11 tips for pandemic-era travel with a baby in tow
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After the last couple of years, we’re probably all anxious to get back to our pre-pandemic travel habits.
However, those with babies may have more layered thoughts. Anyone who welcomed a pandemic-era baby to the family may have never traveled with a little one before COVID-19, and it could be a little extra nerve-wracking to start now with all the extra hoops and concerns.
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However, traveling with a baby in whatever era you’d like to call this — post-pandemic, still pandemic or simply in the times of lingering COVID-19 — doesn’t have to be too stressful.
There are ways to travel with your baby and enjoy a well-deserved family vacation. Some of these tips might apply to traveling with a baby in “normal” times, or even to anyone traveling during a pandemic, but they can especially benefit families with a baby. Here’s what you should know to fly and travel as safely as possible with your little one.
Talk to your doctor about what age is safe for your baby to fly
Here at TPG, we’re travel experts, not doctors, so it’s best to check with your pediatrician to decide when your baby can safely first take the to the skies.
However, to give you a little potential insight, we spoke to Dr. Jenny Yu, medical director at Healthline, to find out when babies can safely travel. “While babies (full-term) typically develop their immune system around 1 month, most pediatricians would recommend waiting until 3 to 6 months for travel,” she said. “Babies are still at low risk from catching a [COVID-19] infection, especially when the parents practice hand hygiene and wear a mask themselves.” If your baby was born prematurely, you might want to wait a little longer for that first flight, though, and make sure to consult your doctor prior to planning travel.
Related: Flying with a baby checklist
Make sure your baby has their vaccines
We’re not talking about COVID-19 vaccines (at least not yet), but vaccines may still matter.
According to Yu, “It’s also best to have the initial vaccinations that are offered at around 2 months for protection against other common infections from hepatitis virus, rotavirus, Hemophilus, influenza, etc.,” she advised. Be aware your baby can run a slight fever or have a minor reaction to their vaccines, so it’s best to wait a couple of days post-vaccines before flying.
Choose your destination wisely
You may want to choose a destination you feel comfortable visiting or are familiar with, especially if this is your first trip with your baby. Consider things like how comfortable you are with taking public transport with your baby in a busy city or communicating in another language (in case you need to take your baby to the doctor or something goes awry).
If you’re especially nervous about COVID-19, visiting a warmer-weather destination where you can enjoy outdoor activities might be a smart choice as social distancing is easier and ventilation is better.
Yu suggests reviewing travel destination COVID-19 data to ensure you’re visiting a spot where numbers are low. Check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about the safety level of another country, related to COVID-19 or otherwise.
Practice mask-wearing at home — and take plenty with you
If your baby is nearing toddler age, then depending on where you’re flying you may need to practice wearing masks at home to help them get used to wearing them in flight.
Gently and frequently explain what masks are and try to make it fun for them or a game out of it. Kids love to imitate parents, so try and use that as a convincing argument. If your baby isn’t yet 2, it’s still a good idea to wear masks around them at home so they get used to seeing you with a mask on and won’t constantly pull the mask off your face while sitting in your lap midflight.
And of course, just as you would with diapers, bring plenty of extra masks in your carry-on.
Spend more on airfare (or use those miles) for extra comfort and ease
One thing I’ve learned about being a mom is that babies (and kids) are expensive. I thought traveling with a baby would be cheaper than it turned out to be, imagining that I wouldn’t have to pay for his seat until he turned 2.
However, skipping low-cost carriers in lieu of full-fare carriers for more spacious seats, forgoing basic economy for full-fare economy in order to have flexible change policies and other perks and using up my stash of points and miles to buy business-class seats for extra space has been the norm since he was born.
While it does cost more to do it this way, it has made travel with our baby easier, pandemic or not.
Holding airline elite status can also come in handy here, giving passengers with babies (and without babies) access to better seats, free checked bags and other perks.
Paying a little bit extra to pick your seat in advance can go a long way, too.
It provides you with a desirable place on the aircraft that’s most comfortable for you, your baby and any other travel companions. It might be a good choice to sit farther from the lavatories so you and your baby will have less contact with other passengers. Also, paying extra for nonstop flights or ones that work around your baby’s nap schedule can help mitigate crankiness and jet lag for the entire family.
Additionally, always call to book the bassinet when possible, if your baby is still little enough to make it work.
Bring plenty of sanitizer, wipes and other key items
Make sure to read our full guide on packing and traveling with a baby for more tips and tricks on what to bring when flying.
When it comes to pandemic-era travel with your infant, make sure to have plenty of baby-safe sanitizer and wipes to scrub down tray tables, armrests and more. Babies touch everything and often put things in their mouths that they shouldn’t, so making sure all surfaces are wiped down is a good plan of action. You can also use a baby-safe sanitizer to clean hotel cribs, taxi cab car seats or anything else your baby might frequently touch when traveling.
Bring toys that are harder to throw on the floor and clear away any of the in-flight materials they might be able to reach. This may help keep your baby safe(r) from all sorts of germs lurking during the flight.
Book accommodations with easy access to COVID-19 testing (or BYO tests)
Those traveling internationally still need a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than one day before traveling back to the U.S. Honestly, it can be a pain, especially in certain destinations where testing isn’t as prevalent, or in certain European countries where pretty much everything still closes on Sundays.
If your hotel or the airport you’re departing from before heading back to the U.S. has testing options, it can make things a lot easier, especially if you need to test your 2-year-old. Pushing a stick up their nose can be stressful enough without adding uncertainty over where to go to get it done.
You can also order and bring along your own CDC-approved tests with you, just double-check that the test you select works for the youngest travelers.
Check travel requirements and have all the proper documentation
Make sure to check and recheck rules for vaccines, testing and other requirements at your destination.
You should also confirm that your and your baby’s passports and visas are valid, you have letters of consent for traveling with your baby without your partner (if necessary) and make sure any documentation you might need for the entire family is up to date.
Many airlines use apps, like VeriFly, which can help you organize and streamline your documents ahead of time so you don’t miss or forget anything important. Certain countries require vaccine passports to enter restaurants and bars. Other destinations have websites or apps that travelers must use to fill out forms and upload vaccines or test results ahead of travel, showing a printout or QR code upon entering the country.
As rules and regulations frequently change, it’s best to check back often to ensure you know exactly what you’ll need.
Travel with insurance, especially when flying abroad
Babies get sick, pandemic or not. It’s a good idea to consider purchasing travel insurance (one that covers COVID-19 in addition to other possible ailments, accidents or emergencies) in case your little one gets sick or you need to cancel or change your trip due to illness or other events.
It also isn’t a bad idea to know where the nearest health care facility or hospital in your chosen destination is before you travel, especially if you’re visiting a foreign country.
Although certain airlines and many hotels offer flexible change policies, having travel insurance can make illness, emergencies or accidents much less stressful. Check if your credit cards offer travel insurance that could help you out in case of an unexpected situation.
Fly at off-peak times
“For the time being, our numbers are low [in the U.S.] which makes it a good time for travel. Traveling by car may help to reduce risks, but airlines are doing a great job mitigating the risks on airplanes,” Yu told TPG.
And it’s true — some of the most popular U.S. air carriers have programs in place to keep passengers as safe as possible, like the American Clean Commitment, Delta CareStandard and United CleanPlus, which include the use of HEPA filters, enhanced cleaning procedures and even touchless lavatories on certain aircraft.
That being said, it may be less stressful to travel on off-peak dates or days of the week that are less busy, or give yourself a little wiggle room around holidays.
Flying the day before Thanksgiving or the Friday before Memorial Day means more crowds, more people and more general travel anxiety, especially with a baby in tow. However, air travel on a random non-spring-break-week Wednesday in April or June may afford you fewer lines and an emptier plane, lowering your COVID-19 risk and making your travel experience more pleasant all around.
Related: How to beat the lines in the airport
Use family lines and perks at the airport
Whether you travel during peak dates or not, take advantage of any and all perks that are afforded to families, such as special family Transportation Security Administration lines, elevators/accessibility lines for those with strollers and priority boarding, which can make things easier with a baby and help you avoid crowds and long lines.
Some countries even have shorter customs and immigration lines for families, so be on the lookout for signs or announcements that can help families minimize the time and stress of being in transit.
It’s true — traveling in the COVID-19 era can seem overwhelming, especially with a baby.
However, you can travel as safely as possible by following the aforementioned tips, which will prepare you for a fun, healthy vacation that we all so desperately need.
Featured photo by romrodinka/Getty Images.
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