As anyone who has ever traveled with a baby or toddler knows, it’s incredibly stressful and it’s kind of a crap shoot. You could prepare a million which ways, and at the end of the day, if your child is in a ~mood~ or your flight gets delayed, it can all go to shit. James is a pretty good sport, but it was much easier to fly with him when he wasn’t on the move. Everyone told us to travel when he was a little one, but we didn’t do that much traveling because we were scared and tired and still trying to figure out life with a baby. Of course now that cabin fever has set in, it’s like the worst possible time to fly with a baby/toddler (I still can’t just type toddler — I haven’t come to terms with that reality yet. Plus, he’s not even two so he’s SO not just a toddler!) I think you have to prepare yourself for the fact that it’s going to be hard, messy, and your kid will probably annoy some people, and you will sweat a ton, and that’s OK. You can only do the best you can do. But… there are an array of tips I’ve gathered from other moms, parenting articles I’ve written or read over the years, and experience flying across the country a few times with James that have actually helped.
Check Your Bag … and Carseat
You have enough to carry/push/chase after. Don’t try to lug bags around and shove them in the overhead compartment. Yes, it’s a pain to wait for your bag at baggage claim, but unless you’re going for a day, you probably will need to bring enough to fill an entire suitcase anyway and maybe more. Less to carry will make it that much easier for you and it’s nice to let the kiddo run around or to feed them and change them while your bag is making its way to that conveyor belt, especially if you have a drive ahead of you next. If you’re bringing a carseat etc., check that too. Then it’s all there in one place for you to pick up and you don’t have to lug it from the gate check all the way to baggage check. Those carseats are heavy, and you’ve got kids and carry-ons and diapers and a stroller.
Rent a Car with a Car Seat
I know people will probably have strong opinions on this, but I find that we almost always rent cars now and it’s just been easier for us to rent ones with car seats rather than lug our own. There is some debate re: the safety of those, but we do our research and call ahead to make sure the car seats are ones we feel comfortable with. A friend recently told me that they were in a car accident while on vacation with their son who is the same age as James in the car. Their car flipped, and they were so happy they had their car seat with them, and she said that even though she complained the whole time about bringing it on the plane etc., she was never more thankful. They all walked away from the crash including their son. That has made me rethink the bringing our car seat, but with the beat-up it will take being checked etc., refitting it into another car, and the fact that the car company has to provide a car seat that meets the same standards, I’m not convinced that it’s better to BYOC over rent one. I’m not an expert though, and there is nothing more important to me than the safety of my child, so bring it or rent one, but definitely make sure you have one. Since the safety of car seats can vary, if you’re renting one, you need to make sure it’s a new model, hasn’t been recalled, is in good condition, and you can safely install it. If you’re not getting the information you want in advance, I’d bring your own.
Ditch the Stroller for a Carrier…But Definitely Bring the Carrier
Hands free is easier, so if you can make it without a stroller, I’d go with the baby bjorn or whatever carrier you like, and leave the stroller at home. If you’re going to need the stroller wherever you’re going, I’m a fan of going with a light umbrella stroller (we have this one and it’s been great), or if you have an infant car seat, the stroller frame it works with. If you can get away without lugging the stroller, do it. With that said, if you bring it, definitely gate check. Those strollers take a beating in the cargo, and you do not want to have a broken stroller coming out with your baggage, especially given how expensive strollers are. James is huge now, but I still bring our carrier. That’s because the one time I didn’t and flew alone with him to Utah, he made a run for it when I was folding up his stroller at security, and it was chaos. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life (notice a theme here with the mom sweating? Sorry but I’m just keeping it real so when you find yourself in a sweat after your baby/toddler charges security and no one stops him but they stop you from running after him, you won’t feel alone.) I ended up transferring him to the carrier when he fell asleep at the end of the plane ride, and then putting our carry-on bags in the stroller to push which worked out well. The carrier is also great to have on the plane to hold your babe when they fall asleep, or if you want to walk the aisles and bounce them.
Feed During Takeoff and Landing
You’ve probably been told this by everyone, and honestly, I don’t know if it works or not, because we’ve always done it, but feed your baby during takeoff and landing, but especially takeoff. This is supposed to help with the ear popping since they don’t know to swallow to pop their ears. We usually freaked out way too much about the timing and Andrew always jumped the gun and told me to do it too early and then we would get delayed on the tarmac or be 20th in line for takeoff or whatever, so I would say wait until you are on the runway and you start speeding down it. But either way, it seems to work. I am pretty modest so nursing in public is stressful for me. I applaud women who do it, and I think anyone who has a problem with it, needs to shove it and go deal with themselves. BUT as I said, it’s not when I feel most comfortable, so it took some getting used to for me. But honestly, no one is paying attention on the plane, I had Andrew block me, and I used a cover and my jacket and about ten other things, so other than being really hot (yep, I was sweating again), it was really easy to do and by my second or third flight while nursing, I couldn’t have cared less. You can also pack bottles with dry formula to use and buy bottled water after security to fill it if you’re not nursing. If your kid refuses to feed during those times, you can also try a paci.
Bring All the Snacks
One of the best ways to entertain a baby who is eating solids or a toddler, is snacks. I bring new snacks that James doesn’t normally get to eat: Amy’s bunny and graham crackers, Amy’s fruit snacks, Pirates Booty and some other things that aren’t the worst things in the world to eat but certainly aren’t the beacons of nutrition. I much prefer for him to snack on fruits and veggies and cheese and whole food at home. In any event, these are a fun alternative to his usual puffs (though I bring those too) and a good way to keep him busy and from getting cranky when flights are delayed and we’re late for his nap. I also like to do some organic fruit pouches and yogurt pouches — they usually let you through security with them but sometimes you can buy at Starbucks too.
Bring a Bag of New Toys
I’m not saying buy all new toys for one trip, plus, there’s space to worry about, but I like to bring some new, small toys he’s never seen plus, some oldies that I will hide for a week or two brefore the trip so that he’s excited to play with them again. I go for small toys that light up and play music (it’s better than screaming so I figure other passengers can deal — plus, they’re not that loud so it’s hard to hear over the plane engine noise). I bought those new crayons that you can get off any surface and the little book that goes with and James got his first experience coloring, which was fun. He tried to eat the crayons, so this is strictly for heavy supervision on the plane, but it worked for a good 20 minutes on our last flight. I also learned to bring books. I usually bring his faves, including some tactile ones where he can tough stuff, because he really doesn’t have the attention span for books he doesn’t’ know right now. His favorites include The Gruffalo, Llama Llama Red Pajama, and this cute one If I Were a Monkey that’s super tactile. Other things people have suggested to me: playdo (he’s too young but that’s a popular one), stickers, cups and puzzles.
Making a Portable Diaper Changing Station
My mother in law bought us this portable diaper changer that’s a lifesaver. We use it in our diaper bag, and take it with us everywhere, including on flights. I’ll pack it with wipes, enough diapers for the day (in case we get delayed so like 4-5), and cream. Then I can just grab it out of the bag and take it with me to the bathroom to change him without lugging our huge bag or getting it dirty in the airport bathroom etc. I also toss in some extra diapers in our carry-on and an extra pack of wipes in case our bag doesn’t make it, we run out of diapers, or he spills everywhere, which he always does.
Pack Extra of Everything
I always include an extra outfit or two and extra socks for James as well as an extra shirt for me. Friends recommend sticking both in Ziplock bags to avoid spilling although I often don’t do that for space — they never pack as well in bags. I do toss in an extra big Ziplock or two to throw in any dirty clothes that get spit up, poop, applesauce, whatever all over them. Additionally, I always have an extra thing of wipes and at least 5-10 extra diapers on top of the ones I packed in our changing station. I like to pack two blankies/swaddle blankets — even though James isn’t a blankie person you always end up needing them. I pack one plastic bib with the pocket to catch food and one cloth one that packs easily and I can whip out easily. Now, I’ll even pack an extra pair of shoes in our carry-on for James in case he kicks one off and I can’t find it anywhere. I also like to pack an extra sweater in case he gets cold, or an additional light jacket and a spare pare of PJs in case the bags don’t make it.