My husband and I are the proud parents of a three-month-old baby girl, and we recently took our first family plane trip. Because I’m a planner by nature, I talked to friends who travel with their children and scoured the internet for good ideas before we left. Now that I’m home, I’m happy to pay it forward and pass along the top twelve tips that I learned about baby-friendly travel.
1. Make a packing list ahead of time, and eliminate everything you don’t really need. Many new parents (including me) are so concerned about addressing their baby’s every need that they carry an entire nursery around in their diaper bag. Of course, babies need many things out own the town, but after schlepping a bunch of unnecessary stuff through the airport security line, on and off a plane, and throughout downtown Boston, I can say with confidence that my baby didn’t need everything that I packed for her, and I would’ve been much happier with less stuff to manage. Think critically about what really needs to be in your carry-on and what could survive in a checked bag, and what must be in a diaper bag and what could stay at the hotel for the day.
2. Try to be in the last group to board the plane (unless you’re trying to put a carry-on in the overhead bin). My daughter really enjoyed flying once she got in the air, but she was quite unhappy when we had to wait on the tarmac for a few minutes before take-off. It seemed like she was annoyed by being confined into her dad’s Ergobaby pack, got hot, got upset, and had a difficult time calming down. To avoid the meltdown (or at least minimize the fussing time in a confined airplane), I recommend waiting to board with the last boarding group, as long as you don’t have a carry-on that must go into an overhead bin. If you have a carry-on, board as early as possible to minimize the chance that you’ll have to put your bag in a bin far from your seat.
3. You can check your car seat and stroller at the terminal gate (and not pay a fee). Checked bag fees are one of my least favorite travel charges, and I was worried about having to pay to check a car seat and stroller. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most major airlines will allow you to check a car seat (with attached base) and a stroller for free at the gate, just before you board the flight. We got special tags at the ticket desk when we checked in, carried our car seat and stroller through security, and dropped them off on the jet-bridge just before we walked onto the plane. The airline brought them back to the same spot within minutes after we landed. Easy! Baby enjoyed being wheeled around the airport, and her parents enjoyed having help carrying her and her gear. I was worried about damage and germs under the plane, so I purchased one of these Gate Check Bags for the stroller and one for the car seat. They did the job perfectly!
4. Many hotels provide cribs upon request. Safe sleep is one of the most important things for babies, and I was concerned about how I would fly with a pack ‘n’ play so that my daughter would have a safe place to rest. I was happy to learn that many hotels will have a crib waiting in your room when you arrive if you request it as part of your reservation. One of our hotels even provided a cute pink and white quilt especially for our girl!
5. Room service for dinner is a helpful treat. We’re lucky to have a baby who loves to smile and is generally a happy girl. But even the happiest girls can hit a wall after a long day on the town, and nothing makes them feel better except a quiet room and a safe bed. It’s not fun having to worry about adult food at the same time as you’re trying to calm a fussy baby. I suggest staying in a hotel with room service or an onsite restaurant so that your family can relax with in-room dinner, instead of sending someone out to track down food or forcing an unhappy baby to sit through dinner at a restaurant.
6. Have a bottle or pacifier ready for take-off and landing. You know that feeling when the altitude changes and your ears start popping? Adults understand that feeling and know how to relieve it, but babies don’t. The sucking motion of drinking from a bottle or using a pacifier helps relieve that pressure on little ears and soothes them as they adjust to the plane’s motion.
7. Use a neck pillow to make a resting place for baby on the plane. My daughter was so much happier when we let her lay down on my husband’s lap during our flight. We used an adult travel neck pillow along with a baby blanket to make her feel cozy and ready for sleep. It worked like a charm! I recommend a blow-up pillow like this one. You can inflate it as much or as little as you’d like, and it folds up into a small package that takes up little space in a carry-on.
8. Try to fly in early afternoon. Early flights are hard on even the most seasoned adult travelers. Getting up, clean, dressed, packed, and to the airport before dawn is not for the faint of heart. I feel similarly about flying late in the evening. A late flight always sounds good to me when I’m booking because it means that I can squeeze a few more hours into my trip. Then, when I’m actually on the plane home, I’m inevitably exhausted and so ready to be in my bed. Babies are no different. If it fits your schedule, I suggest trying to schedule a flight in early afternoon, say 1:00ish. Assuming you’re on a domestic flight, that gives you and baby time to rest in the hotel in the morning, take your time getting to the airport, and (usually) get home at a reasonable hour. Any earlier and you risk a hectic airport commute or missed flight, and much later, you risk flying home with a baby who hasn’t slept all day.
9. Remain calm (at least outwardly). Baby will feed off of your emotions. The act of traveling is stressful. Yes, I agree that the journey is part of the adventure, but sometimes the journey includes a cranky gate agent, unexpected overweight baggage fees, and crappy airport coffee, and ain’t nobody got time or energy for that. It’s easier said than done, but try your best to remain outwardly calm (even if you’re unhappy inside). Your baby looks to you for emotional cues and feelings of safety, and she will be in a much better mood if you appear to be.
10. You can carry breast milk and formula supplies through security. TSA makes an exception to the 3-1-1 rule for liquids in the case of breast milk and formula. Before going through security, I suggest separating out the liquids that would not otherwise pass TSA inspection so that it’s easy to show them to the TSA officers. When you arrive at the security checkpoint, alert the TSA officers that you have baby food items and put them in a separate bin. The officers will require you to send everything through the x-ray machine while you carry baby through the metal detector. The officers may test the liquids for problems, and you can request that they take extra precautions when inspecting sealed containers. More information from the TSA is available here. (A thing I learned the hard way: gel ice packs are only allowed if they’re frozen. If they’ve thawed throughout the day and returned to gel, TSA will make you throw them away.)
11. Allow yourself way more time than you think you’ll need. It’s easy to envision the Pinterest perfect trip with baby: she’s smiling the whole time, wears adorable outfits, eats on schedule, naps as needed, and gives her parents time to have a conversation about the amazing things they’re seeing. For some hours of the day, that may be exactly what happens. Others, your carefully planned itinerary may be thrown off by an hour or more by the need to find a quiet place to nap or search out a clean restroom for a diaper and clothing change. If you have to be anywhere at a certain time, be sure to allow way more time than you think you’ll need to get there. Trust me, you may not see as much that way, but you’ll enjoy what you do see so much more.
12. Just go with it. Traveling with a baby is certainly more work than traveling with only adults, but it’s worth it to get to explore a new place with your new family! Do your best to anticipate that many things probably will not go exactly as you planned, and be willing to adapt as needed. Starting your travel with that mindset and maintaining it throughout your trip will do wonders for your ability to enjoy your time away.
Amelia Adams © Copyright 2018