Traveling With Kids: A Complete Guide to the Rules Moms Need to Know

Judy Dutton | Jun 23, 2015 Being a Mom
Traveling With Kids: A Complete Guide to the Rules Moms Need to Know

travel with kids

Ah, nothing beats a vacation with your family ... that is, once you're on the beach or in your Catskills cabin, kicking back. But as any parent who's hazarded traveling with kids knows, getting there can be a logistical challenge.

What makes traveling with kids particularly challenging is all the rules -- from airlines, government agencies, and otherwise -- and where and how kids can travel, and at what age. To make sure you know what's entailed before booking those tickets, check out this list of travel rules covering everything from planes to cars to cruise ships.

Travel rules for kids

At what age would you let your kids do #11?


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  • Passports for Kids


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    If you're flying to another country, your child will need a passport -- regardless of age. And yes, that includes newborns. "The issue is both for entering another country -- for example, Canada will require you to present passports before they allow you through -- and for returning to the U.S.," says Tara Cannon, founder of the travel site Pint Size Pilot.

    To get passports for your kids, keep in mind that both your child AND your partner (or a notarized letter indicating his or her consent) will need to be present during the application process. Afterward, it will typically take around four to six weeks for the passport to arrive, so plan ahead. You can expedite a passport, but it comes at a higher cost.

    There are a few exceptions if you're bypassing planes: Kids don't need passports if you're driving to Canada or Mexico; an original or certified copy of their birth certificate will suffice.

  • If You're Traveling Alone With Kids


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    Due to the rise in child abduction in custody cases, single parents applying for a passport for their child will need to present a copy of the court order establishing custody, says Cannon. Or, if only one parent is traveling internationally with a child, that parent may be asked to give customs a notarized letter of consent signed by the other parent. Here's a sample letter of consent.

  • Visas for Kids


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    A passport may not be the only thing your kid needs to travel internationally. If you need a Visa, odds are your child does too. Enter your destination on the U.S. Department of State's website to see if a Visa is required

  • ID for Kids Flying Domestically


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    If you're traveling within the 50 states, you're in luck: Children under 18 are not required to show ID to fly domestically in the U.S. The only exception: You'll want a birth certificate handy is if your child is under 2 and sitting in your lap on the plane (more on that next).

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  • Does My Child Need His Own Plane Seat?


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    Babies are allowed to ride in your lap up until the age of 2 -- and proof of age may be 
required, so keep baby's passport or a certified copy of his birth certificate handy! Added bonus: A lap infant is also usually granted one free carry-on bag or diaper bag.

    While having baby in your lap is certainly the most budget-friendly option, "the safest choice is 
for parents to purchase a seat for their baby, in which they 
install an FAA-approved car seat," says Corinne McDermott, founder of HaveBabyWillTravel. More on that next...

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  • Car Seats on Planes


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    If your baby is under age 2 and has his own seat on the plane, then that doesn't mean you can just buckle him in and be off, says Cannon. You'll need to strap him into an FAA-approved car seat that is then buckled into the plane seat, much like in a car. Check your car seat for the Federal Airline Administration sticker; many have them. Of course, this does mean you'll have to bring your car seat with you -- which can be a pain to lug around, but not such a big deal if you need a car seat once you land anyway, right? Added bonus: Car seats are typically not counted as a carry-on.

    If your baby is over 1 year, 22–44 pounds, and up to 40 inches tall, you can instead use the much more portable Cares Air Safety Vest ($69.95 on Amazon). Or else, if your baby is over 2 years old, it is perfectly legal for him to just sit in the plane seat and buckle up just like you do.

  • Car Seats in Rental Cars


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    While rules vary slightly by state, it's safe to say that if your baby rides in a car seat at home, he'll need one in a rental car, too. While rental car companies typically offer car seats, "I do not recommend using rental
 car company car seats. They are expensive, their history is unknown, and
 there have been reports of families faced with expired or damaged car 
seats upon arrival at their destination with no other option," says McDermott.

    Your best and safest option is to use a car seat on the plane, and then use 
it in your rental once you arrive. You can also gate-check
 your car seat (most airlines do not charge for this) in a padded travel
bag, and install it upon your arrival. Other options: Use a 
car seat rental service that will meet you at the airport with the 
rental car seat, typically in better condition than those attached to rental cars.

  • Breast Milk, Formula, and Water for Kids


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    Parents traveling with breast milk, formula, or baby food for infants or toddlers are exempt from the
 TSA's 3-1-1 rule (less than 3.4 ounces per container in one clear quart-size bag). "Which is a good thing, since airports do not carry much in
 the way of baby food and supplies!" points out McDermott. Only that doesn't mean these items sail on through. First, you must declare these items to your TSA officer, who may open, inspect, and even X-ray them.

    The FDA reports no known negative effects from ingesting X-rayed food or beverages, but if you don't want them X-rayed, you're required to say so before screening begins.

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  • Breast Pumps on Planes


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    Breast pumps, like breast milk, are allowed on planes. But they will be thoroughly screened. "To help avoid any hassles, keep your breast pump components together and
 present for screening separately," says McDermott. The TSA also permits ice packs and bottles to store the milk.

  • Strollers on Planes


    Image via Nadezhda1906/shutterstock

    "The policies vary by airline, but in general you can take a small stroller to the gate," says Cannon. "If it's an umbrella stroller that will fit in an overhead compartment, you may be allowed to take it on board and store. In most cases, however, you will be asked to check it at the gate and the ground crew will return it to you as you exit the plane." If you're traveling with a larger stroller, you will most likely be asked to check it with your checked luggage -- "not an ideal situation because there is a higher likelihood of damage," Cannon points out.

    But it's not all bad news: Whether you're forced to check your stroller or allowed to take it on the plane, "strollers are almost always considered exempt from baggage allowances," says Cannon. When in doubt, check with your airline first about their policy.


  • Unaccompanied Minors on Planes


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    Thinking of letting your child fly solo? Keep in mind that policies for unaccompanied minors on planes vary by airline and the child's age. United and U.S. Air, for instance, allow kids as young as 5 to fly unaccompanied, but only on nonstop flights. Plus, "All must usually pay a fee for the additional services they are offered, like escorts to and from their seat and to their gates," says McDermott. Check with your individual airline for more information.

  • Traveling to Puerto Rico With Kids


    Image via Lauren Orr/shutterstock

    Puerto Rico, after all, is a U.S. protectorate, not a state ... so what does that mean for flying to this sunny island with kids? "The rules for traveling to Puerto Rico are the same as traveling within the U.S.," says Cannon. "Children under 18 do not need to show identification."

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  • Babies on Cruise Ships


    Image via Natalia Kirichenko/shutterstock

    A family cruise can be a great option -- but it's not for everyone. You'll have to check with the particular cruise line's minimum age requirements, says Sally Black, founder of Disney, for instance, allows babies as young as 12 weeks on board; Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and most other ships set that minimum at 6 months.

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  • Babies in Taxies


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    Strange, but true: Riding with a baby or toddler
 without a car seat in the back of a taxi is not illegal in most cities.

 That said, it is strongly advised for your child's safety that you strap them into a safety seat! Many taxi services will bring a car seat if you request one ahead of time, but that requires calling the car service. It won't happen if you hail a cab on the street corner. 

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