It’s one thing to travel somewhere far away, whether to a place you’ve been a dozen times or one entirely new. But the process of actually getting there can be another matter entirely. Even the most adventurous voyagers have likely had at least some negative experiences throughout their travels. Never-ending delays, heavy turbulence, gross plane food: air travel can be rough. Now try adding an infant into the mix. Not fun.
Last month, we took our August to meet his family in Sweden. Our flight took off from Austin at 12:40pm on a Saturday afternoon, and we landed in Stockholm at 12:30pm on Sunday afternoon. That’s almost 20 hours of travel, door to door. And when you’re barely 4 months old, 20 hours is a pretty long time.
I was very nervous about the whole endeavor, to say the least, my anxiety rising with each day closer to departure. Once we’d decided to make the trip, there was no turning back. But I wondered just how high a price we would pay in keeping our sanity. I had nightmares of August’s ears not popping at take off, launching him into a fit of hysterical screaming for the entire 8-hour flight from Chicago (our layover) to Stockholm. I imagined we wouldn’t want to get back on the plane to come home again. (Not sure how we’d have explained that to everyone back Stateside. Uh, yea, so it looks like we’re not coming back… for awhile.)
Well, I can happily report that all my worrying ended up being for nothing! August was a saint. Truly. He barely screamed or fussed THE ENTIRE TIME. I don’t know how much of his good behavior can be attributed to anything we did, but since it went so well, I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks for anyone out there undertaking the endeavor of international travel with an infant:
- If your baby will be under 9 months at the time of travel, call your airline to book a bassinet as soon as you buy your ticket. I believe this option is only available for international flights – but that’s usually the time you’ll need it most. If you’ve got a long-haul journey ahead, holding your little one on your lap is going to get old really fast. A bassinet hooks right up to the wall in front of bulkhead seats so your baby can lay down in a cozy little cocoon whenever they want (as long as there’s no turbulence). Fabric flaps zip up to keep your little one safely in place, nice and snug.
- Feed your baby at takeoff and at landing. While you’re busy chomping away on a piece gum to pop your own ears, your little one doesn’t have that option – nor can you instruct them to yawn on demand. So, if at all possible, feed them on your way up into the air and again on your way down. You’ll get a little seat belt to put around them that loops through yours, but that won’t hamper their eating. I did hear a flight attendant instruct someone else that their baby must be forward facing during take off (I can’t imagine what difference that actually makes!), ruling out breastfeeding – but I think you can usually get away with it.
- We didn’t actually do this (and I’m not necessarily convinced that it’s worth the effort), but if you’re really concerned about bothering your neighbors, consider making little goodie bags for them. Include ear plugs, perhaps some candy and a short note from your little one explaining that they’re on their way to XX to do XX, and they hope they don’t bother you on the way. Of course, receiving this bag from a fellow passenger may make everyone around you even more nervous to sit near you in fear of what is to come (read: screaming all flight long), but it’s certainly a thoughtful gesture.
- That being said, you may not have any space for said goodie bags with everything you need for the trip. You’ll want to pack a few of your babe’s favorite toys, and maybe some books (depending on how old they are). Make sure you’ve got plenty of diapers and wipes, as well as a couple changes of clothes for the little one – and one for you, too. Planes are generally chilly, so be sure to bring layers, even if it’s the height of summer.
- Hand sanitizer! If you’re like me, you probably bring it wherever you go anyway – but on a plane, it’s especially important. I recently read how dirty seat back tray tables are, and I don’t imagine anything else is much better. Plus, in such a confined space, you want to keep things as clean as possible – and hand sanitizer is an easy solution.
- Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Bring along anything you think you may need; plan out different tactics for handling fits of screaming; brush up on your repertoire of songs to sing (there’s only so many times you can go through the Itsy Bitsy Spider). Whatever helps you feel more ready to board that plane, do it.
- And lastly, try to relax. It’s not going to be easy – but that’s not why you’re doing it. You’re on your way to something worthwhile, so keep that in mind as you muddle through whatever your journey has in store. Maybe your baby will sleep the whole time; maybe there will be fits of screaming; it’ll likely be a combination. However things unfold, staying calm is going to make it all easier – and will rub off on your little one, too. And remember, you’re not going to be on that plane forever.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to time your trip, I’d say when your babe is 4 months old is a pretty ideal time to do it. They’re strong enough to handle the journey, but not moving around too much yet. So take advantage! When you’ve done it, you’ll feel like you can do anything in the world of parenthood. Do you have any other baby travel tips to share?