Travelling with a baby is often challenging. True. But it’s not the horror story most people envisage. Discuss.
We started travelling with Molly when she was six weeks old, an absolutely minuscule human on reflection. There were short and long haul trips; local, interstate and international. A mixture of flights, road trips, train journeys, bus rides, and an absolute bucket load of walking. Most of it was opportunistic, taking advantage of work relocation, proximity to otherwise impossible destinations, cheap flight deals, conveniently located conferences, and the chance to visit far away family.
I cannot tell you how many people (both with and without kids) looked horrified on hearing our plans… How could we, and why??? Weren’t we worried about how hard it would be? What if the baby cried? What if she didn’t sleep? What if she was sick? What if other people hated us for bringing a baby on long flights? How would we do laundry? What if we lost her in an airport??… and so on and so forth.
These are all legitimate questions and reasonable fears for parents who are considering a trip (or trips, multiple) with an infant in tow. For whatever reason, however, neither Jon nor I were worried about most of these things. We, perhaps naively, assumed it would all just work out. And as a matter of fact, it did. Not to say we weren’t thrown a few curve balls along the way, because we were. Nor to deny the fact that our travels were peppered with some extremely stressful moments, because they were. But these things happen even without a little one. And overall, it was worth it. Absolutely, 100 percent.
Travelling with a baby is not necessarily easy, but it is (generally speaking) far less difficult than most of us imagine.
Here’s what I’ve learned through my own experience, as well as observing and chatting with other travelling parents. Some practical strategies that, over time, made things considerably easier for us the adults, her the baby, and them the fellow travellers. I hope it will help to inspire or encourage anyone else considering a trip with their own babe, now or in the future.*
Get a good baby carrier
I seriously cannot sing the praises of babywearing enough. In general, but especially when travelling.
We didn’t get a pram until Mol was almost six months old, and even then we hardly used it. As she gets older, we tend to bring it out more, but the carrier still gets a regular workout.
Our carrier has been in high use since the very beginning. Wearing your baby, nestled in close to your heart, is delicious. It also allows you to have hands free for luggage / tickets / passports and paperwork / eating and drinking / anything else you need hands for. Seriously, it makes things significantly easier, especially when you’re in transit. I’ve also done multiple trips with Molly solo, including long haul international flights, and would have found these much more challenging without a decent carrier.
We have an Ergo, which I love love love, and a homemade wrap (basically an enormous length of stretch jersey cotton), which was awesome when Molly was tiny. There are so many different (and excellent) baby carriers on the market, the range of options can be overwhelming. I’d recommend talking to people around you about what they use, what works for them and why; and also borrowing or at very least trying on as many as you can before buying.
Get your baps out
Is your little one breastfed? If so, feed on demand. Seriously you guys, boobs solve so many problems.
Especially when your baby’s little, feeding during takeoff and landing will relieve the inner-ear pressure that is often painful and upsetting for infants (resulting in maximum scream situation) and, combined with the motion of the plane, will often lull them to sleep. Win win.
Personally, I have no anxieties about breastfeeding in public; if the baby needs it, I’ll put her on the boob. In the beginning I was sometimes nervous, as I was still working out what the hell I was doing, but my confidence increased with practice and experience. I also never got into the habit of using specialty pillows or other support paraphernalia, so I didn’t miss those things if we weren’t in our ‘usual’ environment. I have fed Molly in every conceivable location, at home and on the road, as and when needed.
I have observed Mums and have friends who don’t feel comfortable whipping their breasts out in public, which is A-OK. You’ve got to do what feels right for you. Draping yourself and/or bub with a muslin or light scarf can provide a little more privacy while still making it easy to feed and maintaining comfort. Also consider investing (if you haven’t already) in some good quality breastfeeding tops – these allow maximum access with minimum exposure.
I’d also encourage you to let go of worries about what ‘other’ people think, if that’s what’s feeding your worry about feeding your baby in a public place. Most people don’t notice (unless you’re sitting right next to them) and most people are in fact very supportive (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve struck up conversations with people while feeding Molly). And, at the end of the day, even if some individuals do have an issue with breastfeeding, that’s their problem.
If your babe is bottle fed, have your supplies at the ready, so that a bottle – in the place of a breast – can be given in transit. Carry your own purified water to mix into formula, or ask for freshly boiled water – all airlines will be able to provide this for you as will many venues the world over.
Dummy? Well, my kid wouldn’t take one so I’ve never found them useful. But if your baby does, this is another option to add to your arsenal of baby soothing tricks for flights, road trips and any journey of significant length.
You don’t need as much stuff as you think
Honestly. You need actually very little.
I’d suggest: 2 x spare changes of clothes for baby (wondersuits are the bomb – especially for long haul, as they can be layered when it’s cold or unzipped to air fat little feet if it’s warm); baby sleeping bag or blanket / muslin to swaddle for sleep; 2-4 muslins in case of a spill or vomit, or to cover baby if needed; 1 x spare shirt or scarf for yourself just in case there’s a significant spill or baby-related explosion of body fluid (it happens, and when it does… oh man); wipes; 1-2 ‘rubbish’ bags (for soiled nappies, dirty clothes, food scraps, etc); nappies – as many as you think you’ll need plus 3 more for good measure.
Toys I can take or leave, especially for very little babies. We never had many / any for trips with Molly until she was older, around 6 months I’d say. Mostly because she was more than happy to bounce on our laps, look at people around us / out the window, drum the tray table etc. However, as she got older and more wriggly, we started bringing a little picture book, 1-2 small bright toys and sometimes a snack (fruit, crackers) to keep her entertained. Even so, it usually ended up being something like a random highlighter at the bottom of my bag that proved most engaging – can’t pick it!
Except nappies, take extras of those
A very important point, especially for long haul travel. In my ruthless attitude towards packing, I have ended up (once) with no clean nappies in the middle of a long flight, after Mol unexpected blitzed several nappies in a row. A good learning experience for sure! Estimate how many nappies you think you might need over the projected travel period, and pack 3 more than that. An effective rule of thumb.
Take advantage of priority boarding
Families and people with babies are often given priority: in long ques, with paperwork, when boarding. Take it.
I’ve found people – everywhere – almost universally helpful and kind when we’ve travelled with Molly, especially when I’ve been on my own. People almost always go out of their way to help (even when you don’t ask for it), including clearing extra seats to allow more room, helping with luggage, and holding the baby if you’re obviously overloaded. Be grateful for and take advantage of these kindnesses, is my advice.
Request a bassinet
On long haul flights, request a bassinet seat. Usually it’s no charge, but sometimes you do have to pay extra for one – if so, do, it’s worth it. It gives you a safe place to put the baby down when sleeping and, even if she only sleeps in there for a short period, that’s precious hands free time for you. When Molly was little (up to 3 months) she slept in this like a dream, but from 5-6 months on she preferred to sleep in our (or, actually, my) arms most of the time. No sweat, but still good to have the option.
Adjust your routine
Babies are extremely portable and really quite adaptable. Nonetheless, a change in routine can be challenging for all involved. Start by accepting that there is likely to be a period of adjustment during your travels, while your baby’s nervous system adapts to new environments, and you sync wake-sleep times.
We have never followed a strict routine with Molly, which works for us, but do have some practices we keep up on the road that help her feel ‘at home’. Babywearing is number one (of course) as she can feel close to us and safe in new places full of unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. Keeping up similar morning and evening (bath time / bed time) practices helps to establish a sense of familiarity in new places. Also allow a day or so either side of a trip to settle and acclimatise, this can make a big difference.
I imagine it would be more challenging if you have a baby on a strict schedule, but certainly not impossible.
Breathe: accept that things may not always go according to plan
This is a good maxim for life in general and for travel of any sorts – be it alone, with friends, family or infants. There will always be unexpected events, or snags in your plans. And babies are the ultimate wild card. So be it.
We’ve lost luggage (several times), missed flights (just once, happily), had unexpected illnesses (minor and major), immigration hold ups (I was once asked to prove Molly was mine because our surnames are different) and one particularly memorable poo-explosion that required a total outfit change for both myself and the baby (when I was travelling solo with her and hadn’t brought spare clothes). At the time, these things were stressful and sometimes difficult to manage. But at the end of the day, they were hiccups in an overall amazing and privileged experience. They’re also (now, with hindsight) great stories to tell and, some in particular, will be excellent tools with which to embarrass Mol when she’s older… the hard won right of any parent, right? 🙂
I love travelling. And I’ve loved traveling with a baby – I would recommend it to anyone that can. Challenging at times, but incredibly rewarding. I hope we can keep doing regular trips with our daughter, and any subsequent children, now and well into the future.
How about you? Travelled with a baby? Once or several times? Any good tales or hot tips to share?
I’d also recommend this post on Mama Said about long haul travel with a little one. Some valuable tips, but also a wonderful reminder that it is, in fact, a privilege to travel for pleasure, no less with our family.