Traveling can be extremely stressful for everyone. Flying in particular lends itself to feeling especially edgy. With so much out of your control, for those who are already more anxious than not, like myself, boarding a plane can trigger the most intense bouts of nervousness. Add a baby to the mix, and it hardly seems worth it. Unless of course you live nearly one thousand miles from most of your loved ones. Then it becomes a necessity. So when traveling by train, plane, or automobile with a little one, being prepared, but flexible is the biggest must. And in my limited experience as a mother so far, here are a few more easy and effective ways to take some of the stress out of air travel:
1. Be open to taking the first flight out
With an infant you’re probably used to being up early these days. Well, since you’re awake, just go ahead and get going. Many people avoid booking the first flight with a baby thinking that other passengers will want to sleep or worrying that business men and women fill these flights and may be less tolerant of little first time flyers. This is not necessarily true. Most early bird flyers are up and ordering coffee on board, ready to start their day, not trying to rest. Another advantage of those first flights is the decrease in delays. Many morning flights depart on time and sticking to a schedule always makes life easier with a baby. So if it’s possible to get to the airport and get your trip started first thing in the morning, it’s often worth it.
2. Have a flexible packing plan
Once you have a child, packing will never be the same. Gone are the days of keeping it light with your perfectly stuffed carry-on. In a previous life, my husband and I didn’t wait at baggage claim ever. Those days are over. Accept it. Pack smartly, but be flexible and plan on checking a bag. This actually makes life easier because you can bring everything you might need without wondering if you’ll use it, and not concern yourself with measuring liquids, plastic baggies, etc. Somehow despite being so small, babies’ stuff takes up a lot of space, so just give in and load up that big suitcase. Then hope you booked your flight with an airline that isn’t charging some ridiculous fee to load your luggage under the aircraft (one of many reasons we <3Jet Blue).
3. Purchase a car seat bag
Someone suggested that we buy a car seat bag if we were planning to hold Madeline on our flight. Thank goodness we listened! This travel bag was a lifesaver because it straps on like a backpack, so it’s fairly easy to transport. Even holding the baby, I was able to wear it into the airport on my own. Also, it’s very roomy. I packed Madley’s favorite toys, a blanket, and all of our pumping/nursing/bottle supplies in the bag with plenty of space remaining. And best of all, car seats and strollers check for free, so no extra cost for this additional bag.
4. Load up your diaper bag
Because your carry-on will most likely be your diaper bag, it should be well stocked. I would recommend doubling up on essentials to be prepared for the unexpected, like delays. An extra outfit, lots of diapers and wipes, pacifiers (if your baby takes one), and a few of your baby’s favorite items. I found a familiar toy or two especially helpful to keep Madeline occupied when she was awake on the flight. Next time we fly, I will also be sure to have a snack or two just in case since our girl is now eating solids.
5. Be seen!
On our first flight, we found a seat near the gate at JFK and waited to board. Unfortunately, by the time we gathered our stuff and got the baby situated, they gate attendant had already called for the next group to get on the plane. He hadn’t seen us, so assumed there were no young children on the flight. Waiting for a few people to go wasn’t a big deal, but the more time you have on the plane to settle in and get comfortable, the easier and more relaxed you’ll feel. Also, it’s nice to be in your spot as everyone else finds their seats, as opposed to seeing the worried faces, wondering if your baby is a screamer, as you pass each row.
6. Focus on your baby’s experience
Remember that your baby is doing something new, so may need some extra comfort to adjust. Even if your little one has become a seasoned flyer, it’s not an everyday occurrence, so stay focused on his/her needs instead of other travelers. Most people will be patient and understanding if your young child isn’t perfect, especially the other parents on board. But not everyone will be and that isn’t your problem. Clearly no one wants an unhappy baby crying on a flight. Well, guess who wants that least of all? Their parents! If your baby is having a hard time, spend your energy trying to soothe him/her, not apologizing to everyone around you. Their reactions may increase your stress level, which could further upset your baby. Don’t take that chance. Just stay as calm possible and keep all your attention on your little one.
Traveling can be quite unpredictable, and therefore very stressful. Bringing an infant along only increases the tension for many, but it doesn’t have to be miserable or an added source of unnecessary anxiety. Being prepared, planning accordingly, and focusing on your child can make your trip much easier for everyone. There are no guarantees when it comes to flying-your little one may be a perfect traveler, or she might have a very difficult time en route to your destination. There’s no way to tell. Just do the best you can, then sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.
What are your travel tips for a successful flight with baby?