We’ve all been there - stuck in a small cockpit with a stranger nearly laying in your lap because they wanted to recline - and the cherry on top? The baby behind you that hasn’t stopped crying since takeoff. If you take a moment to put things in perspective, these are good problems to have - you have the priviledge to travel and are merely dealing with some of the nuances that come with said travel. But while you’re in that seat, it sucks. Now that I’m a mom, though, what sucks even more is to be the mother (or father, or caretaker) of that crying baby in the seat behind you. If you think traveling is tough, think about traveling with a baby! This post is not meant to scare you off, though, just want to set the stage to say I UNDERSTAND, but mamas, we can do something about it, and hopefully this post will show you how.
I’ve now traveled by plane with Liv at 6 months, 7 months, 8 months, and 14 months, from flights as short as an hour to our most recent six and a half hour flight to California. Even with planning and doing everything “right,” it’s still stressful, but as we walk off the plane I always get comments from those seated around me “wow, I didn’t even know there was a baby!” I’m sure I’ll jinx all of that now for our next flight since it was likely just luck, but I like to think it’s a little bit of preparation too! So here’s how you can get prepared.
Planning the flights.
When possible, I like to make sure that flights will coincide with as much of my daughter’s sleeping time as possible. If they are sleeping most of the flight, you are winning. For shorter flights this would simply mean you fly during what would be their naptime, for longer flights you might consider a red-eye.
Some people like buying seats with extra room, or even an extra seat for the baby and bringing the car seat. I’ve never done any of these. Instead I travel with Liv as a lap infant. More on this in a bit.
Packing the bags.
I like to travel light, especially since I’m not a fan of checking luggage. For our recent trip, I did bring a carseat and stroller because we would be renting a car, but I checked these and do not bother with them in the airport. My favorite travel stroller is my First Years Jet stroller - it’s a lightweight umbrella stroller that still has some nice features including the option to recline, an underseat storage bin, an organizational unit at the handles for my phone, keys, drink, etc., and a super smooth ride on smooth or rough terrains.
I like to pack one large carry-on with all of our clothes for the trip and extra diapers. Our diaper bag is our real carry-on that holds everything we need during the flight and in the middle of travel. Here are a few key things we throw in the diaper bag:
- 2-3 diapers and wipes
- one change of clothes for accidents
- waterproof bib
- boogie wipes
- one-two new small toys
- sippy cup
- ipad mini (with pre-downloaded apps and videos) and headphones
Prior to boarding.
For travel, I always wear Liv in a baby carrier. When she was smaller I loved using our Sakura Bloom sling. Now that she’s much heavier I’ve found my Ergobaby to be irreplaceable. It really allows me to walk around with her all day if need be. The easy-access pockets in the front are perfect to throw my I.D. and boarding passes in so that I’m not constantly searching through bags or misplacing them. The hood is also perfect for nursing or getting her too sleep when there’s too much going on around her.
If we’re flying very early in the morning (ie, Liv is still asleep before we leave), I usually try keeping her asleep prior to boarding and during take off.
If Liv is awake when we get to the airport, I try my best to let her expend some energy before we board! Many airports have kid areas or baby gyms where kids can do just that - find one and take them there before the flight! Many airports don’t though, and in these cases I just let Liv explore around in a safe area near a gate without a flight assigned yet (ie, where no people are sitting around)!
You can also ask at the gate for a seat with extra leg room (or the bassinet if it's a larger plane/longer flight) if there are some still available. Most folks have to pay extra for these if you do it in advance, but most people at the desk will do it for no charge if they still have some available at the time.
On the plane.
Most airlines allow those traveling with small children to board first. I like this option because you can get situated before everyone is bumping elbows on the plane, get to for sure use the overhead bins for storage, and can get your seat and child prepared before takeoff.
I store my larger carry-on in the overhead bin and the diaper bag under the seat in front of us. I make sure to place things I will use frequently in easy reach - a pack of boogie wipes, Liv’s sippy cup, and my cell phone get placed in the seat pockets in front of me. If we’ve got extra room I’ll also store some snacks and the iPad. I also like to use the “sick bag” provided as a trash bag.
If Liv is sleepy, I’ll keep her in the Ergobaby and nurse her at takeoff; she will fall asleep soon after. If she’s wide awake, I take her out of the carrier and allow her to sit on my lap or dance around in place, but still make sure to nurse her on takeoff! Having them nursing (or bottle-feeding) on takeoff keeps their ears from popping, so make sure to do this during takeoff! If your little one is past that stage, having them snacking or chewing on something during takeoff is also helpful for keeping those little ears from popping.
For many flights, the sound of the airplane itself and the nursing on takeoff lends itself to a nap. If the baby sleeps (and if you are also tired), now is the time to try and nap yourself! I never buy magazines or anything to “keep me busy” during flights - it will mostly just lead to disappointment when you weren’t able to get to it; instead I try to nap when she does.
For our most recent trip to California, Liv slept the first hour of the flight, but then was wide awake and ready to play for the remaining five and a half hours of the flight! So what to do then? Here are a few things to keep them busy:
small new toys - I like to pack one or two small new toys for flights - they keep Liv more engaged because they’re novel. I like to pick things that have multiple ways to play with them too. Liv loves these flashcards and can play with them for quite some time. Wooden toys like these stacking cars are also great - they can roll them around like cars, play with the wheels, stack them, or just chew on them!
anything (safe) can be a new toy - for most babies, planes are completely new environments! Use that to your advantage. Plastic drinking cups can be your best friend. Liv was fascinated with them - she would sort her snacks into the cups, stack the cups, or try nesting them inside each other. She seriously played with these for a good half hour. Get creative with what can be a toy! She also loved the remote control on the seat, and had tons of fun pressing all the buttons.
iPad mini - I know the use of iPads in babies and toddlers is debated. But not for me. Liv will run and play outside over the ipad any day, and we will continue to keep her preferences this way as she gets older. But when babies have to sit still for hours at a time, there’s nothing wrong with the ipad. The people who say babies weren’t meant to watch videos should also remember that babies probably weren’t meant to sit still for 6 hour flights either. Modern-day problems call for modern-day solutions. Ok, enough of my rant!
Before out trip I make sure to download a couple of episodes of Liv’s favorite show (Dora the Explorer) and have that ready to go for times she is really restless. I also have some fun apps downloaded on the iPad as well - some of our favorites are listed below:
Our iPad mini is protected with this case and these screen protectors - Liv has dropped it/chewed on it/spit up on it and our iPad is still in pristine condition. It’s also very easy for me to remove when I want to use it, but not so much so that Liv can ever get it off. We also use over-ear headphones so those seated next to us don’t have to put up with Dora or animal sounds!
And a key principle for traveling? If they’re happy, leave them! Do not try to change activities just because you think they’ve had “enough” of it. They’ll let you know when they’ve had enough, so until then, leave them! And breathe. Traveling with children can be stressful, but if you sort of accept this and prepare in advance, you can have a successful trip! Remember that the most important thing is everyone arrive safely. Happy travels!