Updated: Jul 19, 2020
On February nineteenth, Carson and I will embark on a new adventure as we travel internationally to Dublin, Ireland. Although Kory will be waiting for us on the other side, I'll be flying solo with Carson to and from each destination. I'm always up for a challenge, but traveling alone with our toddler? That felt moderately intimidating at first. However, after plenty of research and a little common-sense, I have discovered the key things that are known to make traveling with littles a success. I hope you will use this guide to save money (and your sanity) - because although traveling with a toddler is not for the faint-of-heart - it certainly isn't impossible.
Gate Check Your Travel System - for free.
My initial concern was getting through security while managing our paperwork, belongings, and Carson in my arms (I was not about to spend ungodly amounts of money to check his travel system). But after making a few calls, I learned that airports have extensive exemptions for parents that allow you to gate-check baby items for free. (How cool is that?!)
I immediately thought of our beloved Graco Click Connect Travel System but feared that it might get scratched or damaged in the process.
I didn't want to arrive in Dublin only to find a smashed stroller or broken car seat. These items were expensive, Carson enjoys them, and we use them every day. Prepared to protect our assets, I was in search of a solution; I was relieved when I found J.L. Childress on Amazon Prime. This brand sells airline certified and travel-safe bags to confidently store Baby's travel accessories during your flight - stress-free. J.L.Childress lists these for $20 on their website, but I ordered their Gate Check Bag for Strollers and the Gate Check Bag for Car Seats on Amazon Prime for just $13 each. The best part? With an Amazon Prime Membership, you'll receive free one-day shipping on both items.
These ingenious, compact travel bags are perfect for gate-checking the goods. The bright red color and personal ID box make it easy to identify your items when returned. Made of durable, yet lightweight and water-resistant material, this bag was made to protect and can easily be stored in a diaper bag, backpack, stroller basket, or tote. You can view them on Amazon here.
The Passport Saga
My next thought was that Carson has never been out of the country and so we would have to get him a passport (and fast). To make it through the process without complexity, we began early and paid close attention to detail. This process can easily turn into a disaster, so you want to be as thorough as possible from the start.
The first thing you need to know is that your child must apply in person with both parents or guardians present at the time. However, if one parent or guardian is unable to attend, click here for more information.
Step 1: Fill out your child's passport application online (click here to get started).
This form-filler is both safe and secure. It allows you to enter the child's information and then print a PDF containing a unique barcode to submit. To clarify, this is not an online application; you will need to print this form when finished.After printing, sign your full name with black ink on the form, but do not make any additional changes with ink.If there's a mistake, start over and fill out a new form; make changes, reprint, and review.
Step 2: Secure Your Child's Supporting Documents.
There are several documents that you must present when you apply in person. Necessary supporting documents include:
Below is a breakdown with examples of acceptable documents for each item and category listed above.
A.) Evidence of U.S. Citizenship
We used Carson's Birth Certificate because we had extras on hand. So this was a simple no-brainer for us, but alternative options include:
- Previously issued, undamaged U.S. Passport
- Certificate of Citizenship
* Certified copies can be acquired at the registrar's office of the state where your child was born.
* Remember, you will be turning in the actual certificate (not a photocopy). But don't fret because you will get it back! (Carson's arrived two days after his passport was delivered).
B.) Evidence of Parental Relationship
We chose to use Carson's birth certificate for this part as well to kill two birds with one stone, but you may choose any of the following:
-U.S. birth certificate
-Foreign birth certificate
-Adoption decreeDivorce/Custody decree
-Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a United States Citizen (FS-240)
C.) Photo ID of Parents/Guardians or Child
The parents or guardians who are applying for the child's passport must submit a photo ID if the child does not have one. The acceptable identification document is an undamaged passport or valid driver's license.
D.) Photocopy of Identification Documents
The parents or guardians who are applying for the child's passport must submit a photocopy of their ID as well.The copy must be on standard size plain white paper (8.5" x 11").Images can only be on one side of the paper.
Kory and I used the smart task feature on our HP Smart Printer, and it made the process a breeze. It has a specific tool designed for this very task and effortlessly scanned both of our IDs (front & back) onto one side page. Which leads us to the last item needed for Baby's passport...
E.) A Passport Photo
Meaning, a passport photo of your child. To ensure we followed proper guidelines, we had our local post office take Carson's photo the same day we applied in person for him. Many facilities offer photo services, but there are a few things you should keep in mind:
-Only one passport photo is required when applying for a passport.
-The application will be delayed if the photo submitted does not meet specific standards.
-A passport photo that is 2x2 inches in size and was taken within the last six months must be submitted for each child.
At the post office, they took us to the back, away from the crowd, and sat Carson down on a stool in front of a white backdrop; we were lucky enough to get a candid picture the first go. And just like that, we had finished applying for Carson's passport!
Upon submitting his application, we paid $190 total. However, if you can apply more than nine out - you can avoid paying as much as we did. A general breakdown of application fees for children are:
-Passport Book: $115
-Passport Card: $50
-Passport Book & Card: $130
If you want to expedite your child's application, you'll be looking at an additional $60. We had to rush Carson's passport because we were only five weeks away from Dublin. Otherwise, they normally take six to eight weeks to arrive.
After two short weeks, Carson's passport had arrived, and his birth certificate came a few days subsequent! (I was literally cheering when that part was over). Uh, passport? Check!
Book A Flight
JustFly.com is where it's at! I have booked more than fifteen flights through them so far (and counting) and always get the best bang for my buck. Justfly was created by a team of tech experts with many years of experience in the travel industry. Their platform is second to none when it comes to finding the best-valued flights. How do they do it? Justfly partners with over four-hundred airlines to deliver the best prices possible to customers, like me.
A new feature they offer is to pay with Affirm! Affirm enables customers to finance their flights by making easy monthly payments over 3, 6, or 12 months.
A few tips for booking international flights with a toddler or baby:
-Opt for a red-eye flight so you can take full advantage of bedtime. Airlines dim the lights completely, and passengers tend to be quiet, so your little one will be able to sleep through the flight.
-Pro Tip: Download Relax Melodies on your smart device before departure and play soothing sounds for your baby to help ease them into sleep.
- Will your little plus-one be flying in your lap? Reserve a bassinet, but do it fast because they go quick.
I booked one for Carson for both international flights; this was a free service offered through our airline, Aer Lingus. Thank God! With a ten-hour flight to Dublin and a fourteen-hour flight home - it was such a relief to know that, although I love his snuggles, I would have some time to stretch my legs and most importantly - that Carson would be comfy enough to nap (or full-on sleep).
However, I do not expect my 14-month-old to be the perfect child. Not only is this his first time flying, but curiosity is in his nature, so I know he will want to be all over the place. He's either going to love it or throw a fit. Therefore, I plan to have a backup to distract him if bouts of fussiness arise (I'll get to that in a bit). But for now, its time to book your stay.
Ditch the Hotels & Opt for an Air Bnb
We choose to book our stays through Air BnB because we save money, meet locals, and feel like we're truly getting the full travel experience. For those who are unfamiliar, Airbnb is an online marketplace that connects people who want to rent out their homes with people who are looking for accommodations. It currently covers more than 81,000 cities and 191 countries worldwide. For my friends who aren't on Airbnb yet - I highly recommend signing up (Signing Up is 100% Free). PLUS, if you sign up through this link, you'll get $55 off your first trip—and I'll make a commission as well (woohoo!).
Money aside - Air BnBs tend to bring unexpected experiences. Our host in Dublin has even offered up a complimentary photo-shoot! He also said he is equipped for backstage and fight scene, should our friend, Clem, want or need his services. (This is not something we'd find at a hotel or resort, and we're saving hundreds of dollars while we're at it). (Score!)
Now that you have all your ducks in a row, it's time to think about packing your bags.
Airport Carry On Checklist
The items you bring in your carry-on will make or break your flight - which is why after tons of research and a little common-sense, I have curated the perfect Airport Backpack Checklist you can view and print here.
My biggest takeaway when exploring what to pack was to bring a surplus of snacks, diapers, disinfectant, and spare clothes. Be sure to remember a couple of thick blankets for your little one as well and a pair of pajamas (or two). Our transatlantic flight features free entertainment, but I've also downloaded a few of our favorites from Disney+ to watch if all else fails.
For a complete list of what I will be packing in our airport carry-on bag, click here and feel free to share! (it's 100% free)
TSA Hacks & Key Information
Although TSA was initially a big concern, I feel confident in my game plan at the moment. A few takeaways from what I've read -
-Arrive early - I plan to arrive two hours before we board so Carson can run around like a wildman and burn his energy.
-Wear your baby through security with a carrier, sling, stroller, or wrap (may require additional screening with a wand, but so worth it!) I plan to push Carson via Stroller after taking off my shoes and prepping our items to be screened.
-Children under the age of twelve may keep on their socks, shoes, jackets, and headwear during screenings.
-Children will not be separated from their parents or guardians during this process.
-If they set off an alarm, they have the opportunity to go back through again and again.
-Formula, breast milk, and juice are permitted (heck yeah!).
-Simply remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from your belongings.
-Don't forget to inform the TSA officer before the screening that you've brought liquids "in excess of 3.4 ounces" in your carry-on for Baby.
-Ice packs, freezer packs, and other cooling accessories are allowed in your carry-on as well (for breastmilk, food, etc.)
-You may also bring liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred, and processed baby food.
Traveling with your littles doesn't have to be a pain; with proper planning and preparation, anyone can pull it off. Will it be perfect? Not likely, but please don't let that stop you. I hope this guide gives you the confidence you need to jet-set with the littles soon! I want to hear about your experiences. Please share any tips, stories, and questions you have! I look forward to hearing from you.
PS, wish me luck!
The STL Mama