Me and my wife used to spend all our vacation traveling around the world. After our son Leo was born 1.5 years ago we didn't want to give up traveling and we wanted all 3 of us to travel together. We first flew with him to Bulgaria, when he was almost 3 months old and since then we used every chance we had to travel - from a couple of days in Florence, over the beach in Spain and the Alps in Austria to a 3 weeks RV trip through California. Leo has now been on 18 flights and visited 6 different countries . In fact, right now we should have been at the French Riviera if it wasn't for the COVID-19 pandemic...
While traveling with a baby is not always easy, you can solve most problems with good preparation, planning and some willingness to adapt your travel style. In a series of posts, I will share with you the rules and tricks we learned during our trips. I hope this will encourage you to not give up traveling when you have kids. Since most trips start with a flight, let's talk about flying with a baby.
Basic rules about traveling with a baby
Let me start with something very important - every baby is different and while some things worked well for us, they may not work for you. Furthermore, babies change very fast, so something that works now, may not work in a month anymore. So, you should be constantly aware what your child likes and what he doesn't and adapt accordingly. Most of the times we had difficulties with Leo was because we had a certain plan in our heads and wanted to stick with it, even though it was not the best for him. Just accepting that things will not always play out as you want, adapting quickly and listening to your baby will make your journey much more pleasant!
It is also important for you to be calm yourself while traveling, because your baby will feel when you are stressed. I know that this is easy to say and that it will not always be possible, but you should always think about how you can adapt your plan to minimise stressful situations. For example, we were extremely nervous before our first flight with Leo, as he was less than 3 months old. In order to remove as much stress as possible, at the morning of our flight we started preparing 5 hours before takeoff and got at the airport with 3 hours to spare. Since you will have many new things to take care off, you don't want to be rushing it because you are running late for your flight.
For most people flying seems to be the scariest part of traveling with a baby, but in our experience, it is usually one of the easiest. I'm sure that with some good planning everybody will be able to have a nice and pleasant journey. Without flying you will be much more limited in your travel options, so read below how you can improve the experience.
Preparation for the flight
The preparation for the flight is important, especially if it is your first time flying with a baby. You will have your hands full at the airport and in the airplane, so you don't want to deal with things you could have prepared in advance.
Hand luggage. In your hand luggage you should obviously take all the things you need to change the baby's diaper and the usual stuff you carry around. We just take the bag which always hangs on his stroller. Make sure you have more than enough food, some small snacks for the older babies and enough to drink. If the mother is breastfeeding it will be easier, because the food is always with her, but otherwise the flight attendants can warm up a bottle with baby formula or heat up the baby food. On some flights they also have some food available, but it is not a good idea to rely only on that.
You should also take a spare set of clothes for the baby and for yourself - accidents always happen and you don't want anybody to spend half of the flight with wet pants! You should also not spare on toys, because your little one will need some entertainment. A good trick is to take some of his favourite toys and hide them for 1-2 weeks before the flight. He will then be really excited to play with them during the flight.
Checked luggage. Many airlines allow you to check-in an additional suitcase for the baby, so use it. It is a good idea to take everything you will need for the first couple of days of your trip (or for the whole trip if it is not too long). When you are traveling to a new country, you don't want to start your trip hunting for essentials in an unknown supermarket. We usually pack diapers, cosmetics and baby food for at least 3 days. Pro tip - if you are afraid that the baby food jars may break, just wrap them in diapers! It is also a good idea to take more baby clothes than you will needed so you are well prepared in case of accidents.
Don't worry if you have a lot of luggage - there is the genius invention called luggage carts! When it was just the two of us traveling, we never really paid attention to those, because we only had two (usually small) suitcases. When flying with a baby you need to take much more stuff, though, so make sure you get a luggage cart. Here is our luggage for our 3 week trip through California: 3 suitcases, 2 hand bags, the stroller and the baby seat...
Airport specifics. Do some research about the airports you will fly from and to. Check where you can find playgrounds and nursing rooms or other places where you can change the baby's diaper. Also, check what are the rules for taking a stroller with you. It will allow you to move faster and you can also put your little one for a nap in it, while you are enjoying your coffee and breakfast. There may be differences even between terminals at the same airport. For example, at Terminal 2 in Munich you are allowed to take the stroller with you right up to the airplane's door, while at Terminal 1, you need to check it in as bulky luggage. A baby carrier is a good alternative to the stroller in such cases.
At the airport before the flight
Now that you are well prepared, you can leave for the airport. Make sure you get there early enough, especially if you are flying with a baby for the first time. The whole procedure will still be new to you, so you want to have some spare time and avoid stressful situations. It is not difficult, when you have done it a couple of times and it doesn't take much more time when you get used to it.
Skip the lines. At most airports, having a baby lets you skip almost all lines. On all our trips, we were always able to use the business class check-in, which is much faster. Some airports, like for example in Munich, even have dedicated check-in desks for families with small children. Other places you can often go faster is at the security check, at passport control and when boarding. If there is no obvious shortcut, just ask the airport staff friendly if there is a faster track for families with babies and you will be surprised how often they will find some way to accelerate the process. This tactic helped us many times, especially at passport control at the destination airport and even with the TSA when entering the US!
Get your little one "prepared". After you pass all checks, you can use the time before boarding to change the baby's diaper so that you don't have to do it in the small toilet on the airplane. Most airports also have some playgrounds which can be great when your child is able to craw or walk so he can release some energy there. Otherwise, running up and down the halls is a lot of fun as well! For smaller babies, loads of interesting stuff is happening outside - airplanes landing and taking off, airport vehicles with flashing lights moving around and buses loading and unloading people. Make sure you show them to your little one. Leo was particularly fascinated by the rotating radar antenna on the control tower...
Boarding. When boarding, families with children are usually allowed to go first, but we usually board as late as possible. Especially when your kid is a bit older, you want him to be able to play as much as possible before putting him in the seat. On a regular 2 aisles airplane, the boarding usually takes about 15-20 minutes, so this time should be rather spent running around than sitting.
During the flight
Timing is key during the flight and you need to start preparing well before that. Try to organise things in such a way that your little one is hungry and tired just before takeoff, because this will make your time on board much easier...
Pressure changes. Drinking during takeoff and landing is very important! Your baby needs to equalise the pressure in his ears by swallowing so it helps if he is hungry. Breastfeeding, drinking water/tea or eating are all good options. There are some opinions, that even a pacifier is enough, but we prefer giving something to drink as well. It is good to have multiple options and change them if necessary. Leo never had any problems with pain in his ears, but we have all heard those babies screaming...
Sleeping. Now, if your baby is tired you can then put him to sleep and enjoy some quiet time - again, make sure your timing is right. When Leo started sleeping only once during the day, we sometimes used a little trick to make sure he is sleepy on the plane. If our flight was just after his sleeping time, like for example around 13:30, we used to put him in bed for a quick nap around 10:30. In this way he could then make it to 14:00 and sleep on the plane.
As a smaller baby, Leo had problems falling asleep if he wasn't being carried around by me or my wife. If you have a similar case, you can use the following trick. After the flight crew is ready with handing out drinks and food, you can go with your baby to the back of the airplane and use the empty space where flight attendants usually stay to put your baby to sleep. Just ask them friendly and they are usually very happy to help and will let you walk around there for 5-10 minutes until your little one falls asleep.
On long-haul flights, you can usually book one of the places with a wall in front of you (they are typically reserved for families with small children). I usually check out which are the best seats on SeatGuru. This will allow you to use a baby basinet - this is basically a small baby bed that can be attached to the wall. Your baby having his own bed during the flight is a game changer on long flights! It is important to call your airline early enough and reserve one of those, because they usually don't have them on board. The extra leg room can also be used as a playground after your kid wakes up.
Entertainment. When your baby is awake, you will need to entertain him with the toys you prepared (see above). Some small snacks also help a lot if your baby already eats solid food. Otherwise, you can just let him explore all the new and interesting things around him or just look out of the window. Another option is just walking around the airplane with the baby - there is always something interesting for him to see. Furthermore, all flight attendants like cute babies so there is a high chance that you will end up with some new toys after a brief walk up and down the aisles.
We try to avoid showing Leo videos on the phone or on the tablet and do it only if there is no other option left. However, until now we didn't really have to do it on an airplane, because we were always able to find some other form of entertainment.
Don't worry about other people. Many parents are afraid of the reaction of the other people if the baby starts crying. However, if it has enough food, entertainment, the possibility to sleep and no pain in his ears, why should he cry? Of course, it sometimes happens, but we rarely had Leo crying on the plane and usually it was only for a short time, because he was hungry or tired while we were waiting for the takeoff. And even if your little one cries, remember that you will likely never meet those people ever again...
At the end of the flight
Getting off the airplane. Take your time after landing, don't be one of those people that stand up even before the plane has fully stopped. You will probably have to wait for your stroller at the door anyway so you can take it slow. Make sure you collect all your stuff and toys and use the now empty seat next to you as a new playground. And remember - you will pass most of those people when you skip the line at passport control anyway...
Jet lag. Jet lag is inevitable if you change a lot of time zones. We had to deal with 9 hours difference on our trip to California , but it actually took me and my wife more time to adjust than Leo (he was 7 months old then). Babies adapt much faster than grown-ups and usually just the first day or two will be somewhat difficult. Plan the beginning of your trip more relaxed and try not to force it - let your little one sleep if he really needs to.
Now that you have arrived at your destination you can start your amazing trip! In my next posts, I will cover some more topics regarding traveling with a baby like driving (including with an RV) , accommodation and suitable activities .
If you want to read more about flying with a baby, please check out two of my favourite travel blogs that also helped us a lot when we were preparing for our trips. They both have a lot of information on traveling and specifically flying with babies and small children: Kind im Gepäck (this one is in German, though) and y Travel Blog.
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