Vacations were so easy pre-kids. There was no need to think about nap times or bed times. No thinking about eating needs or entertainment needs or energy outlets. No need to think about extra bags and odd-sized luggage.
Traveling with a baby can be extremely daunting. For a first time mom it can seem like an almost impossible feat. We took our son on his first international trip at 3 months old. Since then he’s taken 4 more international flights and visited a total of 3 new countries. In the last two years I’ve clocked several days worth of air travel and learned the ‘what not to do’s’ and the ‘wow we definitely need to remember this’s’. I’ve decided to compile a list of tips that I’ve learned while traveling that have turned our air travel from stressful to breezy, in hopes that it may help some of you who are venturing into air-travel-land with an infant for the first time.
1) When booking an international or coast-to-coast trip by plane, request the bassinet (for babies under 25lbs).
Pros: You’ll get plenty of legroom due to only being able to use the bassinet in the bulkhead seats, and you’ll have the ability to but your baby down and let them play on their own (no more tired arms!)
Cons: You have to sit in Bulkhead seats which are located directly behind the bathrooms. This can be a little annoying with people constantly moving back and forth to the bathroom and hearing the toilet flushing.
2) Use a backpack as your baby’s carry-on diaper bag.
We have the Northface Borealis and it’s IDEAL for traveling with an infant. There are many pockets for storing toys, spit up rags, extra clothes, formula, bibs, bottles, and a diaper changing station. It’s much easier to have a backpack when traveling with an infant in an airport due to the amount of walking involved to get you from the departure hall to your gate. Having a backpack allows you to have a non-invasive, hands-free piece of luggage that easily slides under the seat in front of you.
I’m all about every mom utilizing whatever means she feels is necessary to get her kids from point A to point B. No shaming here! However, the most effective way to navigate an airport with an infant, is without a doubt, to wear them. My husband and I take turns depending on how much extra luggage we’re bringing and how much needs to be carried. For trips with more bags to be brought, usually I will carry our little guy in the front-carry position in our Ergo360 (either front facing or inward facing depending on how tired he is) and carry his diaper bag on my back, while also pulling my rolling carry-on behind me.
4) Check-in the night before, and have your tickets emailed.
This makes going through to security and your gate INFINITELY easier as there are no papers to juggle and pull out of pockets. If you’re anything like me, you’ll most likely have your phone in your hand already when you’re walking into the airport, so it makes sense to have your ticket on there as well!
5) Board early
Most (if not all) airlines allow people with children to board with first class ticket holders. This means you can board the plane while it’s quiet, put your luggage in the overhead compartment with ease, and settle into your seats without worrying about disrupting passengers as you walk like a soldier in full-gear with your backpack/diaper bag slung on your shoulders and your sweet but slightly bulky infant happily gazing into the eyes of every passer-by from your kangaroo-like carrier.
6) Nurse during take-off and landing
When you board the plane (or shortly before takeoff), the flight attendants will give you an infant seatbelt. They’ll show you how to buckle your baby into your own seatbelt. It looks tricky and like nursing will be impossible, but don’t let that bulky seatbelt stop you! Cabin pressure changes can be a little painful for babies’ ears, so the best way to combat that is to give them something to suck on during the most difficult parts of the trip (take-off and landing). If you’re not nursing, you can try giving them a bottle or a pacifier- sucking is the key!
7) Don’t stress
Seriously! It’s kind of amazing how resilient God created our children to be. Waking up several hours before he should be awake, having to nap in a carrier all day instead of his comfy bed, dealing with cabin pressure upon take-off and landing, going to a new place, being in public and in new situations all day (or in some cases, for multiple travel days), and our little boy was still alive and well. As a new mom, the idea of traveling with my sweet precious bundle and subjecting him to so much upheaval terrified me. Once I was able to get a couple of trips under my belt however, I soon realized several things: even if my worst fears are realized and he SCREAMS the entire trip, the trip has an end time! We won’t be traveling forever! Even if the worst happens and I have to stay in my hotel room the entire vacation because of a sick baby, it’s ok! God has called me to motherhood, and during this time in my life that may mean staying in my hotel room with my sick baby who will only be calm when he nurses while my husband goes out (and not being bitter about that!). At the end of the day, remember that even if the trip is filled with crying babies and sleepless nights, YOU WILL BE GOING HOME! You don’t have to stay in vacation mode for the rest of your life!
8) Remember: you aren’t taking a vacation from being a mom
This has been a hard one for me to learn. I’m a really, really selfish person. The thought that some little person has so much control over my schedule can be angering at times. It’s been so important and helpful for me to remember that during this season of my life, my first job is as ‘Mom’. Just under the needs of my husband, it’s the highest priority. Going on vacation doesn’t change that fact. If I start my vacation in the mindset that motherhood is a gift and, while vacation may be fun, I’m still called to be a mother and to nurture our little one(s), I’m in a much more sound mindset to deal with curveballs and disappointments.
8) Take a vacation day when you get home
When you return from a big trip, don’t try and put the house in order all at once. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that as a mom, vacations aren’t really all that restful. Being in a new place with new sounds and smells, sleeping in a new bed, and being around new people make sleep difficult for everyone and random naps during the days compound this non-restorative cycle. Returning home can be a welcome relief- familiar sounds and smells and routines help everyone settle and sleep much better. The day after your first night back home, try and rest. Maybe throw a load of laundry in, or maybe don’t. Stay in your PJ’s. Eat cereal and order a pizza (or, if you’re a planner, have freezer meals made-ahead before your trip that you can pull out on the return-day and just warm up on the stove). Watch movies, play card games, read a book.
Get back into your routine. Have grace for yourself and allow yourself to heal from what was most likely a mentally draining, memorable, fun, tiring trip.
Traveling with a baby is hard. It’s a level-up in mommy-hood land. We deserve an extra shiny badge after most trips. Hopefully these tips will make travel with your infant a little less stressful and your vacation a little more vacation-like.