Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Travelin' Man: Lessons Learned in Baby Travel

The day that Eric and I first learned we were pregnant, we went out to dinner with some friends. We were so joyful, yet overwhelmed, as Calan was certainly a surprise little gift from God (who clearly knew better than we did). That night the conversation focused on the how children change your life. We had not yet shared our news (not that they didn't figure it out by our blatant refusal of drinks) and thus, we were obviously taken aback by the conversation. Not that what was being said was untrue, kids certainly do change things, but more so the focus on travel and the limitations kids bring to flying away.

Eric and I love to travel. Those of you who know us, know this. We fell in love abroad, journeyed abroad, served abroad, and have seen so much together. God has certainly blessed that desire immeasurably, and we have gotten to create the most incredible memories. And we have many a crazy tale to share (wombats, anyone?). So, as the conversation at the dinner table that night focused on travel, and how it becomes obsolete when kids enter the scene...my heart sank.

Was it true? Traveling with kids becomes an impossibility? But there are a lot of babies on planes...right? Was I ready to be that mom who gets the "shut your kid up" look? I suppose I was ready... to give up my love for travel for the higher purpose of vocation...but not without a good cry.

I excused myself from the dinner table, went to the bathroom, and shed a tear. Although Eric and I were entirely open to kids, Cal entered the scene a little sooner than we had thought he would and now I was worried that this joyful surprise would also have some unintended travel consequences. But, I have since learned that all this fretting was for not...in fact, at dinner the other night with some family someone remarked,"Man, I think Cal has traveled more in his short life than I have in my [longer] one." This made my heart soar...just a bit.

It is true, with this last trip to Chicago, Calan has been on 6 trips, 13 planes, and has been coast to coast. Not to mention mountain getaways and home stays. Yes, he is well-versed in the travel world...and although I will not tout that traveling with kids is the easiest thing I have ever done, I will say it is certainly not the hardest and so very doable...even fun!?

Although we are not experts, I wanted to identify the things that we have learned, most of the time the hard way, in hopes of making travel for you parents of young ones a tad easier. Granted, we only have one, so far,...and I am sure it gets more complicated, but here are just a few of our insights:
A sleeping Cal...GOOD!
  • Location, location, location...of your seat
    • Seats on the aisle, in case you need to get up, walk around, change a diaper, etc. are always easiest
    • Look at available seats when you make your reservation...aim for the back of plane, although last off, you are often first on (if they do not have pre-boarding) and it is easier to make an escape to the galley if meltdown is eminent. 
    • Go for aisle seats in the back where the middle seat is unoccupied...it may just stay that way!!
  • Know your plane...777, 767, 747??
    • Many planes are now equip with changing tables...which makes life brand new. However, most are not. Call and ask or scope it out when you get on-board...if not, practice rocking out the lap change.
    • Larger planes often have a wheelchair accessible bathroom...baby in tow? Yes, you are disabled by definition. Use it! It is nice to have this extra space...and makes diaper changes so much easier!
  •  Make sure to add the lap child to the reservation 
    • Seems simple, but TSA is a no-go without their own boarding pass
Before you go/packing:
  • Pack the babe 2-3 days beforehand
    • Inevitably, you will need to add something, repack something, wash something, etc. But packing too close to departure may not give you enough time to get it all done, or will just leave you feeling frazzled (in no way speaking from experience).
  • Carry-on
    • We use a carry-on suitcase for Cal. It is the perfect size and if our luggage gets lost, he will still have what he needs for successful meals, naps, and bedtimes. This makes the tragic thought of our luggage being lost, well, obsolete...cause if Cal ain't happy, ain't no one happy, and Cal=happy when we carry his stuff on.
  • List it out
    • Create a packing list for the kiddo's ENDLESS shiz-nit...Eric uses a physical list that he makes in Google tasks or on his phone and then shares it with me. Whereas, I usually go through a normal day in my head and list out all the things we will need...starting with breakfast and finishing with bedtime, laying out the necessities for that time as I reach them in my head.
  • Lay it out
    • We keep Cal's suitcase open...for all the additions that can only be added day-of and those that should have been added days before, oops!
  • Check-in before arriving to the airport (if possible)...as checking-in first will allow you to check that off your list before you even get stressed about "the list." (If flying Frontier, you must check-in at the airport, as their computers can't access lap children remotely)
    • You can check-in up to 24 hours pre-flight...use those hours, the closer to 24 the more time to have to scramble with the last minute craziness when it is really go-time
En el aeropuerto:
  • Carseats are FREE...
    • Take advantage...to rent them when you get wherever you are going, they are like $10 a day, so check 'em baby! 
  • Milk, bottles, and food...Oh, My!
    • Babies get a pass...on the liquids rule, at least. You can bring as many bottles as you feel necessary, as long as you allow TSA to do a quick test to ensure they are milk/formula. 
    • If breastfeeding, try and bring a bottle of milk with you, even if you plan to nurse. It can be challenging to nurse on the plane, as space is limited. I most definitely ended up nursing in a bathroom on one trip...as there was just no other way it was going to happen. It worked, but the bottle would have been easier. You can always find a quiet place to pump in the airport before you leave or when you land.
    • Given that meals on wings can be difficult, if your little one is eating solids, most restaurants in the airport have high chairs. Even if it is not quite time, try and get a more solid meal into the babe pre-plane. If you are not eating at the restaurant, you can easily bring a high chair into a public area with tables.
  • Look at the size of that...stroller!!
    • Even before Cal could sit, we invested in a nicer fold-up umbrella stroller with a 5-point harness. Although it is nice to have your normal could-take-on-a-mack-truck-and-totally-win stroller with you, truth is, they make travel more cumbersome. 
    • Larger strollers don't fit in the trunks of most rental cars, esp. when you have luggage added into the equation...and if they cannot fold up to go through the X-ray machine, security will have to pull you aside and do a whole big screening.
    • We used our baby carrier pre-Cal-becoming-a-mover for flights.  Strapped him in, and he'd fall right asleep. Oh yeah, and both hands were free...music? TV? Yes, please. Take advantage now, as this will only work for the first few months.
      • Big strollers are doable...but for us, we decided to retire BOB for travel...as he tends to hurt more than help and invest in something a little smaller...which has come in way handy for multiple occasions outside of the airport.
    •  If they're crawling...set them free. Every airport has two things: space and germs. You may have to sacrifice one to get full use out of the other...but its totally worth it. As a germ-a-phobe, the thought of setting my crawler free on the airport floor is nothing short of vulgar, yet, as a traveling mom, the thought of doing everything I possibly can to wear the sucker out far outweighs the alternative. So, stock-up on the Purell, and locate the nearest space with the fewest amount of people, take a deep breath...and set them free.  
  • Security!!!
    • Wear shoes that are easily removed...the 4-inch heeled, zip-up riding boots, pry not the best option. Remember, today you are at your child's beckon call (when are we not?), so make style obsolete and go for ease.
    • Put your ID in your back pocket or jacket/sweater pocket, so you are not fishing for your purse/wallet to grab it while trying to ready baby, baby's things, strollers, husbands (:)) for metal detectors
 Up, up..and Away. On the plane:
  • 99%...when traveling with a small child, clean first their space and then their hands
    • Plane travel is what it is...an efficient and incredible way to move from one place to another while inhaling recycled air and touching surfaces that have their fair share of Bernoullian germ infestations. We always clean the armrests, trays, seat belt fasteners, etc. when we sit down with an antibac. wipe...as germs are a plenty, and it feels nice to knock out a few.
  • Food, glorious food...
    • Snacks are essential. When baby's mouth is full, then they are not trying to attack your seat neighbors (verbally or physically). Be wary of messy foods, as a full meal is really difficult to pull-off, especially when traveling alone, snacks make all the difference. We found freeze dried fruits and yogurt to be big hits (Trader Joe's Mango/ Gerber Bits), as well as disolvable crackers (Mum Mums). 
    • If traveling alone, make sure to look at the drink cart, say a few passing words, and wave good-bye.
  • Stroller- check!
    • You can gate check your stroller, and it will be ready for you upon arrival. And sometimes, they even set it up for you!! I know...exciting, huh?
  •  Be prepared
    •  Get out and get ready anything you may need to easily get to during the flight right as you sit down. Once in the air, rummaging through diaper bags, purses, and the like results in exasperated looks and frustrated seat neighbors. Rest assured, you will inevitably be rummaging, but having some things accessible can help.
  • Buckle Up
    • If traveling alone, first, God bless you...second, you can do this! When you get on the plane, if your little one can sit, you can buckle them into the seat while you get things situated and use the overhead bins. This is a great way to have at least 2 min. hands-free to prepare yourself... 
    So...these a just a few of the things we learned in our short tenure as parents. Any other awesome travel tips you have gleaned???


    The Wiese Family said...

    To add, giving Mylicon for ear pressure for infants....it's safe and it's something you can force in their mouth to get them to swallow to relieve the pressure. For older kids...suckers! Suckers make them swallow a lot therefore relieving ear pressure this way. My kids too have flown many, many times.

    Kristen said...

    Stace...both awesome ideas!! Tucking them away for later...