Traveling soon? We’ve got you covered. Our Travel Hacks Series covers planes, trains, and automobiles—as well as tips to make life with the littles more comfortable once you reach your destination.
Nobody on an airplane is having a good day. Sure, we all love riding the teacups at Disney and ordering the $12 grilled cheese from room service, but the actual travel day? Gag! You’ve got a bunch of people who have been milling about the airport waiting in Black Friday-esque lines, trying (and failing) to find free Wi-Fi, and lugging overstuffed carry-on baggage. These are not happy people. They are pushed even closer to the brink of madness when you stuff them in a giant, winged metal tube with busted a/c and tell them they have to stop playing “Words With Friends.” It’s a recipe for disaster, and the only thing that can make it worse for these weary soldiers is—you guessed it—a screaming baby.
When we mamas board nervously, the twitching mob knows that now matter how tough their day has been, ours has been infinitely tougher. But still their faces fall when they see that adorable little munchkin clinging to your neck as you try to find seat 7D before the turn of the next century. There is a collective inner commentary within even the kindest of travelers: “You’ve got be kidding—a flipping baby?!?! I sure hope she knows how to control that thing.”
Air travel with small children is just no fun. Even if they are perfect angels, their explosive potential is enough to prevent even the coolest of parents from experiencing even a nanosecond of relaxation. All bets are off when babies are up in the air, but here are six things you can pack for the plane that very well might save your sanity:
Not only do they look fabulous in a swim suit, your gals also save the day during take off and landing. Of course, formula, juice, milk, pacifiers, and snacks will also do the trick. However, breasts are easier to pack and—generally speaking—you don’t have to show them to the TSA agent during security screening. We all know about the awful pressure build-up in the ears thing. By nursing or offering bubs something else to suck on or chew, you can reduce the chances of discomfort and the shrill baby eagle screaming that tends to accompany it.
The Art of the Flying Boob:
-Don’t start nursing until the plane is going full speed and about to fly away. Just because that big bird has started taxiing around like it’s about to do something special doesn’t mean it has clearance for take off. We don’t want baby to fill up before the big event.
-The initial descent is the hardest, or so I’ve been told by more than a few flight attendants. Be cognizant of when your own ears start to pop on the way down, and immediately offer baby the breast/bottle/goldfish cracker/paci.
-Obviously, stay within your comfort zone, but now is not the time for modesty. Breastfeeding shame is totally dead to me. Concentrate on your baby and nurse however you please. I remained near topless for an entire flight once due to my extremely fussy child and nobody made a peep. Not even the Bachelor Party attendees seated next to me.
To put it simply: I’ve never not needed the extra shirt that I almost didn’t bother packing.
Just like his mother was, my son is barfer. If he gets too excited, he barfs. If he drinks too much juice, he barfs. If it’s Thursday, he barfs. It should then come as no surprise that if he comes within 3 miles of an airplane, we hit regurgitation station. While my son has displayed a particular aptitude for the aerodynamic projectile vomit, it seems that all babies and children like to throw out some mysterious and catastrophically disgusting bodily fluid curve ball when they travel. Normally, it occurs right when you start to feel like this whole “baby on a plane” thing isn’t so terrible after all. Whether it is a diaper that looks like it was pulled from the Rancho LaBrea Tar Pits, massive boob leakage, or the ever-popular snot rocket, something is bound to happen that will warrant a change of clothes for you and your kiddo. Unless you’re spending Christmas in Siberia, I recommend packing extras that are extra light and take up as little space as possible in your carry-on. The rolled up maxi-dress is a particular favorite of mine; Wilder likes a casual romper, preferably, with a lion motif.
Re-sealable Plastic Bags.
Clear Bags. Full size. Can’t lose! These tiny, transparent wonders aren’t just for 3.4 oz liquids, aerosols, and gels anymore! They’re for positively everything. Aside from preventing passengers from becoming intimate with the aroma of your toddler’s soiled diaper (God bless you for changing that bum on the plane, by the way. It sure ain’t easy!), Ziploc bags are a great place to stash your spit-up sullied clothes, travel docs, errant snacks, crayons, and leaking sippy cups…and yes, they will leak furiously at 35,000 feet.
When I was a girl, it was easy to get in just about anywhere without proper identification. Armed only with my lust for life and Smirnoff Ice, the world was my playground. Unfortunately for today’s diaper bound youth, it’s a little tougher to crawl casually by the law. Nowhere is this clearer than the airport. Many jet-setting parents choose to forgo purchasing a seat for their infant (though it is vehemently recommended by the FAA that you do), and opt to hold their bouncing babes instead (which is free until age 2). Turns out that they take the “under two” thing pretty seriously.
When my son, Wilder, was a gelatinous five months old, I did not think anybody would mistake him for a full-blown toddler. I was wrong. Instead of walking up to the counter exchanging a few bad travel jokes and walking away with my little man’s boarding pass like I’d mapped out in my head, I ended up with two militant ticketing agents looking my son up and down for facial hair and crows feet. It wasn’t until I frantically produced the birth certificate I had reluctantly tossed in my purse “just in case” that they deemed him sufficiently baby-esque.
Mama friends, these TSA folk do not play. They wear those lanyard badges with pride, and if you don’t follow protocol, they will destroy you…or at least hold you up for a really, really long time. Bring your child’s birth certificate. Better yet, keep a copy or seven in your suitcase (or diaper bag) at all times. Even if he’s barely out of utero, they will still want to see it.
Also, if you’re traveling sans Dada, be sure to bring along a written letter of consent. Many countries (including my native Canada) require it for entry.
The Almighty Lovey.
Be it blanket or bear, dolly or Daniel Tiger, the lovey is king when it comes to travel. Bringing along a favorite toy or transitional object affords baby a little extra sense of security amid all of the hustle and bustle. Just like any other traveller, the TSA requires that Raggedy Ann undergo security screening, so be sure to prepare your child for a momentary separation. If possible, it also isn’t a terrible idea to pick up an extra lovey that is identical to the one your child has, just in case it happens to go missing during the chaos.
There is a time to introduce kale chips to your child. They are crunchy, full of vitamins, and taste like a strangely delicious mix between paper and the ocean floor. The time for kale chips, however, is not on an airplane. I get the health thing—trust me, I do. My child eats almost exclusively organic, and every time something slips by that has yellow #5 in it, a small part of me shrivels up and dies. BUT when I’m on a 747 trying to keep him from melting into a puddle of despair, I bring out the Teddy Grahams, the giant Starbucks mega-muffin, and—the guiltiest pleasure of all—juice. Sometimes, I don’t even water it down. If your child thinks carrot sticks are plum fantastic, then all the power to you, but if he doesn’t and he’s hopping up and down on the tray table like it’s a Jumperoo, don’t beat yourself up for giving him a cookie. You ought to have one too. Being stuck on a plane is no fun, and sometimes we could all use a tasty distraction.
A Few More Delightful Tips:
- Use Family Screening- While many airlines have abandoned family boarding in favor of the “Cram-Everyone-Together-Like-Auction-Cattle” approach, lots of airports do offer priority security screening for families. Our own BNA, sadly, has yet to implement this practice, but your destination might be one of the clever airports that has caught on. Take full advantage of the much shorter line.
- Make it a Playover – Be on the look out for padded airport play areas. (We love the one at BNA’s Gate C17.) If you have a little time to kill while waiting for a connecting flight or (God forbid) you are delayed, these slices of toddler heaven are great for letting off nervous energy and might just prevent your tot from descending into pre-flight gremlin mode.
- Shush that iPad – Just a little bit. The only thing more annoying than your child screaming his lungs out for other travellers is Dora the Explorer saying anything at all in her crazy banshee voice at top volume.
- Bring some New Toys – Some call it bribery. I call it clinging desperately to hope. There is a chance that if you pack a few shiny, new books and toys that baby might be so wrapped up in the novelty that he forgets to show off his screaming falsetto altogether. We love Tegu Blocks. They’re magnetic which means you’re less likely to end up shimmying under the seat in front of you to retrieve them.
Good luck and Godspeed, Mamas (and Papas)! Fill a sister in on YOUR travel tips—goodness knows, I need as many as I can get!