October 17, 2016

Flying With A Baby: Tips, Tricks & Hot Toddies

Flying with a baby isn't easy. But it's not impossible.

Becoming a parent doesn't mean that you stop being who you are and stop doing what you love. Yes, finances change with having children. Yes, interests and lifestyles will change, too. But if you make travel a priority and budget accordingly, it's still possible - even if you have to spend more time prepping and jump through more hoops to accomplish it!

So if you're a wanderlustin' mama like me and looking for some practical tips on preparing for a transatlantic flight with an infant, read on. And for those blessedly kid-free readers of mine (no, I don't envy you one bit... okay, maybe sometimes), read on for some tongue-in-cheek entertainment, a preview of your potential future, or maybe just a little chuckle at the expense of all us mamas and papas wanting to take our babies all over the world. Just show us some grace - or buy us a beer - when you see us struggling with all the baby gear in transit!

Read More: Our Transatlantic Flight with an 8 Month Old

Not pictured: Patience & a bottle of rum
1. Pack Your Patience
You can forget the carefree days of traveling sans infant: cute outfit, a neck pillow, a good book, and the enjoyment of the on-board entertainment. Pack your big girl panties because things are going to get real. Like, trying to figure out how to change a blow-out diaper in an airplane bathroom kind of real. Be mentally prepared for the most stressful experience of your life. Expect something to spill at the most inopportune time. Resign yourself to the fact that your daughter will fall asleep on you just in time for you to need to use the bathroom. Like I said, flying with a baby is not easy. But your reaction to the stressful situation can make or break it and influence the reaction of your fellow passengers.

And if it doesn't turn out as bad as you feared, well, then party like it's going out of style! Which for us parents usually means a hot toddy at the end of a long day.

Tip: For shorter flights, try to arrange the flight times to occur around or during baby's nap times. Be prepared for annoyed looks from some passengers. They obviously have never, ever been a crying baby even once in their life, and never, ever gave their mother a single moment of annoyance or stress. (Insert massive eye roll.) ...Oh, and if you're a nursing mom and a bit shy about nursing in public (like me), you'll want to snag a window seat. I had a window seat in the back row, and it was perfect for privacy and comfort.

2. Make a Plan
Before I even drew up a packing list for our trip, I created a battle plan for getting to, through, and out of the airport. I'm not even joking (you can blame my A-type personality), but it did help me make sure that I purchased some much needed essentials and had a plan for what big ticket items (stroller, pack n play, etc) we brought versus borrowed at our destination.

  • Arrive Early: Do not underestimate how much extra time you need. The extra baby gear, an unexpected dirty diaper, and a hundred thousand other things can eat up so much more time than you originally plan. For international flights, arrive at least 2.5 hours prior to your flight departure.
  • Baby Carrier: I used a cheap Infantino carrier, but I would recommend investing in something more comfortable if you plan to wear baby consistently. This, however, worked just fine for in the airport and for up to an hour on various excursions. Wear baby while going through security, if allowed, and definitely wear the baby while boarding the plane - having your hands free as much as possible is essential!
  • Carseat / Stroller: We have a Graco travel set in which the infant car seat latches directly onto the stroller, and we decided to gate check both items so that we could use them in the airport as we waited to board. We used the Gate Check Pro travel bags to make sure that our stroller and car seat didn't get overly dirty, and we were pleased with how the bags withstood the rough handling. No ripped seams or tearing. While it is not padded and will not guarantee that your items won't be broken, we were thankful that our baby's car seat was not dirtied as badly as our suitcase.
  • Diaper Bag vs Back Pack: Maneuvering a plane with an infant is hard enough without having to balance a diaper bag on one shoulder. Even if only for the trip, consider using a backpack as a diaper bag. It was so much easier for me to have it strapped onto my back versus using a diaper bag with just the typical "purse strap" on it. 
  • Entertainment: Babies, especially those older than two months, can get bored just like us. Make sure you pack favorite toys and books. Debut a new item on each leg of the trip to pique their interest.
  • Friends: Be extra nice to the stewardesses; they can make your trip so much better! I cannot say enough great things about the on-board experience with IcelandAir. On two of our flights, they arranged for us to have the row to ourselves, and even on the full flights, they were always handy with extra pillows, blankets, and a comforting smile when baby was screaming her sleep-deprived little head off.
  • Go Light on Packing: In years past, Danny and I would each have a huge roller suitcase with maybe a couple of backpacks on top of a camera bag and purse. We're more practical now that we have to balance all the cumbersome baby gear. We used one roller suitcase, one diaper bag, and one camera bag. That was it. I tried to use a capsule wardrobe approach for our clothes and generally feel that we were much more efficient with our packing on this trip than on any other.
These are now my "ABCs" of baby travel, but will remain a work in progress. My daughter was eight months old and already cruising around furniture in terms of mobility when we traveled, so you may need to tweak this list based on your child's age and development level.

Tip: Make sure your diaper bag contains an extra shirt for yourself and hubby in addition to spare outfit(s) for the baby. You never know when a bottle is going to end up all over you!

Gelato is a great end goal.
3. Remember the End Goal
The five stages of flying with a baby are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Oh, wait, those are the five stages of grief. Well, it's pretty much the same thing!
  • Denial: It can't be but so bad. She'll fall asleep eventually. ...right?
  • Anger: Why won't you stop screaming?!?! Do you think you're the only one on this plane? MAN! Why the heck did we think it would be FUN to fly to freaking EUROPE with a BABY!!!
  • Bargaining: Honey... sweet pea... if you just stop crying and go to sleep, mommy will buy you the biggest, most expensive toy in the whole wide world as soon as we get there. I promise!
  • Depression: I am never traveling anywhere again.
  • Acceptance: Well, at least this'll all be over in just a few hours.

All good things come to an end. And so do bad things. So even if the worst case scenario pans out, just remember that you will reach your destination in just a few (long... very long) hours and be off that wretched plane with the last remaining shreds of your sanity and dignity. Then you'll be facing the next big adventure: sleeping with a jet-lagged baby.

Yay, parenthood!

Any other tips you'd like to offer?

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