Traveling with a baby isn't easy. But the more prepared you can be the more confident you will be in your abilities to roll with the punches. Today Hunter is 4 months old and he's traveled to Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts and Louisiana. We've done 2 extremely long road trips (13 hours to be exact), 4 shorter road trips, 4 flights including connections and a few ferry and shuttle rides. This kid is a champ! But we were incredibly strategic in how we traveled to make a lot of it feel like home. I learned a lot on these trips and wanted to share what worked and what didn't! So here we go :)
Hunter is not the biggest fan of the car seat so we had to actively stay on top of entertainment and comfort. Before the 3 month mark where he started engaging with toys a bit more the only things that really worked were a mirror attached to the head rest for him to stare at himself, a WubbaNub, a vibrating sound machine, and the Shusher. Now at 4 months toys can distract for a few more minutes :)
On these long road trips to save time I brought several packets of pumped breastmilk and fed him as we drove (don't worry he was still in the car seat). We'd pull off to change him and get gas but other than that it was all hands on deck to entertain and help him sleep. We left the seat next to the car seat open so we could hop back and soothe. If you're averse to using a pacifier then you might be sitting there with your fingers in your babies mouth for the ride! But you'll get through it with something for them to suck on, the motion of the car ride and dear god use the Shusher! It's a life saver!!
FLYING WITH BABY: WHAT WORKED FOR US
Ok now onto the flights which I'm sure you're more interested in how to make that go smoothly! Let's start with the things that worked for us:
1. Give yourself PLENTY of time at the airport. I had 90 minutes and I felt totally stress free. When you get to TSA ask for help. They were amazing (never said THAT before!) and helped me with the stroller, car seat, and were really wonderful with the breastmilk and water bottles that I had in the diaper bag. I was able to get 16oz of boiled water through with no issues.
2. Before getting on the plane, wait as long as you can to feed. I know they might be fussy but if you can wait until take off it will be distracting for them and help with the pressure on their ears. Just like when we chew gum and swallow they're doing the same. Each take off was a breeze because of this! Not one cry! Ideally you can do this on landing as well. Hunter slept through each landing so it wasn't necessary but if he was awake I'd have fed him.
3. Gate check your stroller and car seat. Even with a layover, gate check at each connection. It made going through the airport much easier. Once they see on your ticket that you're traveling with an infant they will usually call you up to the gate to give you more time but if not, don't be afraid to go to the front of the line and get on to give yourself more time and room.
4. Wear your baby. On 3 of Hunter's 4 flights it was just the 2 of us so wearing him allowed me more flexibility in what I could carry and I could even use the bathroom :) I wore him on the plane and then waited for the stroller most times during the transitions.
5. Don't stress about bringing your car seat. I was panicked about not having a base for car travel. Once I discovered the seat belt option I felt way more comfortable. It's very easy and worked incredibly well. I was able to do it on shuttles too which eased my mind.
6. Bring one or two new toys. Distracting them with something new helps occupy some time and gives you a little break from being the only entertainment source. Things with flashing lights worked best for us because it's so loud on the plane anyway the musical toys had little effect on distractions.
7. Bring their bed and sound machine. Hunter sleeps in a Dock-a-Tot and loves it. I put it in my suitcase and brought it with us. He was totally comfortable and I could put that in the pack and play and the hotel crib. He slept like a champ all through travel as a result. The sound machine kept everything the same for him and provided the extra layer of comfort.
8. I don't know about you but nursing scarves are impossible for me. I have a very wiggly baby so somehow he moves enough that all the sudden I'm totally exposed. Not a fan. So what I did is wear a low cut and baggy tank top and just used a swaddle. I was able to just cover his head and he didn't feel like he needed to thrash around. That worked faster and much better in the tight seats.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK: (doh)!
So things weren't always sunshine and roses on the plane! I learned a lot on what works and what doesn't. Here are some things I will 100% be changing for next time.
1. Your stroller HAS to be small. We took our Graco Fold Jogger Click Connect Travel System. I will never do that again. It couldn't go through TSA security, so it took extra time for them to wipe it down. Also it was so big at gate check the baggage guys were not so pleased. It was heavy, cumbersome and way too bulky. That was just on the plane. Then when you're trying to get your luggage, the baby, and a HUGE stroller into the car, it just doesn't work. This stroller takes up the bulk of any trunk or you have to put a seat down and slide it up which makes things crazy tight. I'll be purchasing a MUCH smaller travel stroller. Something that still works with the car seat but can fold up in a much better way. Lesson learned for sure.
2. Bring reinforcements of burp clothes, swaddles and clothes. You never need them until you NEEEEEED them..... On our final flight back to LA we were delayed 2.5 hours. So I got him in his PJ's and made his bottle. Every other flight I breastfed on take off but since it was bed time anyway I figured, why not give him his bottle (trying to keep with routine). He drank about 5-6 ounces during take off and about 10 minutes into the flight. He seemed totally happy...until he wasn't. About 1 hour into the flight the ENTIRE bottle came back up. I only had a swaddle on me. I tried to catch it all with that but it was way too much. I wish I had at least 1 back up burp cloth...the little square napkins they give you for drinks weren't doing the trick.
3. Unless you're traveling with a partner, don't take the window seat with a baby. I was in the window when the waterfall of spit up happened and I was stuck with the diaper bag and hunter on my lap for the last 2.5 hours of the flight. All the while my entire leg was soaked. The effort it would have taken to get sleeping people up, move all my bags, clean him up, etc seemed impossible in the moment. Solo baby travel is going to be on the aisle for me going forward.
4. Bring a water bottle for you. I just bought water at the airport but it wasn't enough. I was so thirsty the entire time and with breastfeeding I felt like I couldn't stay ahead of how much water I needed. I would have loved to just fill up at a water fountain and keep going.
At the end of the day, there will be road bumps and turbulence while traveling with a baby but don't be afraid to ask for help! Have fun and enjoy! I'll share more as he gets older and older :)