Today is December 20th- and now that we’re in the “20’s” of December, that means that holiday travel is kicking into high-gear.
Traveling during the holidays is stressful for ANYONE– think of the lines, the cranky passengers, the potential weather delays making for even CRANKIER passengers. Add baby (or babies) to that mix, and you’ve got a recipe for chaos–or at the very least, a very tricky parenting challenge.
As a travel-pro (and I make this claim only because I’ve flown almost 40,000 miles with my little girl, starting at 5 months of age -her first flight photo is above), I think I’m in a decent position to give some advice on how to get through those long airport and airplane hours. I’d love to hear tips from others as well- while I’m pretty good at traveling with one, I seriously suspect that traveling with multiple will be an entirely different story!
Tip 1- Book that extra seat.
Babies up to the age of 2 are allowed to fly on their parent’s lap on most airlines, but if at all possible think about booking a seat for your baby. Not because the baby will actually sit in the seat, because in my experience, your kiddo will almost always end up on your lap, but to at least create what I call a “buffer zone” between you and another passenger. If you’re traveling with another adult, the extra seat might not be necessary, but if you’re alone, a single-seat-sized space probably isn’t enough room for you, your baby, and your gear. Though– I’ve done it, with some luck and some cooperation of friendly row-mates, of course.
Tip 2- Pack light, but pack smart.
In the early days of traveling with my little one, I packed EVERYTHING I thought she could possibly need- including clothes for every single day we’d be away. But if you’re going somewhere that you’ll have access to a washer/dryer- don’t feel obligated to pack the whole dresser. Bring the essentials for about half the days that you’ll be at your destination and just plan on doing a load of laundry while there (and in my experience, if you’re visiting family, you’re going to get gifts of cute outfits upon arrival anyway!)
The on-the-plane necessities actually add up to quite a bit on their own anyway. In my experience, the following are must-haves:
- a diaper wallet (lugging a giant diaper bag down that narrow airplane aisle and maneuvering it in those tiny bathrooms is just too difficult)
- lots of liquids (one less thing to carry if you’re nursing)
- snacks if the baby is on solid food
- a changing pad
- a change of clothes (for your baby, and a back-up shirt for you)
- hand sanitizer
- a nursing pillow (totally worth the space it takes up in the seat, because once you’re done nursing, baby can snooze on it and your arms get a rest)
- a nursing cover
- baby’s favorite book
- a blankie (it gets cold on planes!)
- an umbrella stroller if baby is big enough (this will get you all the way to the plane, and then you’re on your own) and, if all else fails-
- your smartphone
Tip 3 – Nurse your baby on the way up and the way down to prevent the “ear pops”. Changes in altitude have been known to affect even adult ears, so there’s potential that those “pops” can make baby very uncomfortable. If you nurse, or give your baby a bottle on the way up and down, the swallowing motion eases the pressure build-up and can make the altitude change less painful (for both of you).
Tip 4 – Accept Help When it’s Offered. 75% of the travel that I did with my little one was travel alone. My vacation schedule was different than my husband’s, so I often flew back east on my own to see family while he stayed home and worked. This certainly complicated matters– and for those first couple trips, I tried to do it all by myself. Its not easy once you have to turn over that stroller at gate-check and you’re left with all your bags (purse, diaper bag, carry on) AND little one in your arms. Other passengers had offered to help and at first, my reply was always “oh thanks, I have it though”- after a couple trips, I was more than happy to let a nice co-passenger help me get our bags to where they needed to go, and when other passengers didn’t offer, the flight attendants were always happy to help (though, they often wanted to hold the baby, as opposed to the bags, but help is help!) Take the help when its offered and seek it out even if its not offered– it’s definitely worth it!
Tip 5- When all else fails, it really is ok (at least in my book!) to take the “easy way out”. Yes, I’m going to admit to you here that when I traveled with my toddler, when she was done coloring, when we’d read her books twenty times each, when she was bored and near melt-down, I pulled out my smartphone. Yes, I let her watch a movie. Sometimes, we let her play with baby flash cards on the phone. We had always said we’d stick to the American Academy of Pediatrics advice about no screen time before 2- but on the plane, while surrounded by strangers who just wanted some peace and quiet, and no possibility of escape, and with a solution at my fingertips, I took the easy road. And it worked.