9 Tips for Traveling With Kids During the Pandemic

First tip: take a deep breath

Traveling during a pandemic with kids.
Traveling during a pandemic with kids.

 Getty/Tang Ming Tung

Traveling with kids is often challenging even when there’s isn’t a pandemic to contend with. Kids require extra gear, entertainment, snacks, downtime, and a careful eye to make sure they’re safe while out and about. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative to practice social distancing, good hygiene, and to wear a mask when venturing through airports, getting food on the road, using public restrooms, or where there are groups of people present. Whether you’d like to plan for a road trip, a flight on a commercial airline, or a staycation in your own city, here are tips for traveling with kids during a pandemic.

Be a Responsible Traveler

Most importantly, never travel if you or your children are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, have a fever, or are sick. Take your temperature before you fly and consider getting tested for the virus—a simple nose swab—before and after travel. Be prepared to self-quarantine pre or post travel as well. If you know you’ll be interacting with vulnerable populations—people in older age brackets or folks with health issues—exhibit extra caution. And, of course, if you contract the coronavirus, be sure to tell everyone you came into contact with, as well as your doctor.

Check the News Before You Go

Be sure you comprehend the up-to-date information on where hot spots are located throughout your country. Are you traveling to, or from, a destination that has seen a recent uptick in coronavirus cases? Stay informed and aware of the ever-changing situation so that you can plan accordingly. Check the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.

Travel with plenty of hand sanitizer for when soap and water are not available. Put a travel size bottle, of at least 60 percent alcohol, in an easily accessible location, like the outer mesh pocket of a backpack or in your pants pocket, and use frequently—any time you see your kids touch a high-traffic surface, sanitize their hands.

You’ll notice that all airlines have hand sanitizing stations as you pass through security as well as at the gate. TSA allows up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer (not other liquids, gels, or aerosols) per passenger in carry-on bags. You may choose to bring multiple 3.4-ounce bottles of sanitizer, however, so that checkpoint screenings won’t delay your travel. Also, you’ll notice that TSA utilizes plastic shields and contactless bag checks are available.

Flying with Kids in a Pandemic

In the past, you may have been a big fan of the aisle seat. Today, the window seat is the safest as you'll have more protection against people walking and breathing past you.

Book your seats together to avoid sitting next to a different person. If there are two of you, consider booking the aisle and window seats because the middle is the most undesirable seat, and hopefully, it will be left open for your travel. Book seats as far from the toilet as possible. And, if there's an empty row, ask the flight attendant if you can move if you're seated next to a stranger.

While the air in the cabin is highly filtered, don't get up to stretch your legs, wandering the aisle, and try not to use the bathroom—use the restroom at the airport instead. Refrain from eating snacks and drinking water, if you can, making sure to leave your masks on the entire time. Do not say hello to the pilot in the cockpit or chat up the flight attendant. Stay in your seats and try not to have many extra items with you; blankets, toys, and things that can drop to the floor and collect germs are a no-go.

Most U.S.-based airlines have relaxed and adapted their flight restrictions to give passengers peace of mind when booking, changing or canceling their flights. Be sure to check the airline policies before you book your flights, especially because guidelines are continually shifting. If you're able to, use your airline's lounge for added privacy and sanitation when traveling via air.

What to Know About Kids and Masks

Protect yourself, your kids, and others around you by wearing a mask. Masks should fit snugly around the nose and mouth and cover the chin. If your nose is poking out, it’s not effective. While not to be used in place of a mask, a face shield is a great option also, mainly because you’ll be less likely to touch your face or readjust your mask if you’re wearing a shield. Little kids tend to touch their faces a lot, and a face shield can help with this. And, if you do touch your mask for any reason, be sure you sanitize your hands.

When selecting a mask, choose one with two or more layers, or one that has a filter insert, and avoid neck gaiters or bandanas as these don’t provide enough protection. Don’t wear a mask with a valve because these protect you but not those around you since your exhalations leak from the valve. Also, many airlines don’t allow masks with valves on their flights. Finally, mask-wearing is enforced on most airlines and if you don’t comply, you may be banned from further flights with the airline.

What to Bring

In addition to copious amounts of hand sanitizer, bring along a baggie of disinfectant wipes and be sure to wipe down armrests, windows, trays, and anything your kids might touch in the airplane (wiping down surfaces is the modus operandi for hotels and other public spaces as well). It’s also a good idea, whether flying or driving, to bring along extra face masks. Each night, you can wash one so that your family is wearing a clean mask every day. Or, consider purchasing KN95 disposable masks and wear a new one each day (although this is a more expensive option). Pack along a travel thermometer and medications and prescriptions so that you won’t have to rely on a local pharmacy. And, if you have an iPad or an entertainment device, bring it—now is not the time to worry about too much screen time.

When and Where to Eat

If you have a long flight, and you know you’ll have to eat and drink at some point, be prepared with packed snacks—a colorful diet full of healthy noshes is optimal. Bring a reusable water bottle and use the touchless water fountain instead of purchasing water. If you need to obtain items, have one member of your family wait in line, spaced at least six feet apart from others, and keep your mask on during the entire transaction. Don’t eat on the airplane, and instead, find a spot where there are no other people at the airport. When you’ve finished eating and drinking, put your mask back on and wash or sanitize your hands.

Consider the Outdoors

Many families have eschewed standard vacations in place of time spent in the outdoors. Backpacking and camping are great options for quality time with your family while avoiding large populations of people. You can book a campsite online, drive your own vehicle, stay in your own tent, and cook your own food. And, if you don’t have proper outdoor equipment, you can rent it through Arrive Outdoors. Nature-filled adventures are a safe way to explore while changing up the scenery at the same time.

Where to Stay

Choose accommodations, when possible, that are private and stand-alone structures. It’s much safer, for example, to stay in a cottage or cabin versus a large hotel. Airbnb or RV rentals through Outdoorsy are optimal choices. Some properties will have keyless entrances, where they can text you a code rather than have you check-in at a lobby. Select lodging that has a kitchen, perfect for families, where you can bring and cook your own food. And, if you are staying in a hotel, don’t eat indoors and, instead, eat outside or order room service. Be sure to check each properties’ guidelines to be sure they’re operating at high standards. The point is, the least contact you have with others, the better.

Don't Forget About Your Mental Health, Too

With at-home learning and hybrid education models, kids are increasingly feeling isolated, and they’re missing the social interaction they once had with friends at school. Travel is a great way to shake up the at-home dynamic, see something newfangled, and experience an adventure.

Be sure to set expectations with your kids before you leave the house, so they understand how this trip will be different. Relay the importance of good hygiene, hand washing and sanitizing, and staying at least six-feet apart from others. Make sure they’re aware of how to travel responsibly, being aware of those around them—including those in vulnerable populations, and let them know age-appropriate facts and details so that they’ll have some agency over their experience. And, keep your stress and worry at bay to preserve your immunity.