Essential Tips and Travel-Hacks for Traveling with a Baby
In our quest to explore the cultures around the world, we have to navigate many challenges, some driven by life-altering events. Last year, we had an angel step into our lives with her tiny feet, but already has managed to leave large footprints. Lifestyle alterations (read sacrifices sometimes) aside, the journey so far have been fun.
But our philosophy of indulging into diverse experiences wouldn’t stop, rather include the baby in them as early as possible, no matter how daunting it is. Why should arrival of a little one chip away from the goals we set as a couple?
Following the above rationale, with apprehension, we did a couple of long distance trips involving multiple flights and timezone change, and a couple of road trips. The experiences have been incredible to say the least. Of course the pace and the tight itineraries had to go, but within the first 12 months of the baby, she would be done with 15 completed flights of various lengths (3-10 hours). I think you should start slow to keep pace with the development of the immune system, but wouldn’t stop stretching it every now and then – a big for the baby’s adaptability lessons!
Having said that, here are eleven things a parent has to keep in mind in order for the trip to be safe and worry free. Below is the top 15 things that will help you navigate the world with that tiny soul:
- Flight Seats: Bassinets are over-hyped. They do not work for all babies, and typically only one parent gets to sit near the Bassinet. We tried ‘lie-flat’ business class seats as well. But the best option for us had been the middle seat in the 3-seat sections in Economy+ or Premium Economy. It gives the baby the best of both worlds – parents on both sides and a flat bed to sleep!
- Flight Tickets: Most airlines allow babies to travel after they are about 2 weeks old. But for leisure travel, you will likely not embark on it before they are at least 3 months old. While you don’t need a separate ticket, make sure to call the airline to add the baby to the itinerary. You will need to pay the taxes portion of a ticket. In domestic (US) flights, you will not need a boarding pass, but in International segments, you will need a separate boarding pass (along with an ID).
- Airport Security: I always recommend getting the TSAPre membership if you are planning frequent travel, but with a baby you may well get the privilege. Check with gate agents, and even TSA agents.
- Priority Boarding: Even if you are not an Elite airline member, parents carrying babies get priority boarding privileges. Use it unabashedly, as the benefits of boarding the plane and settling down with the baby before the jet-bridge-traffic-jam, is of tremendous advantage.
- Baby Jet-Lag: It is real, even though it may not be apparent. Timezones screwing up baby’s sleep cycles may be daunting but can be managed. First of all, plan for more days proportional to the time change. Keeping them engaged and awake until the desired sleep time may work in some cases. Use of melatonin for adults, so that you can take turns to keep awake during the nights when she wakes up, could be helpful too.
- Baby Essentials: We read about not over-packing diapers and wipes in other blogs. But in our experience, please do not undercut these two and formula (if applicable). Although in every place in the world, you will find diapers and wipes, the quality that the baby is used to may not match. Stressful times for the parent(s) and the baby if that happens. We ran out of wipes in South America, and although could buy different kinds there, none came close to the ones we use at home. I’d say over pack on baby food and formula! Cannot stress this enough.
- Navigation: While it is easier to think about carrying the stroller and car seat with you in international trips (assuming within the US, you’d have to carry both), there might be more comfortable alternatives.
- Stroller – Unless you have the strollers that can fit in the airline bins, you have to gate-check it in the jet-bridge. Chances of loss, theft and damage are egregiously high – it happened to us and it took me 2 months to replace a part that would make the stroller usable again. Also, depending on the destination, strollers may be barely used. Such as in a beach destination or rough terrains, you cannot even roll the stroller! Alternative is to use a baby carrier, which can serve many other purposes.
- Car Seat – In many countries outside North America and Western Europe, car seats are not mandatory. While it is not the safest option to ditch the car seat, many cars in LATAM/Asia/Africa won’t even have a provision to put a car seat (especially a rear facing one). We used the baby carrier in combination with the passenger seat belts to secure the baby and the carrying parent, in Central America and Latin America. If renting a car, it is much more comfortable to rent a car seat along with the car. If you must carry the car seat, get a carrying pack that can be put on as a backpack.
- Accommodation: Although we do not have a preference towards hotels or AirBnB’s, both of which have pro’s and con’s that are pretty obvious, it is pretty much horses for courses. Based on our experience, ‘private rooms’ in AirBnB’s do not work too well for us. We have experimented with Cribs and co-sleeping in King beds; both went well. Couple of hacks for baby related work –
- Sterilizing Bottles/Nipples: Although there are portable products available in the market, we have used a kettle borrowed from the hotel to boil water and sterilize nipples in the ice basket. Exactly same physical principle, to get the same results.
- Bathing: We have an inflatable bath-tub for the baby, but more often than not, it is easier to give her a bath in the shower.
- Eating Out: While on trips, you will go to the restaurants, shacks or even Michelin star restaurants. Depending on the baby, they may or may not be comfortable with surroundings (e.g. sound, light, temperature). We generally have a chair appendage and an alternate lie-flat plan handy on each restaurant trip.
- High chairs are not always available, but even when they do they are not comfortable for a baby who is just learning to sit upright. We have invested in a portable baby camp-chair, that has been a life saver, mostly because she has adapted to it, and can now comfortably sit on it, attached to anything.
- Life-flat option: An upscale restaurant manager once taught this to us. We were dining on the beach in a warm tropical evening, and the baby needed to sleep. So the manager brought two chairs with side hand-rests, fit them facing each other, a blanket to mimic a mattress, and voila. She slept under a blanket of stars shining brightly on her happy face! We have used this tactic in airport lounges, restaurants, and everywhere possible. As parents, there is no room for maintaining decorum!
- Trust but verify: I have read a lot of literature about finding a nanny or baby sitter services for your date night on a trip. I will bet my life (and bank accounts) to not indulge in these propositions. But if you have to, read reviews, ask hotel managers, and random people; still do not hand over baby duties to someone you do not know, especially in a country you are just visiting. Please do not!
- Call it a day: Finally, even with a lot of planning and above tools at your disposal, things can (and will) go wrong! As back up of the back ups, please have the plan ready to throw in the towel, and abort all plans, when things are going out of control. Or even, take a breather, skip an activity or miss a bus. Give the baby some time to recover, lest she falls sick, that will derail your entire trip. Lose a battle to win the war!
Based on our experiences, adding a Diaper bag Check-List should that help. And as you could tell by now, I am big fan of back ups. So adding commentary where I recommend adding backups.
Diaper Bag Packing List (with back up plans)
*Added our favorite products and Amazon links as well for your perusal
- Diapers (of course) – Supply for transit time plus 50%
- 50-75% of diapers for the trip should be in a carry on luggage (Trust me on this, lest there is a flight cancellation or delay)
- Diaper changing mat – Super useful when you have to change diapers anywhere, literally. We have changed diapers on restaurant benches, airplane seats, back seat of a car, trunk of an SUV, on the grass in a park, and even altars in a cathedral! Diaper changing mat to the rescue.
- Wipes – One pack in diaper bag, one each in check in and carry on. Learn the translation in local language, if traveling abroad should you have to buy some there.
- Food – If formula fed, keep the bottles with formula handy in the diaper bag, enough to last the travel time. Formula container and extra bottles MUST be in the carry on bag. We prefer Comotomo bottles for its ease of adjusting to pressure.
- Backup clothes – At least 2 backup sets of clothing as throw ups may happen on the road. Airplanes get cold and dry, in case of flights longer than 3 hours. We prefer thicker, fleece type sleep sacs or suits for longer plane rides.
- Blanket – Must have for the road. Have a back up or two in check-in bag.
- Toys – To keep the baby entertained. But we have found simplest of things like a menu card, napkin or small plastic water bottles double well for toys. So be creative and play around with the baby’s choice of entertainment.
- Snacks and Water Bottles – We have found TSA or Airport security agents to be lenient with liquids over 3oz. when it comes to baby food, especially if it is still packaged and sealed. But try to limit the items that are larger than 3oz.
- Bibs – We prefer to use waterproof bibs, e.g. Bumkins, for travel.
- Ziplocs and trash bags – Keep a bunch of small-medium ziplocs for food and utensil storage. We use our dog’s poop bags as proxy for trash bags to keep diapers and soiled clothing.
- Binkies and clip – If your baby is interested in pacifiers, they can be your best friends while take off and landing since they tend to help normalize the ear pressure.
- Nose Aspirator and saline spray – A product like Nose-frida, as baby’s nose tend to get clogged in sudden changes of pressure, humidity and temperature.
- Med Supplies – Thermometer, baby Tylenol, diaper rash cream, band-aids.
- Sanitizers – Finally, multiple travel packs of sanitizers and disinfecting wipes should be in a diaper bag, especially for babies younger than 1 year. Airplane seats, arm rests and trays are notoriously overpopulated with germs (fact).
Additionally, check in bag should hold the following –
- Bottle washing kit (travel size dish washing liquid and bottle washer)
- Baby Sunscreen
- Baby insect repellent
- Hat and sun protective clothing
- Portable nipple sterilizer (we have used these microwavable packs)
- Travel size bath soap and shampoo, plus baby towels
Please feel free to share your experiences as well, so that we can be prepared in our next trips.