By Sandra Gordon
Whether you’re road tripping it to Grandpa and Grandma’s, getting your passports stamped—or something in between–traveling with a little one is always a big adventure.
With their love of a set schedule and the familiar, plus loads of gear, babies are natural homebodies.
Still, they can be surprisingly adaptable and getting out and about (and outta the house!) can be loads of fun for everyone. The trick is to be prepared so that you can enjoy the journey—and the destination. These expert traveler tips can help–no matter where you’re headed with your baby or how you’re getting there.
Be a diaper bag overachiever
When you’re traveling, your diaper bag becomes your mobile kitchen, changing table and entertainment center more than ever. Think worst case scenario (as in hours on the
tarmac; unexpected train delays; flight cancelations); pack everything your baby might need, even if it’s just a short trip, including extra diapers, a travel pack or two of wipes, a change or two of clothes, an extra shirt for you (radar: spit-up, spills), snacks, toys, a pacifier or three, feeding supplies, such as baby food pouches, infant formula that is ready-to-go (more on those in a minute) and lots of Ziploc bags for storing used baby bottles until you can wash them, and what not.
Don’t be like one mom who goofed and packed all of her baby’s diapers in her checked bag. “I had to walk around the plane and ask other parents for a spare diaper,” says flight attendant Betty N. Thesky, author of Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase. “There were no other babies on board that day so I improvised by putting two holes in a pillowcase with a Kotex down the center.”
Apply for TSA Precheck
If you fly a lot as a family or plan to, TSA Precheck is worth it ($85 for a five-year membership). If you’re TSA prechecked, you can speed through airport security
because you don’t have to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belt and light jackets. Apply before flying. Even if you’re TSA Prechecked, still give yourself plenty of time to get through security nonetheless, especially with a baby and gear in tow. Strollers, umbrella strollers, baby carriers, car seats, booster seats and backpack carriers must be screened by X-ray.
Also, “be aware of airline policies before arriving at the airport,” says Greg Staley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Travel Association. Things to know: What’s your child’s baggage allowance with or without a ticket (infant traveling in your arms)? Is a breast pump allowed on board? (Yes, and it doesn’t count as a carry-on because it’s a “medical device.”) Does the airplane have onboard bassinets (Skycots) for international travel for bulkhead seating? If the plane has empty seats, can you bring your child’s infant car seat on board if you don’t pay for a ticket (infant traveling in my arms)?
If you’re not sure about something because the airline website doesn’t spell it out, call the airline ahead to get answers to your questions so you can plan accordingly.
Visit https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children for more info on flying with children.
Take the pressure off
“Give your baby a bottle during take-off and landing,” Thesky says. Sucking on something, such as a bottle or pacifier, will help relieve ear pressure.
Dress your baby in the cutest outfit ever
Flying with a baby is unpredictable. During one flight, your baby could be quiet and content. The next, she could scream the entire flight. Worried about fussiness and judgmental fellow passengers? Adorable outfits help. Pay extra for a nonstop flight (if you have to) You’ll be more likely to get there on time, once you plane takes off. Connecting flights can get canceled or delayed, which is no fun for anyone, especially families with young children. And, book the first flight out too, coming and going. It’s less likely to get delayed or canceled.
Split up your stuff
If you’re checking bags, divvy up the contents so that each suitcase has some of everyone’s clothes in it, including your baby’s. That way, if a bag gets lost, everyone will have something to wear for the next few days, until your bag is found (fingers crossed). DiScala travels to over 20 countries per year. A lost bag is rare. Still, “once it happens to you, you learn to pack strategically,” he says.
Stick to your baby’s schedule
Traveling around naptime (or at bedtime for international flights) is ideal because your baby can sleep and maybe you can catch some zzzs too. Be sure to bring along her favorite stuffed animal or blanket. If you’ve got a toddler, make the flying experience fun with crayons, books and plenty of snacks. This strategy worked for Martie Adamsen on a cross-country flight with her 18-month-old, Meghan. “I kept her West Coast schedule, says Adamsen. “On the plane, we went from activity to activity. Then, during her regularly scheduled naptime, I kept to her routine–getting her cozy in her favorite blanket, having her drink some milk, then singing her favorite lullaby–and she went right to sleep.”
Time your flight right
If you’re traveling on a weekday, avoid early-morning flights so you and your baby don’t have to compete with harried business travelers. Thrift tip:
By flying at off times, you can get a better deal an airfare, too.
Take advantage of downtime
If fancier restaurants and sightseeing are on your travel itinerary, time excursions for 2 PM, or whenever your baby typically take his afternoon nap. Fingers crossed that he’ll sleep in his car seat right through it. On-the-go naps aren’t as restorative as regular naps but they’re better than no nap.
Otherwise, eat out early. Prime time for eating out with infants, toddlers and preschoolers is Sunday through Wednesday before the typical lunch
or dinner times (11:30 A.M or 5:30 PM). That’s when restaurants are less crowded and you’ll get faster service so you can get in and out. Stick to family-friendly restaurants and bring your own bag of tricks (pacifiers, toys, electronic device, paper and markers) just in case.
Or, thrift tip: Book a hotel room with a kitchen and eat most of your meals in. Even if you’ve still got to do all the cooking, hanging out at your home away from home with a baby is just easier than trying to go out in the evening.
Traveling overnight? Bring a travel crib
For real naps and nighttime sleep in your hotel or at Grandma’s, a travel crib, such as the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light can help babies and toddlers get in a real nap. It’s only 11 pounds and opens like an umbrella. It’s much easier to set up/dissemble than a traditional Pack ‘n Play. Before your trip, have your baby sleep in it at home to get used to it. If you’d rather not lug even a travel crib, call the hotel ahead to reserve your baby gear.
Rent Baby Gear
Renting baby gear is an increasingly popular option for parents and grandparents. “We’re going to reduce checked baggage in the U.S. as families pack light and leave the baby gear to us,” says Trish McDermott, a spokesperson for Babierge, a baby gear rental company that operates independently in over 200 markets across the U.S. and Canada.
Babierge Trusted Partners can meet you at the airport or setup your gear in your Airbnb, hotel room or wherever you’ll be staying before you get there. You can rent most any baby item, including a car seat, full-size crib, stroller, jogging stroller, baby bath tub and Pack ‘n Play. Renting is an expense, but you’ll save on checked baby gear fees at the airport. And traveling is a lot easier with less gear to lug.
Be part of the goodie bag brigade
Handing out goodie bags with chocolate, earplugs and spa gift certificates (kidding!) to fellow airline passengers before take-off is a lasting trend.
“There’s always a note, such as ‘Hello, my name is Madison. I’m 5 months old. My parents are going to do everything they can to keep me happy and quiet. They apologize in advance if I get a little cranky or noisy.’”
“It’s a pre-emptive-baby-screaming-don’t-hate-me-move, and it works pretty well,” Thesky says.
Still, it’s extra work to make goodie bags when you got lots on your travel to-do list. Don’t feel bad if you decide to just wing it. If your baby starts fussing, bring comfortable shoes and do the soothing stroll jiggle through the aisle.
“If other travelers see that you’re trying, they won’t get upset,” says John DiScala, a.k.a. “Johnny Jet,” a travel blogger who has traveled to over 100 countries. DiScala even participated in the inaugural longest commercial flight in the world, which was then (in 2004) from Singapore to New York—18.5 hours. There was an infant on board. (What!?) “The baby didn’t cry once,” he says.
Sandra Gordon is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting and consumer issues.