The holidays are just around the corner, and with that, the oh-my-goodness of airplane travel. Now that I’m a mom, that craziness seems compounded with the thought of taking infants and toddlers along. With this in mind, I’m happy to share a few Sanity Travel Tips, as part of a meme sponsored by my fellow blogger buddy Momsicle.
Not too long after my now-14 month old daughter was born, my hubster and I started talking about THE TRIP. By this, we meant the 18+ hour journey that we were going to take to India so that little A. could meet her grandparents and both her great grandmothers. The very thought of THE TRIP freaked me out and talking to our pediatrician – herself of Indian origin – didn’t help matters much. “You should just wait till she’s a year old. You really don’t want her to end up in the hospital.” Such was the nature of her advice, all based on her personal experience.
The thing is that even though I asked for her advice, I knew that this was a trip we had to take. I figured it would be a bit easier if we went while I was still nursing (less of a chance of dysentery, diarrhea, and any water or food related issues). The only catch was that I wouldn’t get to eat my beloved street food. I chalked that up to another maternal sacrifice and set about doing lots and lots of Google searches about airplane travel to India with a newborn, an infant, a toddler. And I talked to folks who had done it successfully—there’s nothing like hearing a story of survival to give you the courage you need to venture out on a journey like this.
The trip, when we finally took it soon after A. turned four months, was not bad at all; in fact, lots of fun! And, the airplane travel was not the most difficult challenge we faced; it was losing one wheel of her stroller while we were in India!
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that in the past 11 months, we have clocked about 65 hours of travel with little A., including a non-stop flight India trip and a summer holiday to Norway.
Read on for my top ten travel tips for international travel. And, for more in this vein, choose your own adventure. Check out:
• Kim at Let Me Start By Saying who believes that with the right packing list, a little compromise and some red wine, you can successfully travel with 2 kids.
• Cyndi at My Convertible Life who will try anything to get her toddler to sleep when they’re away from home.
• Sue at Motherhood and Me who won’t let a little poop in-flight get in the way of traveling all over the country to see her family!
• Momsicle who having embraced the red-eye and mood-altering substances shares lessons from toddler airplane survival.
Top Ten Tips for International Travel
Tip # 1: Take a test trip. We flew to St. Maarten via Jet Blue (a three hour flight) about a month before our India trip. Though I originally thought this was a trial experience for Baby A., what it ended up being was a trial experiment for myself and hubster. How would we, as a couple, handle the stress? The packing? The airport security lines? The diaper changes? You get the point. If a three-hour flight IS in fact your dreaded journey, I highly recommend simulating the experience with a weekend road trip to visit a family member or friend. At least you’ll have a sense of what it means to pack, sleep elsewhere, do lots of diaper changes in uncomfortable situations, and eat on the go. To simulate feeding your 8 month old lunch on your lap in the middle of turbulence, you could probably just try it out during a few bumpy cab rides in NYC.
Tip # 2: Really hang out with your baby. If your baby is younger than five or six months) use a sling on the flight – sleeping on Mama and Papa’s lap grows old pretty fast and the bassinette is just not very comfortable. Baby A. slept in the sling most of the way to India (with breaks for her normal awake-times) and on the way to Norway (when she was a bit older), the Baby Bjorn was a godsend.
Tip # 3: Keep airplane chachkies to a minimum. It doesn’t matter how old your baby is. Less is truly more. On our most recent trip, we carried a backpack diaper bag that held the bare essentials—diapers, wipes, bottles, and a couple of little board books (the ones that are the size of your palm are the best). Also essential was a blankie. And, a bonus was one of those little plastic photo albums that I filled with pictures of family members (I tucked extra pictures behind each one so that we would be able to switch things around on the flight home; a handy, space-saving trick!) Beyond that, everything you need to keep your baby interested will probably be around you—like the people sitting behind you (who hopefully have kids too), the airline staff (who hopefully will swing by every hour or so to twitch their moustaches, make funny clicking noises from deep down in their throat, or coo at your little one), and the in-flight Duty Free catalog and magazine (an excellent resource for teaching little hands how to turn pages and point to interesting objects; maybe if you’re lucky, there will be a few ducks, birds, and dogs here).
Tip # 4: Don’t worry too much about take offs and landings. Baby A. never liked the pacifier and doesn’t suck her thumb, so I was real worried about what we would do at these times. My hubster convinced me that all we needed to do was distract her and play with her and all would be OK. When you’re taking off at a time when your baby just isn’t interested in a bottle or nursing, you have no choice but to take your husband’s advice. And in this case, it absolutely worked. Baby A. was so happy to be sitting on her mama and papa’s laps and checking out everyone around her that she didn’t even notice the change in cabin pressure. (OK, maybe we were just lucky but my takeaway was this: When all else fails, don’t discount the value of distraction. Come prepared to make lots of funny sounds like long aaaa’s and tongue clicking. Be inventive and ready to entertain. You never know what will work. And, most of all, take a chill pill. If you’re chill, chances are high baby will chill out too. The reverse is also very true.)
Tip # 5: Airplane changing tables are a nightmare. Put on a super-absorbent diaper on your little one and unless there are bigger matters that require a new diaper, keep diaper changes to a minimum. My rule of thumb: every four hours, unless it was night-time in my home destination, in which case, I let things be for the duration of the night (which for us was about 8-9 hours). It sounds icky but trust me—your baby will thank you. Of course, if you have a bassinet, it’s main purpose will be to serve as a convenient changing table!)
Tip # 6: You just don’t need as many clothes as you think you do. When we went on our first trip to St. Maarten, I took so much stuff that she could have changed three times a day and I would have still had clothes left over! I forgot about laundry and I forgot that things like sweaters and jackets, just like with us adults, can be mixed and matched and recycled. So, unless you have a colicky baby who is always spitting up his or her milk on your hands, chances are some days you don’t even have to change your baby more than twice (including PJs). Plus, baby clothes in other places are so cute – why not leave lots of room to buy some? Oh, and take along those Purex 3-in-1 Laundry sheets. They smell great, take up no space, and make laundry a breeze.
Tip # 7: Take fewer diapers than you think you need. You can always buy more, even in India, where the same brands are available. I read all this talk about how diapers in India were not as leak-proof. Bullocks. They work just fine and your baby is probably less likely to get a diaper rash, given recent oopsies on the part of companies such as Pampers. Oh, and take out all the diapers from the packaging and line them at the bottom of the suitcase, then layer them between clothes. This yields a flat suitcase, instead of one that you have to sit on top of to zip up.
Tip # 8: Contrary to popular opinion, don’t drag along half of your toy chest. Pack everything you want to take about a week before the trip, then go through the toys and books every few days thereafter and weed out as much as you can. When traveling, children are fascinated by EVERYTHING that they see, so that book which they normally love to read 20 times or that rattle they can’t live without? It loses value pretty quickly and ends up being just another thing to carry. The best toy we took on our 4 month trip and our 8 month trip was the Whoozit (it still goes everywhere with us). It’s compact, multi-functional, and rattly and snuggly at the same time.
Tip # 9: Get with the time. I followed our pediatrician’s advice on how to deal with jetlag to the T and it worked great. When you get to your destination, immediately switch your baby over to local time. If she’s exhausted and needs to nap at an odd time, let her sleep, but not for too long (max 40 minutes). When we got to India, all A. wanted to do was sleep in the afternoon. So did I. We entertained her, sang, talked, laughed and by the time night came, she was so tired that she slept through (for the most part) and she was cool with India time within 3 days. Coming back home was a bit more challenging, but I invited a friend over the night we got back and she entertained Baby A. since we had no energy left. The only tough thing about this is that you’re really tired and want to sleep, but it’s so worth it to just deal for a day or two. It really does make the rest of your trip so much better.
Tip # 10: It’s a bit pricey but invest in a good travel bed. I cannot say enough good things about our Baby Bjorn travel crib. Baby A. knows and loves it and even if she’s in a loft space in a log cabin in the Norwegian Fjords and we put her in it, she’ll go to sleep as long as her blanket and Whoozit are there with her. It’s easy to fold, lightweight, and has given hubster and me twelve-hour nights of sleep in new destinations. Now,that’s what I call priceless.
PS: Take along a small 4 oz. lavender essential oil. I always dab a drop or two on A’s feet and nostrils (not too much or else it’s over-stimulating) on the flight and the relaxing scent calms hubster and me down and seems to do something good for the nervous and somewhat disgruntled (oh why, oh why me? why am I seated next to a baby?) passengers around us. They whiff in appreciation. If you’re like me and don’t close the cap too tightly, it will also make the icky smell of airplane food go away.
PPS: Courage and a sense of humor. Don’t leave home without them.