Traveling With Kids: How Young Is Too Young?

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Family Vacation Critic answers some of the most common questions asked by parents considering travel with young infants.

At what age can my child travel on an airplane?

Infants of any age are allowed to fly, although pediatricians suggest parents wait until the child is at least two weeks of age. An upside to infants on planes: airlines allow children two and under to sit on the lap of an adult, saving the cost of an additional seat. However, the negatives can be the same situation, as an infant would be safer strapped into an infant carrier attached to his or her own seat (and it frees up mom or dad to enjoy an on-flight beverage or meal and to easily get up to use the facilities). The wiggle room is highly recommended on long flights, especially overseas.

While infants are not restricted from flights, the enclosed flight is often considered a germ haven. (Think of all the times you've come down with a cold after traveling on a long flight beside a person sneezing or coughing.) Infants are more susceptible to illnesses, especially if they have not received their vaccinations. Some suggest waiting until a child is at least four to six months before attempting air travel.

One problem infants may have is cabin pressure causing pain in their ears. As they do not understand your commands to older children to yawn or chew gum to avoid the pressure, providing an infant with a pacifier or bottle to suck on during takeoff and landing can help alleviate any pressure.

For more on air travel and children, see 10 Ways to Amuse Kids at the Airport and Surviving the Airport with Kids.

At what age can my child travel out of the country?

Children may receive passports as infants, and are required to have a passport when traveling internationally by air. Children under the age of 16 may travel by car or by sea to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean with a copy of his or her birth certificate.

Although infants can travel internationally, there is some concern that children should have their vaccinations from illnesses like measles, mumps, chicken pox and hepatitis B, as these illnesses may be more common in other parts of the world. Children begin receiving their first round of vaccinations at 2 months with most completed by 18 months, so if illness is of concern, you may want to wait until the basic vaccinations are complete.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: "The number of children who travel outside their home countries has increased dramatically. An estimated 1.9 million children travel overseas each year. Although data about the incidence of pediatric illnesses associated with international travel are limited, the risks that children face while traveling are likely similar to the risks that their parents face." The CDC recommends children visit their pediatrician before taking a foreign trip to ensure routine and travel-related vaccinations are up to date.

Besides immunization from basic illnesses, the CDC notes the most common illnesses for children traveling overseas are diarrhea and malaria. For visits to more remote areas, such as Indonesia and Africa, additional vaccinations are highly recommended for adults, most notably a malaria or yellow fever vaccination. Yellow fever immunization is not recommended for children under nine months, and some malaria vaccinations are not recommended for children under the age of eight. You may want to wait to visit countries recommending these travel immunizations until your children are older.

Family-Friendly Destinations

For a look at some family-friendly international destinations, see reviews of the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada and Europe, and get passport tips in Getting Your Child a Passport.

At what age should I take my child to Disney for the first time?

Disney is a dream come true to children, and many parents are eager to take their children to the Magic Kingdom and other Disney theme parks. But when is the best time to take a child? When will they enjoy it the most? Many message boards feature this discussion and in reviewing the answers and understanding my own children, most parents find 4 and up are the better ages to introduce the kids to the wonderful world of Mickey. (Disney is the parent company of ABC News.)

While infants may surely sleep their way through the theme park as mom and dad enjoy the rides, most rides aren't recommended for infants and one parent will have to stay back while the other rides. Disney knows it has a strong adult following, as well, and even provides a special rider swap program to allow one parent to ride while one waits, and then switch places for the second ride so no one has to stand in line again.

Although two and three year olds certainly know their Disney characters early, at this age they may still be taking two naps a day and get wiped out pretty quickly. That doesn't mean they cannot enjoy Disney World, it just means adjusting your expectations to visit for a couple of hours in the morning, a couple of hours in the afternoon, and a couple of hours in the early evening and returning to the hotel for rest in between. (Although Disney also provides a designated nap area, as well.) It also means skipping the rides geared for older kids and perhaps spending most of the visit in Fantasyland, where the rides are friendlier for young kids, and a special Fantasyland play area is available.

Said Rachela, a member of the Family Vacation Critic forums, "We recently visited Disney World for a week with a 16-month-old son and a 6-year-old daughter and could not have been more happy. Yes, we had a full schedule, but he would take a small nap in the stroller. Also, he got so much attention from all the casts and characters because he was so young. It was amazing to see his face as he would recognize characters he had seen before."

At four and five, children may have the stamina to hit the park in through the early afternoon, but most likely needing a rest halfway through the visit. They are also able to appreciate bigger rides without being frightened, as well as the parades and fireworks. Once kids become school-aged, they really hit their stride and can handle a full day at a park.

For more on Disney, including resort and attraction reviews, visit Disney Family Vacations.

At what age should I take my child to an amusement park?

With an amusement park, it seems like a no-brainer that kids will enjoy a visit. Then again, there are many reasons they may not. Consider that most amusement park rides have height restrictions, and that most rides are geared to children over 42 inches tall, and you'll have a scene right out of the movie "Big" with a kid wishing he was tall enough to go on the rides.

Vacation in the Big City

Before taking your child to an amusement park, research the park's website and find out how many rides are geared toward younger children, if a special area of the park is geared to younger kids (so they won't get trampled by the teens running around), and what the height restrictions are and determine if your child is ready to visit the amusement park.

I took my two young children to SeaWorld in San Antonio for the first time at ages four and five. The map they provided was coded to illustrate which rides they were tall enough to ride, and showed us a special play area for small children. That helped us plan out our day, and we made full use of the park, even though we didn't go to all areas of the park or even all of the rides. We know, as the kids get older, we'll return and get to sample bigger rides when we do.

For more on amusement parks, read 8 Electrifying Amusement Parks and Amusement Park Vacations.

At what age should I take my child to a big city?

There is no reason to skip a big city vacation just because you have an infant in tow. While you'll want to skip the Broadway show in New York or visiting the casino resorts of Las Vegas, infants make great traveling companions because they sleep so much. Just as experienced parents will tell you to go out to your favorite restaurants now while your infant is more likely to sleep through the dinner, your infant may sleep through a lengthy stroller ride through a great museum or historical attraction.

My daughter visited New Orleans at six months, sleeping through our tour of the Garden District, Jackson Square and the aquarium. She woke up in time to take a photo in the Mardi Gras World museum and the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, bedecked for the holiday season with thousands of twinkling lights.

Most hotels provide crib or Pack 'n Plays for free or a minimal fee. Select a hotel with a small refrigerator to store baby food or bottles; if they only offer a mini bar, request it be emptied so you can use it. Use the hotel's coffeepot to heat water to pour into the ice bucket, and voila, you can heat a bottle in your room.

For more on city vacations, check out the 10 best Family-Friendly Cities and read reviews of the city's attractions for kids and family hotels.

At what age can my child ride in a taxi without car seats?

Children are not required to sit in a booster or child seat when riding in official taxicabs. In New York, for example, yellow medallion taxis and their passengers are exempt from car seat and seat belt laws (meaning you don't need to strap in to ride). However, just as you would buckle into your own car, it is wise to strap yourself and your children into a taxi following state laws.

If you choose to use your own car seat, drivers are required to give parents time to install them. But of course, the dilemma is that once at your destination, you'll need to carry the car seat with you. Even if you want to use a baby carrier, you'll need the base in order for it to strap in properly. For these reasons, this is a safety call of parents. Do you feel comfortable riding with your infant in your lap during a 10-block or across-town taxi ride? You're legally welcome to do so.

Cruising Is Child's Play

Forum member MommyK says "I know people who don't travel with car seats, but I think this is incredibly dangerous and not worth the risk. We usually take an old car seat with us for the plane. We also have a Gogo BabyZ Travelmate, which turns the car seat into a stroller. With our infant we travel with a Graco Snug Ride and a stroller frame."

At what age can my child go on a cruise?

While cruise ships touted for being family-friendly offer an array of activities for children, as well as kids'-only programs and clubs, there are some cruise lines not equipped to welcome infants. Some cruise lines do not allow children under two to be cared for in its kids' programs. Others may allow young children, but will not change diapers, calling parents back to do so and possibly interrupting spa time. Some cruise lines also requires parents to carry a beeper or cell phone provided on the first day of the cruise if leaving children in the kids' program. Some cruise ships do not have pools for children who are not potty trained, not allowing swim diapers.

"One thing I was sad about was that there was no area where my son could have water play -- the splash area on the Carnival Splendor doesn't allow swim diapers and neither do any of the pools," said forum member Seattlite. "One other thing to consider with a child under 3: although only NCL, Cunard, Carnival and Disney have kids' clubs for them, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean have in-cabin babysitting for kids 12 months and up (for a fee). That would have been handy a few evening of our trip."

Some of the best cruises for infants include Royal Caribbean, which has a program for infants 6 to 18 months, and Disney Cruise Lines, which allows children three months and older. Be careful: Cruise chips are also notorious for having tight sleeping quarters, so if you require a crib or want to bring a Pack 'n Play, you'll need to be sure the cabin you select is large enough to accommodate one.

For more on family cruises, visit Family Vacation Critic's Family Cruising section.

Got more questions? For more discussions on age-appropriate travel, be sure to visit the Family Vacation Critic forums to get opinions from other parents who have traveled with young children.

Family Vacation Critic features hundreds of hotel and resort reviews, as well as family vacation ideas, money-saving travel deals, and advice on traveling with kids of all ages.