By 11 months of age, my daughter had been on about 30 flights! I often get asked how these flights went. While I’d love to say they were all a breeze – in reality, some flights were difficult and a couple of them downright painful (Thailand to Lahore, I won’t forget you!). But for the most part, someone usually comes up to me post-flight and says, “she did good,” as I let out a sigh of relief.
Because most of our family and friends live many hours or plane rides away, and because we LOVE to travel, we haven’t put a pause on our traveling post-baby. I truly believe families shouldn’t confine themselves to their homes once they have babies. Routines are nice, but I think it’s essential to raise children who are broadminded, connected to their loved ones, and not to mention who get to enjoy the new and exciting experiences that come with traveling. My daughter learned to wave from the friendly strangers in Thailand, she got to enjoy the perfectly warm, crisp waves of the ocean, and I still remember the contented look on my mother’s face when she hugged her first grandchild for the first time.
Note: I’m a breastfeeding/co-sleeping mom so I may not have the information necessary for bottle-fed babies. Nonetheless, I hope you find the tips below to be useful.
Planning and Packing
- Get vaccinated. Go to the CDC’s website, choose your country, and select “Traveling with Children” for health information and recommended vaccines for your destination.
- For international flights, request a bassinet. The bassinets are located on the first row behind class cabins, so you get extra legroom as well. Our baby was a bit tall for them, but she slept curled up just fine. A slight issue was — you must take your baby out every time the seat belt sign turns on. But overall, it helped much more than it hurt.
- For domestic flights, book a window seat. It helps if you want to breastfeed your baby (without flashing anyone). If the flight is not full, ask if you can be seated next to an empty seat.
- Comfort first. If breastfeeding, wear a nursing friendly outfit. My go-to airport outfit is leggings, a zip-down nursing-friendly tunic, a cardigan, scarf, and comfortable slip-on shoes. Nursing tanks would be very helpful too. Expect to get a little disheveled. You’re a mom – you get a free pass!
- Take advantage of items that go for free. Car seats and strollers should go for free. We’ve also taken this baby high-chair, a walker, and similar baby items. Also, I must mention it’s very difficult to consistently use a car seat in a developing country such as Thailand. Think traveling via planes, trains, taxis (without seat belts), long tail boats, Tuk Tuks, etc. It’s difficult to lug around the car seat (plus umbrella stroller, diaper bag, etc.) when you most likely will not be able to use it. Every country’s idea of good parenting is so different, right? 🙂
- Ask the hotel for cribs. We coslept, but most hotels will bring you cribs upon request. If not, you can bring a portable playard.
- Less is more. I’m very much a minimalist in daily life, and this is very helpful when traveling. The less you bring, the less you have to keep track of. Of course there are some essentials. Baby Vitamins & Tylenol. Layers of clothing. Food such as baby cereal, dates, fruit, or purées in pouches (versus jars) for babies over 4-6 months. Bottled water at all times (they let you take it past security if you mention it’s for baby). For non-crawling babies, I recommend bringing a thick mat, or something on which she can lay and stretch out her legs. I’ve heard good things about this Travel Bed. Also, leave the big stroller at home and pack an umbrella stroller.
- Be hands-free. I think everyone who ever travels with babies knows this well, because I’ve rarely seen mothers or fathers carrying babies in their arms. They usually wear their baby through the airport with a solid baby carrier such as the ErgoBaby. Cloth carriers work when the baby is younger, but they’re not as travel-friendly. To further free your hands, use a messenger or backpack diaper bag, and transfer your essential purse items to that instead of bringing your purse.
- For privacy, look for a nursing room . In domestic as well as international airports, there are often nursing rooms available where moms can nurse or pump in privacy. They often provide cribs and changing stations too, so regardless of if you’re nursing, you can use these rooms to relax as a family. MomsPumpHere is an app that helps you locate nursing rooms wherever you are. MomAboard also provides a list of nursing rooms at domestic as well as international airports. I usually google it or ask one of the airport staff driving the carts (since they know the airport well). Sometimes they’ll even give you a ride there! For more tips, the CDC’s recommendations for traveling as a nursing mom can be found here.
- ID/Paperwork and Checking in. Domestic flights are free for babies under 2. International rates vary — mostly you just pay taxes. For international travel, your baby will need to have a passport. For domestic flights, you need a scanned copy of her birth certificate or other document that shows her age. Showing the copy on your phone will be fine. Most airline staff has been pretty lenient on this except that one time when we were about to miss our flight.
- Don’t board early. You, as a parent, are the best judge of this, but I’ve found that boarding close to the end has been the best way to keep my daughter relaxed and occupied (she’s a people watcher). If you fly American Airlines, note that as of March 1st, they do not allow families of small children to board early.
- Nurse during Takeoff/Landing. It’s often debated how you should manage your baby during takeoff and landing. Some airline staff has advised me to keep my baby upright in case of turbulence. But that’s not always practical. Most moms will advise feeding your baby (or giving a pacifier) to prevent ear popping. Luckily, our daughter had no ear popping problems, so I just went with the flow and fed her or sat her up as necessary.
- Keep your baby engaged. Board books, squishy balls, and any non-choking hazard items you have in your purse are all game. As I’ll discuss in my next point, less is more. My daughter loves in-flight “toys” such as plastic cups, magazines or the disposable diaper bags. I’ve heard parents have great luck with iPads and phones preloaded but I’m a bit iffy of too much screen time.
- Take it easy. Pre-baby, we usually woke up thrilled to explore, left the hotel as soon as possible, and returned close to midnight, or later. This past New Year’s Eve, we were in REM sleep at 10:30 P.M while there was a glaringly loud pool party outside our hotel in Krabi, Thailand. So, be mentally prepared for the baby to dictate your travel plans..and plan to do less than what you’re used to.
- Buy ease. Pay for breakfast at the hotel. Time the flights around baby’s nap time. Book nonstop flights and go for shorter layovers. In Thailand, we often paid for the limousine taxi service to avoid standing in long lines for a regular taxi. We paid for a private long-tail boat. We booked private tours instead of group. I don’t regret spending extra on ease at all. At the end of the day, happy baby = happy you.
- Be flexible. Strict schedules and routines need to be thrown out the window. “To See” lists need to be shortened. And if you are visiting family, and they want to keep your baby up a little later, let them. Your baby will only be that age once. Let others who adore her enjoy their time.
- Relax. I’ve noticed that many people believe traveling with a baby is very nerve-wrecking and anxiety-provoking. Perhaps being a bit relaxed about it makes it easier. In ‘regular’ life, I’m a pretty high-strung mom. But traveling with my baby has forced me to focus on what’s really important. I understand parents’ concerns: all of the enjoyment in the world means nothing if your baby isn’t happy. But an unhappy baby usually has an unmet need. Do your best to intuitively give her food, shelter, sanitation, warmth, rest and most importantly, attention and love. You’ll find that traveling lets you spend quality time as a family without the pressure of endless daily tasks. So just let go of fear and enjoy the travels!
- Massage your baby. This is a very old-school Pakistani tip. Throughout your travels, before bedtime, massage your baby gently over her clothes or with a light oil (such as jojoba). It helps relax their muscles and they may sleep better.
- Quick and clean diaper change. Here’s the magic plastic bag diaper changing method — Place the open side of a plastic grocery bag underneath your baby’s bottom before changing. Throw in all the dirty wipes, diaper, etc. as you change her. This helps keep everything compact and mess-free. And even if she leaks, it’ll be inside the plastic bag!
Hope these tips were useful and inspirational. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well! What do you think about traveling with a baby? What are some baby travel tips you’ve learned?