I've written a lot about traveling with a baby. Since logging in over 30 flights before Charley turned a year old, we've learned so much. I remember how nervous I felt before our first flight (to Hawaii) and how much research I did, desperately trying to prepare for every "what if..." scenario. The truth is, it's easier than you think. Which doesn't mean it's easy. Just that it can be done.
Now that Charley is a little older, his needs are changing, and we have streamlined our travel kit as I like to call it. In advance of the Holiday travel season, I've put together a little cheat sheet...
A good travel stroller is a must. At home, we use this one (I call it our SUV), but for travel, this one is a revelation. It folds down to the size of a bag with one hand, fits into the overhead compartment and weighs a mere 11 lbs! It's definitely a splurge, but for how much we travel, the cost felt justified. When choosing one, just remember that you'll want something light-weight and compact. P.S. Don't forget this! I couldn't live without mine...
Sometimes you just need to have your hands free, which is why investing in a good carrier is key. This one is my favorite and helps keeps the weight of your child distributed on your hips, rather than your back, which is so important when you have a big baby like I do! This is also our trick for getting Charley to fall asleep on the plane, so it's been a lifesaver for us. Bottom line, choose one that suits you and your baby because it's a must for travel.
When flying, I like to pack a larger suitcase which I check, and use a carry-on bag for essentials. I typically pack enough diapers/wipes for a day or two, and then stock up when I get to my location. It's not a bad idea to pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag for you and your baby. This is a huge help in case of unexpected accidents, or if the airline loses your luggage. I also bring this in our hand luggage because it's our secret for good nighttime sleep.
Surviving a flight is just that...survival. Maybe at home your child never gets to watch movies or play with your phone, but when you're traveling you do what you have to do. I have an "Anything Goes!" policy during flights because the main goal is just to make it through, whether it's a 30-minute shuttle ride, or a long-haul international trip. For evening flights, the chances of your child sleeping as he would a regular night are very high. Just know that the chances of you getting proper rest are probably zero. For daytime travel, we try to fly close to nap time and we've had good success getting Charley down for a snooze, but now that he's older, this won't be so easy since he's too interested in the world around him to sleep.
When selecting seats, I prefer to be closer to the front of the plane, but some people like being tucked in the back with kids where they can escape to the galley area. Either way, getting to the airport early is important; always talk to the gate agent and let them know you're traveling with a young child. Sometimes they're able to switch things around and having an entire row to yourself is a huge bonus. You can also consider buying a seat for your child if they're under 2, which is what we did for our flight to Paris. It gave us the peace of mind that we'd have extra room to stretch out and we definitely needed it!
Board early whenever possible, but especially during the holidays! You'll want to have overhead space for your things and that can go quickly on crowded flights.
Flights with a baby, especially a mobile one, are far from relaxing. We pull out all the stops to entertain Charley during flights, but he tends to gravitate towards empty plastic cups, ripping up magazines and interacting with our fellow passengers. He doesn't have much of an attention span for movies or shows, though he is getting more interested in Sesame Street, so I do bring a few things to keep him busy. He loves this and the volume is adjustable so it's never too loud or annoying for others around us. I find that Charley gets extra hungry when we fly, so I pack extra snacks in these (he loves Baby Mum-Mum teethers, Happy Baby Puffs and Yogis).
NICE TO HAVE
These pieces are only packed on a case by case basis and definitely fall under the "nice to have" category. For the most part, we request a travel crib or pack n play at our hotel, but we found that this became cost prohibitive in Europe where they charge steep fees for using a hotel crib. For that trip we planned ahead and brought our own crib (this one is a godsend, super lightweight and can be checked as a normal bag. Plus, there's extra space for cramming in diapers or pajamas). Just remember, when you're on the road you have to improvise and make the most of what you have. We've given Charley a bath in a cooler because our hotel didn't have a tub.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
I apply a bit of this before the flight. Planes are one of the few places I get very strict about germs; I do a quick wipe down of our seats with these (travel size) prior to taking off.
Just remember, nothing is forever, not even the car ride or flight from Hell. Try to go with the flow and take it easy, it'll all be over soon!