Now that we've got 6 flights under our belt and 5 big trips total (2 road trips), and we're basically traveling pros (okay, not quite but we're getting there), I thought I'd share some of my top tips for traveling with a baby.
Weve got another two big trips coming up - Colorado at the end of the month for a wedding and Spain early next month, when we'll have a memorial service and funeral for my dad with our family in Spain, and I'm sure I will learn a lot more and have more to share once those trips are under our belt as well - especially with the trans-Atlantic flight. But until then, I hope these are helpful tips and tricks to make traveling with a baby just a tiny bit easier (and fun! It can really be fun!).
When flying, check what you can. Your hands will be full with everything you need to bring on-board, so pack any non-essentials in the suitcase and check it. Gate check any larger items like a stroller, car seat or pack 'n' play you might be bringing with you.
Buy smart. Depending on how much traveling you'll be doing, consider investing in travel-specific kid things like a lightweight, super portable stroller.
Pack smart. Write your packing list down early and go back to it throughout the week to make sure you're bringing with you what you typically use on a daily basis. But also be sure that you're packing travel essentials in addition to your daily baby essentials. These might include disposable changing pads, sanitizing wipes and a portable noise machine. Make sure you're following security guidelines when packing your carry-on. All liquids - even items like food pouches or breastmilk for baby - need to go on the security belt. Have them contained and labeled so you don't get held up. And finally, always pack at least one outfit for each person in the carry-on just in case your luggage doesn't arrive when you do.
Pack more. Okay, hear me out. Don't pack more than you need, but maybe pack more than you think you'll need. I generally like to pack two outfits a day for Noam. He'll wear pieces multiple times, but a lot of that clothing will get dirty one way or another and become unwearable quickly. Ignore the looming laundry piles, and just do it.
Organize, organize, organize. I love using bags to organize food and snacks, diaper bag essentials, outfits and liquids and toiletries. Not only does it make finding things easier, but it makes getting ready each day of your stay simpler. I use a mix of disposable plastic baggies and Itzy Ritzy sealed wet bags, and I'm considering investing in some great see-through travel pouches like the ones Truffle makes for smaller organization.
Ship it. Going on an extended vacation? Or far away? Consider ordering diapers and other items you might need in bulk and having them delivered to your hotel or house. This especially makes sense if you'll be traveling within the country for a longer trip. Or, if you have use of a car wherever you're going, consider just making a trip to the grocery store or Target for your diapers, food etc. No use packing and lugging anything you can easily get elsewhere.
Baby-wear. This was by far the biggest time- and sanity-saver I did while traveling. It was so easy to just strap Noam to me while going through security, walking around the airport and boarding the plane. I was asked to take Noam out of the carrier only once while going through security coming back into the US. Make sure you have a comfortable, supportive baby carrier, though. Baby-wearing for long periods of time, especially through the hustle and bustle of traveling, is no joke.
Dress appropriately. This goes for both you and baby. If you're nursing, make sure you wear comfortable clothing with easy access to the milk for baby. For me, that means button up tops or dresses or shirts with stretchy necklines. Nursing throughout the flight was a lifesaver, and it was so nice to have comfortable, easy-to-open clothing on to do it quickly and easily. It's equally important to dress baby appropriately, too. Make sure whatever baby wearing is easy to take on and off for diaper changes, and being some layers in case it's cold or hot on the plane.
Get some new toys. This doesn't have to be a big investment. In fact, it shouldn't be at all. Noam's favorite 'new toys' were straws, spoons and wooden stirrers from the airport coffee shop. If you want to be extra prepared, grab some new things like stickers or gel clingies, felt boards or water painting books from the Dollar Spot at Target.
Time it well. We've been really lucky that Noam's napped at least once on every flight we've taken. But it wasn't entirely a coincidence. We tried to time our flights, when possible, to coincide with his nap time. It can get tricky, especially if there are delays, but setting yourself up for a sleeping baby on the plane will make the ride go much more smoothly (and might even afford you an opportunity to have a meal or watch a show in peace!)
Gate check. Okay, so the caveat here is that, according to the FAA, the safest place for a baby under 2 is in a car seat in his own seat. That said, we've flown with Noam as a lap child 6 times now and I'm confident this is what works best for us. We've gate checked the car seat every time we've brought one (we use this bag to protect it but be aware many other families may have the same bag so label it clearly!. Our stroller is FAA approved to go in an overhead compartment bit, I'd it wasn't, I would gate check it, too. This way, there's significantly much less handling and, hopefully, less of a chance of damage.
Take a deep breath. Seriously. Whatever ends up happening will be fine. Sure, there are people who might not be happy about a crying baby or screaming toddler on their flight. But, in my experience, there are many more kind, understanding people who, chances are, have been there, too. Take a deep breath and do the best you can. The flight will be over eventually.
Keep a routine. Even if you're traveling across time zones and the timing is completely off, try keeping some semblance of the routine you have at home. Does baby bathe or read a book every night before bed? Keep that up. Is the morning nap at home? Try to maintain that. It can be tricky to do and, of course, you don't want to compromise your trip. But keeping some sort of routine will likely help baby adjust much better to the different environment, time zone, etc.
Ignore the time change. Kind of. I was so nervous about our trips that had significant time changes, but I found (and maybe Noam is not typical, but this was absolutely true in our case) that if we just ignored the time change and acted as if the local time was the time we had to deal with, we were so much better off. This meant a very late bedtime (on ET) and late naps, but it helped us settle into the time much more easily. Obviously, if baby is overtired, this won't be good for anyone. But if he or she is doing okay, don't push for bedtime to be earlier or later than it needs to be.
Make it homey. Set up your room or apartment to be comfortable for you and your baby. Does your baby need a space on the floor to play or lay? Create one and keep it. Does your baby like to have a stuffed animal or comfort blanket around? Bring it and make sure it's accessible at all times. Does your baby absolutely love toys during bath time? Consider bringing one or two. Maintains some of the familiar comforts of home while traveling may help your baby adjust and feel at ease when everything else around him or her has changed so much.
Bring the noise. This isn't absolutely crucial, but I think it's a nice-to-have: bring a noise machine or download some white noise on your phone and have it ready for naps. In strange environments or loud hotels, it may be more difficult for your baby to get sleep. And a tired traveling baby is definitely not something you want. Use the white noise to block out excessive background noise and create a peaceful sleep environment wherever you are.
Book a larger room. If you can afford to book a larger room, I think it's definitely worthwhile. The larger rooms we've stayed in - the ones with a living room or couch or kitchenette - have been a lot easier for us. It's nice to spread out, give baby room to crawl and move, or put a crib if you use one without living on top of each other. Even better, perhaps? Rent a house or apartment.
Stay flexible. Again, do this if you can. It's not always feasible to be flexible on vacation, but allowing for some last minute changes will save your sanity. If you don't absolutely need to commit to a museum or restaurant at a certain time, don't. Make a general plan and try to follow it, but be open to changes. Adjusting to a new place or time zone may take a few days - depending on where you are - so be aware of that and try to just go with the flow as much as you can.