In the almost 17 months that our son has been alive, we’ve traveled with him about a dozen times. Most of those have involved one or multiple flights, others were car trips, and some had a little of both. Most of the time both my wife and I were there to help, but we’ve also both been solo (though only my wife has flown solo, which is a much taller task).
With all this experience, we’ve gone from being terrified first-time-flying-with-baby-ers (is that a term?) to grizzled, seasoned vets who pretty much have everything down to a science. Okay, maybe we’re not that good. But we have learned a lot about effectively traveling with a baby and I thought I would share some of those lessons with you today.
1. Check the cost of bringing baby gear on your flight
If you’re traveling with a baby, chances are you’re not traveling incredibly light. There’s a very good chance you’ll have a stroller, a car seat, and maybe even a portable crib in addition to your other luggage. Not only can these things be difficult to lug around an airport, but they can potentially be costly.
Before you buy a ticket, look up the airline’s policies on charging for baby gear. Many of them allow you to take at least some of it for free, but there may be limitations. We just flew Jet Blue and they let us check as much baby equipment as we wanted free of charge. Delta has allowed us to gate-check up to two items for free (though they’ve always counted our car seat and its base as one item, which is nice). But some carriers may treat such items as regular luggage and charge you to check them. Make sure you factor any additional cost into the price of the ticket to get a true comparison between airlines.
2. Bring things to do that focus on the baby
If you’re flying, you’re going to be in confined spaces for long periods of time. While this can certainly be enjoyable, it will most definitely not be relaxing. Do not expect to get very far with your favorite trashy romance novel or to kick back and fall asleep to your favorite music.
The best way to keep your child happy and calm throughout the trip is to make sure you keep him or her entertained. When waiting in the airport, explore some of the shops or spread out a blanket and scatter some toys. For the actual flight, bring a couple of books and other quiet toys and be prepared to do a lot of holding. Breast feeding is great for little kids because it’s comforting and helps pop their ears. When they get older a bottle or sippy-cup can have the same effect. Luckily for us, my son likes to sleep through most flights, but we’ve also made sure that when he’s awake we’re pulling out all the stops to focus directly on him and keep him entertained.
The point here is that you should be prepared to put in some significant effort to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. It can definitely be fun to go on this “adventure” with your baby, but it will take some work.
3. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking
Parenting is hard and we all doubt ourselves from time to time. That can only get worse when you put your parenting chops in display in front of hundreds of people, especially when those people are sitting right next to you on a small plane. There are many things that can happen in an airport or on the plane that can make you worry about what those people are thinking. It will take you a little longer than usual to get through security (sometimes a lot longer). Your baby might decide that your 3 hour flight is the perfect time to throw an inconsolable fit. Even every-day struggles like your baby not wanting to eat what you’re feeding him can make you uncomfortable when others are watching.
Throughout all of this, you will get many people who’ve been through it before and give you encouraging looks. But you will also get angry people who look like they want to strangle you. And you’ll get the “helpers”, the people who have all kinds of ideas on how you could parent your child better.
You need to ignore both the looks of death and the helpers. There’s only so much you can do in these circumstances, especially on a flight. If you start reacting to other peoples’ reactions, your child will notice and it will only make things worse. It might be hard, but staying focused on your baby and remaining patient and comforting is the best thing you can do. You can’t make everyone around you happy, but you can certainly focus on making your baby happy.
4. If driving, plan travel around nap/sleep time
A car trip can potentially be even more difficult than a plane flight, since your baby is confined to a car seat without the ability to move around even a little. Plus, you may or may not want to be in the back with him or her, and those rear-facing car seats can make your baby feel like she’s missing out on the action. And you can’t relying on holding her or breast feeding, since again you’re constrained by the car seat.
My advice here is to try as best you can to schedule any long drives during a time when your baby would otherwise be sleeping. This has multiple positive effects. First, it allows you to drive without the stress of making sure your baby is entertained. Second, it allows your baby to sleep relatively peacefully. And third, it frees up the rest of your time to plan activities without worrying about nap time.
5. Entertainment can be dirt cheap
Literally, once your baby gets a little older and starts moving around, dirt will be an incredibly exciting toy for him or her. This is one of the great things about young children. You don’t need to splurge on things like the zoo or amusement parks (though those can be fun too). The whole world is still new and exciting and ready to be explored. Our son loves to play with rocks, run up and down city sidewalks, or simply spin around in circles and fall on his butt. None of these things cost money but they can all be fun, especially when done in a new place. Take part in your child’s wonderment and explore your vacation spot on the cheap.
Photo courtesy of Christian Haugen