Traveling with a baby

India photo

Summer is here (allegedly) and with people planning holidays I thought I’d write a little help guide as I’ve seen a lot of the same questions regarding traveling with a baby posted in parenting groups over the last few years. Plus, I’ve travelled quite a bit with a baby myself!  By the time my daughter was 8 months old she had been on 10 flights, the first one was when she was 8 weeks old.

Traveling with a baby is stressful, although I find it’s not the actual traveling, but the preparation. The worst thing that happened to us on 10 flights was a massive poopsplosion which completely soaked through all her clothes, at the end of a 7 hour flight as the plane was starting to descend. We still got it sorted with minimal drama or mess. Planning for that trip was a drama though…

So here’s a list of tips that worked for me:

Write a list of everything you’ll need. 

Seriously… baby brain, sleep deprivation, caring for a baby while trying to pack… Even the most experienced traveler will find traveling with a baby takes travel preparation to a new level. Write a list of what you need in your hand luggage and suitcases and cross things off as they get packed.

Documents 

This may seem fairly obvious, but some people still ask about it in the forums… Assume your baby will need the same documentation as you and plan accordingly.  International flights will require a passport and if you need a visa to travel, your baby will too. Bear in mind it will take longer for a new passport for a baby than if you were renewing yours. Domestic flights differ from airline to airline, so check requirements. A birth certificate may be all that’s required.

Flights 

If you’re booking seats, some airlines reserve the bulkhead seats for families. While this is great for the added legroom and easy access to the toilets, there isn’t much privacy in these seats; people tend to congregate around that area because it’s right next to the toilets. On longer flights, they may also offer you a bassinet which clips onto the bulkhead. I found this to be more of a nuisance than anything else, because we were asked to take her out every time there was turbulence, which was about every 20 minutes or so. Easier just to keep her on my knee, to be honest. Babies under the age of two don’t need their own seat although some people choose to purchase an extra seat and use their car seat (note, it must be one that is approved by the airline) and place their baby in the car seat for take off and landing.  This is considered to be safer for babies than having them on your lap for take off and landing, but isn’t mandatory.

Feeding 

If you’re breastfeeding, you’re good to go. You may prefer to have a window seat and not be in the first row at a bulkhead, for added privacy. Make sure you drink plenty of water to maintain your hydration.

If you’re bottlefeeding, calculate how many feeds you’re likely to need in the space of the flights (including airport waits and layovers) and add enough formula for a couple more feeds, just in case there are delays.  Baby milk and food are exempt from the 100 ml restrictions but you may be asked to taste any milk or food you are bringing on board.  Think about how you want to make up your bottles on the flights.  Ready made formula may be the easiest way but you can also bring an empty flask with you and ask flight attendants to give you hot water on board to make up your formula.  Some airport chemists will also allow you to pre-order your formula so you can collect it on the other side of security.  Not all the information here will be relevant, but you may wish to consider some of the information in it, as it evaluates some of the methods used for making up bottles safely when out and about.  Another point to consider is how you’ll sterilise bottles and what water you’ll use once you’re at your destination.  Remember that bottled water isn’t sterile and may have levels of sodium that are too high to use for formula, read more about this here.

A lot of people say to try to feed baby on take off and landing.  We never timed it right.  Maybe we were lucky, but the pressure in the cabin never seemed to be an issue, and I do think that they control the pressure better these days, so I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to do this.

Hand luggage Most airlines allow a you to have hand luggage for yourself plus a separate change bag for babies, even if babies aren’t in their own seat.  I packed a change bag that fit inside my hand luggage just so there would be less bags to carry around the airport.  The challenge is to pack light, while packing enough for emergencies.  You need at least one full change of clothes for baby, although I’d pack two, especially if it’s a long haul flight.  Layers work well if you are travelling somewhere with a completely different climate.  Planes can differ in their temperature settings too and at different times during the flight, so layers work well for that too.  I’d strongly advise you to bring a clean top for yourself.  Babies vomit, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a baby is most likely to vomit over you at the start of a long trip rather than 10 minutes before reaching your destination.  Ask me how I know this…

Other things to bring:  nappies, wipes, antibacterial wipes or hand gel for yourself, tissues, a couple of plastic bags for storing wet or soiled clothing and washable toys if your child is old enough to want some extra stimulation.

Transporting your baby Personally I think a sling in invaluable.  I haven’t flown with my daughter without taking a sling (I still took one for her on her last flight, when she was 2 1/2).  Some can double up as a blanket on the flight (like a baby wrap) but some prefer the simplicity and ease of a buckle carrier.  You may be asked to take your baby out of the sling (even if it has no metal in it) when going through the scanner – this seems to vary quite considerably between airports.  Cabin crew will probably not let you keep your baby in a sling for take off and landing.  A sling can also be a great tool for sightseeing although you may need to take extra precautions in the heat.

Sightseeing in Italy.
Sightseeing in Italy.

You can also use a push chair but will have to relinquish it at the gate and collect it at the other side.  Car seats generally have to go in the hold, although we have managed to carry ours on as hand luggage on some flights. If you are taking a car seat with you, I’d double check that the country you are taking it to have cars that accomodate your car seat (if you’re going somewhere “exotic”, Europe should be fine).  We dragged an infant car seat from the UK to India, only to discover the seat belts in the cars don’t work with our car seats!

If you’re hiring a car it is definitely worth taking a car seat as hiring a car seat is nearly as expensive as buying a new one, plus you have no idea of the history of the hired car seat.  If you pre-book your hire car, double check that your particular model is compatible with your brand of car seat. I have absolutely no evidence for this but personally I’d be concerned about putting a car seat in the hold, purely because they can get damaged if handled roughly, and let’s face it, luggage does get handled roughly.  Just as a comparison, you should replace your car seat if you are in a collision due to potential damage from the stresses in the accident, so perhaps a similar thought process should be considered when putting a car seat in the hold.  I’ve known some people to buy a cheap car seat just for the holiday for this very reason. If I had to do things again, I probably would do this rather than entrust the car seat to luggage handlers.

Health insurance

Just in case… always worth having health insurance.  If you have multitrip health insurance, make sure it’s updated with your baby’s information!

And the most important thing… enjoy!  It will be so much better than you thought and the planning and lead up to it will be a lot more stressful than the holiday itself.  Airport staff and cabin crew are almost always fantastic with helping parents out and I find that people in other countries are so much more accommodating of babies than we are in the UK.  And if you want a truly hilarious account of someone else’s holiday experience with a baby, read it here.

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Rebecca

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