The first time we boarded a flight with baby in tow — from Switzerland to Washington, D.C. — he was only seven weeks old. I wrapped him up tightly and strapped him to my chest; effectively creating a human shield between the dirty, scary world and my most precious possession. I was a stressed-out, new mother and I’m pretty sure I looked it.
In the year since that first flight, my sweet newborn has become a walking, talking toddler who has been on 16 flights! Flying became easier and easier, so we kept traveling. Before I completely forget what I’ve learned over the past year, I’d like to share the kind of post I wish I ‘d read before my first flight. By next year I’ll be able to share my lessons from flying with a toddler… I hope. Oh boy.
#1 The first six months are the easiest. The idea of doing anything besides simply keeping this tiny creature alive is difficult to wrap your mind around, but if you do have the energy book some travel in the first six months. The around-the-clock eat and sleep schedule of a newborn makes jet-lag a non-issue. Moreover, that baby is probably good at eating and sleeping anywhere, while an older one may need a dark room for each nap. When we were Paris, we went out to romantic dinners while the baby slept next to us. Man, I miss those days!
If you are flying with a baby younger than three months, I recommend visiting family or enticing family to travel with you. Having an extra set of hands while you are still in that sleep-deprived new parenthood stage is a vacation in itself.
#2 The less gear, the better. We have a fantastic travel crib that has been on exactly… one trip. Once I realized that most hotels provide cribs, I began choosing lodging based on the availability of cribs. Always reserve in advance and pack an extra crib sheet. More recently, I’ve begun reserving rental cars with car seats (Avis has a partnership with Recaro), which leaves only the stroller. We can’t say enough good things about our stroller. Do purchase a travel stroller bag because you can check it for free and pack it as full as you want with shoes, clothing, etc. This company rents baby gear throughout the U.S. and Canada and this company rents homes with baby gear in them.
Read: All of my favorite travel baby gear.#3 Use a baby carrier, check the stroller. The first time I flew solo with the baby I made the bold decision to check the stroller, leaving me with just the baby carrier and carry-on bag. It was glorious! No assembling and re-assembling the stroller at security and at the gate. No lugging the stroller overhead into a bin or waiting 20 minutes for the crew to find it when we landed. The carrier allowed me to be hands-free (which is important in those tiny airplane bathrooms) with tickets, passports and taking off my shoes. It also felt nice to have the baby secured to me during take-off and landing.
#4 Call the airlines. Do not email. Do not tweet. Pick up the phone and call them. Speaking to a real person about your options when flying with a baby is worth it. On most flights the airline has reserved an extra seat for us at no charge and alerted the crew. When our son was a newborn we brought our carseat on board and let him sleep in it between us. Most carseats have a spot where you can thread the airplane seatbelt through it securely. When he was older than two months and we flew internationally, we would reserve bulkhead seats and the airplane bassinet. (Always reserve early! We’ve flown on flights with many babies and not enough bassinets.) These days we ask to be seated away from other passengers. Also, the airlines can tell you if any of the airports you are flying through have indoor playgrounds or special areas. Some are amazing!#5 Pack your carry-on bag using the one-hour rule. Pack a diaper for every hour of the flight. Pack a bodysuit for every hour of the flight. Pack a toy for every hour of the flight. You won’t change your baby’s outfit or diaper every hour… then again, you might. You never know what’s going to happen with a baby. My husband and I also pack an extra t-shirt for ourselves. Better yet, wear two shirts and pull off the (likely) spit-up stained one at the end of the flight so you look somewhat fresh. Also pack a new packet of baby wipes to wipe down everything the baby will touch on the airplane.
The bottom line is that every baby is different. Yours may have colic or a fear of flying or who knows what. You cannot prepare for everything. The most I’m hoping to do with this post is encourage you to travel after having a baby. In fact, I urge you to travel — right now! — before that baby grows into a rambunctious, opinionated toddler.
If you are still reading this post, here are a few more fun links for your week: