If you’re a parent, it can very much feel like your life is divided into two eras: before baby (B.B.), and after baby (A.B.). Life before baby wasn’t better, exactly, but it was definitely more carefree, with so much less to worry or think about. If you wanted to go on vacation, it could be as simple as just packing your bags and going. Depending on where you were going and for how long, everything may have even been packed neatly into a carry-on! Once you factor a baby into your trip, however, everything gets a lot more complicated. Not only do you have the stress of trying to remember every single item your baby uses on a daily basis, such as diapers, wipes, cream, sunscreen, etc., you also have to make sure your baby has a safe place to sleep, appropriate food to eat, as well as figure out how to entertain your little one for a flight or a long drive. It’s a lot. Before you decide to scrap your travel plans because it seems like too much of a hassle, just keep reading. Here are our best tips and tricks for traveling with a baby to make this vacation go as smoothly as possible:
GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY
Although this seems counter-intuitive, arriving early for your flight actually minimizes one of the biggest stressors of flying: making it on time. Going anywhere with a baby is stressful because there are always unforeseen delays. We’ve all been there many times before. Honestly, who hasn’t had to do a quick diaper change in the trunk or backseat of the car? We know the idea of entertaining a baby at the airport longer than necessary isn’t exactly fun, but you can be guaranteed that it’s still a lot less stressful than running to the gate with baby in one arm, bags in the other, as you hear the telltale grunts that can only mean one thing. Arriving early means you won’t feel rushed and it’ll also give you a chance to get your bearings once you’re through security. You can feed your baby, get yourself something to eat, change a diaper, and buy anything that you may have forgotten.
WEAR YOUR BABY
Babywearing is the best and easiest trick in the book. Even though your stroller may be the best and most comfortable on the market, the fact of the matter is that most babies still prefer to be held. It’s natural for your baby to want to be close to you, but when you’re carrying a million things, holding your baby is probably the last thing you want to do. Thankfully, slings, wraps, and carriers exist for just this reason. They allow you to keep your baby close while leaving your hands free, which makes for a happy baby and a happy parent. With the power to instantly soothe a distressed child, babywearing is most definitely your friend, especially when traveling. It should be noted that most airlines will not let you wear your baby on the plane, especially not during takeoff or landing, but a sling, wrap, or carrier is still a necessity at the airport and throughout your trip.
DIAPER BACKPACK > DIAPER BAG
We said what we said: diaper backpacks are superior to diaper bags. Okay, maybe this is a hot take, but hear us out. We know that everyone loves a diaper bag that doesn’t look like it’s used for diapers and wipes, and we love those beautiful, chic, leather bags as much as anyone. But everyone who’s ever worn any kind of tote while carrying a baby knows how annoying the design can be. The last thing you want when you’re lugging your baby and bags around is just another tote bag sliding off your shoulder. Using a diaper backpack—and, really, any backpack can be a diaper backpack—keeps your hands and arms free. If you’ve got the diaper backpack on your back and you’re wearing your baby in the front, you’re basically winning at life.
GATE CHECK YOUR STROLLER AND/OR CAR SEAT
Rather than leaving your stroller and/or car seat with your checked bags, take them with you to the gate where you will be boarding your plane. Even if your baby prefers to be worn, having the stroller with you will make your life a lot easier when you’re navigating the airport. It’s a safe place to set your baby down if you don’t want to wear them, and the stroller basket is also a handy place to put your smaller bags in so you don’t have to carry them. Once you arrive at your gate, simply tell the attendant at the front that you would like to gate-check your stroller and/or car seat. When you check them at the gate like this, the baggage handlers put them in a special bin at the front of the cargo area under the plane. Those items are grabbed first during unloading and are less likely to be damaged. Even if you gate-check these items, make sure you still put them in respective travel bags to keep them clean and further minimize damage.
BOARD THE PLANE LAST
Although airlines will allow parents with babies to board first, opting out may actually be more ideal. Once you’re seated on the plane, it can be a while before takeoff, and that means there’s more time for your baby to get fussy in a crowded, confined space. It’s better to save those books and toys for the actual flight, rather than using up your limited entertainment before the plane is even in the air. If you have a travel companion, here’s what you can do: have the other person gate-check the stroller and/or car seat, stow all the other bags in the overhead compartments, and disinfect the seats and tray tables, while you stay behind with the baby and board at the last possible second.
BUY THE BABY A SEAT
One of the biggest perks of flying with a baby is that children under 2 years of age fly for free. It’s definitely something to be taken advantage of, but if you can afford it, buying the baby a seat is guaranteed to make the flight a lot easier. If your flight is international, you can always request the bassinet attachment, but not all flights offer this. Having that extra seat gives you more room so that your baby doesn’t have to stay in your lap or in your arms at all times. Obviously, this isn’t financially feasible for everyone, but if you can swing it, you may want to consider it.
BRING NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN TOYS
When you’re packing for your trip, you will undoubtedly throw in your baby’s favorite toys and books. It’s a no-brainer, right? But, having some brand new, never-before-seen toys are a great distraction when your baby is threatening to have a meltdown. Nothing stops a crying baby’s tears faster than novelty. Their curiosity will almost always override any other emotion, and whipping out something new and fun to play with should buy you at least another ten minutes of silence, after which your baby may even stay calm. At the very least, ten minutes of not crying is definitely preferable to ten minutes of crying.
PROTECT YOUR BABY’S EARS
You know when you’re mid-flight and your ears won’t pop so you’re chewing gum and forcing yourself to yawn over and over again in an attempt to clear the pressure? It hurts, right? And if it doesn’t hurt, it’s at least uncomfortable. Now imagine your little one suffering through that same feeling, only they don’t know what the feeling is and how to fix it. No wonder babies cry so much on planes! It’s heartbreaking to see your sweet baby in pain, but luckily, there are a few things you can do to protect their little ears.
Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby during takeoff and landing is the most effective way to protect your baby’s ears from ear pain due to cabin pressure changes. Swallowing will open up their eustachian tubes and equalize pressure in the inner ear. A pacifier may also do the trick to comfort your little one and also relieve pressure.
You may also want to bring baby ear muffs, like these to reduce noise on the airplane and help your baby sleep. Planes are noisy places and the loud sounds of the engine and people can be overstimulating for little ears and add to your baby’s distress.
If your baby is at least 12 months, you can also use Children’s EarPlanes, which are special, soft ear plugs that relieve air pressure and also reduce harsh noise, making it easier for your little one to fall asleep and stay asleep.
We know that flying with a baby is not an easy task, and just thinking of all the things that could go wrong is enough to scare anyone off. It’s true that many people hate the sound of a crying baby, and having multiple pairs of eyes glare at you as you try to soothe your wailing child can make you shrink and wish you could disappear. Travel is part of life, and crying children are, too, so we say c’est la vie and hope you board that plane proudly! Using these tips should make your trip go as smoothly as possible, but even if everything goes wrong anyway, know that you will get through it.