After missing Husboy for 3 weeks, I couldn’t stomach the thought of him leaving just two days after returning home…so this weekend, Atlas and I took a last minute trip to Denver to join him at Riot Fest. As you probably already know, we travel quite a bit. I love going places, even if it’s just a little day drive out of town to check out somewhere new. It’s fun to change things up and see different parts of the world, catch the vibes of cities or chat up locals. There’s something refreshing about travel…though when you’re doing it with a baby or toddler, it can feel about as refreshing as a triathlon.
We’ve been flying with Atty since he was barely a month old. At almost 15 months, he’s racked up twenty-something flights and as well over half of those have been daddy-free, I’ve racked up a lot of baby-wrangling-in-the-air experience. One of the top questions I get as a mama is advice on how to travel with littles. Though some things–delayed flights, cancelations, diaper blow-outs–are out of your control, there’s plenty that you can do in advance to make your trip more manageable. Here are my tips for hitting the road with your wee ones.
- BOOK FLIGHTS AROUND NAP/BED TIMES. Obvious, maybe. Crucial, definitely. I like to book flights in the 10AM range or evening around 7PM because there’s a very good chance Atlas will fall asleep within the first hour. Also, check with the airline to see if they allow family boarding. Some are doing away with it because some are jerks. Try to go with the non-jerk airlines.
- PACK EFFICIENTLY (AND WITH ENTERTAINMENT.) I like to consolidate the contents of my purse and the diaper bag into one, large weekender bag with a shoulder strap, that way everything is easily accessible and you aren’t having to juggle bags like a circus person. Don’t forget essentials, including a light blanket for chilly planes (I love the swaddles from Aden + Anais) and a pair of noise canceling headphones for baby (Baby Banz are a great option and can also be used when you take your kid to rock shows, as seen below.) If you’re out of the newborn stage, the majority of your bag will be dedicated to toys, books, snacks and other entertainment. I like to bring an old iPad loaded with videos, educational apps and animated books when we fly. Atlas doesn’t get to play with it at home, so it’s a special kind of distraction on the plane. If you get desperate, boarding passes, in-flight magazines and water bottles also make great, bootleg entertainment. If all else fails, take them for a walk up and down the aisle. Do some squats in the flight attendant cove using them as free weight. Joke with passengers about how you should have gotten them a “seat on the wing!” Turn into your father. Sob in the tiny bathroom.
- TRY TO FEED ON TAKE-OFF AND LANDING. This is easier said than done, but it really does help relax them and keep their ears clear. Which leads to sleep. AKA, you living the dream.
- DRESS FOR SUCCESS. Success in this case means getting quickly through security and an entire flight without needing a cocktail or impromptu meeting with a therapist. I always dress Atlas in layers, including a lightweight sweater, comfy leggings and slip-on shoes (Freshly Picked moccasins are our favorite because they are soft and simple to put on chubby little feet.) For mama, easy on/off shoes are a must and be sure to keep your jacket off and rolled up in your carry on until after security.
- BRING A STROLLER, INVEST IN A CARRIER, RENT A SEAT. This one is polarizing as many people hate dealing with new seats or don’t want their child flying without one. In my experience, schlepping a 30 + pound carseat is a headache, especially when you’re doing it alone. If you’re renting a car when you get to your destination, you can always rent a seat. If you’re getting ground transportation, make sure you book it in advance, specifying what type of seat you need for your child and always ask for confirmation. Here’s what works best for us: We travel with an Ergobaby Carrier and a Maclaren Mark II umbrella stroller (it’s literally the lightest one available and comes with a shoulder strap.) If you’re looking for a cheaper option, the Chicco C6 is also fab. Pro-tip: You don’t have to remove your child from a carrier when going through security! When I’m traveling alone, I typically wear Atlas through, pushing the carry-on bag in the stroller before getting it all on the belt. Then when we board, I keep him in the carrier, so I can be hands free while leaving the stroller at the gate check-in. It makes getting into your seat simpler. But be warned, it’s against FAA regulation to have a child in a carrier for take-off and landing (which seems ridiculous to me, but whatevs) so you’ll have to take them out for those times. I leave the carrier strapped around my waist over my seatbelt, then when he falls asleep, I can put him back in. No more arms falling asleep!
- TAKE YOUR TIME. I cannot stress this one enough. No matter how easy-going they may be, traveling with another human being who cannot feed themselves, use a toilet or comprehend patience is going to take longer than traveling as a solo act. It just is. Accept this truth and get there early. Give yourself some leeway, take your time and don’t stress, no matter how many dirty looks you may get from panicked business travelers anxious to board their plane 1 hour early so they can suck down the free booze. Understand that things may happen that are out of your control. Go to your happy place.
- BABY YOU WERE BORN TO RUN. You aren’t going to like this one, but…if your child is walking or crawling, it’s wise to suck it up and let them get some activity in before boarding. I know airport floors are breeding grounds for disease. I know the thought of your perfect angel pulling themselves up on a chair covered in someone’s sweaty hand juice is revolting. I know you want to encase them in a bubble of taped-together sanitizing wipes with a humidifier of Purell, but you have to let them get the energy out. After all, you did just walk, possibly barefoot, on the same horrifying floor when security made you remove your shoes…and you made it out unscathed. The truth is, the world is a dirty place. Daycares, parks, playgrounds, the bouncy house at your best friend’s son’s birthday party–they’re all bubbling over with enough nastiness to keep us locked in our own homes every day. But wiping down little hands is much easier than fielding eye daggers from other passengers on a flight where your kid is burning energy by tap dancing on the back of the seat in front of you. My son has been sick once in his life so far and I say that as I type this, congested for the 5th day in a row from a terrible head cold that he once again, didn’t catch. Kids are pretty resilient little creatures if you let them be.
- SHOW GRATITUDE. When boarding a plane with a small child, you will feel like a monster. People will look away, not wanting to make eye contact for fear of disturbing the beast. I’ve had passengers audibly sigh when I sat down beside them with the baby strapped to my chest. *wamp, wamp* All you can do is do your best to keep said baby entertained and your fingers crossed. On some occasions, you will encounter good samaritans who want to help. On our flight back from Denver, such a beautiful human being offered to sit in a middle row seat (basically the worst ever) so that Husboy and I could sit next to each other. When you are blessed enough to come across people like this, do not hesitate to grovel at their feet and kiss them with gratitude on the mouth. Well, at least offer to buy them a drink or a snack box. You aren’t a monster, after all!
- DON’T PANIC. Remember, this is a fleeting moment. Even in the midst of a meltdown, it’s not the end of the world and it’s all worth it in the end because you get to experience life and new adventures with the kid you love more than anything. My son getting to watch his dad play a show alongside other bands we love–like The Get Up Kids and System of a Down–is worth 4 hours of uncertainty in the air. I try to remember this every time something goes awry on a trip. It makes the sweet even sweeter. You got this, mama (and papa!)