Having a baby disrupts almost every aspect of your life. Things that were once easy are now mind-bogglingly difficult and even a simple trip to the grocery store can feel like a logistical nightmare. Something bigger, like traveling with an infant, can seem impossible. Trust me, it’s not.
My husband and I are veteran world travelers, so we were so excited about the idea of traveling with our new baby. Once she arrived though, a tiny screaming tyrant with few interests outside eating and pooping, my resolve started to waver. We pressed on and at less than 5 months old my daughter has been across the country twice, and made several shorter trips around the Pacific Northwest. It hasn’t been as bad as I feared, in fact we actually have fun.
When traveling with a baby, preparation is absolutely essential. Here is what you need to know:
In some ways, traveling with a small infant is easier than with an older child. Babies are easy to carry and can’t wander off on their own. They nap on the go and aren’t really interested in much more than taking in the scenery. That said, tiny people have a lot of needs, and if they aren’t met promptly, EVERYONE is going to hear about it.
So you will want to be prepared for every possible baby eventuality. A well packed diaper bag will help. Fill it with plenty of spare diapers, wet wipes, extra clothes in case of a blowout (guaranteed to happen in the least convenient place), trash baggies for wet diapers or clothes and burp cloths. You will want a blanket, extra socks and hats and any medication your baby uses.
If your baby uses a pacifier, pack seven, six are guaranteed to disappear when you need them most. My daughter lives and dies by the pacifier, so I was horrified when 1 hour into a five hour flight, her only one dropped into the abyss under the seat. Now I use a pacifier chain clipped to her outfit to make sure she always has one at hand.
Depending on how you feed your baby you may also want to pack bottles or a nursing shield. Breastmilk and formula are exempt from TSA regulations on liquids so feel free to bring your own supply.
Flying with baby
One of the biggest benefits of having a baby? Children under the age of two can fly in your lap, free of charge. While some people prefer to buy a seat for their baby’s car seat for greater safety and comfort, many choose to simply hold their infant and take advantage of the free airfare.
Flying with a baby can be intimidating, but it’s actually not as scary as it seems. Families with small children are usually allowed to board first, which will give you extra time to get situated. You may want to consider upgrading to a seat with extra legroom for a more comfortable experience.
How your baby will react to flying is really a surprise, and it can vary from one flight to the next.
Some infants are soothed by the motion and white noise of the airplane and quickly fall asleep. Others are bothered by the change in altitude (infants can’t pop their ears) and may become quite upset. This problem is most pronounced on takeoff and landing. You can mitigate it somewhat by trying to feed during those periods, or giving the baby a pacifier to suck on.
On our first flight our 2-month-old baby surprised us. She fell asleep as we were leaving the house and somehow, magically stayed asleep for the next 12 hours straight, through the ride to the airport, airport security, boarding, the flight, and even the ride to grandma’s house. She’s never slept that long before or since.
Our next flight was not so lucky. She had a cold and snuffled, shrieked and cried the entire flight. It was uncomfortable but we all survived. On the whole we’ve found people to be friendly, as long as they can tell you are making an effort to pacify your kid. One sympathetic man even passed us two vouchers for free alcoholic drinks.
For older infants, entertainment will be an issue. Consider bringing a new, never-before-seen toy for the baby to play with. Talk to them, read stories, or watch videos together. If you are traveling with a partner, take turns holding the baby and stretching.
Give yourself enough time
One of the biggest adjustments to traveling with small children is that everything takes just a little more time. You move slower with a baby, and have to make time for to naps, feedings and diaper changes. When your planning your itinerary you want to give yourself that extra time so that you don’t feel rushed. This may mean budgeting extra time at your destination, or moving around less. When you’re flying, get to the airport a little earlier and schedule more time between connections.
Going through TSA can be daunting but they are used to screening all kinds of people, even babies. You will need to carry your baby through the X-ray machine (some people choose to wear their baby in a sling), and the agents will swab your hands for explosives. Everything else, including the car seat, will go on the belt. If you’re carrying baby food or milk they will test that as well.
At the airport you can use your stroller to get around. Another perk of flying with a baby is that you can gate check your stroller and car seat free of charge. Bring a carrying case or a plastic trash bag to wrap up your car seat, so it doesn’t get wet if they are loading the plane in the rain.
Try to relax and enjoy
As much as you prepare, and as many situations you plan for, traveling with a baby is unpredictable. Babies are notoriously hard to control. Will your little one sleep the entire flight? Or decide to work on their primal scream during takeoff? Know that no matter what happens, you will eventually reach your destination, and then the real fun can begin.
Traveling with a baby can be challenging but it’s rewarding too. Introducing them to the world of travel young helps them build the skills they will need for a lifetime. You get to rediscover the world through the eyes of your kid, and there is no high quite like that.