Taking that first solo trip with a baby is downright terrifying. Add to it the bad attitudes and judgement of the adults (who, frankly, should know better), and it’s almost daunting enough to make a parent stay home. Except that we can’t, can we? Grandma must be visited. That wedding must be attended. And we swore, we swore that we weren’t going to let kids change us. They weren’t going to curb our wanderlust. They weren’t going to keep us from having adventures and traveling.
I’m here to tell you two things: They will change you. And you CAN still have those adventures.
I’ll never forget my first solo flight with my daughter. She was very little, just a few months old, big enough to hold herself up in the backpack, but not sitting up completely on her own yet. I nearly dropped her out of the backpack trying to figure out how to get it on without help. She was fine. Strangers gave me horrified stares. I went into the public bathroom and cried. Clearly, I was a terrible parent and NOT cut out for this traveling with kids thing. That was my first trip alone with my kid, but it was far from my worst.
There’s a tie for the “worst,” actually.
Flying half way across the USA with a five year old, a three year old and a one and a half year old… 30 weeks pregnant with #4. Why yes, thank you, I was insane, clearly driven to it by the madness of having four kids in six years. I’m glad you noticed. Trying to get my shoes off while balancing the baby in the sling with the baby in my belly was a comical performance. I hadn’t seen my feet for weeks as it was.
The three year old bouncing at the end of my skirt hem was asking, “Mama, why you takin’ your shoes off? Why they need to look at our socks? Why we can’t have our juice cups? Why you unpackin’ the bag? Why… Why… Why…. WHY?”
I love three year olds.
The five year old was just trying to help, wrangling one brother, picking up the toy the baby kept throwing (that’s a fun game, you know). She untied one of my shoes for me and balanced the breast pump on her head while I slipped them off with one free hand. Through all of this, I managed to keep my mama-zen, mostly. It was our “random selection” for “additional screening” that tipped me over the edge.
Shuffling in our socked feet with shoes tucked under chins and arm pits, half open bags, contents bulging, being shifted to the “secure area” trying to get little kids to stand on the yellow footprints for “wanding.” The incessant “why-ing” of the three year old. The TSA agent’s confusion at the presence of a breast pump. I suppose it can be forgiven that a 20-something year old male has not seen one before, but surely, the name sort of gives away its purpose.
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“What is this, Ma’am?” He asked, swabbing every portion with the bomb kit.
“A breast pump.” He looked up, dubiously.
“What’s it for?”
It was at this moment that something in my tired mama soul just slipped into overdrive. The three year old was snagging one of the little circle swabs and sticking it on his head like a yarmulcha. The five year old was looking at the agent like he was an idiot. The baby was beginning to fuss. I planted my sock feet solidly under my pregnant belly and fixed one mama eye on him and announced, loudly enough for the entire screening area to hear:
“It’s a breast pump, you know, for sucking milk out of my boobs to feed this child? And, if I may ask, WHAT about this rodeo looks to you like I would have time to pack anything illegal or dangerous? Seriously, what kind of profile do you think we fit?”
At the words “milk” and “boobs” the boy flashed bright red and started packing my things as fast as he could.
“Can we put our shoes back on now, Mama?” The three year old asked.
“I don’t know, why don’t you ask the guy who’s playing with the baby’s breast pump,” I replied.
“‘scuse me swir, can we put our shoes back on now?” the little boy queried.
The agent helped him tie his shoes; he couldn’t get us out of there fast enough.
Perhaps a year later. Solo road tripping the same route, with 4 kids now ages 9 months – 6 years old, having been put off of flying with the previous adventure. Eulid, Ohio is forever nicknamed “Puke-lid, Ohio,” by our children. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that hot dogs and red pop are not a good combination when recycled all over the interior of a mini van. There was crying. It was not the children.
Traveling with small kids is not for the faint of heart.
If you’d like my resume, here it is: Four kids in six years, and a spare that we had for a couple of years in the middle. At one point I had four children under four years old. I have traveled extensively with them before they were five years old, by every method: planes, trains & automobiles (almost as hilarious as the movie, too!)
But be encouraged, it is possible to travel safely and sanely with your little people.
Everything I’ve learned has been the hard way. You probably know the end of this story: – I survived. The kids survived, and for the last five and a half years, we’ve been traveling for a living, full time on the road. They are now 11-17, and they carry my bags through security! How’s that for what goes around comes around?
If you’re staring down that first big trip with your baby or toddler, allow me to share some of what I’ve learned. Take it or leave it. Adapt it for your situation. But be encouraged, it is possible to travel safely and sanely with your little people.
1. 90% of your success or failure is in your own head.
Babies have special antennae for sensing parental anxiety. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. If you are stressed out, they will be stressed out, and that’s a promise. Think happy thoughts. Expect the best. Imagine smooth transitions, cheerful babies, and yourself as that super parent who glides through life on a song, and you’re setting yourself up for success. Sounds nuts and hippy-dippy doesn’t it? Maybe, but it works. This parenting thing is a mind game.
Gone are the days of all-nighters before your trip, frantically packing, figuring you can sleep on the plane. No. Bad idea. Plan ahead. Pack early. Get a good night’s sleep the night before you go. Make sure baby does too. Rested families are happy families.
3. Consider your routines
Trust me when I tell you that the cheapest flight is not always the cheapest flight. Choose your flight for the time of day your baby is happiest, or when you know she’ll crash out and sleep the whole way. Overnight flights were great for our kids. Mid morning was okay. Afternoon was the worst. Somewhere between 3-7 p.m. arsenic hour would hit. You know, arsenic hour? That really insane parenting hour of every day when it seems completely logical to either take some yourself or give some? Yeah. Don’t fly then.
4. Pack food
For you, and for baby. Not junk food either. The last thing you need is upset tummies, sugar highs or crashes or the kid staging a hunger strike because the applesauce you can find in the airport is not the brand he’s used to. Keep blood sugars level, snack often.
5. Pack less
For the love of god, do not bring every baby gadget known to man out of the deep seated fear that your little pumpkin might “need” something you forgot. The biggest stressor of your trip will be carting the gear and the luggage in addition to the child. Rent strollers and carseats when you get there. Borrow baby beds if you can. Don’t pack a 20 day supply of diapers and formula; buy that stuff when you get there.
6. Pack this
Pack your baby’s dirty crib sheet. Yes, seriously. The biggest issue little ones seem to have when traveling is that everything is “different” than home. Bring a crib sheet she’s slept on for a couple of days to use on your trip. It will smell like home and ease your bedtime routines. Sound nuts? I did toddlerhood five times; trust me on this one.
7. Nurse/bottle feed the child
I have noticed an absolutely insane and asinine development in air travel rules, and I’ll probably get some hate mail for this recommendation, but I’m making it anyway, because in this case, the rule is stupid. It seems that you’re no longer “allowed” to hold a baby in any position other than upright against your chest during take off and landing. I’ve seen several mothers bullied into not feeding their infants, and instead enduring their screams on take off and landing (because their ears hurt!!) Here’s something that might not have occurred to you: flight attendants also have to be strapped in for take off and landing. When you’re told you “can’t” feed your baby on take off, nod and smile and play nice… and as soon as she’s out of sight, do what’s right for your baby. If that’s cradle holding so you can nurse, do so.
8. Slow down
A new dad recently told me he was shocked, upon taking his first trip with their baby son, at how LONG everything took. Traveling with kids is not a speed sport. Take your time. Allow extra time. Find ways to work in your at-home routines while you are away. If you’re driving, plan to stop every hour or so for some out of the carseat time. If you’re flying, allow twice the time you think you need for your connection. Public transportation, museum visits, tours, beach days, family outings with grandparents – they’re all very doable, if you will remember that everything moves slower with children. Here’s the real trick: adjust your mind to the fact that this is a blessing because it gives you more time to “be” in the place that you are. Instead of railing against the snail’s pace, learn to revel in it.
9. Start early
The sooner you make that first trip with your baby, the better. It’s much easier to travel with a newborn than it is a one year old, and it’s much easier to travel with a one year old than it is a two year old. The more adventures you get under your belt early, the more flexible your little one will become, and the more savvy you will be at negotiating the ups and downs of travel as a family.
10. Ask for help
There will be times when you need help when you are traveling with your kids. My mother once handed me to a complete stranger in an airport, when I was less than two, so she could run into the bathroom and throw up. Perhaps you’re traveling with two infants and they’re both freaking out. Perhaps, like me, you’ll have several at active ages and you just need an extra pair of hands for a minute. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people are wonderfully willing to play peek-a-boo for a moment. Most flight attendants would gladly help if they knew specifically what you needed. Ask for help in advance by letting the airline know you’re traveling with a small child and will need early boarding or special food. Arrange for someone from the airline to meet you at your connection and help you between planes (sometimes this costs extra, but it can be well worth it if you’re worried!)
And a bonus… Express gratefulness
For your child, and to your child. Express gratefulness for the small kindnesses of staff and strangers. Express gratefulness for the privilege of being able to travel as a family and the many comforts that the experience affords that were not there in generations past. Travel can be a lot of ugly things, especially if it doesn’t go according to plan, or if the kids don’t cooperate as you hope they will, but having a bad attitude will only make it worse. Choose to focus on the many things there are to be thankful for.
To read more about traveling with little ones, check out the following articles and resources:
- 21 Reasons to Travel Around the World with Kids…From Those Who Have Done It
- Why It’s Not Selfish for Parents to Travel With Young Children
- 6 Ways that Traveling with Kids Can Actually Improve Your Travel Experience
- Why You Should Ignore All the Urban Legends & Take The Kids to Mexico