Milo is just about to be 9 months old, and so far he’s visited four countries (Portugal, France, Japan, and a quick stop in Spain), taken two long-haul flights (14 and 13 hours) and three flights to Europe. That’s a lot of time in the air — and a lot of time dealing with time change / jet lag. The #1 question I’m asked when it comes to flying with a baby is how in the world do you manage a 14 hour flight? To be honest, it’s really not all that bad.
I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way, so below I’m sharing tips for traveling with a baby. It might seem like a lot of extra effort (and it sometimes is!) but it’s so, so worthwhile.
Here are my tips for traveling with a baby (and a long-haul flight especially):
Expect the worst, hope for the best.
I find that so much of parenthood is about managing expectations. Babies are fussy. It’s normal. The biggest thing I’ve learned over these past 9 months is that as a parent you have little control. Sure, you can manage the situation and do your best with the tools you have available, but at the end of the day, so much of what happens is up to the nature of the baby and the environment you’re in. If you manage your expectations and don’t set them too high, you’ll routinely be happy instead of disappointed. (I suppose the same could be said about life in general, too!)
For instance, when we travel we try to do one thing each day (visit a restaurant we’re hoping to eat at; check out a museum, etc.) and anything we do beyond that is extra. Of course most days we end up doing a lot, but we don’t feel pressure to do it, and instead of feeling any stress, we just have fun.
When it comes to flying, try to remember the simple fact — all babies cry. People are used to it, and many people have been in your seat before! Expect that you’ll have periods of fussiness, and you’ll be equipped to handle them.
Remember: vacationing with a baby is different.
Taking a vacation with a baby is different. It’s definitely not as relaxing (unless you’re lucky to travel with grandparents or other family — we haven’t done that yet)! It is so worthwhile, though.
Flying with a baby is kind of the same thing. I’ve flown a lot over the last few years, and I cherished the time on board. I would settle in and read a good book, put on a face mask, and line up several movies to watch. In between, I’d probably snooze a bit. Being in the air, time feels suspended and you don’t have anywhere else to be — I love that. Of course it’s different with a baby — you have someone else to take care of, and you can’t just zone out.
I have yet to travel alone with Milo, and I have no doubt that traveling alone with a baby is quite a different experience. Matt and I have been lucky to have each other to lean on and have been able to take turns. On our recent long flights, we were each able to have some “down time” and watch a movie or take a nap, while the other one was hanging out with Milo. Of course Milo slept a bit, too, and we used that time to recharge together. This point goes along with #1 – it’s all about expectations and being realistic.
Ask for help, and know what’s helpful.
Every baby is different. There are certain things that may soothe Milo that won’t help another baby. You know your baby best — so use that knowledge to your advantage!
On every flight that we’ve been on, the flight attendants have been so kind and helpful. Keep in mind: they are just as keen on getting the baby to stop fussing as you are. Make friends with the crew, and those seated around you, and if you need anything, just ask. When we went to change the baby in the bathroom, the flight attendants offered us a blanket so he wouldn’t be as cold against the changing table. On every international flight we’ve taken (Air France, Japan Airlines, TAP Portugal), Milo has been offered a cute little gift, which is a nice distraction for a few minutes. Even before you board, keep in mind that people are on your side.
Here are some of the things that we try to do at the airport prior to departure:
– board first! Not everyone likes to sit on the plane while everyone else is boarding, but it’s helpful to have that extra time to get settled with a baby.
– change their diaper before you board, even if it’s not dirty. It’s so much easier to do this in the airport than on the tiny plane bathroom.
– get some snacks (for you). I drink a lot of water when I’m traveling so I always grab a big bottle of water and some chocolate. Mama needs to be happy, too!
– we bring a carrier for emergencies (we have this one), and we love using our travel stroller at the airport. It’s so easy to manage when going through security, and often we’ll be able to get Milo to snooze before the flight.
Reserve a bassinet.
For international flights, most airplanes offer young babies a bassinet on a first come, first served basis. I’m pretty sure this recent trip to Japan will be Milo’s last time using the bassinet (sniff, sniff) as he’s getting too big and moving around too much, but it was a lifesaver on these long flights with a 19 lb. baby. When Milo would start to get drowsy, we’d pop him in the bassinet, and we’d have a little break (our arms thanked us!).
Once you book your tickets, call the airline and ask to sit in the bulkhead. This is where the bassinets are, and simply ask to reserve one. There is typically no fee, although we usually have paid 10% of our fare for Milo – which is pretty standard on international flights. Plus, it’s a total bonus to be seated at the front of the plane. Once you are up in the air, the flight attendant will come and attach the bassinet to the wall. You can’t use it if there’s turbulence and during take-off and landing, but otherwise it’s so helpful.
Packing your carry-on.
Less is definitely more! That’s my travel mantra in general, but especially when traveling with a little one. Only bring on the plane what you really think you might need. Of course, there are a few things you want to bring as “back-up”. I usually start a pile a few weeks before we travel, and tailor down the items a few days prior. You always think you need more than you actually do! Worst case scenario: you can buy whatever you forgot / don’t have enough of when you reach your destination.
Here are the items that usually make it into my carry-on (also, I should note that I love packing cubes. I put all of Milo’s toys and essentials in one so it is easy to grab from my bag. I also put our extra set of clothes in another so they’re super accessible but also out of the way.):
– I’m breastfeeding, so I always pack a nursing cover (this is the one I have) — and I make sure that it’s super accessible. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s helpful to nurse at take-off and landing to help alleviate the pressure. If you aren’t breastfeeding or if you’re baby isn’t interested in nursing, try to get them to chew on your finger or a toy. If they’re sleeping, leave them be! :)
– A few good toys! I bring 4-5 small toys. I select a few from Milo’s current favorites, and 1-2 I reserve for travel due to their small size and the hope that they’ll be new and interesting. I love this small book (or any small book!), the Baby Einstein Takealong is Milo’s most favorite toy (he loves it even if we choose to keep the music turned off), the Whoozit Orbit Teether, and the Sophie teether or another chew toy. I like to bring toys that I can easily wipe clean or throw in the sink with some soap. I also bring along a muslin blanket to be extra cozy.
– An extra pair of clothes for the baby — and you! Accidents happen, and you never know who the baby will be sitting on / next to when they do happen. We always pack an extra pair of clothes for Milo (and PJ’s if the flight is going to extend into nightime hours), as well as an extra pair for Matt and I. This might seem excessive, but if Milo got sick on all three of us during the first hour of a 14 hour flight, we’d be happy to have them!
– I throw a few diapers (6-8 for a long flight — better to have back-up if you need it), wipes, hand sanitizer, and chux pads in a large ziploc bag. When I have to change Milo, I just bring the ziploc and the baby, and you’re good to go. If the bathroom is really dirty, you have the chux pad, and the whole thing is easy to grab.
– Now that Milo is starting to eat solids, I bring along a pack of Baby Mum-Mum’s, which seem to offer a good distraction if he’s fussy. Plus, they’re great for teething.
– It’s hard to predict what will happen on a flight, so I’m always prepared when it comes to first aid. It might be overkill, but it makes me feel better! I pack: a baby thermometer, Nose Frida, saline drops, and Baby Motrin. If Milo were still under 6 months old, I’d bring Gripe Water, too. (I don’t bring it now because I don’t give it to him anymore.)
The more I’ve flown with Milo, the more I want to do it! He has been such a trooper on these long flights, and has loved meeting so many new people. There are so many distractions while flying — people to smile at, new sounds and lights — that I find Milo to be extra sleepy and will nap more often. It’s a lot of effort to smile and take in so much stimulation!
In my mind, there’s no better time to travel than now. Happy adventuring! xo