Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Top Five Tuesday: Top Five Tips for Traveling with a Baby

Top 5 Tuesday: Travel with Baby edition!

So first off let me say that traveling with a baby IS hard, no matter how many helpful tips you read about and apply. But "just stay home for chrissakes!" is not a practical or realistic tip for me to offer you. Instead, let me share a bit of advice from me and the Moo based on our recent vacation that will hopefully help you plan for upcoming trips with your little ones. And, just to reassure you, while traveling with a baby is hard, it is not impossible--it can even go well! We feel very fortunate that our trip was mostly smooth sailing and that Natalie handled everything we threw her way with remarkable ease.

Before hopping on a plane with the budgie for the first time, we did our homework and so should you. I definitely recommend reading up on what has worked and not worked for other families (I read this, this, and this among other things), and call your specific airline ahead of time to ask about their infant in arms policies. It's pretty standard procedure that traveling with a baby means you can check a car seat for free, carry-on an umbrella stroller to check at the gate, and bring one extra carry-on (like a diaper bag) onto the plane with you. Baby food, breast milk, and formula are not under the same strict ounce & content guidelines as other carry-on items, so as long as they are labeled, carefully baggie-d, and removed for inspection at security you can bring all of your babe's normal feeding materials onto the plane.

Now then, on to our Top 5 Tips for Traveling with a Baby!

1. Pack smart. We (read: I) agonized over what to pack and how to pack. What to check? What to carry-on? How much to bring? What I would recommend is start off by setting out absolutely everything you think you will need, or making a list of everything you will need, and then eliminate everything that you can buy at your destination. Aside from what we needed to get through a day or two of travel, we bought Natalie's diapers, wipes, formula, food, and more once we landed safe and sound. That meant we had room to fit all of the adult-stuff in our checked luggage (just one suitcase!) and used our (three) carry-on items to pack Natalie's things. One bag for her clothes (just one outfit per day, pajamas, and a few extra t-shirts--we had access to a washer and dryer in Florida, so I didn't worry about packing extra stuff), one bag for her in-flight and airport stuff (diapers, pre-measured sippy cups, snacks, and other food), and one for some small toys and books. Even though we tried to pack light, we still ended up bringing what felt like a ton of stuff--we definitely could have left some things behind. Next time we'll do a second culling of items to remove from our must-pack pile.

2. Plan a vacation that makes sense for your family. Are you the type of person who likes a relaxing vacation? A sight-seeing, go-go-go type? Travel with friends & family? Or by yourselves? Think about what makes sense for you, and what will make the most sense for your little one. We tend to go the 80:20 route (relaxation:doing), so a vacation to a place we had already been, with family who could help watch Natalie, was most practical for us. Our "doing" part of vacation included daily runs, a trip to the zoo, and a date night. Other than that, it was swimming in the pool, enjoying happy hour with Mike's parents, taking leisurely walks in the sunshine, and napping every. single. day. Had we wanted a cram-packed trip, we would have been disappointed. But this trip was absolutely ideal for us and for Natalie--we were able to follow her schedule and cues because we didn't need to worry about catching the next tour bus or making it to every place on our list. Honestly, the restful kind of vacation is what I would recommend to most families with small children, but YOU know best what will work for your family, so plan accordingly.

3. Plan for flight. We were so nervous about how Natalie would react to flying--after her string of ear infections this winter, it seemed inevitable that takeoff and landing would send her into ear-splitting pain. We checked in with her pediatrician before leaving to get her advice, and she recommended pain management from the start of any flying day all the way to the end. With that in mind, we gave Natalie scheduled doses of infant Tylenol throughout her flying days, and followed the doctor's advice that we use children's Benadryl as a sleep aid near her regularly scheduled naptime (of course, it goes without saying, please do not follow my example as medical advice without talking to your own pediatrician!). We found that this worked perfectly--Natalie didn't cry once during takeoff or landing, and slept like a dream during the flights that coincided with her naptime(s). When she did get fussy mid-flight we had books, snacks, and toys handy. She also nommed on her pacifier non-stop while on the plane to encourage swallowing (she pushed away her bottles and sippy cups during takeoff, so we stuck with her pacifier until we were in-air, when she seemed more willing to take a drink).

4. Prepare for the worst, but expect the best. We were so nervous about taking Natalie on a plane, disrupting her routine, and being away from home and all that is familiar to her for nearly a full week. Our anxiety caused us to pack carefully and brace ourselves for all of the possible worst case scenarios. But, actually? Things went so much better than we expected. Perhaps because we had prepared so meticulously, or perhaps just because of dumb luck, but Natalie adapted without much problem at all. Our fears about flying with her were mostly unfounded, and everyone was incredibly kind and understanding (including every single flight attendant we encountered--I wish I could thank all of them a million more times for bringing us extra blankets, biscuits for Natalie to nosh on, for holding & cooing & smiling at her when she seemed irritable, and for never giving us a single dirty look when she fussed). We had originally dreaded our layovers, but shorter flights ended up being much better than anticipated--they broke up the trip, gave Natalie a chance to stretch and crawl in the airport every hour or two, and we were able to occupy her differently on each short flight (one for lunch, one for a nap, one for a snack, etc.). In short: do your homework, prepare for what could go wrong, but allow yourself to relax a bit when things are going smoothly.

5. Think ahead to what will make your destination site most baby-friendly. We were lucky that my in-laws did a massive baby-proofing sweep of their house before we even landed in Melbourne, because we had not thought ahead to how we would monitor Natalie in a new space at all. For this reason, I recommend traveling with or to family, who can help with childcare and be a part of making a space baby-friendly. Natalie was desperate to explore the new place, and there could have been so many possibilities for disaster (outlets, breakables, stairs, unlocked cupboards, etc.). Mike's parents took care of all of these issues for us, and I'm so grateful that they did. I am definitely going to think about that the next time we travel, though, and toss some helpful things (outlet covers, for example) in a bag to help us get any new place safe for her to play relatively freely.

So those are my tips... what are yours? If you've traveled with a baby, or seen parents frantically traveling with a baby, please share what has worked or not worked in your experience!


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