This weekend I am traveling ALONE...which I've only done once since becoming a mom, and comes with its own crazy laundry list of preparations (mostly instructions for the care of those 'left behind'!). But it started me thinking about how much work it is to travel with children, when you're new to it. Here are a few helpful hints for any parents about to embark on a journey with children for the first time. (These tips are tailored for flights, especially long ones. Driving is a different ballgame!)
Traveling with an infant is miles easier than with a toddler. They're not so bored with sitting in one place for long periods of time, because chances are they're not crawling or walking yet, and they're pretty content to be stuck to you for hours on end. Toddlers, on the other hand, get BORED and then irritable. There are things you can do / bring to make the trip easier for you all:
- Bulkhead row: after booking your airline ticket online, call the reservations desk and talk to them about putting you in the bulkhead row for your flight. It may not be available, but if it is, the extra space in front of you will be a godsend. Also, if your baby is still relatively small, many airlines have clip-on bassinets with seatbelts that can be placed on the wall in front of you once the 'seatbelts' sign has turned off. This is miraculous - it can give you a chance to run to the restroom, eat your dinner, or even just rest if you're lucky enough that your baby sleeps in it!
- Carrier: I'm a big fan of babywearing anyway, but when you're traveling, it's even better. There are benefits to the stroller (below), but you can't bring that on the plane. And since baby will have to be in your lap anyway, why not give your arms a rest and let her snuggle you in the carrier? Added bonus: no need to worry about whether baby's head or feet are out in the aisle when they fall asleep. (I traveled alone from NY to London with Bug when she was 7 months old and forgot to pack a carrier...she finally slept, in my arms because there was too much turbulence for the bassinet, but I had to stay awake to make sure she didn't end up an inch or two into the aisle and get clipped by the drinks cart! Ugh...) And with toddlers whose little legs get very tired very quickly, this can save on a tantrum when they've just decided they. will. not. go. any. further.!
- Extra Everything: Let's face it - sometimes babies do not have the best tummies. And the last thing you want to deal with on a plane is a blowout diaper or being puked on, but it happens. (Just pray it doesn't happen during takeoff or landing or you'll just have to sit and wait until you can deal with it....!) So extras are important: bring more diapers & wipes than you think you'll need, an extra few onesies or outfits for baby, and even an extra top/bra/underwear/leggings for yourself if you have the space. Even if you don't use them, it's better to be safe than flying for hours with ohmigosh-what-is-thaaat on your clothes!
- Toys: Distractions, distractions, distractions! Bring as many toys as you can fit, and make at least a few of them new to the child(ren). Check out this post for specific toys that have been tried and tested with us before. For an older toddler, games on an iPad and watching movies on the plane TV will keep them occupied a fair bit. Puzzles and simple games go a long way too. Don't forget to space them out so you get the maximum benefit of each item.
- Snacks: This one is not just for the kids - you will need snacks too! Especially if you're traveling alone - you may not be able to handle a squirmy child in your lap and a hot meal in that tiny space between your seat and the one in front of you. I have flown a 7 hour flight and not eaten a thing or gotten to use the restroom because Bug was awake and irritable the entire time, and it was horrible! Pack as many snacks as you can fit in your carryon (Btw, a diaper bag counts as baby's carryon, so you can still bring your own and your purse, if you can manage it!)
- Water bottle: Flying makes you thirsty, and wrangling a baby (and breastfeeding one) does too! I'm not a fan of disposable bottles of water, which are your only option in airports as you can't take liquids through security. However, you can take an empty bottle - and the reusable ones with a filter are brilliant! Because the filter is inbuilt you can even fill it in the sink in a restroom. And you don't have to wait for the air hostess to bring you one of those tiny little sample bottles three times in the flight.
- Bottle/breast/pacifier: The change in air pressure can bother your baby's ears when you take off and land, but unlike adults, they don't know to swallow or move their jaw around to 'pop' their ears. This can lead to a screaming frenzy from an infant in pain! The best thing I found when Bug was very little was time her next breastfeeding session to the takeoff time and the problem would naturally resolve. (Obviously a bottle would work too!) However if there are delays, an overly hungry baby can scream too much to feed, so tread carefully here. You can always try letting the baby suck on your finger or pacifier, too - just make sure they do it for the entire ascent / descent to avoid the pressure.
- Ride On Luggage: We have a Trunki and it is seriously the best thing ever! (see above) Not only does Bug get excited at having her very own suitcase, it's totally adorable, easy to spot, and she can either drag it herself or we can pull it with her sitting on it - very helpful for those interchanges between terminals!
- Stroller / Pushchair: Whether you push baby all the way to the gate and then gate-check it, or decide to check it in with your luggage, having a stroller with you will be priceless at some point. (If for nothing other than a place to store all of your carryon items so you don't have to lug them around!)
- Make It Fun: Find the play spaces at airports! Little ones can usually crawl around in a safe space and older ones can avail of the climbing frames or ball pits that you find. Create games out of the otherwise boring moments - count suitcases in their favorite color. Have them point out all the letters they recognize. Make up stories about where you're headed, or names of places you don't recognize. Keep it entertaining so they don't get bored before you're even on the flight!
Now in the recent past I have heard of people handing out candies or sweets to the people around them on the plane, in case of their child not handling the flight well. I've never seen it myself, nor have I done it, but it certainly sounds like a nice thing to do. Sometimes babies scream and cry, and despite all of parental efforts, there's nothing to be done. This happens in the safety of our own homes; you better believe it can happen on a plane too. Just accept that it's a possibility before you start flying or you will stress yourself and your baby out by panicking and trying desperately to quiet them.
It can be a lot of work, but it is totally worth it! Being able to explore as a family, and show your children new places and cultures, is an amazing experience and one that we plan on continuing - even after we're outnumbered by kids! ;)
Have you ever taken a long trip with small kids? What tips do you have?!