We did it, we ripped off the terrifying metaphorical band-aid that is the first flight with baby!!
Now, I should preface that this may not seem like a big deal but I am not much of a gambler, I am a meticulous perpetual planner (but you probably already deduced that) who likes to know what I am getting myself into at all times. So the gamble of taking a tiny human we just met a couple months ago onto a flying tube in the sky was well …nerve wracking to say the least. But alas, my husband and I promised each other that the adventure wouldn’t end with the start of our family, that we would bring him along for the ride and we had to start somewhere.
So we started off easy with a direct, short flight to a warm destination with no time change, easy peasy. And while two flights and 5 days of travel does not render me an expert, it was a steep learning curve that I feel compelled to share with other parent-types or parents-to-be that are hoping to keep their sense of adventure alive and well.
(Note: our little guy was nearing the 5 month mark during this post and some learnings may not apply at other ages and stages)
So here it goes….
Airport & Flight
Stranger Danger- call me crazy but the confined indoor space of airports and planes just screams GERMS. And tiny humans (that touch everything and put everything in their mouth) + stranger germs do not happy parents make. So I was THAT mom who disinfected every surface he came into contact with, I packed anti-bacterial wipes and wiped down the airport seats, the bathroom change table, the airplane seat, tray table, arm rests, any public high chair, any table top that he could touch (say if he was on our laps at a table) etc. Now I should preface that I don’t think I can keep him in a germ free bubble forever, but there is a time and a place to subject him to the yuckiness of strangers, and vacation is not one of them.
Free up your hands– our carrier became a HUGE asset while we were in transit. We strapped him in from the time we checked in until when we boarded. Fun fact, you can baby wear through security and then through the airplane aisles with ease. This made the transitions smooth and kept him happy while we lugged our carry ons and stroller through to our gate. We also used it while on the plane when he was getting antsy to pace the aisles without breaking our backs (he is nearly 20lbs at 5 months so he can become quite heavy!).
Avoid the ear popping– since babies can’t chew gum, swallow or yawn on demand it is important to have them suck on something for take off and landing (and any major turbulence that involves a change in elevation). Now that can be as easy as feeding them during those times if you’ve aligned feed times precisely, use of a soother or even a teething toy. Our little guy is not super keen on a soother, but took to it on the plane miraculously which ended up being super helpful when our landing was delayed and the elevation was up and down. I also found it helpful to have a bottle on hand to use when he was too distracted to breastfeed, to warm it I just ask the flight attendant to heat a bottle in hot water in a vomit bag (because we are classy like that).
Where possible, plan for sleep– Our little guy was not on a strict nap schedule when we flew but he was on a rough schedule of 2 hours awake, 1.5-2 hours asleep so the morning of our flight I tried to align his nap with our general flight time to ensure that we could capitalize on that down time. It paid off and he had a decent sleep in my arms on both flights (not-so-pro tip: be sure to pee & stretch before you put them to sleep because you are at their mercy for however long they sleep). Now I have also heard that once they are on a set nap schedule it can be helpful to book your flight times in/around that schedule so as to cause little disruption to their precious routine.
Sleep on the go– in the case of any delays or long airport waits we found it helpful to travel with a pop up tent and our mobile sound machine that we could just throw on the floor at nap time. This may not work forever, but it sure was helpful on our way home when we had a tired baby and a 2 + hour wait (and the threat of further delays). This is the tent we borrowed from our amazing neighbours (see below for more on it) and this is the sound machine we use on the go and at home.
Contain the poop- Our kid is a big pooper, meaning he ruins almost an outfit a day with a leaky diaper (and yes, we’ve adjusted diaper sizes and types). This can be a bit hard to handle on the go and I found it super helpful to bring a roll of dog poop bags that I could just rip off, throw the clothes in and deal with once we were no longer in transit. They are super easy to pack in the diaper bag and are just the right size for tiny human clothes. And if this also sounds like your kid, it likely goes without saying that you should have a change of clothes (or a few depending on your transit time) to accomodate leaky diapers.
Safety first & ease on wheels– The tiniest humans come with the biggest equipment, we have a couple learnings here:
- Most airlines allow for two free baby items to be checked onto the plane, in our case we travelled with the pack n’ play and stroller. The pack n’ play was checked alongside our bag, but we were able to check the stroller at the gate. While we used the carrier in the airport, the stroller was handy to carry the multiple pieces of carry on luggage, and serve as a seat for wait times. I wish we had packed ours in a bag because we lost a cup holder in transit- but otherwise it was a super smooth process. P.S. The pack n’ play is considered oversized luggage so needs to be dropped off and picked up in the designated area rather than at the regular baggage spot.
- Depending on your movements on the other end, you may want to bring your car seat. We did have a transfer from the airport to our resort and called ahead to arrange a carseat on the shuttle bus. Our little guy is out of his infant seat already (*insert sobbing emoticon here*) so should we need one during our next trip, we will need to either travel with one, or rent alongside our car rental.
P.P.S. We are exploring purchasing a travel car seat that is smaller than our main one for our March road trip in Portugal because renting a car seat is over $150 and there is no guarantee that it is accident free. We have our eyes on this one, but if there are any suggestions we are ALL ears.
P.P.P.S. Depending on your travel destination and accommodation arrangements, note that you can often request a pack n’ play either from hotels or Air B&B’s. This would be one less thing to travel with, although I would always recommending bringing your own crib sheet and giving the borrowed pack n’ play a good wipe down when you first arrive.
Easy to clean toys– This is age dependent, but our little guy is BUSY and needs a variety of toys and books to keep him entertained at any given time. I tried to pack small, lightweight toys that were easy to clean with hot water & soap while in transit should they fall on the floor or come into contact with airport/airplane yuckiness. I also packed them in a large Ziploc bag in the diaper bag so I knew they were easily contained and kept clean throughout the trip.
Protect the liquid gold– and by liquid gold I am referring to breast milk of course. I have a couple learnings here:
- When travelling with breastmilk I learnt that it should not go through the Xray machine (because it is an ‘active’ substance), rather passed to the inspectors for swabbing/testing and returned to the cooler you have it stored in. If travelling with your pump, this can be put through the Xray machine, along with any other bottle parts.
- In transit, we kept the milk cold by using a cooler pack and then crushed ice on the way home. At our destination we filled the mini cooler with ice daily but if possible it would have been super helpful to have a fridge and/or freezer in the room. I packed milk in the plastic bags to make for easy storage throughout the trip.
- For bottle washing, we travelled with our bottle brush and a small container of dish soap, once at our hotel we were surprised to find that they had a bottle sterilizer for use (but you could also just use hot water, or bottled water for rinsing depending on the safety of the drinking water at your final destination).
Sun Safety – we travelled to Mexico where the sun was hot and the shade was limited. Needless to say we found the pop up tent incredibly valuable. It provided shade for our little guy and served as a mobile nap spot and play area. It pops up in seconds and packs small, we put it on a neighbouring lounge chair because our little guy wasn’t rolling but it can also be up on the beach or poolside because it has a padded bottom. We were also diligent with hat wearing, sunglasses, UV protected bathing suits and baby sunscreen (we used this kind but I would also defer to your Pediatrician’s suggestions).
Consistent sleep environment– everyone has their own sleep regime, but we find keeping his environment as similar as possible wherever he lands tends to cause the least bit of disruption. We travel with his own bed sheet (in this case for the bottom of the pack n’ play), a sound machine, and his ‘lovey’ (a mini blanket square with a stuffy on the end). We also try to give him his own space, on this trip there was a curtain that separated the room and we placed his pack n’ play on the opposite side from us. We also use black out blinds to make the room dim at any time of day.
Last but not least, cut yourself some slack. Babies cry, ignore the ignorant folks who forget that fact and appear to be judging you. A change in routine can bring new challenges,roll with them and try not to sweat the small stuff. And lastly, your once busy and adventurous travel pace may need some adjusting, but this new style of travel is worth it when you see your little human wide eyed and excited by the new environment, new experiences and exciting new landscapes.
I can only assume every age and stage comes with a fresh batch of learnings, but for now we are relishing in a successful trip and looking forward to setting out on our next adventure.
Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear from other seasoned travelling families in the comments below!
Live a little extra,