So you’re thinking of taking your little one on a grand adventure. Across the pond, perhaps? I know the scene, you’re frantically Googling airport luggage restrictions, packing tutorials, car rental information, and international formula brands. If you’re extra-crazy (like me), you’re even watching YouTube videos of mamas showing you the easiest ways to get baby through airport security with minimal tears. I know it’s daunting, but trust me, you got this! Here’s what I learned during our trip from North Carolina to London when Colin was 5.5 months old.
1. Wear your baby.
Embrace babywearing. At least for the airport. Most airports will allow mama and baby to go through security together this way. (Not Heathrow, though, ugh.) Baby carriers are wonderful tools for busy settings such as ticketing, security, boarding and de-boarding, and even baggage claim. If you are traveling to a location with less-than-ideal terrain for a stroller, you are golden! Plus, the photo-opportunities. Come on.
2. Invest in the car seat bag and stroller bag.
I know, I know… another item to buy. But imagine shelling out the money to buy a new stroller or car seat. Or worse, being stuck in an unfamiliar country without one because yours got damaged on the flight. Plane undercarriages are nasty (often damp) places. Protect your expensive baby gear by zipping them up. Another bonus is that most bags have shoulder straps, which makes transporting this gear in and out of the airport WAY easier. Your stroller can be checked at the gate – so baby can catch some zzz’s in the stroller while you chug some much-needed Starbucks. Another tip: Don’t rely on a car seat from a car rental company. Be safe, bring your own. You’re familiar with it and it will be one less thing to worry about. Besides, it’s checked for free at the ticket counter!
3. Baby’s comfort takes priority.
We have a Bubnest and I literally don’t know how parents survived before these things existed. We brought ours on the plane, and Colin was able to sleep comfortably in his nest across our laps. Passengers sitting near us on the plane were amazed at how easily Colin slept! It was the one thing that we could guarantee would “feel” like home on the plane and in our Airbnb. It saved us!
4. Accept help from everyone.
And I mean everyone. Gate attendant wants to break down your stroller for you AND put it in the bag? Thanks! Random other mom offers to hold your coffee while you put baby in the Ergo? Cheers, mama! Janitor asks if you need help carrying the car seat to your gate? Uh, okay! Thank every single person that holds the door for you, carries or holds something for you, or offers you praise on a job well done. I’m not kidding, people are genuinely fascinated when they see the immense effort that goes into traveling with a newborn. And fuck, at the end of your trip, when you have done it, you feel like SUPERWOMAN.
5. Board the plane last.
A crying baby on an airplane is basically everyone’s worst nightmare. (Besides snakes, right?) Do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and keep your potentially cranky baby off the plane for as long as possible! International flights are LONG – and babies get very restless. You’ll thank me later. Another tip: check-in (and make friends with) the gate-attendant as early as you can, they may upgrade your seating location to give you and baby more space! Win!
6. Pack extra outfits for the flight.
For mom, dad and baby. We traveled to England with Colin when he was just shy of 6 months, and we went through 2 outfits on the way over and maybe 4 on the way back. Blowouts and vomit are just things that happen when you have a baby. I don’t know about you, but traveling already makes me feel disgusting – so be sure you don’t arrive at your destination covered in baby poop. Be prepared, mama. Be very prepared. Another tip: If you’re traveling with a little one, a diaper bag does NOT count as your carry-on item or your personal item! Woohoo! That being said, invest in one that you can wear like a backpack. Just trust me on this.
Things are going to go wrong. That I can assure you. Maybe your partner won’t stop asking questions because he or she is nervous about the logistics of travel. Maybe your baby gets sick just when you were beginning to have the most wonderful vacation. Maybe your rental car isn’t ready and you have to wait ages while trying to entertain your baby. Maybe your baby just WON’T. STOP. POOPING. Maybe you overbooked activities and baby just isn’t having it. The most important piece of advice that I have for you is to breathe. Remember that this trip is temporary and you will not always feel this stressed or exhausted. Try to be kind to your partner. You’re in this unknown territory together – the more you relax and listen and help each other, the easier things will be.
8. Bring (powdered) formula.
In my opinion, bring it even if you’re breastfeeding. Your milk supply can take a major hit in times of stress and exhaustion. It’s best to be prepared for any situation, and the formula brands that you are likely familiar with in the United States typically aren’t sold in other countries. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, if you are able to, boil the water wherever it is that you’re staying. Boil it, let it cool, bottle it, and use it for mixing baby formula. In England, we assumed that Colin would be fine with normal bottled mineral water from the grocery store – he ended up with diarrhea (and a terrible subsequent diaper rash) that lasted almost a week. BOIL IT.
9. Go easy on the toys.
Bring a few – especially if your baby has a favorite or a snuggly little thing that is absolutely necessary at naptime or bedtime. But for the most part, babies are like cats in that they will play with just about anything. A plastic cup, a water bottle, an empty tissue box, a sock, the list goes on. Just make sure it’s safe for baby to play with!
10. Say no to some of your plans.
Especially if you’re venturing overseas to visit family, it can be really easy to get swept up in the excitement of taking your little one everywhere! Of course, you’ll want to do your best to make the most of your time there, but remember that it’s okay to ask people to come to you, too. Staying in a hotel? Great! Hotel lobbies, bars, or restaurants are great for mingling and there is plenty of action to keep baby people-watching and occupied. Staying in an Airbnb? Even better! You may even have your own living room or backyard – perfect for catching up with family. Have them bring some takeout! Staying with family? That makes things a bit easier, but be sure to set boundaries about too many outings – especially if your little one could use some rest. Remember, this is a big adventure for them and their needs come first!
11. Time it right (if you can).
I realize that not every trip is going to be for pleasure. Family things happen, and you may be forced to travel with your little one before you are ready to. But if you have any control over it, I recommend traveling when your baby is roughly six months old. It’s unlikely that they are very mobile, which makes the flight way more manageable. Also, they are probably still in the infant car seat, which means you can easily tote them in and out of the car without having to unbuckle and remove them from the car seat with each stop. Six-month-olds are developing little personalities, too! It’s a fun age because they are recognizing familiar faces, smiling, and giggling! One downside: Colin wasn’t really able to sit comfortably in a high chair at a restaurant, but some babies will.
Most of all, have fun. Your little one is a globetrotter! Oh, and take millions of photos.