There aren’t many areas of baby-hood where I can proclaim any level of expertise. Fumbling through and managing, sure, but that’s not really expertise. However, one area where I am fairly confident is traveling with my mini meatloaf.
My son has taken more trips before he was nine months old than I did my entire life before college. This includes domestic and international trips (one transatlantic), three solo trips with mommy alone (one transatlantic) and one giant move from Norway to Spain. We’ve utilized cars, trains, planes and boats – he’s even been on the monorail in Disney, but of course he has no idea…
So, yes, I’d like to think I have some bit of expertise here. I’ve outlined below a few of my own tips for fellow globetrotters in case you should find them helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment and add your own suggestions as well. I’ll be updating this page with your ideas and my own experience as it grows.
The buddy system
The best way to manage baby travel is to ensure you travel with your husband/wife/partner/significant other/friend/neighbor/nanny/grandparent/school nurse or anyone else possible. Solo baby travel is hard in ways you wouldn’t imagine beforehand (i.e. – going to the bathroom where there’s no baby station and your little one is strapped into his carrying harness. Now that’s some serious skills.) However, we’re all restless creatures at heart and don’t always have that possibility, so continue on for more realistic tips.
Keep a packing list handy and revise it as your little one grows and destinations change. I printed out 10 copies of a detailed list before our first trip when Per Christian was just six weeks old. I still use it to make sure I don’t forget anything amid the double-duty chaos of packing and baby chasing. I’m happy to share my list with any would-be travelers, just drop me a line with your email and I’ll send it out to you.
I tried suitcases, backpacks and diaper bags before I finally found the right solution. For the airports, small carry-on suitcases are great. Put your little one in their carrier while you push the small carry-on – everything is consolidated in one bag and you don’t have stuff falling out all over the place. The carry-on should ideally have a few outside pockets where you can zipper in some quick-need items like a spit-up cloth, a small hat for fluctuating airport temperatures or a diaper kit. It’s also helpful if your carrier has a few zippers like our Ergo. That’s where you can keep a bit of cash, boarding passes and passports so you don’t have to bend down into your suitcase every time they’re required.
Place a separate small bag for diaper changes in the outside pocket of your carry-on. When you board the plane, put the smaller bag in the seat pocket in front of you and stow away the rest of the luggage. I also like to have a small blanket handy to make us cozy in the seat. I love our Aden + Anais swaddles, but I’m sure anything from home would work just as well. I wouldn’t worry too much about toys – if your young baby is like mine, they’re more interested in the brightly-colored safety cards, magazines and new faces than any toy I could bring.
I’ve heard varying opinions about where it’s best to sit on the plane/bus/train when traveling with a little one. On short flights, I personally like the window seat because there’s a tad bit more space and less distractions in case my son seems amenable to actually sleeping. But on long-haul flights, you will of course want the aisle seat for your multiple diaper-changing trips. Even if you can’t book an aisle seat in advance, your neighbor will probably want to switch with you so they won’t be disturbed every few minutes.
If your little one is young enough, you may find it worthwhile to lug your Boppy or nursing pillow on the plane. Then you can nurse them to sleep during takeoff and they might last the majority of the flight that way. I never wanted to carry my Boppy around the airports though, so I got a small inflatable pillow like this one that I could rest their head on while they slept. It still works really well and gives my arms a rest for a little while, plus it folds up in my carry-on at the airport.
Best of all, swallow the price for an upgrade to premium economy seats and request a bassinet from the airline (when available). We just did this on our transatlantic trip to the US and it was worth every penny. Per Christian slept soundly in his bed while other parents walked the aisles with their overtired babies. Even if they don’t sleep, it’s a luxury to be able to put them down now and then so you can eat in peace.
I do know some people who have taken their Maxi Cosi on the plane without problems. That has never been the case for us – the plane is always packed and it gets taken from us at the gate. Meanwhile, you’ll have dragged it around the airport for several hours and it won’t even get wrapped properly before it’s thrown under the plane.
Because of this, I suggest checking the car seat with the rest of your luggage unless you’re absolutely sure you have a spot for it (meaning you have bought an extra seat in advance). My one exception here is if you have a travel system where you can use the stroller with infant seat at the airport and just collapse the frame at the gate. Double-bonus points if there’s a basket underneath you can actually use at the airport (duty-free champagne, anyone?). Now that is a seriously good idea.
Even Ryanair (which in my experience is the most miserly of all the budget carriers) allows you to check strollers for free. If you have a stroller bag with your stroller, you can sneak some other items into the checked stroller bag and avoid being overweight with your other luggage. I was recently fined because my checked luggage exceeded the 20kg limit by two kilos, but my 25kg stroller bag passed by without comment. Go figure.
If you have a smaller umbrella stroller that you plan to check at the gate, you won’t have this option to sneak in a few extra kilos. We’ve wanted our full-sized Bumbleride Indie stroller with us thus far on our travels, but rest assured I’m now in the market for a lighter option. Once your little prince or princess reaches a certain weight and can sit upright, the baby carrier becomes less attractive and an umbrella stroller starts to make more sense for airport use.
If you’re staying with family or friends, see if they can scare up a neighbor’s old crib for your visit. Once your wee one is old enough to move around, a blanket on the floor probably won’t be enough to keep them settled. If you don’t have a crib at your destination, then consider getting a travel crib that you can take along. We have this Baby Bjorn travel cot and love it. Be aware, however, that some airlines will charge you an extra luggage fee for this item (this happened to us with Ryanair but not with United), so in the future we may only bring it on car trips.
If you’re going the hotel-route, I highly suggest you marry a hotel manager or at least have one as a good friend so they can arrange adjoining rooms and you can actually put the baby in a separate area. But assuming that’s not an option for everyone (there is probably a limited supply of single hotel managers out there…), then contact the hotel ahead of time and at least arrange for a crib in the room. They are usually available free of charge, and it also saves you from carrying around a set of sheets for the travel bed.
I also highly recommend the Baby Monitor app on the iPhone. If you’re traveling as a whole family, you can put the little one to bed with your phone in the room as a monitor. Then head down to the hotel’s bar or restaurant with your partner’s phone, and you’ll be automatically called if there is any sound in the room for longer than seven seconds. Not an option for solo travel, unfortunately, but a great way for parents to eat out without a babysitter if traveling together.
One other note about hotel rooms – you’ll want a room with a separate bathroom and door that closes. That way, you can soak in the tub with a book while your offspring is asleep in the main room. If there’s a coffee machine in the room, put it in the bathroom so you can have a cup in peace before they wake up in the mornings. During my last trip to the US, I woke up extra early with jet lag and sat for two hours in in the bathroom while Per Christian slept. Not ideal, but at least I got a cup of rocket fuel into me before he awakened.
If you’re breastfeeding, you’re golden. So simple. And you’ve probably already been told to feed your babies during take-off and landing to relieve ear pressure – I heard it at least 100 times before my first flight, so it seems well-known.
If you’re doing formula, see if you can find individual serving packages like these that fit easily in your carry-on or even your pockets. Some people like the pre-mixed cans, but I disagree for long travel. I’ve found that it’s easier to get a little hot water at a shop or on-board the plane to mix formula than to find a way to heat an entire bottle of ready-made. I suppose it’s personal preference though.
If you’re on foods, buy packaged food in throw-away containers. I know, I know… we all love to imagine that our babies eat 110% pure and organic at all times. Whatever – when you’re on your own and need to feed the little chap, open up a can of mixed fruit or veggies and be done with it. You will have no problem getting them through security, and you can even buy super-duper organic stuff anywhere these days. Consider buying foods in plastic containers rather than glass jars to avoid any possible breakage in your luggage. And bring extra spoons – they will inevitably be dropped somewhere gross and you may not want to follow the five-second rule in those cases.
Depending on the time of the day and length of the flight, I like to travel with Per Christian in his pajamas. They’re comfy and easy to change if they get dirty – just one zip off and one zip on with the new one. However, for long-haul flights that involve layovers, I put him in regular clothes during the day and then change him into pj’s around bedtime. He then (ideally) associates that costume change with bedtime at home and will (ideally) take his bottle and sleep for a while afterwards.
I have also been recommended to pack separate Ziploc bags with individual changes of clothing so you have full sets already assembled and a bag for soiled clothes right at hand. That sounds like an awesome idea if you’re more organized that I am, but I’m also pretty lucky that it hasn’t been much of a problem for us thus far.
Every airline we’ve flown has had a drop-down changing table in the bathroom. It’s tight quarters for sure, but should be suitable enough for your needs.
Schedules?? What schedules?!
I have to remind myself (repeatedly, with deep breaths…) every time we travel to just go with the flow and deal with whatever happens. Per Christian is on a pretty good schedule when we’re at home in his own environment, but there’s just no way to enforce this on the road. The best I can do is try to keep his meal times stable and make sure he’s comfortable enough to sleep when he can (see note above about the plane bassinet).
Every child will inevitably have an overtired meltdown at some point on their travels, so make your travel plans wisely. We do best if we’re on the plane at night because he’ll usually have his bottle and sleep easily like at home. Early, early morning is also a good time for us because he still has nighttime rhythms going. Worst possible time for us is the late afternoon until about 7pm. (To all of you on that plane from Newark before Per Christian finally fell into an exhausted sleep, my most sincere apologies…)
Seriously though – do whatever you have to to get through the day. You can always fall back into your routines and schedules when you’re back on your own turf.
To be continued… I’ll be updating this page with your ideas and my own experience as it grows.