To travel with baby or not to travel with baby? That is the question.
When I started asking other parents about this topic, I received such enthusiastic feedback that I've decided to publish a two-part post; part 1 on airplane travel, and part 2 on auto and train travel. New parents experience high anxiety and doubt around vacationing with a baby and these articles will help you to know what to expect and give some tips for a smoother journey. The overall sentiment is YES, travel with your baby! It can be easy, wonderful and rewarding for you and those who may not otherwise get to meet your wee one.
Before we were pregnant with our first child, my husband and I had an epic trip planned to visit family and friends in London and Switzerland. Once we found out I was pregnant, and that our baby would be approximately 1 month old when this trip was to occur, we were gung-ho—thrilled in fact that we'd be able to show off our newborn. Dear, wise friends had bestowed the following advice to us: "You drive the bus. The kids are just along for the ride." Words of wisdom we try to live by, but babies can be expert hijackers.
Besides trying to get a passport photo of an ornery two week old that meets all the requirements—eyes open, not screaming, and magically appearing to be sitting up by herself—the biggest pitfall for me was breastfeeding. To put it mildly, this was not going well (a topic deserving of its own post). The pain and stress was too much to deal with and I knew the trip would be a nightmare if I didn't find and embrace an alternate solution. For me, that came in the form of the Medela Freestyle double breast pump and a container of powder baby formula for any necessary top-ups. Pumping is certainly not ideal, but I could at least enjoy our vacation without my body being in constant pain.
Breastfeeding challenges aside, travelling with a newborn is totally feasible. People told me she'll just eat and sleep and wouldn't you know it's true! We'd carry her around all day on our chests as we hiked the cities and countryside and she would pleasantly sleep. For a baby this young there really isn't jet lag so-to-speak, and we expected rough nights because they were rough at home anyway. May as well be in Jolly Ol' England and up all night.
The rewards certainly outweighed the costs and I would recommend travelling with a young baby and would do it again. It gets increasingly harder as they become more mobile. We took a trip to British Columbia when our daughter was almost 1 year old and it was exhausting. She was only content on the flights when walking up and down the aisles holding our hands... for hours!
My take-away advice for new parents deciding whether or not to travel with an infant would be:
- Test drive a few different baby carriers before your trip and invest the money in the one that works best for you.
- Be prepared to haul a fair bit of gear and read up on the airport allowances for luggage if flying.
- Have your method of feeding well established, be it breast or bottle or a combo of the two. This can often be the most stressful issue for new moms and will only be magnified when travelling.
- When flying, feed your baby or offer a soother during takeoff and initial descent. The sucking action will help relieve ear pressure.
- Get to the airport earlier than the suggested arrival time because everything takes longer with a baby. Also consider spending the fee for lounge access. You can feed yourself and your baby if she's eating solids by then. Plus there is an abundance of coffee and wine and is a much more comfortable atmosphere than waiting at the gate.
- And finally, babies are actually a beneficial accessory in airports. You get to cut right to the front of security lines!
The following stories are from intrepid and patient parents who also decided to go for it and board an airplane with their babies. Enjoy!
Transatlantic Flying with 7 Month Old
Author: Chaz, mom of 2
People will tell you that babies love the ambient noise on a plane and it will send them to sleep. You think that booking flight times over their usual nap times/bed time will mean sound sleep. It’s all lies! Sure, when they’re really little they sleep no problem, however that same flight with our 7 month old was a very different story. Flying Canada-England with a take-off at 10:40pm, our son went to sleep pretty quickly, lulling me into a false sense of security. 90 minutes later he was awake for the remaining five hours! On the way back from England we took off at ‘afternoon naptime’, so I thought surely this timing would work better… 4 hours later he finally drifted off. This horrible sleep pattern on airplanes was consistent for both my kids, who were dream sleepers at home.
My advice? Do not book flights specifically over sleep times to avoid these lofty expectations. Day flights are best where possible so you’re not worrying about everyone else trying to get a night’s sleep. It actually worked out alright with my 7 month old son not sleeping when he was ‘supposed to’ on the return flight from England to Canada because then he was just super tired when we did get home and slept a whole night, eliminating any drawn-out jet lag.
Other flying advice I can offer:
- Have a stroller you can take all the way to the gate (so folds into 1 piece), and if you have an older child get a stroller board/seat for it. There can be long walks between flight transfers and if you don’t have much time a toddler walking pace becomes an issue. Side note, we have never been questioned around Air Canada’s umbrella fold stroller rule. I use a Baby Jogger City Mini GT and have always been able to take my single or double right to the gate.
- Get some stroller clips for the handles to hang bags off of so you don’t have to carry as much while trying to navigate the stroller.
- Have an uncomplicated carrier/sling ready to get baby from the stroller down the air bridge and onto the plane while carrying your other hand luggage as well. This is critical if travelling solo. At some airports you can’t get your stroller back until baggage claim, which could be a fair walk, so having a carrier for your baby will be a life saver.
- If you take a car seat with you every airline should take it for free, so get a big protector bag for it and what we’ve done is fill it with other stuff like diapers, towels, etc., which are bulky but light, so you don’t have to find space in your checked bags. In all our travels we’ve never had a car seat bag checked to see if there’s anything else in it.
- Related to the above, diaper bags are an extra carry-on allowed when travelling with a baby and they are almost never restricted in size/weight like other bags (just don’t go crazy mums!) I have a massive twin bag that I fill with stuff for both my kids as my plane diaper bag.
- Always have a spare change of clothes for EVERYONE in your carry-on luggage. I have been vomited on and dealt with poo explosions on airplanes. Furthermore, ensure you have a few plastic bags for soiled clothing to go into. My standard change of clothes is a pair of undies, tank top and thin mid-length stretchy skirt which all fold down to virtually nothing and will make things so much more comfortable, and smell less for your fellow passengers.
- Try to get your baby to ‘make friends’ when you get on the plane. It’s harder for your neighbours to be annoyed when he cries if they already thing he’s cute.
- Depending on your airline, getting on first can be an advantage as you can get your pick of overhead luggage compartments to make sure your things are in easy reach. If you don’t think this will be an issue, board as late as possible to minimize your time on the plane!
- Lastly, my biggest tip is that if you’re travelling solo be quite point-blank about it and rely on the kindness of strangers to help you out. If you need someone to hold your baby for 5 minutes look around for a friendly smiling face and ask them. Most people are pretty approachable and will empathize with you.
Dad's Solo Flight with 5 Month Old (and 2 Other Kids!)
Author: Shawn, dad of 3
I had the joy of travelling solo home from out East on December 30th with our three girls (Aspen, 5 months; Trinity, 4 years; Sierra, 6 years). Our itinerary had us take two 2-hour flights with an hour-and-a-half stopover. We were flying in the mid-afternoon so at least it wasn’t a super early flight or a red eye. I honestly hadn’t given flying without my wife much thought until a couple of days before when my mother, half joking, suggested she come with me to help out on the flight.
The first obstacle at the airport occurred when the ticket agent asked for an ID for my 5 month old. This was a shock as we were flying within Canada and didn’t bring her passport. She said it was to prove that Aspen was less than 2 years old to get the free flight. Fortunately, she accepted her health card which I had a picture of on my phone. From here, the mayhem started and you can read all the hilarious, in retrospect, details in my blog post “Lessons From Flying Solo – A Travel Experience to Remember (or forget…)”.
- Be prepared. Anytime you fly with young kids there is a good chance the unexpected will happen. Selecting good seats as well as packing adequate food, entertainment, diapers, and clothes will go a long way to set you up for a good flight.
- Minimize distractions. Without the backup of a partner or spouse, try not to let yourself get distracted at the airport. You cannot rely on your memory or strangers to help you out.
- Take offers of help. The fiasco at the bathroom would have been much worse if I had had the baby in my arms the entire time. It’s times like this that I think of all those single parents out there managing kids on their own, day in day out, for that I salute you!