health is attended to, here are my top tips to keep your kids comfortable, happy, and entertained onboard. Because, as we all know, when they are happy, you are happy. And in the tight quarters of an airplane, this means everyone else on board is happier too!

1. Pack Nutritious Snacks

Avoid temptation bring sugary treats to distract your kids on a plane. Not only does sugar decrease their immune system, it creates unbalanced blood sugar levels (which leads to an unbalanced mood that you are sure to pay for later). Instead opt for healthy options that kids will still enjoy and find exciting. Try to limit refined carbohydrates and instead include whole foods, protein, and high antioxidant-rich foods for additional support.

Some of our favorite whole food snacks include:

  • Olive packets
  • Nut butter packets
  • Veggies with hummus or guacamole
  • Seaweed packets

High protein sources I almost always have include: 

  • Protein bars
  • Grass fed/nitrate free pepperoni sticks or jerky

To up our antioxidants and vitamins through food, we usually pack fruit, especially berries. We like to pack blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and grapes as the dark skins are full of immune supportive proanthocyanins. Mandarin oranges are easy to travel with and provide a vitamin C boost. A protein-rich trail mix with nuts and seeds (such as almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and pumpkin seeds) provides immune supportive zinc, selenium, and vitamin E.  For a treat, mix in dried superfoods such as golden berries, goji berries, or even add dark chocolate chips for a nice antioxidant-rich addition.

2. Keep Their Ears and Tummy Happy

If you are nursing or if your child still takes a bottle, giving them milk during takeoff and landing is a fabulous way to make sure their ears equalize and the change in cabin pressure doesn’t cause them pain. If they aren’t hungry, sucking on a soother or pacifier can also help. For older kids, techniques for equalizing  ear pressure include drinking water out of a straw (we bring silicone straws in water bottles to help with this), chewing xylitol gum, or sucking on a xylitol lollipop.

You can also soothe ear pain from cabin pressure with a product called Ear Ease. Fill the chambers with hot water (you can ask the flight attendant for this) and have your child hold them over their ears. The concentrated heat around the ear releases some of the pressure and eases the pain. Just make sure to test the temperature of the Ear Ease before giving it to your child.

To help with nausea we have found ginger candies such as ginger chews or lollipops helpful. We also bring homeopathic motion-sickness reliving tablets and Sea-Bands. Sea-Bands are bands worn around the wrist that put pressure on the pericardium 6 acupuncture point (located 2 thumb widths above the wrist crease, on the underside of the forearm between the 2 tendons). Putting pressure on this spot helps to relieve nausea and vomiting from motion sickness. If you don’t have the bands, you can also apply pressure over this location for your child.

3. Surprise Them

I let our kids bring their own small backpacks. Our kids associate their backpacks with going on a trip and they enjoy being in charge of choosing what they get to pack. It also allows, if you wish, space to add surprise treats and activities such as Play-doh, stickers, or a new coloring book or small toy they will enjoy. 

If you are bringing a stroller with you and checking it at the gate, I recommend adding a stroller hook so you can easily carry their backpacks in the airport if needed.

4. Keep Them Entertained

There are many ways to stay entertained on board, and now with onboard movies and games this is an easy go-to. For longer flights, we’ll often fill an iPod with kids’ music and audio stories. Sometimes we will download a movie. The sound of Music was our latest favorite as it was calm, enjoyable for both ages and had great music that kept them singing sweet tunes for the rest of our trip. We’ll bring headphones and a splitter so they can listen together.

Non-digital Activities for Ages 2–4

  • Toy cars or other toy figurines to use their imagination with and move all over the seats and tray
  • Puppets
  • Blankets or scarves
  • Coins and a small piggy bank or box with a slit (as long as you watch them to make sure they don’t put them in their mouth) for them to carefully put the coins in to, empty and repeat (our kids loved this!). If you are worried about the small coins going in the mouth you can do a similar thing with small silk scarfs in a bag or Kleenex box or a small, felted ball in a water bottle.
  • Water-based coloring/painting books such as Melissa and Doug Water Wow books

Non-digital Activities for Ages 5–7

  • Finger knitting
  • Moldable beeswax
  • Shoelace boards

Both age ranges tend to enjoy coloring books/activity books, stickers, magnets, Play-doh and books for you to read to them or for them to read themselves.

5. Prepare for the Worst and Hope for the Best

If you are bringing a stroller with you and checking it at the gate, add a stroller hook so you can easily carry kids’ backpacks in the airport if needed. A few additional things I bring include:

  • A wet bag and a few 1-gallon re-sealable bags to collect dirty or soiled clothes, garbage, or even vomit!
  • Extra wipes and hand spray
  • Stroller clipsif I have a stroller with me or extra carabiners to attach to my backpack so I can easily attach extra items such as shoes, boots, helmets, or a wet bag holding dirty clothes.
  • A packable carrier (such as a Boba air, Ergo, or ring sling) for when one of your children just doesn't want to walk, if you are on a tight schedule and need to hightail it during a layover, or if they fall asleep on the plane and you need to carry them and your bags off.
  • A change of clothes for all. For a long time I made sure to pack extra clothes for everyone along with an extra shirt and leggings for me — just in case!

The main takeaway is, do not be overwhelmed or let fear of traveling with kids stop you and your family from exploring this big, beautiful, and amazing world we live in. Whether it is by plane, train, or automobile most of the above recommendations still apply. Bon voyage!

Dr. Briana Sinatra

Meet Dr. Briana Sinatra

Dr. Briana Sinatra is a board-certified naturopathic doctor with a vibrant practice in the Pacific Northwest. There she focuses on women’s and family health, taking a holistic approach to healthcare by empowering women with the knowledge and tools they need to live their best life now and protect their future wellness by looking at how all the systems in the body work together and how diet, lifestyle, and environment all influence health.

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