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How to survive (international!) plane travel with a baby

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Travel tips for flying with a baby - simple tips for making flights with an infant easier and more enjoyable!

What I’ve learned about traveling with a baby on eight flights before his three-month birthday.

Call me crazy, but when my son was 7 weeks old we were saying goodbye to Daddy and boarding an American-bound plane from Australia for a 10-day visit to see my family. If my husband could have come, he would have, but circumstances wouldn’t allow at the time. Still, we felt it am important part of Levi’s life to meet the rest of my family early on (or, more accurately, for them to meet him).

I’ve done my fair share of travelling the globe over the last 14 years (both independently and with my work), and would consider myself somewhat of an unofficial expert on the matter… But traveling with a newborn was a completely new challenge! It was crazy, but I was up for it.

Here’s what I learned and want to pass on to other adventurous moms:

12. Plan ahead.

I cannot overemphasize this! By nature, when it comes to traveling at least, I am a “winger”. Meaning, yes, I like to have my tickets booked in advance… but things like hotels and itineraries, and places to go, well, I’ve always thought those were best left to “feel” my way through once I hit the ground. But a baby changes everything! I could not have done this trip well unless I had put some thought into it ahead of time: what I would bring, what I would borrow, where I would stay and go, and how I would get from place to place. You get the idea. Plan it baby, plan it!

11. Minimize your gear.

I had one suitcase, one diaper bag as my only carry-on, and a stroller (plus my precious baby cargo) and it still felt like a mountain of gear! If you travel with more than one suitcase and more than one carry-on… you’re asking for trouble! (I speak from experience. Even though I left Australia with what I’m recommending here… I returned with twice that!) If possible, avoid too much luggage… or at least think about it long and hard before biting off more than you can carry on your own in one trip!

10. Reserve a bulk head seat (and a bassinet if it’s available) and board the plane early.

I hate boarding planes early. I drive my husband nuts with this one. (But seriously, who likes to spend more time sitting in that confined space than you absolutely have to?!) I like to be free as long as possible and only jump on the plane during the final boarding call. Babies change everything! Get on that plane as early as possible so that you can make sure to stow your gear in a place that’s as convenient as possible. And do reserve the bulk head seats (and a bassinet for long-haul flights). This will give you a place to tend to your baby as comfortably as humanly possible while camping out in a glove-box.

9. Along with packing baby’s change of clothes in your carry-on… pack yourself a change of shirt.

Not much explanation needed here! We all know that spit up and blowouts reach far beyond the personal space of our innocent little bubs. It’s best to prepare for the worst! (Ask me how I know this…)

8. Feed your baby on take off and landing.

This keeps their little jaws going so that their ears can adjust to the changing elevation… and keeps them from screaming their heads off (which also keeps you from being beaten needlessly by that rude guy two rows back). Oh yeah, and most importantly it helps your sweet one to avoid the unnecessary pain of blocked ears.

7. Take a few key familiar items from home.

For me this meant traveling with a portable soft bassinet. Could I have done without it? Of course. But I decided since my bub and I would be sleeping in five different locations over the course of two weeks, it would serve him to provide some consistency for his sleeping environment at least. I packed my clothes in the bassinet and then packed it in my suitcase, so really it didn’t take up that much more room. It gave him a cozy place to snuggle into each night, even though the rest of his surroundings were constantly shifting.

6. Don’t order a caramel macchiato an hour before boarding.

Yes, it tastes good, so good… but it also creates the need for an extra trip to the loo before it’s “convenient.” Ever tried to hold a baby while going to the bathroom? All I can say is… don’t. I wouldn’t advise asking the next lady in line to hold your wee one either (not that I’ve tried that one!). So hold off on that coffee (or coke) until just before boarding the plane. That way, when nature calls one of the friendly flight attendants can attend to your darling while you use the facilities. Those adoring flight attendants are safe – they’re definitely not leaving the plane – and you score some points by giving them some cuddle time with the cutest of all passengers. (Points that may come in handy later when you’re desperate for a snack or an extra drink at 3:00am!)

5. Smile going through check-in and security and customs, and politely ask about jumping the queue.

You’d be surprised at how far a nice smile, a polite question, and a gorgeous baby will get you. Doors will be opened… but you mustn’t be afraid to ask!

4. Build in extra time… for everything.

Okay so this is a rule for motherhood in general. No more last-minute flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants for this young lady! A baby makes everything take twice—–ok three times—-as long. Expect the unexpected and plan accordingly!

3. Use a carrier or wrap and try to get your baby to sleep at strategic transit times.

I tried to time my bubby’s feeds and naps so that he’d go to sleep just before check-in. This would buy me enough time to get checked in, get through security, and find my gate before my active little guy decided he wanted my non-existent third and fourth hands. Believe me, hands free in an airport is the only way to travel with an infant! (Love the moby wrap for this purpose! I also really LOVE the Ergobaby Carrier.)

2. Don’t stress about your schedule, but do try to keep a rhythm.

I have no idea how to help your little one conquer jetlag… so don’t ask me for a magic solution. But, I did find it helpful to not watch the clock and try to hyper-schedule his transitions. Instead I tried to keep him in a consistent rhythm. On our way east it took four nights of being up until midnight or 1:00am before I began being able to get him to bed at a reasonable hour; going west on the way home, it only took two nights. But in both instances it took a week or more for him to fully adjust to the new time zone. Don’t rush the little munchkin, but pay attention to their cues and help them through it. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that bad.

1. Keep a sense of humor.

Lastly, and most importantly, keep a positive outlook! Don’t let the extra stress of traveling with an infant rob you of the special time you have to bond with your baby as you take them on a new adventure to discover new things and new lands. Things will go wrong. Plans will go askew. Babies will confuse night for day. But really, who wouldn’t enjoy making memories like trying to use a bustling airport bathroom with your baby strapped onto your chest in a moby wrap? After all, you’ve got to have something to put in the baby book…

Dear friends, traveling with an infant is possible! It’s also fun and eternally memorable. Take courage – you can do it!! If you’ve tried traveling with a baby before, what are your top tips?

Happy travels,
Adriel

Related posts:

4 tips for flying with small kids - babies and toddlers.

12 Reasons you should travel with kids - yes, even internationally.

When traveling with babies and small kids - good bags or not for other passengers?

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32 Comments

  • Reply Rebekah 10 May 2010 at 7:58 am

    Hey! I was just browsing your blog but I'm not gonna read this one because this was going to be one of my upcoming posts! LOL!

  • Reply adriel 10 May 2010 at 11:13 am

    love it bek! i don't mind. swapping tips is part of the reason i'm writing this blog! you go for it. :)

  • Reply Jill 11 May 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Great posting. I've also given a lot of thought to traveling with a baby, since I will be doing it sometime fairly soon. Do you have any idea what weight those airline bassinets hold? We have one reserved, but I am afraid my little one will be too big for it once our flight date comes. Did Levi show any signs of discomfort with take offs and landings? People keeping asking me if its safe to travel with such a young baby, the ear thing is the only concern I'm aware of, am I missing something?

  • Reply adriel 11 May 2010 at 9:04 pm

    That's a great question! The woman seated next to me had a 22-month-old and he was sleeping in it! I think the airlines cut you off at 24 months. :) Weight-wise it was no issue; he did have his legs hanging out over the edge though – pretty cute and funny. He slept curled up into it most of the time and seemed happy and fairly cozy. And yeah, there should be no concerns about traveling with a bub health-wise as far as I know other than the ears adjusting to the elevation (which should be easily avoided). I think people can get a bit over-the-top with paranoia about babies in general, but when it comes to flying the reality is that they are little humans and if we can fly so can they! :) Maybe those folks are just secretly jealous of your upcoming adventue and want to keep you home. 😉 Happy travels!!! x

  • Reply Debi Adams 15 May 2010 at 12:38 pm

    This is a great post! Travelling tips are always needed…especially for those that don't travel much. As you have more babies you will add to the list! I travelled back in August on my own with a 2 1/2 year old and 14month old while 6months pregnant…alone! WOW that was a trip and learned a few things myself. teehee

  • Reply Mama Hen 2 June 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Great tips! I can't believe you did that trip by yourself. It can be a pain to travel and with a baby – wow! Good for you! have a great day!

    Mama Hen

  • Reply flyrish 2 June 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Awesome tips! I'm trying to decide if traveling to Rome with my toddler is worth it for my cousin's wedding in October, but this gives me hope. Great to know about the bassinet, too. Thanks for this!

  • Reply The Mommy 2 June 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Great tips! I agree with all of them and can totally relate. I could chat with you on this one for hours:)
    We traveled on a 16 hour flight with my 5 month old twin boys to see my family in India. We went for the same reason as yours, we wanted the rest of the family to see them early on. Although I couldn't ever go alone with two babies and my husband was with me.
    I was on another long flight with my mom on our way back and my kids were 10 months old then. I
    would say it is definitely better to travel when they are younger and not mobile.
    The second time was more challenging because they wanted to explore and would hardly fit in the bassinets (those things are so small and flimsy)
    But, isn't it great how you are allowed to jump long lines and you are right, if you dare to do it, you will make amazing memories:)
    You have put everything together very well:)

  • Reply The Mommy 2 June 2010 at 10:14 pm

    BTW, I have passed you a blog award because you are so awesome! Enjoy it and enjoy your day.

  • Reply Maureen 20 July 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Awesome list! 😀 All very true! You're one brave, Mama. The first time I flew internationally with my son was when he was around 8/9 months.

  • Reply Broccoli Cupcake 20 July 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Love this post! Practical but made me laugh. I didn't know you could reserve a bassinet on flights. Mine are 5 and 2 but I'll be passing that tip on to friends. I'm getting ready to check out your camping list next. We're planning a trip with our boys.

  • Reply becca 20 July 2010 at 3:30 pm

    that was a fabulous post! i'll definitely remember those tips when the time comes. thanks for sharing. i voted for you!

  • Reply The only 4 tips you need for flying with babies and small kids 6 June 2014 at 4:34 pm

    […] the post for you. A quick pinterest or google search will lead you to a bajillion of those. (Like this one about flying with an infant that I wrote a few years […]

  • Reply KidBucketList 23 July 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Before kids I would “feel” my way too! As they’re getting older I find myself slipping back into that travel style a little more, but not quite. Spontaneity has had its pause button pressed.

    My Ergobaby was a godsend when travelling. We left the stroller at home and never missed it. I think I even extended breastfeeding until bub was 2 because it made travelling so easy. My gosh – I’ve just realised I’m probably a lazy traveller but heck, it worked!!!
    KidBucketList recently posted..Rouse Hill House & Farm – From Six Generations of Occupancy to a Living MuseumMy Profile

  • Reply Tim 19 September 2014 at 4:45 am

    I checked this out for our return trip from Penang with the two little ones.

    Our baby couldn’t fully nap in the bassinet, but it’s helpful to have a thorough list to check out the night before!
    Tim recently posted..what to bring or buy in Penang with kidsMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel 21 September 2014 at 11:42 am

      Hope it’s helpful for you Tim. Good luck with your trip! (I LOVE Penang, Malaysia. Lived there for about seven months back in 2001/2002.) :)

      • Reply Tim 23 September 2014 at 10:19 pm

        We did, as well. We survived the trip: 22 hours total from Penang to San Francisco. It really was amazing, there.

        I was writing my own addendum to your list on my blog. Still adding some things.

        One of the toughest things and I have no answer for it, was that on one leg of the trip, the stewardesses required the 2 1/2 to sit in her own seat, rather than in my lap with an extra seat-belt.

        Poor. Thing. Melted.

        Not sure if you had experience with this yet or thoughts, but it was unexpected for sure.

        • Reply Adriel 11 November 2014 at 1:04 pm

          Oh dear. I understand that is required by law for take off and landing, but certainly not for when the fasten seat belt sign is off. The flight attendant must have been misinformed! I’m glad that your trip went well overall though! Happy travels. :)

  • Reply Watson 15 January 2016 at 5:13 am

    Oh dear. I am home visiting the USA with my 3 kids, but their dad didn’t accompany us. Thanks for the tip that I may need a letter from him to return.

  • Reply NATALIE WILKINSON 10 April 2016 at 6:06 am

    Hi Adriel! I LOVED reading this! I leave in 9 days Los Angeles to Melbourne with my 3 month old baby boy SOLO! My husband can’t get away with work and so I am off (for the exact same reasons as you) so that my in-laws can meet my bub. I am nervous and excited at the same time – the kicker for me is that my trip is a complete surprise visit they have no idea we are coming which makes the anticipation so much more! I know I can get through it and I am not afraid of no sleep because I know as soon as I arrive I will basically be nothing more than a meal ticket as they will want him all to themselves and I will be catching up on the last three months of no sleep! Haha! I can’t wait for this first big adventure!

    • Reply Adriel Booker 19 April 2016 at 10:40 am

      Have a wonderful time on your trip, Natalie! The effort is so worth it! They will be thrilled to meet your little boy and I’m sure will help when you need to grab your own jet-lag-induced nap. 😉 Enjoy! x

  • Reply Aparna 2 May 2016 at 10:48 pm

    Hi Adriel,

    Nice Travel tip’s . Still i would like to ask i may have to travel with my 3 month old baby from
    IND to AUS Layover in Singapore . Will that be safe for my baby and me.

  • Reply Kara 20 August 2016 at 6:53 am

    Hi,
    Curious what portable bassinet you use? It seems that most of the ones I have come across are for infants not yet mobile. I will be traveling from USA to Greece with my 6 month old but she is already crawling and pulling up. Wondering if there are any traveling crib options for her?

    • Reply Adriel Booker 11 October 2016 at 12:16 pm

      I’ve always used the plane ones. I think they are allowed to use them until at least 12 months (or possibly even 24 months). I wouldn’t worry about her pulling up, etc. as you’d never leave her in there without you being right there anyway. Good luck with your trip to Greece — how exciting!

  • Reply Saf 10 January 2017 at 6:59 pm

    Hey Adriel!

    Love your blog! Keep it up! (:

    So I’m currently a few moments pregnant and I’m planning to go back to the states to deliver and be with my family which is no problem because I’ll have my husband with me.

    But when I give birth in the states my husband will already be gone and I will be with a newborn all by myself…To flight back to meet my husband is a 16HR flight..and then around 4HR – 6HR Layover follow by another 3 HR flight…I checked this is literally the only flight option! Should I flight all by myself with a newborn baby…with no help..? Should I wait a few months and risk my baby missing memories with my husband?

  • Reply Rachel Lewis 2 February 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Wow I love the photo of you and your son, you look so pretty and such a good mom!

  • Reply JoEllen 10 March 2017 at 1:59 am

    Thanks so much for the post! We are planning a trip from USA to Canada with our 2 month old. How did you go about getting a passport and can we get one in that short of time period?

    • Reply Adriel Booker 10 March 2017 at 9:30 am

      I’m sure you can JoEllen! I live in Australia (but I’m American) so I had to go to the US Consulate to get our babies’ passports. Your process there is probably a little different but you can find everything you need online. They usually have a “rush” option that costs a little more if you need to get it quicker! Good luck with your trip!

      • Reply JoEllen 10 March 2017 at 9:58 am

        Wonderful! Thanks so much for the quick reply :)

  • Reply Susan 22 June 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Hello! We are traveling from the US to Germany with an almost 5 month old next month…. Nine hours on the plane. Do you recommend bringing his car seat (he’s still in his infant carrier) on the plane and buying him his own seat? We were intending to have him be a Lap baby (not have his own seat) but that’s a long time to hold my baby. What do you think??

    • Reply Adriel Booker 6 July 2017 at 9:55 am

      Hi Susan! I’ve found that flying with babies on my lap is totally fine. Most of the time if I’m right next to my baby they want to be in my lap anyway so I’m not sure how long your LO would actually stay in the seat? You can ask to be put in the bulk head seats where they have a bassinet that screws into the wall. That would alleviate some of the time to give your arms a break if you need it. 😉 Good luck with your trip to Germany. How fun!! x

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