There are enough stressful things you encounter as a parent - sleepless nights, operating a Nose Frida and lower back tattoos - but traveling with your kids does not need to be one. We love to travel and don’t live close to our families, so early on, we had to learn how to bring her along. Also, since we live in a huge city, our daily lives of maneuvering the subway or going upstate for a full day or taking her to the beach have all taught us little travel tips that carried over into longer vacations with a baby. After nearly two and half years, we have been on over 25 flights, four trains and countless extended car rides with Parker. We’ve done it all. Some I have had Eric with me, others I have been on my own and still lived to tell about it. Don't be scared to start traveling with them when they are young. It's almost easier since they sleep everywhere and it's never to early for them to learn to adapt to travel!
Since Parker is usually with me when I travel, I have learned to cherish a solo flight without a child. Three uninterrupted hours to read a magazine, sleep, watch a movie and eat unlimited peanuts? Might as well be called Spa Airlines to me. If you are new to traveling with a child or are looking to up your game, here are some tips, tricks and things to keep you one step ahead of your tiny maniac.
Side note - recently on our trip to Italy, we saw a mother with two five month old twins, a three year old and a six year old boarding a ten hour flight…. ON HER OWN. And she was not a crazy person. I seriously could not believe it and I wanted to cry for her. As she boarded the flight I was like ‘If you need annnnnything….. chocolate, bathroom break, vodka... I’m in 13B’. When that flight landed, I wanted someone to greet her at baggage claim with a freaking medal.
CONSIDER YOUR TRAVEL TIME :: From the start, I tried to book flights around Parker’s sleep schedule as much as possible. When she was super tiny, it didn’t really matter since they sleep anytime/anywhere every three hours or so. Up until she turned one, we’d book flights that ran during her nap time. Ideally, she’d be awake through security and at the gate and then I’d nurse her on the plane and she’d zonk out for nearly the entire flight. Important to note that they will not let you go through security with a sleeping baby in a stroller, but they will let you with a sleeping baby in a wrap (not Ergo). My favorite is the Solly Wrap. Now she only takes one nap, so we try to fly either before or after nap time and she’s awake on the flight. We just know she won’t sleep on the plane with all the new and fun things happening around her. And don't forget their birth certificate - you will need that!
TRAVEL SYSTEMS :: It can be a mile long hike from the ticket counter to the gate theses days. I swear terminals are getting longer and farther away from each other with every airport renovation. Be sure to check in at the gate counter (not the main ticket/baggage drop off counter) to have both your car seat and base tagged so you can gate check them at the plane’s door. Right before you board the plane, just flatten the base and put the car seat on top of it and leave it right by the side door where they usually have the wheelchairs sitting. Here’s what worked for us for each situation ::
0-1 YEAR: We got this car seat/stroller base combo that made everything so easy. Two years ago, Uppababy didn’t make an attachable car seat (but they do now) and frankly, I still don’t want to travel with our large and very expensive stroller. We’ve all seen these types of videos. This one is light and affordable so I wasn’t panicking when you look out the window and see the luggage guys knowingly drop it off the back of the baggage car. The carseat comes with a base, but can travel and be secured in with a seatbelt if you don't travel with the base. We also always brought our Ergobaby carrier since it made it easier for her to curl up on me and take a nap and I didn’t have to awkwardly hold her the whole time while my arm fell asleep. It also made it possible for me to get a little nap in too!
1+ YEAR: If we are traveling somewhere where a toddler car seat is waiting for us on the other end, I use Uber family to get to the airport and have an umbrella stroller to use to strap her in and walk the airport that I then gate check. Again, the one I have is affordable, light and easy to manage on my own if necessary. Nothing like being the mom with the fussy baby who doesn’t know how to flatten her stroller with one hand. This is no time for amateur hour! If there isn’t a car seat awaiting you - there are still a couple of options. First, this cart like system allows for your car seat to roll like a suitcase and a stroller in one. Place child in car set and roll for miles. You can then gate check it or have your child sit in it on the plane and have the roller part gate checked. If you need to check your car seat to go under the plane or gate check it, these nice bags help ensure all the dirt, sticky fingers and unpredictable weather scenarios won’t permanently ruin your car seat. Need the DIY option? Just grab an extra large black garbage bag and toss your car seat in there! Bam. You’re set. If you are renting a car, check with the rental company and request a car seat. Be warned, they aren’t brand spanking new, but most are perfectly fine to us…. just be sure the necessary requirements are in tact. Since they've been used before and probably not properly cleaned - I always wipe it down with a wipe sprayed with hand sanitizer.
ON THE PLANE :: This is literally where all bets are off. There are no rules and no judgement allowed from other moms. You have entered the do-whatever-you-have-to-do-to-keep-your-child-from-screaming zone. It’s do or die my friends.
0-1 YEAR: Essentials like her paci, diapers, bib, wipes, hand sanitizer and her noise canceling headphones. Plane announcers are screaming into those speakers and it would always wake her up riiiiiight as she had fallen asleep.... so we got these guys. I packed extra milk and had my pump in my carry-on if it was an exceptionally long flight or we had a layover. Read our last ‘Real Moms Real Talk’ entry on why that was my lifesaver. (I once traveled with 80oz of frozen breastmilk in a cooler when we flew to Texas to drop off a three month old Parker with her grandparents and head to Santa Fe for a few days on our own - so if you are finding yourself needing to travel with large quantities of frozen milk, email me!)
If you retain nothing from this post besides this next sentence, then you’ll survive. Always pack extra clothes for you and for the baby. Forget a ton of toys and nonsense they won’t even pay attention too - trust me, the overhead light and inflight magazine are perfect entertainment - and be sure there are at least two extra one-sies/pants for them and a shirt for you. Babies are notorious for having blowouts and since they are on your lap, if it happens while they/you are sleeping….. it will be your travel nightmare come to life. What’s worse than a baby who won’t stop screaming on a plane? A baby and mom who permanently smell like poop. On that note, these bags are a lifesaver for smelly baby clothing or diapers if you aren’t at home.
1+ YEAR: Essentials like a sippy cup of water and one with milk, paci, Play-Doh, hand sanitizer, wipes, etc. At this point, your child has likely discovered the power of the screen. If they are like ours, she doesn’t see it often, so when reserved for times like travel, it can really captivate them for a long period of time. Grab some headphones so you don't have to listen to 'Let It Go' on repeat. I download (don’t just stream, be sure they are saved on the device) a couple episodes of her current favorite show - it changes periodically, but we love Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and the Baby Bum Youtube videos. A few educational games too - Daniel Tiger has one, Busy Shapes, Bugs Buttons are some we’ve had for a while. A secret to the iPad - if your child is like mine and just likes to push the main button that exits them out of all the apps or videos all the time - you can set up 'Guided Access' and they won't be able to click out of whatever app is currently open or running. To do so - go here and follow the instructions. I still bring a change of clothes (kids, they have unpredictable diaper situations), snacks on snacks on snacks (more on that next), one book, stickers, a couple of new toys found in that amazing $1 section at Target and these amazing books with invisible ink markers so she won't color on the tray table or herself.
SNACK ON SNACKS ON SNACKS :: Bottom line, best travel food for kids is smell free, mess free and easy to transport. While a hard-boiled egg may fit into two of those categories..... your neighbors on a plane will hate you. While apple sauce may be their current all time favorite food... you'll hate your life when they are flinging it all over themselves, you, the stewardess and the back of the chair. Not all food is made equal.
These travel containers are my everyday go-to's and you can also use zip lock baggies. Same as the toys, bring some new snacks on the trip they've never had before, but you know they will love - think Goldfish or granola bars, etc. Then you'll have them easily occupied for at least 15min. Here's my top picks:
blueberries, crackers, goldfish, bananas, cheddar bunnies, apple slices, granola bars, squeeze packs... all the squeeze packs, cereal, puffs, sliced mango, toast, a dry bagel... you get the idea.
SEATS :: Our favorite airline is Southwest, mainly because they are so nice, but also because they have the open seating policy. Babies fly for free up until age 2 on all airlines, so it's always nice to have an open (free of charge) seat next to you if you can manage it. Always ask at the ticket or gate counter if it's a full flight so you can be prepared. Trick is - if you're flying with your husband or someone else, you seat window (I liked it best for nursing privacy) and then Eric would sit in the aisle. Contrary to popular belief, I advise not sitting in the back of the plane since people congregate for the bathroom and the stewardesses make a ton of noise coming and going and it would always wake up Parker. If she was getting fussy and I needed to bounce her around in the wrap or Ergobaby, then the back standing area is perfect. I usually sit in the middle of the plane. Once seated, we'd plop Parker down in the middle and just play with her like she owned that seat. No sane person is going to voluntarily sit in-between two parents and a baby. That is.... unless they are wanting some major birth control.
International flights are a bit different. When they are smaller, be sure to request a bulkhead/exit row seat ahead of time. They have these amazing bassinets that clip into the wall and baby can snooze away while you rest your arms and snooze too.
BAGS :: My daily diaper bag is the Marc Jacobs Eliza Bag. But if you are traveling solo, a backpack is the way to go so you can easily juggle everything. My favorite is this one, cause it's just like my main shoulder bag, or this larger option from One Duo. It can seriously fit a week's worth of necessities. For smaller trips around the city or day trips, I use this Proper Assembly backpack.
GEAR AND STUFF :: When they are tiny, you will have what feels like a minivan full of gadgets to be sure they stay happy to you can enjoy your vacations. Parker's stuff always took up 75% of the suitcase and I barely had space for one pair of shoes. Trust me when I say you will travel with less and less as they get older.
Sound Machine - we travel with this one always. Especially if you're sharing a room with them, it alleviates you from walking on pins and needles.
Portable Bouncer - they are like magic cloud chairs for babies. They ensure you won't be holding them all.the.time and will provides great entertainment for them. As they are a wee bit older, it's nice to have if you don't have a high chair at your travel destination. It's a bit of a makeshift option - but works great!
Blackout Curtain - there's nothing like your baby waking up at the break of dawn during your vacation because your Airbnb hosts don't believe in curtains. I always travel with one or the DIY version is to just bring a dark sheet, a couple of tiny nails (because trust me, double sided tape will not work) and just lightly tap the nails to secure the sheet over the window. It won't ruin the wall and no one will ever notice.
Diapers/Wipes - to save time and hassle, I always order a package of diapers and wipes ahead of time to be shipped to where we are going. Then we don't have to search for a grocery store immediately upon arrival. Diapers.com delivers within hours as does AmazonNow. I also have Amazon Prime and can easy order anything we forgot to lost in transit. God, I love the internet.
LODGING :: We prefer to book Airbnb apartments or homes. That way, we know we have some space or a private nook area to put Parker so she, and we, can get a good nights rest. We've rented homes with our families where Parker shares the room with us, but it's far enough away from the bathroom and hangout areas that we just have to place our pajamas and toothbrush outside of the room and then sneak in like ninjas when we want to go to bed. We've also done hotel rooms and it was helpful in that scenario to have either conjoined rooms or a suite set up. We put Parker in the front room and we can close the doors to the bedroom and relax in there with a movie and still have access to the bathroom and it's quiet for her. Benefit of a hotel is that they usually have travel cribs you can borrow so you won't have to lug one on the plane/in the car with you.
SLEEP :: Don't be intimidated by timezones. Kids will adapt. Try to work around their nap schedules and keep things the same. If it's 7pm where you are, then it's bedtime. They may stay up a bit later the first night, but try to just stick with things at the same time, regardless of how many hours you've just changed. It may take a day or two to get back to completely normal, but their bodies will adjust!
Be sure to check out and follow along with the other amazing mamas who are sharing their stories as part of this series. Links below! #realmomseries
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