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