Traveling with a child is difficult, I’m going to get that out right away. It requires double the planning and triple the luggage. Your patience has to be at full capacity and you can forget being able to sleep or read on the plane.
But traveling with a young child actually has a lot of benefits. On a recent trip from Minneapolis to Austin, I realized that traveling with my baby gave my husband and me so many privileges that it was actually easier to have her in tow than it would have been without her.
February positively buried Minneapolis in snow. It dumped so much on us that the city declared multiple snow emergencies (for those in warmer climates, a snow emergency is a city-wide parking restriction for 76 hours so plows can clean up the streets), and instated a parking restriction on the even side of neighborhood streets until April 1, as the snow piles narrowed the streets so much that emergency vehicles couldn’t get through.
Winter has been rough.
March 2nd sounded like a perfect time to escape the snow, which is likely why we were met with thousands of fellow travelers in the airport. The labyrinthine lines snaked around so wildly that we could hardly find our way from the airport entrance to the ticketing counter.
As we made our way into the sea of people, we approached a man directing pedestrian traffic around the Delta check-in, and that’s when our great fortune of having a child with us began to reveal itself.
Here’s why traveling with a kid can be great:
They let you go in the shorter lines
The pedestrian traffic director told us we were in the international line, not the domestic one we were supposed to be in. He looked at my husband with a 50-pound car seat carrier on his back, a duffle bag on one shoulder and a rolling suitcase in one hand, then he looked to me with a toddler in one arm and a stroller in the other hand, and he told us to stay in the international line. “It’s quicker,” he said.
Had the nice man not allowed us to remain in the wrong line, we likely would have had to sprint to the gate to board our plane on time.
People get out of your way
Getting through the army of Minneapolis escapists would have been difficult without any luggage, and near impossible with the amount of stuff we had with us. But once people see a mom with a kid in her arms — a kid who was probably crying, as she’s not in the empty stroller the mom is pushing — they part like the Red Sea. Even the most frustrated travelers will show a little bit of patience with a family when their feet are rolled over by strollers or kids are spilling Cheerios in their lap.
You board first
It’s nice to get yourself situated on the plane without passengers impatiently waiting behind you to get to their seats. You can take up all the overhead space you need (which of course is a lot because you have to keep a child entertained throughout the flight), and can give your kid a couple of minutes to explore before the rest of the crew comes aboard. By the time the other passengers arrive, your kid is ready to sit on your lap to eat or play with her toys.
People offer to help
Travelers and airline employees will pick up things you drop and let you have their seats as you wait to board the plane.
While we were getting situated in our seats before most of the rest of the plane came on, a woman passing by us asked about our daughter and told us her 11-month-old was with her parents while she takes a vacation. “Let me know if you need an extra set of hands,” she offered. “I know how hard it can be. I’m in row 27.”
You get extra snacks
Flight attendants see a mom with a child on her lap and can’t help but offer double the amount of snacks. And since my baby doesn’t eat peanuts or Doritos yet, I got to enjoy them for myself.
You create community
Having a child along with you in an airport creates a bond with other parents. They will look at you knowingly and engage in a conversation:
“Is this her first flight?”
“That’s the age — they always want their mamas.”
“What is she, 16 months? I’ve got a 22-month-old at home.”
People who travel with their children make up a tribe, and members of this tribe are always happy to meet fellow members.
You learn what your kid learns
You may have watched a city materialize out the window as you descend a hundred times, but chances are your child hasn’t. Watching what interests your kid brings you into the present moment and reminds you of the little things that you haven’t paid attention to since you were a new traveler. Children point out patterns they notice and little curiosities that only new experiences reveal. Whether they’re one year old or 12, seeing a new place through children’s eyes opens you up to an entirely new experience.
Taking a child on a trip with you brings out the best in people in an otherwise stressful situation. People want to help and they admire your courage for bringing a young person along with you on your travels. It can be very trying taking a kid on a flight, but it’s always worth it. And in the case of my recent trip to Austin, having my baby actually benefitted me.
I recognize I was lucky — I traveled with just one kid, plus a husband. But I imagine that the benefits our family experienced together would have been multiplied if I was solo parenting.
Let’s hope this holds true for this spring’s trans-Atlantic flight with said baby. Does anybody have experience traveling overseas with young children? I’d love to hear about it!