Tips On Traveling With A Baby/Toddler || Series 1 – Before Boarding
Traveling with babies and toddlers is nothing short of an adventure. Yes, it can be exhausting and nerve-racking, but it is also the biggest joy. The amount of smiles you receive, the unspoken bond you develop with other parents, the pride you feel in holding your baby whilst adventuring, the amount of attention you are able to dedicate to your child, and the fact that you slow down and appreciate more at every step of the way, are just a few things that always get me excited to jet off again with babe in arm.
We did a total of 28 flights and 5 continents in Noah’s first 12 months! Some may think we are absolutely crazy, and maybe we are, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Needless to say, I feel that I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way which I’m excited to share with you. Remember, however, that although these tips may be relevant for older kids, Noah is 15 months so all of my traveling has been done with a 15 month old or younger. There is a lot of information that I want to share so I’ve broken it up into four sections: 1. Before Boarding, 2. On The Flight, 3. Arrival at Your Destination and 4. Packing Your Bags.
I think I’m correct in assuming that for most parents, the biggest fear of traveling is blowing the routine. Generally, babies are well-established into a sleeping and eating routine after they are six months or older but believe me, that will not be blown away permanently by a few disruptions due to travel.
I do get it though. I did the first 10 months of not really having a sleep routine, or any routine for that matter, with Noah. We went with the flow and that worked for us. We traveled so much in that time that I think it was for the best. At 10 months we did sleep training, which was also for the best (!!), because it very quickly resulted in Noah sleeping through the night - hallelujah! But it also came with a whole lot of routine – exact dinner times, milk times, bath times, bedtimes, music on, music off, black out, and, and, and. For our first international trip after we had done the sleep training, I was terrified. Literally terrified. And here I was with a baby, who at 10 months had been to three continents already, done more flights than most people do in their lifetime and I was terrified? I suddenly had a routine and I did not want to jeopardize it. I quickly learned that it is very normal to feel anxious when you are in this position. However, you need to remember to trust yourself and most importantly, trust your baby. Babies adjust like nothing I’ve ever seen before. As long as they are with you, they feel safe, happy and they adjust much quicker than you would ever believe, routine or no routine.
Getting to the airport
The golden rule when traveling with babes – get to the airport early and leave yourself enough time!
Getting to the airport can be tricky when you plan not to travel with your car seat. Either you’re lucky enough to have a friend or family member that can drive you to the airport and take your car, with car seat, back home. Or you hire a car service that provides a car seat. Just make sure you do this well ahead of time to ensure availability.
Wondering what to check in vs carry on when you already have your hands full? For me it depends on how old baby is. When flying with an infant (under 6months), I would definitely recommend traveling very lightly, especially when its your first flight. Its normal to be anxious about the whole thing and you don’t want to have to focus on unnecessary luggage items when battling with security control, infant seat belts, take off/landing, etc. for the first time with a baby in arm. On my very first flight with Noah (he was 12 weeks old and we were traveling alone), I checked in absolutely everything except the nappy bag, the baby carrier and my baby (of course!). It felt simple, compact and I loved it.
When flying with a toddler or baby older than 6 months, even if you are traveling on your own, I would recommend that you bring a carry on as well as the nappy bag. After a certain age our minis just become more demanding, for which you’ll need to be prepared with snacks, toys, a play mat, etc. The extra room will simply be needed.
Another consideration is lost luggage, in which case a carry on filled with a few extra changes of clothes and nappies (plus toothbrush and essentials for mama!) would be an absolute blessing.
Ask for a spare seat
This should always be your first question at check in. The little bit of extra space will feel like you won the lottery. Believe me. If they cannot tell you at check in, make sure you ask the first flight hostess you see once you’ve boarded, whether a spare seat could be arranged.
A whole row!
Sometimes we get clever and block a row by getting a window and aisle seat or an aisle and aisle seat (for the middle row). This obviously only works if the flight is not completely full, which they should be able to tell you at check in. If you are planning to reserve your seats online, ahead of time, this could still work. If flying long-haul and your baby is still under 8 months, make sure you get a bulk head seat with a bassinet available (more on bassinets in the second series). Now that Noah is too big for a bassinet (he outgrew it probably around 8 months), we don't try to block the bulk head middle row because in some flights the arm rests stay fixed in that specific row, which would completely defy the purpose of wanting to lay baby flat on two spare seats.
To tell you the truth, I only traveled with a car seat a few times and every time I did, I checked it in at the counter. I’ve been hearing from some mamas though that if the flight is not completely full, they will often let you bring the car seat onto the plane with you. This would be a massive win, especially if your babe is 6 months or less and ESPECIALLY if you’re traveling alone. Noah has been to a lot of pee trip with mama on the plane since I had no where to leave him safely! In any case, its worth keeping in mind and I’ll definitely try it with baby number two one day.
If baby is older than 6 months and you are traveling somewhere where you can rent a car, I would highly suggest you pick your battles and choose between bringing a car seat or a stroller (remember that there’s also the travel cot!). We mostly travel with a stroller and a travel cot (I am in love with our travel cot – more details in the 3rd series) and then just rent a car seat with our rental car. If you are not traveling with a car seat, just be conscious about taking taxis in other countries. In some countries they allow you to take baby on your lap (if you feel comfortable with it) but in other countries (i.e. Germany), baby strictly has to be in a car seat at all times. When we don’t rent a car, we generally opt for trains and subways, when possible. Cool fact: In London, the original taxis are big enough for you to roll your entire stroller in so (if you feel comfortable with this), you can keep baby strapped in your stroller and just carry the whole stroller in.
Wear your baby
Owning a baby carrier will be your game changer, trust me. I have the Ergobaby 360 and absolutely love it but there are so many out there now-a-days so get what works for you, but just get one. I had the Baby K-tan wrap as well as the Baby Bjorn carrier when Noah was still a tiny tot but the Ergobaby is simply my fave.
Keep your baby in the carrier the whole time (it will allow you to have both arms free!)
Take out your fluids like milk and baby food (you’re allowed to bring as many of these fluids on but just make sure you show them and don’t forget them in your nappy bag). In the US they will test the fluids for any explosives; elsewhere not too much.
Have everything compact and organized beforehand and avoid having loose items.
Take your time. People will wait and you’ll be surprised at how many people are also willing to help.
If your baby is in a car seat or stroller, they will ask you to take your baby out but if your baby is in a carrier, baby can stay attached to you. Keep that in mind for naps. Up until Noah was 12 months old, I always checked in the stroller at the check in counter and exclusively did the trip with only the carrier until we arrived at our final destination. This saved me having to fold up the stroller during security check and just felt like I had less items to carry. After Noah turned 12 months though, I started taking the stroller up to the gate with me, which is super helpful when they become busier (and heavier!) little things. If you bring a stroller through security check, they will always do a hand swipe to test for explosives. This is quick and painless, but just be aware of it.
My routine when getting through security control:
- Place Noah in the carrier, if he’s not already in it.
- Take out my laptop and place it in a tray.
- Place the nappy bag in a try and take out any fluids.
- Take off my shoes and place in a tray (not relevant in most airports outside of the US).
- Place my other carry on, on the security belt.
- Fold up the stroller and place on the security belt (if an umbrella stroller) or leave unfolded (if not an umbrella stroller), for a security officer to then push the stroller through.
- Walk through the the metal detectors with Noah strapped tome in the carrier and collect items on the other side.
- I take my time to re-pack how things were beforehand (laptop, fluids, etc.) once I am through security.
Dressing your baby for the trip
Pretty much without exception (there may have been one or two flights where I didn't), I always dress Noah in a Bonds Wondersuit when we travel. They double as his pj's normally but make for the best onesie to travel in as well! They zip open from the bottom, as well as the top, so nappy changes are a lot easier on the go. And most importantly, they are insanely comfortable. I am dying to get a Wondersuit in my size but I don't think Bonds has ventured into that product launch yet, unfortunately :) It is an Australian brand but they ship world wide.
I believe this is THE key factor in traveling with your mini companions. Stay relaxed, stay positive and look forward to the event because your baby can feel what you feel. I am a strong believer of ‘happy mama, happy baby’. And if you are lucky enough to travel on your own with your sweet little one, see it as a bonding experience, because it truly is! And when you arrive at the other end, you will feel like a super woman, because that is exactly what you are!
Don’t set yourself any expectations. Don’t assume your baby is definitely going to freak out at take off but also don’t assume that nothing will come your way. It will be what it will be. Try to remember to keep your positive mindset, stay relaxed and be ready handle any situation.
Good timing can make your life a whole lot lot easier. This is a line I got from a lovely blog (check it out), which is so true: "Try to arrange your flights or drives based on two things – when baby is the most cheerful and when baby will sleep." For example, I absolutely swear by overnight flights when flight time is 7+ hours. If flights are anything less than that, getting started first thing in the morning is probably my preference. In any case, you know your baby the best so do what works best for you and your current routine - we all know those 'routines' are forever changing with little ones.
One trick that works for me, be it for shorter of longer flights, I try to keep Noah awake whenever I am at the airport and that way he gets so tired that he falls asleep as soon as the plane takes of. It works so well! If you are going to use this trick, you are going to have to stay relaxed about nap times though. Your baby may be due for a nap at the airport (where you may still have a couple hours to kill) and you’re going to have to get creative on how to keep baby awake, without there being any meltdowns. If this trick doesn’t work, however, just stay relaxed about it all. Expectations, remember?
Look out for the next blog post up in this series, which will give tips on the actual flying part of the journey! And please leave me comments on anything you think I should add - would be super helpful. Thank you and happy travels!