Traveling can be a trial for anyone. But traveling with a baby offers a whole new realm of problem possibilities. There’s the packing, the planning, feedings, changes, blowouts, napping, and—worst case scenario—endless in-flight crying that earns you sighs and glares from fellow passengers.
Is traveling with a baby more difficult than traveling alone or with an adult partner? In a word, yes. But there are some tried and true tips shared by experienced family fliers that can make it easier, with less chance of that worst case scenario that includes crying, temper tantrums, and you trying to deal with a screaming infant in close quarters with a judgemental audience.
It’s important to think of all of the worst things that can happen with a baby during travel and come up with a plan B for that scenario. What will you do if you miss a connecting flight? What if your baby has a diaper blowout on the plane? What if she gets sick?
Once you’ve got a plan in place for all of these possibilities, they won’t seem so overwhelming if they occur.
You should also try to plan your trip so your flight is during your baby’s regular nap time. This is a huge help when traveling with a baby.
Choose a direct flight whenever possible to avoid running through airports for connecting flights with a screaming baby—again, worst case scenario. If you have to have a layover, choose a flight with a longer layover to avoid any rushing, and to give you and your baby some time to stretch and relax before reboarding.
Get to the Airport Early. REALLY Early.
It may seem obvious, but this is truly the most important travel tip for flying with a baby. Everything you do at an airport will take longer and be more complicated with a baby. You have to allow plenty of time in case there are blow-outs, urgent feeding sessions required, or anything else that could (literally) come up—including spit up or vomit. Giving yourself plenty of extra time will greatly reduce stress. And if you end up having to wait for your fight, that gives your baby time to stretch and play before being confined into an airline seat.
When you have a baby, it’s easy to over-pack. But when you are traveling, less is definitely more. When it comes to packing baby clothes, the key is to make sure that all the items you pack are in a similar color shade so they can easily mix and match.
Bring only enough diapers for two days. You can get more when you’ve settled into your destination location. Be sure that your carry-on has two clean outfits, diapers, wipes, a changing pad, bottles if you use them, a large zippered plastic bag for soiled clothes, pacifiers or other soothers such as teething toys. If your baby is old enough to play with toys, bring along a few toys that he hasn’t seen yet. Something new will keep his little hands (and mouth) occupied for longer periods of time than toys he’s familiar with.
If your baby is on solid foods, bring a couple of jars of baby food, a spoon, and two bibs. Baby snack dry cereals are also great during travel.
It’s also essential to bring a small zippered bag with infant acetaminophen drops, gas drops, or any other medications your baby might need. A good baby thermometer is also a travel must-have. Keeping these on hand will save you the possibility of having to run out in a strange city with a sick baby seeking medication.
The Wonder of Baby-Wearing
While dragging luggage through the airport and going through checkpoints, baby-wearing is the key to being able to navigate the airport angst almost the way you did before you had your little travel companion along for the ride. Using a good baby carrier or wrap will allow you to keep the use of both hands while you deal with security checkpoints and boarding. Wearing your baby helps you to navigate narrow airplane aisles and stow your gear while your baby is cuddled tightly against you. The bonus is that nearly all babies love to be worn or carried in a wrap! They love the closeness and the movement helps to lull them to sleep—which is the ideal state for a baby while you travel.
If you do want to bring a stroller to use when you arrive, be sure to bring along a great lightweight stroller that’s easy to carry. Lightweights may not have all the bells and whistles that come with your big, heavy-duty stroller travel system, but they are much easier to check or stow on the plane.
Car Seat Conundrum
If you can afford to buy a seat for your baby, than do it. While airlines allow you to purchase one seat and hold your baby, infants are safest on airplanes when they are secured into a car seat. Also, your baby is likely to already be very familiar with her car seat, so she will be comforted by this familiar space.
Studies have shown that most illnesses contracted on flights are not from the recycled air, (It’s hepa-filtered) but instead come from germs in the seats and on the tray tables. Keeping your baby in a car seat for as much of the flight as possible will protect her from bacteria in the seating area.
If you do choose to hold your baby and leave the car seat at home, you can rent one with your rental car in your destination. For toddlers, there are also some booster seat style car seats that are inflatable, and can be packed into your luggage and inflated at your destination.
Downloads are a Dream
Now is not the time to worry about limiting your baby’s screen time. For older babies and toddlers, the key to a smooth flight is to keep them entertained. Download some cute kid shows on your phone or tablet and let them binge-watch. Screen-time limits are for when you are on the ground.
For babies, it can be helpful to download soothing sounds to play for them. This can help to distract them from the noise of the flight around them and soothe them to sleep. Soothing night sounds downloads are also helpful when you are sharing a hotel room with your baby.
Find Your Zen
Your mindset is more important than anything else when traveling with a baby. If you have a back-up plan in place for any scenario, you will feel more confident. The most important thing to remember if your baby is crying on the flight is that this will pass. Who cares what people think? You will never see any of them again anyway. And while you may get some dirty looks, try to focus on the sympathetic looks that other moms will send your way. Chances are, they’ve been where you are and they got through it. So will you and your little travel buddy!