When my first baby was 4 months old, my husband and I took him from Vancouver to Australia. He didn’t make a peep for the entire 15-hour flight. My husband, on the other hand, snored like a freight train for the better part of 8 hours. How do I know this? Because I lay in my pod (if you have to fly 15 hours with an infant, go first class… save up points, sell a kidney, do whatever it takes… you’ll thank me…) wide awake and anxious the entire time, while my two boys got their rest. A little exhaustion couldn’t hide my smugness when we landed. High fives from flight attendants and a hug from the older couple who had rolled their eyes and sighed audibly when they saw our little family set up shop right next to their very expensive corner of the aircraft.
The next leg of our journey, an easy 2-hour hop to the Gold Coast (in coach) went a little differently. He screamed from the moment we boarded (he obviously objected to the lack of legroom) and literally didn’t stop until baggage claim. He wouldn’t nurse and I couldn’t pump because, in my smugness, I’d transferred my pump into the checked baggage. The guy in the window seat of our threesome was less than understanding. I got off that plane looking like Gary Busey after a weeklong bender. I think I may have googled Australia’s immigration laws to avoid the thought of ever boarding another plane with my coach-averse monster child. This beach town literally half a world away was going to be our new home.
Four years and dozens of flights later, we’re finally getting the hang of it.
A few things to calm your nerves before you, in your hormonal, sleep-deprived haze, decide it’s a good idea to travel while they’re young, the flights are free and food is easy – assuming that food is coming from you and you’re not fighting with some old guy at security who won’t let you bring your pumped breast milk on board – but we’ll save that for another blog…
- Being organized is key. By now you know that it takes twice as long as planned to leave the house for a latte, so when you’re dealing with suitcases, carry-ons, breast pumps, strollers, pack ‘n plays, diapers… multiply that number by about 75. Have everything ready the day before and then pack your final bits and pieces as soon as you’re done with them on the day of the flight (early mornings are never a good idea if you can help it). Oh, and lists are a must. Check and cross-check on repeat. Trying to remember everything is tricky at the best of times (see: Baby Brains post). Don’t make the same mistakes I did. #whereismypassport? Oh, and if your kid has a favorite blanket or stuffie, Krazy Glue it to your diaper bag. Better yet, buy in bulk. There is no greater hell than trying to find a Sophie the Giraffe within 20 miles of your Tuscan villa at 7am. Trust me.
- Pack snacks and even full-on meals! You may be able to feed yourself for days with a 5-minute spin through Hudson News, but your kids need healthy, fresh food that isn’t always available. Flights get delayed, hotel rooms sometimes aren’t ready and grocery stores close early (if they open at all) some days in other countries (I’m looking at you, Spain). Overpack the snacks. Ditto goes for formula. Oh, and whenever possible, try to book a room with a kitchenette – remember, you might need to boil water, refrigerate breast milk or bring half your meal home after a jetlag-induced meltdown at dinner…
- Do some research and start slowly, if possible. It makes sense to book your first trip to a place you’ve visited before – and one where they speak your language. Some countries are no-gos for tiny babies who haven’t had their shots, so check with your doctor before going off the beaten path. Hell, check with your doctor if you’re staying smack dab in the middle of the beaten path if you’re unsure. And travel insurance is a must!
- And while you’re on google, see what you can find at your destination so you don’t have to pack it. A lot of tourist-friendly cities have local rental companies that can kit your place out with everything from high chairs to Exersaucers, baby gates and mosquito nets. And ask your friends about traveling with car seats. Some swear by it, while others don’t need the extra baggage. Do what you’re comfortable with. And again, check with the country. In Australia, for example, taxis must provide car seats, but you have to book them ahead of time.
- Do your research. Find out about what’s safe for your babe in terms of sunscreen, bug repellent, etc. before you go – and pack accordingly. Rash guards, hats and light pieces to cover them up are a necessity if you’re heading somewhere warm. Oh, and see what your mommy squad can lend you. If you’re going on a ski trip and you live in San Diego, see if you can borrow snow gear from someone or buy it used. Traveling is expensive enough without adding four Moncler ski suits that won’t fit by next winter.
- Airplanes are loud, in a good way. White noise is like catnip for babies. The tiny cry of a three-month-old is barely audible above a whirring engine. Most people are understanding, we’ve all been there. Handing out bags of candy with a pre-emptive apology like “Sorry in advance if our tiny baby is loud, this is her first flight and we’re not sure how it’s going to go…” might build up some good will and soften even the most eye-rolly passengers a tiny bit. Oh, and as soon as they’re old enough, whip out the iPad and pull up the longest movie you can find (make sure you download it beforehand, airplane wifi can be iffy). Plug in the earphones and order yourself a drink! You’re on vacation, after all!
- Don’t experiment. Anti nausea medicine varies from country to country. In Canada, it puts kids to sleep. Whatever that woman at CVS in Maui sold me certainly did not. We had a full-blown dance party for six hours that night. A flight is the worst possible time to introduce something new – medicine or otherwise. Allergies and other bad reactions can be dangerous on solid ground, let alone at 30,000 feet.