I balanced my crying newborn on my hip and tried to get my shoes back on while still tangled in the baby carrier. As I hurried to collect our SEVEN trays of personal belongings speeding down the conveyor belt, my makeup was melting down my face. My husband was getting electronically frisked, so I was single-handedly holding up the hundreds of other travellers who were wondering if - sigh - I'd be on their flight.
I was *that* mom.
I could see the headlines in front of my eyes (and these are real ones!)
A quick pang of guilt hit me because I knew I too had thought “Ugh. How can this baby still be crying?” and "How much stuff does a little baby need?!?" and “If this kid kicks my seat one more time, I’m going to throw my own tantrum until someone soothes me with a bottle. (White wine, please.)"
What They Didn't Know
In preparation, Sandy and I had discussed every situation we thought might arise while traveling with our then 2.5 month old, Ella. And with each idea, we laid the corresponding “answer” on the dining room table:
- teething? teething gel
- stuffed nose? snot sucker
- fever? medication
- full diaper? one diaper for every 3 hours en route (Who am I kidding? We put in one for every hour. CLOTH diapers.)
- unexpected delays? another 5 diapers
- loud? Baby noise cancelling earphones
- cold? Extra blanket
- unfamiliar? Sleep sack + lovey that smell like us
- bored? (ha… like newborns can get bored!) 3 books, a rattle, Sophie the giraffe
- hangry breastfeeding mom? LOADS of snacks + (to protect dad!)
- what if the travel crib doesn’t arrive? It’s now a carry-on
- leaky boobs? Extra bra and shirt for mom
- exploding diaper? 3 extra baby sleepers
- tired arms? Carrier and wrap
- electronics? Earphones, kindles, computer
- love and support? one box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates for each lag of the trip (see Tip #2 below!)
Although the carry-ons were packed to the point of explosion and were really heavy, we felt like we could tackle whatever came our way. (Once we put down the bags of course.)
What the hundreds of folks behind me in that security line didn’t know was that despite my sweaty, shoeless, bag lady appearance at the security screening and my visible flashes of travel doom, we were going to ROCK this flying thing.
And you can too.
That sweaty security screening wasn’t my last frantic moment in travel, but it marked the first of 50 enjoyable flights we have taken with our daughter in under 3 years.
With our TOP 5 TIPS you'll not only survive but enjoy flying with your baby.
1. Bring anything to feel ready.
You'll find your own groove with your travels.
On our first flight, we had 3 questionably massive and heavy carry-ons yet used only a *tiny* portion of what we brought. Seriously, we had 12 extra diapers upon landing, plus untouched toys, books, snacks, clothing, and electronics. But, you know what? We felt prepared, and that was priceless.
Our continued carry-on must haves are:
- a change of clothing for baby (diaper explosion back-up)
- diapers + wipes
- snacks (remember you can always buy more at the airport)
- fever relief and snot sucker
- favourite blanket/lovey for baby’s snuggle comfort and for shielding stimulation
- boobs and bottles
- a sense of humour
The less you have to wrangle baggage-wise the better, especially if you're travelling alone. Instead of toys and books, you have YOU, the in-seat magazines … and your phone. Have you ever noticed how much babies LOVE looking at pictures and videos of themselves?
Our favourite travel crib is carry-on sized, so we never have to worry about it being lost en route: Guava Family Lotus Crib
NOTE: Some airlines let parents check in all baby items for free… and some don’t… so get to know your airline’s “Children and Travel” rules.
2. Chocolates for flight attendants.
My father-in-law came across this tip and my flight attendant friends confirmed: chocolate is the BEST way to ingratiate yourself with airline staff.
We are often asked "are you airline employees?"
As soon as you board, hand over mouth watering chocolatey-goodness. The flight attendants will individually pop by to say thank you then offer you drinks, food, help getting comfortable, changing tv settings when your baby falls asleep, a bottle warmed, to hold baby for a bit, the list goes on.
When flying alone with Ella from Panama City to Orlando, a flight attendant saw that Ella was asleep and I was staring blankly ahead with boredom (there's only so long you can lovingly gaze at your sleeping baby with awe). He not only brought me another choice drink and a free meal, but he also helped me readjust my position, put back in my earbuds for me AND selected my next movie… all using facial expressions and hand gestures to communicate. He was my hero!
The relatively inexpensive chocolates have made every one of our flights feel like first class.
NOTE: Don’t get cheap, messy, or only-you-think-it’s-a-good-flavour-combination chocolates. Those won’t get you anywhere.
3. Sleep-wise, there are no holds barred.
Feed, rock, snuggle, walk, bottle, nuzzle, bounce, walk, talk, kiss your way to sleep.
How you help your child get some sleep while travelling is NOT going to break the sleep habits you already have in place and love. Your child will NOT all-of-a-sudden decide “It was like this on the plane, so I want it like this forever.”
Don’t even give the idea of forming “bad” sleep habits another thought.
During her two years of breastfeeding and free travel, I nursed E for takeoffs/landings (ear pressure) and to sleep whenever I could tell she needed to rest.
If that didn't work, we'd walk the aisles to keep her occupied with other travellers making faces and eye contact as we passed.
Or one of us would simply give her a serious snuggle to dampen the stimulation and give her space for good cry before finally knocking out.
If your baby doesn’t sleep on the flight, don’t stress. You’ll both make up for it upon arrival.
If you need a nap to safely make it to your destination or you are at your wit’s end, however, ask for help. Seriously. Look for the traveller who’s been shooting you the “Awe. What a cute baby. I miss that age.” looks. (see Top Tip #4 below!)
4. Say YES to help.
Fellow travellers can be just as helpful as the chocolate-loving flight attendants.
Remember that most other adults on your flight are also parents and have been in your shoes, so don't psych yourself out if your baby is crying.
I remember one woman saying to me "Mama. Don't stress. Your baby will relax once you do."
Here are some heart-warming stories to counter the earlier horror stories:
Create a community on your flight and allow someone to hold and pace the aisle with your baby when you need to nap or go to the bathroom. (See #3 to know who to ask!)
Before you send me shocked-mama emails, I had been sitting next to and honest-mom chatting with this woman for a while. She wasn't sick and she slathered herself head-to-toe in hand sanitizer before offering. (Okay, only her hands. Twice.) I remember her JOY when I said "yes" to her offer to hold Ella while I stretched. She has 4 grown kids of her own and melted when I placed Ella in her arms. I ran to the bathroom and back thinking she just wanted a brief hold, but she was in no hurry to pass over the chance to snuggle and engage with a little baby again.
What a gift for both of us.
5) Be flexible with sleep timing.
Whether 3 hours behind, 9 hours ahead or even in the same time zone, your baby’s sleep will be thrown off. You are contending with stimulation from the trip and your destination. Think about all the mental exertion it takes for a baby to process the new environment and people.
Upon arrival, set up your baby’s sleep space (see our gift to you below!) and honour your baby's needs for you, feeding, alone time, and sleep.
You'll adjust naturally with time. You really will.
Get lots of daylight during awake hours and let your baby’s body and your keen parent-intuition guide sleep times instead of forcing a schedule based solely on the clock. Forcing timing almost always backfires for everyone involved.
All in all, travel is all about enjoying where you are and who you’re with, hence a bonus tip!
You do not *have* to be home for every sleep.
When in Paris, we would walk and explore using the carrier or stroller, often starting at usual nap/bedtime and continuing until we were ready to go home. Whenever we’d return, we'd gauge her behaviours and either do a quick bedtime routine, transfer her if possible, or have her up for the rest of her awake time.
You'll *know* what your baby’s body is asking for.
While visiting my grandparents (my daughter's GREAT grandparents WOW!), we would set up the travel crib at their house so we could continue spending quality time together... while we still had the time together. It was important to us.
My Secret Thought
As a family, the three of us have since travelled by plane, bus (the crazy long, humid, cramped kind), bike, hike, canoe, decaying pick up truck and car.
We've stayed in single rooms, tents, rugged cabins, casas in the jungle, luxury cottages, and hotels alone, and with friends and family.
The main difference between that first security screening moment and now is that I envision the hundreds of travellers I'm holding up saying “Awe. She’s doing such a great job!” as I slow down and take my time wrangling all the things we need to make our flight - and theirs - enjoyable.
I'd love to hear your tricks of travel and how your travels went once you're back!