I think it’s safe to say that one of the reasons why my husband and I got married is for our love of travel and adventure. After a few months of knowing each other, we embarked on our first journey, a month in Vietnam and Cambodia! Since then, we have many great adventures under our belt, ranging from the Sahara Desert to our more local escape, Joshua Tree. Everyone warned us that “the good life” would come to an end once we had children, but this didn’t necessarily register with me, since I grew up traveling with my family around the world from the age of 2. Although I was too young to remember many of our early adventures, I do recall scaling an erupting volcano in Guatemala (perhaps I was a wee bit too young for this, dad?), exploring abandoned ruin sites in Mexico, and wandering through foreign markets deep in the Oaxacan hills bartering with the locals. Yes, travel is deeply ingrained, and I look forward to sharing it with my family as well (but perhaps we’ll skip the volcano).
Max’s first flight was at 6 weeks old, the passport ink barely dry. This was just a short flight from Vancouver to LA, albeit I was flying alone with him. I remember sitting in the airport, baby on my lap gurgling away, our gear overflowing onto the adjacent seats and floor. The baby bag was stuffed with enough baby clothes and miscellaneous supplies to last a month. Being a mom was still very new to me, and I hadn't yet mastered the art of 'Le Baby Bag' (yes, there is such a thing). So here I am, sitting in the airport waiting area, a travel scene I was very familiar with, and it hit me. I looked around and saw a young woman sipping a latte and chatting on her phone. Another woman was curled up against her boyfriend reading a magazine. A man across from me was working away on his computer. A gangly teenager was sprawled on the floor, backpack under his head, quietly napping. I saw another couple in the airport wine bar, sipping the first of 3 flutes, laughing and obviously excited for their big adventure ahead. Max had started crying and I was trying to feed him, awkwardly assisting him with the somewhat still new task of latching on, while not fully exposing myself to those around me. I broke out into a sweat, fearful that the crying was disturbing others in the waiting area, and also nervous that the man on his computer was staring at an exposed nipple. All of sudden I yearned for a latte and a laptop. I wanted to be sitting in the wine bar sipping the first of 3 flutes. I wanted to be the one napping on the floor (well, not really, but moreso I wanted the option of napping if I wanted). A frantic 30 seconds later (I swear it felt like hours), Max finally latched on, the screaming stopped and I was able to cover myself from laptop guy (who probably wasn’t even looking in the first place). Max soon glided off into a dream state, and miraculously, stayed sleeping the whole time. Of course I did need a bit of help stowing my bags and doing up my seat belt. I also wasn’t able to eat or go to the washroom with sleeping baby on my lap. BUT, we made it. Our first flight with just baby and mama wasn’t so bad. Little did I know that traveling with a “newborn” was going to be the easiest stage!
His first intercontinental flight was to Greece at 3 months, his last being to Indonesia at 11 months with half a dozen others in between. In that time, we’ve learned quite a bit about traveling with a wee one… and no, “the good life” hasn’t come to an end, it’s only gotten better.
BEFORE YOU FLY
- ADD YOUR INFANT TO YOUR TICKET. Depending on the country of departure, some airlines allow you to add an infant when you book online, others require that you call them directly after you’ve booked your flight. Infants fly free on domestic flights until age 2 (as a lap infant, usually one per paying adult), but charges vary according to airlines when flying internationally. Some airlines charge the tax of what an adult fare would be, others have their own formula, but it usually comes to about 10% of an adult fare. If wanting to purchase a seat for your infant, inquire about a discounted infant fare.
- RESERVE A BASSINET. I’ve heard from some parents that they don’t like the bassinet, but we are big fans, particularly on long haul flights. Max slept almost the entire flight from Los Angeles to Istanbul in a bassinet, which meant that I actually got to sleep as well! Because bassinets are located in bulkhead seating, they are limited and can get booked quickly. We found that even when we weren’t using the bassinet, it was great having the extra leg room. The only con to this is that you have to stow your carry-ons for take-off and landing. For most carriers, infants must be under 22lbs but it may vary.
- RESERVE YOUR SEAT. Airlines aren’t required to sit all family members together, so it’s best to book early and have them make a note that you are a family. When I was flying by myself and Max was under 6 months, I would book a window seat so that I could have more privacy breastfeeding during the flight. I would try and feed him into a sleep during take-off (which also helped his ears equalize). After 6 months old, he needed more stimulation, so I would book an aisle seat and get up and walk around (and sometimes walk to the back to feed him for more privacy). Try and book your seat near the front of the plane where there is less turbulence, less people lining up for the bathroom and is faster to deplane!
- CHECK FOR EXTRA SEATS. When checking in, ask if it’s a full flight and if there is an extra seat anywhere. Many times they have moved us to give us more room or have had us check when boarding and found an extra seat then. There is no harm in asking!
- CAR SEATS. Free flights until age 2 can save you a lot of money, but it is important to note that babies riding in airplanes are safest in FAA approved car seats.
- EXTRA BAGGAGE. Check to see what your particular airline allows for extra carry-ons, checked bags for baby, stroller and car-seat, as well as their policy for liquids and baby food.
WHAT TO PACK
- TOYS. When Max was really young, he was content with sucking on a toy or just playing with me. As he got older, a few more toys were necessary (it also helped to bring ones that he had never seen before), but he was also that much more interested in the plane itself, the seat belt, the magazines, or just looking out the window and at the people around us (it's hard to deny this little man a game of peek-a-boo!). Bring toys that can be washed, as well as some links/clips to attach toys/teethers to clothes, car seats, etc.
- FOOD. Max was exclusively breastfed, which made it much more simple not having to worry about bottles and formula (I know some moms prefer to pump their milk beforehand and bring a bottle on the plane instead of breastfeeding). Once he started eating solids, we always had the packets of organic baby food (and a few different flavors because sometimes he can be so picky) and some baby puffs/snacks (more for distraction). Don’t rely on the baby food the airline gives you – one time we asked in advance for the baby meal and got a container of apple sauce and apple juice, both loaded with sugar.
- COOLER BAG. We love our small cooler bag that is large enough to hold a bottle and a couple baby food packets.
- BABY CARRIER. I used the sollywrap until Max was about 5 months, and then the ergo. We have the ergo 360, which is amazing because he loves front facing now that he is large enough (and hubby also likes the ergo). You won’t be able to have baby in the wrap/ergo for take-off or landing, but it’s a lifesaver while maneuvering through the airport and security.
- CHANGING PAD. Bring a disposable/washable change pad for airport and airplane bathrooms (or less obvious places in an emergency!). Also, note that not all planes are equipped with changing tables. I’ve also heard that puppy training pads are great for using while flying as well.
- BLANKET. I bring one to wrap him and one for playing on the floor.
- STROLLER. Depending on where you are traveling (are going to hang out with Grandma in Miami or lay on a beach in Thailand), the duration of trip (is it just a weekend away or a multi-stop journey overseas), and the baby’s age (maybe a cheaper umbrella stroller might be a better option), bringing a stroller may or may not make sense. Many countries aren’t stroller friendly, and I’ve also noticed some great companies that offer baby products to rent at your destination for the duration of your holiday (anything from strollers, to cribs to pool fences).
- CAR SEAT. Option 1 – You purchased a seat on the plane for baby and have an authorized car seat for baby to sit in. Option 2 – You are flying with baby as lap infant, bring car seat to check at the gate (Plus, there is a chance the flight isn’t full and you can use the car seat on the plane. DO NOT check car seat with luggage, there is a chance it could get lost or damaged). Option 3 – You are flying with baby as lap infant, you don’t bring a car seat, instead you rent/borrow one on the other end.
- BIB. We prefer a plastic washable bib, but it depends on baby’s age
- CLOTHES. Bring at least one extra outfit for baby (and you!)
- PASSPORT. Bring their passport to prove they are under 2 yrs old. Also, bring a signed note from the other parent if traveling alone (airlines have their own policy about this, check before flying).
- THE OBVIOUS. Enough diapers, wipes, and supplies to last the flight with a few extras for surprises. We also carry a small first aid kit, baby ipubrofen/tylenol and travel sizes of various items such as natural diaper cream (we love Tawna Hill Baby).
- MINDSET. This is so important. If you think that traveling with a baby is going to be hard, then it is! It’s so important to relax and have fun, your baby will pick up on that. And it IS fun! Max gets so excited to see the planes and all the people. You can only be so prepared, and something is guaranteed to come up, so it’s really how you choose to handle it.
- ASK FOR HELP. If traveling alone, make friends and ask for help – I find that many people offer to help (usually other moms that happen to be traveling sans child and know how difficult it can be), and I usually take them up on it. One woman offered to help gather my bags after the security checkpoint because she could see me struggling to put my shoes back on and a growing line-up of people waiting for their bags to come through. Another woman and her teenage daughter sitting across the aisle from us on the plane asked to hold Max for a few minutes – just having him off my lap for a moment was enough to feel recharged for the rest of the flight. I also make a point of greeting the stewardesses and introduce them to Max as we board the plane. More often than not, at some point when I may need a break (or a bathroom stop), they welcome the opportunity to hold a baby and take a time-out as well.
- BREASTFEED ANYWHERE. Some women don't feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, and it’s something I found difficult in the beginning as well. In general, it’s becoming more common to see women breastfeeding in public, whether they prefer to use a cover-up or not. But it can still be uncomfortable, especially in close quarters such as on a plane. Max is usually pretty discreet, however as he gets older, so does his entitlement to having milk anytime he wants, which can make for some embarrassing moments. Night flights can be a saving grace as they offer a bit more privacy when the lights are dimmed. *If you do need to pump while aboard the plane, bring a battery operated or manual pump, as the availability of power outlets vary by aircraft.
- DON'T DRINK THE PLANE WATER. In fact, don’t use plane water for anything but washing hands. I’ve heard on multiple accounts that they use chemicals to sanitize the water, so ask the stewardess for as much water as you need for yourself and baby.
- CAR SEAT COVERS. If traveling with a car seat, there are some durable covers with wheels on them that are great for hauling through the airport as well as helping to protect it during transport. A couple thick garbage bags can also help protect it in a pinch.
- TIMING. Try and book flights around baby’s nap time so they sleep during most of the flight. If that isn’t possible, try and let baby/infant get out as much energy before the flight as possible. When Max was under 6 months, I would bring an extra blanket to put on the floor and let him squirm around. Once he started crawling, I would try and find an area where he could crawl around and explore a bit, cleaning his hands with a disinfectant wipe once we were ready to board.
- SPECIAL ASSISTANCE LANES. Most airports have lines for travelers that need special assistance and will allow families and those with babies to use them. If they don’t have special assistance lines, they will usually direct you to a first class line to help get you through faster.
- EXTRA CLOTHES. Bring an extra set of clothes for baby and yourself. More often then not, I am already covered in something “baby” by the time I get to the airport, and most definitely am after a flight. Up until a year old, we would put Max in a onesie (we also find that a onesie + leggings is easiest for changes) that we didn’t mind parting with in case there was an extra large mess that wasn’t worth trying to salvage (and who wants to continue traveling with that anyways?). I pack the extra set of clothes in a large Ziploc bag to keep them clean and easy to access and also use to hold the dirty set if necessary. For yourself, bring tops that are breastfeeding friendly, as well as a color that won't show how dirty you actually are!
- SNACKS. Depending on how long the flight is and whether you are traveling alone, you may or may not be able to eat with baby on your lap. One time, Max was sleeping and the stewardess used the tray table on the empty seat beside me and helped uncover the meal for me to awkwardly eat with my left hand. But once he got older and became interested in food and all the fun things to play with on the food tray, it was impossible to hold him and eat (in fact, it takes all my power to keep his fast little hands from our neighbor’s trays as well). If my husband is with me, we will take turns eating and holding Max. With that in mind, when I travel alone, I try to bring some snacks that I can easily eat during the flight. These are usually things I can access and eat with one hand or can wolf down when a generous passenger has offered to hold Max for a couple minutes.
- CARRY ON YOUR BAG. If possible, carry on your bag as well (for shorter trips), or make sure you have all of baby’s necessities with you in case your suitcase gets lost or delayed. It can be hard to source out items for your baby in another city or country, especially at odd arrival hours. If there are things you can't carry on, distribute baby's items throughout the suitcases, so if one gets lost, you won't lose everything.
Of course everything is SO MUCH easier when both parents are traveling. It’s nice when I don’t have to ask a stranger to help me do up my seat belt! For the most part, our travel experiences have been more than positive. We discovered that we joined a club that we didn’t even know existed! We went from being a couple that traveled, to a traveling family that everyone wants to chat with and help out. We usually get amazing service at airports and security checkpoints, hotels often have a package of baby items prepared before we arrive, and staff are more than gracious and want to help. In Greece, locals would cross the street with their arms outstretched, plucking Max from us and wandering off making cooing noises. In Bali, staff at restaurants would pick him up and take orders with him on their hip, playing with him and passing him around so that we may have a few minutes to eat in peace. More often than not, within a day, all the hotel staff would know Max’s name and come straight for him whenever we were around. Max isn’t just tolerated, he is embraced.
The times of laptops and lattes in the waiting area may be over for now, but exploring the world with our little man is more than worth it!