Tuesday, August 10, 2010

10 Tips for Traveling (on your own) With Your Baby

Sitting at my departure gate in a busy airport, I noticed a dad pushing through the crowd with a 6-month-old baby asleep on his shoulder and his 3-year-old daughter at his side. The trio looked exhausted as the dad maneuvered his daughter into one of the few empty seats at the gate. Two women were sitting next to me and the three of us stood up reflexively to offer them our seats. At first, the dad refused the offer but gave up quickly as the baby began to stir on his shoulder. He explained that they had been traveling across country since early morning and they were on the last leg of a 3-stop trip to join his wife in California. The adventure had been a tough one, full of crowds, irritated passengers, and no place in the men's rooms to change the baby. I'm sure it is no surprise to any of you, that we thought we should share some tips about flying on your own with your baby.

1. Do your homework before you leave for the airport.

Many airports offer information online including the location of family restrooms (especially important for dads who may not find any accommodation for babies or other children in the men’s room). Be sure to find out where those restrooms are located in all of the airports on your route. Also, see if they have special (low pressure) lines for families at the security check points. Check with your airline for policies and rules related to family boarding, carry-on bags, car seats, and strollers. You don’t want to be stuck trying to consolidate your luggage or repackage liquids on the floor at the gate. Better to do some research before you leave your home.

2. Prepare and practice.

You may be a pro with collapsing your stroller and putting your baby in a carrier or sling when you have two hands but in a crowded airport with boarding passes in your hand, you might not have both hands free. Take the time to practice manipulating all of your traveling gear with one hand and/or with limited elbow room.

3. Dress yourself and your baby appropriately.

Air travel can involve a lot of temperature changes as you pass through hot airports into cold planes and back again. Best to bring layers of clothing that can be easily added or removed. Don’t forget the metal detectors! Breeze through security by minimizing the metal that you wear (watches, jewelry, belt buckles, etc) or that might be on your baby (ditch the clothing with dozens of snaps or metal buckles). Make sure everyone has shoes that are easily removed and put back on again.

4. Keep your child close to you.

For families traveling with toddlers, you want to take steps to make sure that your child does not move very far away from you. I’ve seen more than one family searching around in a panic after having lost sight of a young child in the crowd. While it is not likely that your child will go far, there are just too many opportunities for children to get hurt in airports. Keep your eyes open for hazards and your child in your arms or at your side.

5. When you have a choice, travel when your child is likely to be happy.

I realize that we are all at the mercy of the airlines when it comes to departure times, but if you have the option, try to schedule flights to coincide with your baby’s happiest times of the day. If that isn’t possible, you might find it helps to fly at off peak times (usually late morning to mid-afternoon in the middle of the week). Smaller crowds and less pressure to hurry can help reduce your stress.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

While airports and airplanes are not known to be baby-friendly places, there will always be a few experienced parents or grandparents around who know what you are going through and who will be happy to lend a hand (or even 2!).

7. Watch for and address your baby’s disengagement cues.

Airports are brimming with sights, sounds, and smells that may both excite and overwhelm your baby. Be ready to reduce all that stimulation by holding your baby close and/or bringing something to cover the stroller or car seat. Politely limit your baby’s interactions with strangers if you see your baby is tiring of all the fun.

8. Be prepared for your child’s discomfort.

Flying can be particularly tough on babies and toddlers because they can’t move around very much during the flight and they feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable pressure in their ears during the landing. Swallowing can help reduce the pressure in babies’ ears so nursing or feeding babies as the plane descends can help but that isn’t always possible. Reassure and comfort your baby during the rough patches. Don’t worry what others say or do around you, just expect that your baby will need you and do your best to keep him as comfortable as possible.

9. Bring toys and other objects to distract or engage your baby.

Toys that vary in color, size, and texture are more likely to hold your baby’s attention. Bring a variety of little used or new toys that you can rotate through on your trip. Save the toys that are most likely to interest your baby for the parts of the trip when your baby’s movement is restricted. It may help to bring something familiar and soft for your baby when he gets drowsy or unsure. Toys are not likely to help if your baby’s ears are uncomfortable.

10. Keep your sense of humor.

Traveling with babies is tough even with 2 or more adults. With a good sense of humor, you can keep your cool, even with 2 or 3 layovers. It is well known that most adults are not going to be happy about having to sit near an infant in an airplane, some will ignore you and some will be rude. Don’t let these people upset you; you will never see them again. Just do your best and keep your focus on your baby.

Being prepared and having realistic expectations will help you deal with the inevitable challenges that come with traveling with children. Good luck! Let us know if you have some great tips of your own to share.

Next time: We’ll answer another reader’s question.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have any advice for traveling without your baby? I will be out of town for work for several days and it will be the first time I'm away from my one-year-old (other than daycare and the occasional evening out). He'll be with his dad and they've got a great relationship - but I'm still worried my little guy will think I've abandoned him!