International travel with a baby
Over the years, I’ve blogged quite a bit about travel. Before we were parents, Al and I were pretty big travelers. Al has been to 100 countries (!!!) and we’ve done quite a bit of international travel together, including extended stints in South Africa and the U.K. But since having Lucia, our travel has pretty much come to a grinding halt. I did take Lucia to California to visit my family when she was ten weeks old, but traveling with a tiny newborn is a far cry from bundling a wriggly, restless toddler onto a plane. Tiny babies are adaptable little lumps who can sleep anywhere. Toddlers, on the other hand, are whirlwinds of activity and opinions and demands, who don’t deal particularly well with sitting in one place for extended periods of time.
For many parents, myself included, the idea of packing up one’s toddler and all of her attendant things (travel crib, travel bath, travel stroller, car seat, toys, books, spoon, sippy cup, snacks, etc., etc., etc.) and flying anywhere — let alone overseas — is enough to induce heart palpitations. But Al and I decided to go for it, anyway, our cardiac health be damned. We just got back from an almost three week trip to the United Kingdom to visit Al’s family, and it went… surprisingly well? I’m still kind of shocked we all survived without at least one of us being institutionalized/arrested, but we did!
Here are a few things I learned and tips that we found useful in our travels with baby. As with all things parenting (and all things travel), your mileage (and/or kilometrage) may vary.
- Take an overnight flight whenever possible. Here’s the thing: you want your kid to be asleep as much as possible on the plane, because an awake baby on a plane is a bored/restless/whiny/uncomfortable baby on a plane. On the way to Scotland, Lucia slept the entire flight, because the flight took off around 7 pm (her usual bedtime). Of course, the flight was only six and a half hours, and Lucia usually sleeps 12 hours a night, so she was an utter disaster once we landed, but having her sleep the whole time on the way there was nice.
- If your kid’s going to be awake on the flight, pack lots of snacks. Normally, I have Lucia on a pretty strict schedule. She gets up, goes to bed, and eats meals and snacks at the same time every day. She has two designated snacks during the day, one at 10 am, and one at 3 pm, and I don’t let her graze or pick at things between meals. However. On the long-ass flight back from the UK to the US, during which Lucia was awake for six out of the seven hours we were in the air, I gave that kid as many snacks as she wanted. Oh, you’re bored and whining because we have read every board book we packed six times and you’ve thrown all of the in-flight magazines on the ground and ripped the barf bag to shreds? HAVE A SNACK. I gave her rice cakes and rice puffs and cheese and bananas and whatever else I could find and it was wonderful because it kept her occupied. Pro tip: give your toddler a snack cup like this and let her slowly pick up and eat small snacks like these. It takes forever and it keeps her quiet (at least, until the snacks are gone). Another pro tip: give your kid something to eat or drink (a straw cup is ideal) during takeoff and landing or pressure changes, because it helps relieve the pressure in her ears.
- Take more diapers than you’ll ever think you’d possibly need, and pack a change of clothes for both the baby and yourself. I learned this the hard way when I flew with Lucia to California. She had a poop explosion in the airplane lavatory — the less said about that, the better — and I’d only brought diapers and wipes with me into the lavatory (rather than her entire diaper bag with the extra onesie). Consequently, I had to walk a half-naked baby back down the aisle of the plane in order to change her clothes and get a new shirt for myself (yes, it was that bad). People were nice about it but, you know, my advice is to go ahead and bring the whole diaper bag into the lavatory with you. In general, it’s always good to have extra diapers and wipes when traveling because you never know what kind of delays you’ll experience, and Lord knows babies’ digestive systems don’t always cooperate with our best laid travel plans.
- Pack smart. I spent a long time thinking about what to bring with us to the UK, given that we wouldn’t be able to borrow baby stuff from anyone there (since Al’s cousins’ kids are all older) and we didn’t want to deal with renting or buying stuff there. Here is our packing list, which was barebones, but ended up working out well for us: a super-light, super-portable travel crib (which we put in Lucia’s suitcase); her stroller base; her infant car seat (which we clicked into her stroller base); our Ergobaby carrier; a select number of board books and toys (maybe four books and three toys); a portable, battery-operated white noise machine; clothes for various weather situations (but not too many); travel packs of Dreft; baby spoons; weighted straw cups; a silicone bib; a silicone feeding mat; the aforementioned puffs; a jar of Crazy Richard’s peanut butter, and, probably The Most Important Thing, three lovies. Next time, I probably would have packed more puffs and board books and skipped the feeding mat, but pretty much everything else was essential.
- To counter jet lag, expose your kid to lots of sunlight during the day, do your best to replicate the home routine, and hope for the best. We had a remarkably easy transition with Lucia once we were in the UK. She only had one Bad Night (and hoo boy, was it a doozy), and slipped right into her normal schedule of one two-hour nap during the day and then twelve hours of sleep at night. I am not sure if this is normal, but I’m not questioning it. However, since we’ve been back in the US, she’s been waking up an hour earlier than usual in the morning (ugh), which I am assuming is jet lag and will go away. I hope. I pray. Because Momma doesn’t like getting up at six unless there’s a Royal Wedding on TV.
- Just do it. Al and I are really happy we took Lucia to the UK. She got to meet tons of family, see new places, and have new experiences (including petting lambs, playing in Soft Play areas, and trying meringues). The trip was really good for her, and for us. Yes, there were rough moments, and a lot of hauling around of baby gear. But it was worth it. If you’re debating whether or not to travel internationally with your kid, don’t let the daunting logistics or fears about time changes hold you back. You’ll all adjust, and it’ll be fun. Do it.
What are your best tips for international travel with a baby? Am I missing anything key? Would you let your baby pet various farm animals that may or may not be carrying weird, farm-animal-borne diseases? Because I did! (And yes, we spent a long time having our shoes disinfected by the Agriculture people in the Philadelphia Airport).