I’m honestly in love with Colorado, and that fondness towards this beautiful state has made moving away from California relatively easy. Once my tiny human joined our family, however, I missed my family more than ever. This past year, I was lucky enough to take advantage of some awesome airfare deals and take Canaan to visit her grandma and grandpa. As a first time mama traveling alone 80% of the time, I browsed around for some tips on traveling with baby, and honestly, the Internet failed me. Sure I found the usual and the obvious—pack an extra change of clothes for baby and mom, nurse or bottle feed the baby at take-off and landing to help with ear pressure, etc., but I was most interested in the actual survival skills that would make my trip smooth and not completely ruin the idea of someday adding a second child to the mix. If you’re on the same page, welcome my friend, read on. Here are ten actually useful tips that helped me tremendously:
- Research your airline’s policies on traveling with children: in most cases, your diaper bag, breast pump, stroller, and/or car seat do not count towards your carry-on or checked baggage limit, and do not accrue additional charges. Instead of stressing about cramming everything you need into one checked bag, consider what you can bring free of charge.
- Curbside check-in wherever possible: If you can spare a few extra bucks to tip the curbside employee, curbside check-in is a miracle, especially if you’re traveling with more luggage/gear than you have hands for. The curb-side attendant will check your bags, print your boarding passes, and write down your current gate number, leaving you free to sail straight through to security.
- Get your baby through the airport in a baby carrier: If you wheel your baby through security in a stroller, you’ll have to take the baby out in order to send the stroller through the scanning machines. If your stroller is easily manipulated with one hand, this isn’t typically an issue, but if you’re traveling alone, strollers can make things a little bit more stressful when grumpy travelers are getting impatient in line behind you. If your baby is in a carrier, you’ll be able to free up your hands and wear your little pumpkin right through the metal detector, though they may ask to pat down the carrier and/or swab your hands (which is quick and painless).
- Remember that TSA screens diaper bags a little differently, so stock up your diaper bag with the essentials, but give yourself a few extra minutes to get through security: Always check with your airport’s TSA prior to flying, but I’ve found that TSA has never had an issue with me packing items such as breast milk, water wipes, baby foods/purees, aerosols such as nasal saline spray, and more. They’ll run all diaper bags through the x-ray machine, but will most likely search your diaper bag by hand so that they may identify/swab any questionable items before returning them to you. This takes a few extra minutes, but helps you ensure you’ve got everything your babe needs.
- Always bring your baby’s birth certificate: I know many moms who learned this one the hard way, so heed my warning. I asked a Southwest agent about this one, since I was caught off guard when they asked to see Canaan’s birth certificate prior to printing our boarding passes. Not all airlines require it, but many do, mostly so they can verify if your child indeed qualifies as a lap-sit infant (babies under 2 fly free when sitting on an adult’s lap). After you show it to the airline agent at check-in, feel free to stow it away in a safe spot—you won’t need to show it to TSA in the security line.
- Bring a bag of toys that your baby has never seen before: This tip was worth its weight in gold when we traveled from Denver to Hawaii with our very busy 10 month old. The novelty of a new and unfamiliar toy will hold baby’s attention much longer than something brought from your beloved toy arsenal. I’m not a big fan of unnecessary consumerism, so if you’re able to, borrow some toys from a friend or neighbor, or collect free items where available (think new kitchen spatula you have in your drawer, or happy meal toy).
- When you get to the gate, conjure up your best anxious mom face, and kindly ask the gate agent if there are any open seats on the flight: In most cases, the gate agent will happily check if there’s any availability, and will move your seat to an open row/row with an open middle seat if able to (and for no extra charge). Open seats help give you space to rock, feed, and entertain a baby on the flight. If your flight is full, and there are no open seats, always remember to speak up if you’re uncomfortable. I once sat next to a young man who, upon seeing me with baby in hand, rolled his eyes and said, “well this sucks, I’ve never been sat next to a baby the whole flight before.” You can bet I popped up and gently asked the flight attendant if she could switch my seat. Similarly, I’ve boarded a flight only to find that my seat was next to a woman who was noticeably incredibly ill, and once again, I asked to be switched instead of exposing my baby to unnecessary risk. Most flight attendants are incredibly accommodating when passengers have legitimate concerns or needs.
- Purchase or borrow a gate check bag/cover for your car seat or stroller: Airlines are pretty rough on your precious baby gear, even when you check it at the gate. Unfortunately, almost all airlines only assume limited liability for baby gear, meaning that they’ll only replace it if they lose it (and trust me, they won’t replace it with your exact item), not if they damage it. Frontier demolished my Britax stroller rendering it unusable, which added a few complications to my trip. Had I used a stroller cover, it likely would’ve sustained less damage and would’ve made transporting Canaan much easier.
- Remember—babies cry: It’s what they do! While I’m in favor of parents being considerate of others when traveling with their littles, sometimes your babies are going to cry on a flight, and there’s nothing you can do. A fussy baby doesn’t make you a bad parent, so ignore the judgmental stares from onlookers. Airplanes are, after all, a form of public transportation, and babies are babies. Let them be little. Don’t expect perfection, and don’t sweat it if your precious bundle let’s out a peep, or fills a diaper, or spits up. It’ll all be ok mama. After all, you’re unlikely to see any of these people again.
- Ask for help when you need it: As parents, we have basic needs, like being able to pee after we’ve drank the water that flight attendants generously pour in increments of four tablespoons (come on, airlines, step up your game). When you’re traveling with kids, throw your pride out the window. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask….so many others have been in your exact shoes, and there’s something beautiful in the humanity of helping one another. I’m notorious for asking a flight attendant to hold my baby while I use the restroom, or for asking a fellow passerby to help me retrieve my luggage from the carousel. Whatever you may need, mum is not the word.
Are you traveling with your older kids for the first time and looking for tips? Stay tuned for our next article!