A friend asked for my advice on air travel with a baby, because in Vivi's one year of life, we've already flown 7 times! So from my Instagram account, I might look like a pro, magically popping up effortlessly from one destination to the next. But I feel vary wary of presenting myself as a parenting guru in any regard, because things are never as seamless and carefree as they may seem on our social media accounts. I think we moms do a disservice to each other by pretending that any part of this parenting gig is ever easy - 90% of the time, I am a tangled, late, frazzled mess! Travel days are certainly no exception. BUT...disclaimer aside, I have had some good luck with successful travels with Vivi in tow (I mean, we got there in one piece, at least!)...so here are some small pointers from my experiences.
Atlas Family Tips for Flying with Baby
- This may seem like overly simple advice, but first and foremost, try not to make a bigger deal of traveling than it is. If you're anxious and frazzled, baby's gonna get anxious and frazzled, too. Think of it from your baby's perspective - she has no idea of the momentous importance of this being her First Time Away From Home, nor does she know the difference between 3 or 30,000 feet. From her point of view, this is a day when you're all stuck in a room together with nothing to do but hang out. It's a great day for extra snuggles and waving at strangers. More than ever, now that I have this cuddly little comedienne with me at all times, the travel day feels part of the adventure, not something to survive before the fun starts.
- Try to book flights near nap times. Or, if there's a long drive to the airport and your baby has a tendency for screaming in the car, plan so that the nap can happen en route to the airport.
- Check your luggage. I know some people feel strongly against this, but I find the schlep of motherhood nearly impossible without also dragging a suitcase along, no matter how small it is. That said, on trip #3, the only bag lost by the airline out of the 6 people we were travelling with was Vivi and mine. At the end of the day, you'd be surprised by how little of all that crap the baby actually needs - although I was glad that I had a pair of PJs in her diaper bag. Which brings me to the next point...
- Stock your carry on. I try to stay as lean and mean as possible, because by the end of the day, you end up getting bogged down with lots of stuff no matter what. I use one canvas bag with lots of pockets as diaper-bag-and-purse in one (I often stuff a little purse in my luggage to use at the destination, but let's face it, these days a diaper bag acts as my purse most days anyway).
- Pack snacks (a ziplock full of organic puffs or a packet or two of baby food are way healthier than anything you'll find at the magazine stand) and a bottle or sippy cup (you're allowed to take liquid for baby through security, just expect an extra stop for them to double check your bag).
- Bring more diapers than you usually need in a day (I don't know if it's the air pressure or Murphy's Law that makes diaper explosions seem more common on the plane), and two changes of clothes. I have a friend who also stuffs a pair of black leggings for herself in her carry-on...I've never experienced an in-flight mess that bad, but anything is possible!
- Make sure to have some kind of wipes that you can use on face and hands - it isn't always easy to get to water. I use Boogie Wipes for wiping all kinds of things, not just boogies (because they're soft and it's just saline, I feel comfortable using it on her face & hands). And travel with a roll of plastic bags - for tying up those aforementioned dirty diapers (you don't want to be the one responsible for stinking up the whole cabin) and for any other manner of trash you will inevitably create as you go.
- Even if you're not traveling at night time, bring in your carry-on what you need for cozy sleep - it never hurts to throw in a set of PJs and her special blanket or lovie - just in case the travel day goes on longer than planned (a.k.a. lost luggage or 5-hour flight delays).
- Nurse or give a bottle/sippy cup during take-off and landing. Those are the times when your ears are most likely to feel popped from the pressure, and the act of swallowing helps keep her ears clear. Try to wait to offer the drink until you actually feel the plane really rev up and speed down the jet way. Otherwise you may think you're about to take-off, but then spend 10 minutes just taxiing out, so she could finish drinking before take-off actually happens. At the end of the flight, the point of initial descent (when the captain tells you to put your tray table up) is evidently when the pressure hits your ears most, so offer the drink then. On a few trips Vivi was sleeping through one or the other of these times - I didn't bother waking her up to nurse, and she wasn't woken up by discomfort. I always like to let a sleeping baby lie!
- Leave as much gear at home as possible. One time we checked our car seat - we simply put it in a black garbage bag with a luggage tag hanging out the top, which worked easily. But usually we travel with our beloved Ergo and that's it. Most hotels can arrange for a crib in your room (just call ahead - and I like to pack her sheet from home so that it feels familiar...hotel cribs often look like little jails!) and even highchairs. And I've had really good luck with baby gear rental websites - from Maine to Washington, DC to Florida, I've simply Googled the town name and "baby gear rentals" and found a number of options in each location. They drop off and pick up the gear - and even install car seats for you. I've rented travel cribs, highchairs, car seats and strollers, for as little as $7-$12 dollars a day, and have found it really pleasant.
Hope this helps you prepare for some lovely vacations. Now get out there...there's a great big world for that baby to see!
(all photos, Jamie Grill Photography)