In this post, I’m going to talk specifically about tips I’ve used for flying with a baby. Think 0 to 12 months. After that, I have no advice for you except: drink heavily. In fact, when we traveled with our 2-year-old and 2-month-old to California recently, this was our “liquids” bag at TSA. Don’t judge, TSA agent. We’re about to get on a five-hour flight with two kids under two. Move along.
My husband and I have probably taken our babies on at least 20 flights, so we’ve got a pretty good handle on what works for us and what doesn’t. And more importantly, what you need and don’t need.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re traveling with a baby:
1. Wear easy shoes, leggings and light layers, and put your baby in a onesie. If it’s cold, add baby leg warmers to the onesie to keep their legs warm. This will make it super easy to change their diaper in the airport or during the flight. Don’t put the kid in pants, if you can avoid it. It just makes it harder to do an on-the-run diaper change. I wear leggings because they’re super comfortable, sandals that are easy to take on and off (or boots in cold weather) and a fitted cotton tank under a long shirt. If I think I’m going to be cold, I’ll bring a light sweater as well. The leggings also come in handy if you have to pee on the plane and need to carry the baby in with you. You got me? Yeah. One-handed bathroom trip… done.
2. Pack as light as possible. Are you going to have a washing machine and dryer where you’re traveling? If yes, don’t pack any more than 2 or 3 days worth of clothes for the little tike. If you’re going to someone’s house, you’ll likely be able to borrow blankets, and you can use dish towels for burp rags. If you’re going to a hotel, you can use their face towels for burp rags, and bath towels work great as blankets. (And, the hotel washes them for you… WIN!) Don’t bring their special “baby” washcloth. Use what’s there.
3. Bring one bottle and plan on washing it a bunch. Bottles take a lot of space, and you don’t need more than one, unless you have a really talented baby who double-fists at feeding time. In which case, send me a picture because that’s awesome.
4. Baby-wear in the airport and check your stroller and car seat at the check-in counter. Don’t mess with bringing your stroller and car seat to the gate. This is especially important if you are traveling alone with baby. If you bring your stroller through TSA, you literally have to take everything out of it (super big pain), collapse it and then lift it onto the X-ray machine belt, all while trying not to set your baby on the nasty floor. Oh, and don’t forget you also need to take your shoes off. Super not fun. But, if you really want your stroller in the airport (like, if you have help, a lot of carry-ons or are traveling with two kids), it’s smart to bring it to hold all your crap. Then check it at the gate, just before you board the plane. Every airline I’ve been on has allowed me to check two baby-related items (like stroller and car seat) for free.
5. Let your carry-on hold ONLY what you will use in the airport and on the flight. This is paramount. First, it saves your arms, since you’ll be carrying the thing everywhere. Second, it simplifies the getting-your-stuff-out-while-you’re-on-the-plane issue (which I’ll get to in more detail down below). Take me literally. Like, I don’t even bring my full wallet. I take out my ID, credit card and some cash and put it in the zipper pouch of my carry-on bag. (If I’ll want my full wallet during my trip, I pack it in my luggage.) Save the space for the baby essentials you’ll need. For me, that’s a swaddle blanket, 1 burp rag, 1 change of clothes, baby Ibuprofen, 2 pacis, 1 bottle of pumped milk, a travel-size anti-bacterial gel, a regular-sized package of wipes and double the diapers you’d expect to need during the flight (in case you get stuck). My own essentials are also in there: eye drops, gum, travel-sized lotion and my favorite Rosebud Salve lip balm. I don’t bring a nursing cover because I use my light sweater or the in-flight blanket to cover up instead. Again, bring ONLY what you absolutely need.
6. Don’t pack toys. Waste of space. Again, these are tips for kids who are under a year old. At that age, the in-flight magazine, the barf bag, your Ziploc liquids bag and all the new surroundings are great entertainment. Save the space. You won’t need the toys, and they’ll just weigh you down. A few things that I DO bring to occupy an older child, like our toddler: an iPad or small book (that I will, guaranteed, have to read 30 times during the flight), and some exciting new snacks.
7. As soon as you get past security, buy a bottle of water. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a flight and dying of thirst. That’s not really baby-related but I always do it.
8. While waiting to board, let your kid roam. Let them get their energy out NOW. You will thank yourself later. And so will the people sitting near you on the plane. It’s my personal belief that the crawling stage is the WORST when it comes to travel. Who wants to let their germ-free child scoot around on the dirty floor that’s been touched by millions of contaminated shoe-bottoms from around the world? NO ONE. I’m not even a germ freak and this one gets me. Here’s my tip: GET OVER IT. Your little one needs to blow off some steam before you’re going to tell them to sit still in a boring, claustrophobic airplane seat for five hours. Just grit your teeth and do it. If I want to encourage the baby to sleep in-flight, this is the time I also drug him up with baby Ibuprofen. No, I’m not a doctor. I’m just a desperate mom trying to have a peaceful flight with her two children under 2 1/2 years old. Don’t judge.
9. When you sit in your seat, get organized. This is huge and my main tip for easy traveling. Make sure that EVERYTHING you need is in the seat pocket in front of you. I usually put these items into a large Ziploc that I bring out when I sit down and put right in the seat pocket. Mine includes the baby’s paci, bottle, Ibuprofen and burp rag and my eye drops, lip balm and lotion. I also take the swaddle blanket out of my carry-on and let it hang from the seat pocket, and stuff my water bottle in next to it. Put your nursing cover (again I don’t bring one, but use my sweater or the airplane blanket) in the seat pocket too. Easy access, and I’m set. I put my bag under the seat in front of me.
10. Don’t give the boob, bottle or paci until takeoff. This is if you’re concerned about your baby’s ears. Don’t start the bottle when the plane first moves, don’t start it when you’re waiting on the runway. Start it when the plane is literally going 130 miles an hour and about to leave Earth. You may have a loud child on your hands while they wait to be fed or pacified, but keep in mind: before takeoff is usually when everyone else on the plane is the loudest anyway. What you DON’T want is a screaming child when the whole plane is silent and at 37,000 feet. And, remember to have your tools handy at the end of the flight, during the plane’s descent (which, in my experience, is worst on their ears and the part you really need to be afraid of). If my baby is asleep when the plane is taking off or descending, I don’t wake them up but I have the boob, bottle or paci ready in case they do.
11. Remember, you will never see these people again. I’ve sat next to a rosy-cheeked, white-haired woman who spent the entire flight captivating my baby with coos and smiley faces. I’ve sat next to a businessman who was incredibly gracious after my son spit up on his designer suit pants, which happened right after I had accidentally sprayed him with baby Ibuprofen (classic mom moment). Aaaand, I’ve sat next to the most wound-up scary I-could-snap-at-any-moment guy who shook his head and looked out the window in disgust every time my son made a sound. Try to keep perspective. Remember that you will likely NEVER see these people again. And, when you’re feeling really unnerved, remind yourself that millions of people fly with children everyday. And it could be a lot worse. Right now, there is a mom who has a restless two-year-old and is on a flight to Thailand. Or a dad who had twin eight-month-olds who spent an hour screaming because their ears hurt.
Just keep your head down and get to touchdown. You got this.