I’ve been thinking about this post for many months. It came to mind when a flight attendant asked me on the tarmac, “Oh is this baby’s first flight?” I smiled at her. “Uhm, it’s his ninth.” Julius has just turned six months old and is going to take another three flights before December. This is a lot of traveling for a (robust and healthy) baby. What I’ve noticed is that he thrives, even adores this constant movement. Perhaps he was destined to. Perhaps he doesn’t know any better. What I do know is what has worked for us, for him, and for me.
What I’d like to share with you are our little travel routines – not only for families who travel, or are thinking about traveling, but also for the maybe-one-day-mothers who hesitate to start families because they’ve been led to believe that we can’t have it all. That their life would stop at some indistinct point in the future. That they would ‘finally’ ‘settle down’ with a cookie cutter husband in a cookie cutter house on a cookie cutter street. That they would finally achieve the American (Australian/ Western) Dream, and that everything will be perfect and complete.
I’m here to show you that you don’t have to walk that way.
For reasons known and unknown, the house plus car plus domesticated female paradigm has taken root as the dominant stereotype of achievement as a woman and mother. Forget it. The code has been broken. The data has been shredded, scattered to the wind. You don’t have to follow the American Dream. You don’t have to follow, full stop. You can go out to dinner with your baby (!) You can have a life after 5:30pm (!) Your baby can sleep in the restaurant booth (!) On the seats next to you (!) On you. You can travel around the world to different countries without a ton of baggage (I left my house a pack mule, I will return much wiser!) You can be healthy and happy and grounded even after months away from home.
My generation of mothers, lovers, peace-makers, global travelers – we are reshaping the world. I feel it. I know it. What do you want to do with your life? Anything you want. These are the days we are living. Don’t stop just because you have a baby!
Here’s how we have managed the details of our universe whilst traveling abroad:
PACKING AND PREPARING:
As I anticipated three months away with a growing baby, I had to think long and good about what I needed and what I didn’t. Turns out I packed MUCH more than I needed, but I think it’s better than less, at least for me. You can always give or throw things away, but to have to find new items or go out of your way to buy stuff wasn’t high on my priorities.
In my suitcase:
I packed for multiple climates and also multiple sizes of clothing as Julius was going to grow. This is unusual I know, because most trips are shorter than three months, but I’m going to give you all that I learnt. Think ahead to all the climates you might encounter but don’t go overboard. I put all of the baby’s clothes in a big cotton sack so that they kept separate from mine and made for easy repacking!
The clothing I took for myself ended up being narrowed down to these items: Birkenstocks, black Nike trainers with excellent cushioning (I wore these every time we transited – the last thing you want is sore feet!) leopard print flats for night, and a pair of white converse. Two pairs of black leggings. Khaki slacks. White t-shirt, black t-shirt, (long and short sleeves) black hooded knit sweater, black fringed wool shawl/poncho (life saver in different climates), flowery blouse for evenings, swimsuit, underwear, a warm hat, and pajamas – basically a yoga outfit so I can do double duty! All this took up a very small part of my suitcase.
In my carry on:
In my carry on (which was often this backpack, but sometimes a smaller, lighter backpack) I packed changes of clothes for Julius, a spare t-shirt for me, and some biodegradable nappies/ diapers. They are so much lighter than cloth, and easier to deal with for longer journeys. I took a lot more than I thought I need, just in case we had delays or unexpected layovers.
I took snacks for myself such as nuts, granola, goji berries, date & coconut rolls, an apple, sometimes even a packed lunch in a stainless steel container. Depends how much you’re willing to carry. I took a good water bottle with a straw inside it and a flip cap top. I didn’t want to have to deal with an open bottle and a lid with a wriggly baby!
I also took various toys, a red silk scarf to play peekaboo with, and one light cotton swaddle blanket. I took so many different blankets on the first flight, worried that Julius might get cold or create various messes, but that never happened, so I only take one now, which I put down on the floor before we take off. Trust your instincts on which toys to bring. Rattles and things that crinkle or make sounds are excellent. You want as many distractions as possible! (The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been a life saver!)
Before you leave, go online to your airline and reserve your meal preference if possible. Qantas allows you to do this well in advance, and up to 24 hours before. I don’t eat meat or dairy so I choose strict vegetarian or vegan meal. This also means they bring your food before everyone else, meaning there will be have less going on in the aisles and more space to get up afterwards and for the hostess to take your tray.
You won’t need your computer, your iPod, Bose headphones or anything like that on the plane so leave them behind or pack them in your suitcase if you really want to bring them. Your role on the plane is to serve your baby and to stay calm (and somewhat clean, ha!) Gone (for now) are the days when you can sit quietly, eating dinner neatly, whilst listening to music or a movie. Get ready to embrace your inner guerilla yogi. Keep light on your feet!
* CAR SEAT: We came with our (Baby Trend Flex Loc) car seat, but left the base at our first stop in Los Angeles. The reality of renting a seat in every city became a bit of a headache, and I wasn’t sure whether the rental seats would be up to date in terms of safety standards. I found out before we left that we could strap our seat in without the base, using just the seat belts tightened properly, and a special clip that holds everything fast. Do check your manufacturers guidelines to see if you can do the same with yours. Another great thing you can do if you’re visiting family is have them buy new or second hand, a car seat that they can keep at their house for when you visit. This is the ideal option. In Sydney I used Bubstaxi.com though you do pay a bit more for that service. When we returned to LA after three months, we left our original seat with my pregnant sister in law and bought a (bigger and heavier) convertible Graco All-in-One, since Julius had almost grown out of it.
* CAR SEAT BAG: We also bought this car seat bag off Amazon, to protect our seat from water and grime on the tarmac. Resist the temptation to pack the car seat bag with lots of other heavy things! Unless you invest in a really good quality bag, it’s likely to rip if you load it too heavily. Ours did – but it survived the journey back thanks to a lot of duct tape!! Often the airport check-in attendants will give you a giant plastic bag to protect your seat with, although this makes it a little harder to carry to the oversize area. In these instances I had our stroller unfolded and used it like a cart to wheel the car seat over.
* STROLLER: We lugged our 20lb Bumbleride Indie jogging stroller on our first flight from NYC to LA. It was neatly folded into its own travel bag which I had packed with other (heavy) bits and pieces (again, resist!) We left the stroller in LA after our first week of travel after I realized we hadn’t used it once. Since Julius was still quite little (three months) he spent most of his time in our arms. Later, my relatives bought (and borrowed) second hand strollers which we can use again whenever we return! So much easier. I was very happy with this option, and ended up taking the cheaper jogging stroller (check out Gumtree, the equivalent of craigslist in Australia) to New Zealand with us, and wasn’t at all worried about getting it dirty and wet on the tarmac.
By the time we got back to LA however, Julius was nearly six months so I did use the stroller more. If I am traveling with the stroller, and I probably will again, I just take the stroller to the airport outside of it’s bag, unfold it and use it to wheel my smaller bags, whilst carrying Julius on my chest and toting the suitcase behind us… When I get to the oversize area after checking in our bags, I can then have someone help put the stroller back in its bag and walk away freely!
NAVIGATING THE AIRPORT WITH BABY:
BABY CARRIER: We have an Ergo baby carrier, which has been a great lifesaver for transit times. There’s a reason it’s called an Ergo. Your hips bear the weight of your child, while the shoulder straps are generously padded and easily adjustable with long straps. It’s designed very well in my opinion. Sometimes I need someone to help me clip it up in the back – I can do it by reaching over my head, but it’s nice if there’s someone to lend a hand, and there almost always is. People are always nearby when traveling, and most people LOVE babies and are happy to support. ALSO, the Ergo has a very handy side-opening zip pocket in the front, so I put our passports in there, some anti-bacterial wipes for wiping down the surfaces around me on the plane, phone, lip balm, boarding passes etc.
Okay so my routine goes like this…
ARRIVING AT AIRPORTS: When we’re going to the airport, baby sits in the car seat while I strap the Ergo around my hips. Baby goes in the Ergo, stroller flips out, bags are loaded into the stroller, and I pull my suitcase behind us. I check-in the suitcase and when traveling internationally, and the duffel bag (usually full of Julius’ cloth nappies and his favorite toys, my toiletries, etc.) If traveling domestic, I can take that on the plane as a carry on since they allow liquids on domestic flights. The attendant tells us to take stroller to oversize department.
GOING THROUGH SECURITY: Next part is going through security. I originally bought this helpful backpack which has a separate section for your laptop and loads of compartments, making for easy unzipping at TSA. I have since learnt that I am not that worried about my laptop being in my suitcase, padded with clothes and a wetsuit case. The trade-off in carrying it on your back whilst also carrying baby is that you end up bearing a lot of weight. I now leave it and just take a smaller backpack carrying Julius’ nappy bag,** and other essential in-flight items as mentioned earlier.
** (THIS nappy bag is very helpful when changing diapers anywhere, and I highly recommend tucking a small soft toy that makes noise into the side of the bag. Wriggly babies are easily distracted by noisy toys, and I always say ‘Look, it’s the teddy who lives in the nappy bag!’ He’s always so overjoyed to see that teddy. Or, when I can’t find that damn teddy, I take off my watch which makes noise when I shake it. Works just the same.)
SECURITY continued: With all of this in my backpack, all I need to do is unclip Julius from the Ergo and walk through the X-ray machine holding him. (DO NOT consent to go through the radiation screening. Opt for a pat down above all!) I used to take a coat and a scarf and all kinds of things on the plane with me, but now I realized I rarely get cold, and all those extra bits of clothing are just a hassle. The goal when traveling with a baby is to be as streamlined and multi-functional as possible. I tend to wear warm, comfortable pants that have pockets, and VERY importantly – pants that I can pull up with only one hand. No buttons, no zips. The reason being you will likely go to the bathroom with your baby in your arms, so you need to be able to do everything with one hand. A light cotton long sleeve top that I can breastfeed easily in, a singlet for warmth, and a warm sweater.
BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER THE PLANE:
Once are through security, I head for the parents room (perks of parenthood!) for a diaper change. After that, I find a somewhat secluded spot and put a blanket down for baby to stretch and play a bit.
Eat something if you can, but try to keep baby a little hungry. Let them snack if desperate, but you want them to latch on to your boob or a bottle when the plane takes off. Sometimes Julius couldn’t wait, but I noticed that once I had him on the boob, even well before taxi-ing, he would fall asleep and not have any trouble with his ears as we took off several minutes later. As we descended I would try to keep him sucking too, but again, he never seemed to have trouble or discomfort with his ears. I just wanted him to be at peace, and boob does that for him.
On the plane, when you find your seat, have baby’s favorite toys handy to retrieve and put in the seat pocket or next to you. I recommend rattles, things they can bite if teething, toys that makes sounds or sings songs, an age appropriate book, and a scarf to play peek a boo with This also came in handy for draping across my shoulder and his face when Julius fell asleep at the boob and I wanted to have a nap too – keeps everything discreet and also protects baby from random people sneezing or coughing on them.
On sleep… let them sleep on you if they don’t sleep in the bassinet. Julius doesn’t go down easily so in the end, to get the most rest, we slept together. You can also try laying them across a few empty seats, if there is an empty row or free seats next to you.
Just go with the flow! Switch games, toys, flip through the magazine, go talk to the hostesses. Even run their hands under the water in the bathroom – Julius liked this, he loves running water!
ARRIVING AT YOUR NEW DESTINATION:
Since young babies like routine and consistency, I kept Julius’ sleep sounds consistent. There is an app called Sound Sleeper that I bought because it can play the sounds non-stop (the free version stops after 15 minutes or so.) This way, every time he sleeps he has the same sound – crickets – playing for his entire nap. It’s also handy because it tells me how long it’s been playing so I can know how long his naps are and how much sleep we’re getting overnight.
In a similar vein, I read him the same couple of books each night, and he had the same toys for most of his trip (naturally) as well as a rotating cast of new toys in each city. I left quite a few toys at relatives houses so they would be there when we return!
It’s always overwhelming to see new faces and new environments so try to stay as quiet and grounded at home on the first day or so. I also kept a familiar monkey floor mat with us so that he always had that constant.
Lay on the grass, take your socks and shoes off, go to the beach, be in nature if possible! It’s very grounding for both of you after all that travel.
Enjoy!! Until the next flight. In which case, rewind and replay.
I hope this was helpful! Let me know if I missed anything and feel free to ask questions in the comments.