I’ve watched time and time again as friends and family have completely changed their lives once they’ve had a baby. They stop socializing, their hobbies fall by the wayside and instead of listening to the music they love, children’s tunes play in their car. Where they once watched “Breaking Bad”, they now watch “Sesame Street” – nice outfits remain untouched, instead opting for comfy threads. Pre-Baby, I swore that wouldn’t be me, haha little did I know there’s a reason these things happen once Baby arrives. Babies, magical creatures that they are, monopolize all of your time, sap you of the energy you need to focus on yourself and shift your priorities. As a result, I’ve fallen victim to many of these things – my hobbies, grooming, TV shows and social life have all taken a hit… but due to my work (and my husband’s), there’s one thing we cannot allow to stop: Traveling.
We have no choice but to travel often, travel far and often travel wide. We’ve been on the go with little Xena since she was born. At 8 weeks, we took her from Israel to Bulgaria. Then a few months later, we went to Paris, then Barcelona, then Budapest. All of these were relatively easy trips, being that we were based in Europe. Which brings us to our first (dreaded) Trans-Atlantic flight, followed by a cross-country flight across America. Add to that a few train rides and interstate car trips along the way, another Trans-Atlantic flight, a few more trips within the EU, yet another Trans-Atlantic flight (and back again!), and now here we are! Phew. That exhausts me just writing it.
To put that in perspective, we’ve recently taken our 21st flight in the 18 months since Xena came into our lives, which provides the experience for me to be able to give a piece or two of advice about the subject. Let you learn from my mistakes. So, without further ado, here are my top five tips for traveling with Baby.
1) The Carry On: Baby Carriers To The Rescue
Oh, the joys of the baby carrier! It is truly a life saver (or, more accurately, a back saver!). Many people suggest putting your little one into a stroller (pram) for transport across the airport, since they can often roll right up to the airplane door (which is great), but wearing Baby on you allows you to take even more advantage of the stroller by loading it up like it’s a luggage cart! On our last trip, with Baby on my front, our stroller carried her diaper bag, my husband’s backpack, my backpack, both of our coats, my purse and one full-sized carry-on bag. It was the freest I’ve felt walking through an airport in years. A few things to consider when selecting a baby carrier. First, I suggest using one that allows for hands-free options, which means you should focus on buckle carriers as opposed to ring slings, pouch slings, mei tais or wraps. There are exceptions, but I’m speaking in general. Second, get one that has solid head support. You will inevitably be leaning over multiple times – going through security, waiting in line, etc. – and you want Baby’s head and neck to be safe (not to mention, it enhances just how hands-free you truly are). Lastly, if you can avoid carriers that require infant inserts, do. This isn’t the biggest deal most of the time, but because you have to take the carrier off to go through security and then stow it (at some point) when you get on the plane, the more pieces there are to it, the more likely it is that something will get lost or left behind. Keep it simple. My go-to carrier is the Lille Baby. It’s aces on all of the above, plus has lumbar support (!) and allows you to safely wear Baby facing out when of age. On top of all of that, for those that care about such things, it also is fashionable. People comment on its design to me regularly. Highly recommend.
2) Snack Time: Breastfeeding Cures All Ails
I watch mothers lug extra bottles, formula and nipples, worry about hygiene and struggle to find clean water at the right temperature, often forgetting that they have a baby snack machine built in… breasts! Of course, there are mothers that cannot do so, and this does not apply to them, but for the rest of us, when you fly with baby, keep this mantra in mind: Lighten your load as much as possible. If Baby is under 6 months old and not yet on solids, you don’t need anything but you, which makes life very easy. If you go this route, be sure to wear a shirt that allows for easy access – I find a button-down works best. This isn’t just for when you get on the plane, but even when you’re rushing through the airport or standing in line. When coupled with the right carrier (see #1), Baby can nurse whenever she wants and no one will even know you’re breastfeeding. This technique is guaranteed to make Baby feel safe throughout all the chaos of the place (and there’s plenty!). Also, if you nurse on take off and landing, it will help Baby’s ears from the pressure. Hint: Make sure to time it right. I used to start nursing too early and she’d finish before we actually took off. Wait for the plane to start rolling towards a proper lift off, and you should be good to go.
3) Bags, Bags, Bags: The Hidden Luggage Allowance
Babies under 2 fly for free in the United States. In Europe, you’ll pay 10% of a standard fee, even if the baby is sitting on your lap. Most people know this, but what the airlines don’t tell you is that babies have luggage rights, too! Of course, you get to gate check a stroller or car seat and you can bring a diaper bag onto the plane worldwide, but in the EU, Baby also gets her own checked bag (sometimes bags plural). On some airlines, Baby gets a full-sized suitcase of his or her own, and on others, the checked bag can be up to 10kg. Because of the discrepancies, double check with your airline, but we’ve never encountered a single airline that didn’t have this policy. On the other hand, we’ve never purchased an infant ticket where this information was readily available or provided to us, and in talking to other parent travelers, we were shocked how many people simply had no idea this was an option. More than that, many airline employees aren’t aware of this policy either, which has been interesting. I’ve taken to saving a screenshot of the infant baggage policy from their own website on my phone to show those workers not in the know. This is a right, and don’t let them deny it to you.
4) Rest Easy: The Elusive Baby Bassinet!
This is another free item offered by airlines, but not widely publicized. It often seems that airlines have the tools that make your life easier, but don’t want you to know about them. You can “reserve” a baby bassinet right when you book your ticket, both over the phone and online. I put quotes around “reserve” because just reserving the baby bassinet alone does not always – ironically – reserve the baby bassinet. There are a limited number of seats available on any flight that are equipped with the connectors that allow for a bassinet to be hung (depending on the size of the plane, there can sometimes even just be two available on the whole flight). Normally, I would say it’s first come, first served, but I’ve discovered that this is just not the case. When it comes to the bassinet, the person that is the most persistent, wins. A travel agent friend of mine told me to call right after purchasing my ticket to confirm that the request went through, and then to call once a day for three days prior to the flight to confirm that the request was still in the system. Once you check in, confirm verbally with the agent, and then mention it one final time when you arrive at your gate. I know it’s a lot, but when we didn’t go through the entire process, we did not get it. Hint: While I’ve seen babies sleep soundly in a plane’s baby bassinet, our little angel won’t even sit in the thing. Regardless, it is unbelievably helpful in terms of keeping drinks, food, iPads, toys, diapers, wipes, etc. off the floor, so I still recommend getting this, if you can.
5) Timing Is Everything: Choosing When You Fly Can Make All The Difference
We’ve taken so many flights where we haven’t had the luxury of picking the time of departure. This nightmare scenario has taught us a thing or two about how much certain times can make for a cranky baby. Each child is going to have their own internal clock and peccadillos, but for me, when given the option, I always go for a mid-morning flight. If you’re not sure what your baby will like, start with this, when possible. Baby will have almost a full night of sleep and be in a good mood for a hefty portion of the flight. Some people suggest night flights, but for many babies, the sheer chaos and distractions of flying keeps them from sleeping even when exhausted. This makes for a cranky baby when you get to the airport, while on the plane and even when you finally arrive at your destination. If your baby can sleep whenever and wherever, then by all means, book the red eye, but be sure you know his or her sleep schedule, or else this can backfire. Hint: Keep in mind that the time of departure is not the time to take into consideration. With car or train travel time to the airport, and the standard two to three hours you’re supposed to arrive before your flight, think about what time you will need to leave home, not what time you’re going to be taking off.
Bonus Tip: Toy Extravaganza!
This is a tip that came my way through my husband’s wonderful cousin, Rachel, and now I cannot imagine not using it whenever I fly a long distance. Go to the Dollar Store (aka Pound Shop, Two Euro Store, 100 Yen Store, ad infinitum all over the world) and buy a big bag worth of cheap, disposable toys. I usually buy twenty or so of them. This is a spectacular method of distraction for your little bub who doesn’t have the longest attention span. It’s important not to let them see the toys beforehand, so that each new trinket is an unmitigated surprise. It’s equally important to only dole them out one at a time. Each time Baby gets bored with whatever toy he or she has, simply stow it and pull out another shiny (as in new) object to occupy their time. This way, you don’t need to expect patience, since each toy comes with a built-in round of new attention. Even better – if you’re like me, and don’t like to accumulate too many toys at home – at the end of the trip, you can just toss the toys that were used, if you so desire, without breaking the bank.
There are, of course, many more tips on flying with Baby that I could provide, but – as space is limited – this is a good place to stop. These top five (plus one) should provide you with the tools to make flying with Baby less stressful than ever. Get ready to be Zen and add the lust back into wanderlust. Bon voyage!
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