Five years ago almost to the day, I found out that we were having a little boy. As it happens with “soon to be” parents, we were met with a barrage of well-meaning (but mostly useless) advice about our upcoming adventure in parenthood. I perfected the smile and nod, tuning most of it out. But there was one diamond in the rough that I have always come back to…”Don’t forget, they’re portable”. Short and sweet and as it turns out, SO TRUE!
Prior to having our son, my husband and I were true travel junkies. He consulted for work and I would fly out to his work location or we would jet off somewhere else for a weekend together with nary a care in the world. Would we be able to continue this crazy travel lifestyle with a little one in tow? Would we even be able to handle a two hour flight with a kid?
The answer is a resounding YES. Take your kids everywhere! They will be more resilient, compassionate, generous and considerate. Your trips will take on new meaning as you slow down and see the world through their eyes.
Our son was born in Phoenix in July, and unfortunately for me, that meant we were housebound, save for an outing somewhere that had air conditioning… or you know, a 3 am stroll around the neighborhood when it was 85° and not 115°! August rolled around and I was jonesing for a getaway to Flagstaff to escape the heat. I packed everything imaginable for this trip and also for our next trip with him, a week in Ocean Beach at a bungalow on Cable Street. Little did we know that almost a year later, we would become San Diegans ourselves!
Since then, we have traversed North America, Central America, Europe and soon to be Asia in the fall. There have been meltdowns, mishaps, plenty of barf stories, but also memories to last a lifetime. Our son is now 4 ½ and I feel like we have a rhythm down with our travels, and we have slowly pared down to travel essentials.
I wanted to share my top 10 of my travel must-haves (and never do’s, for that matter!) for air travel, baby style!
- Bring more of EVERYTHING than you think you’ll need—that means clothes for you, clothes for baby, extra formula/food, extra diapers. TSA is generally very understanding to parents and having extra for our littles. Just ensure you have it out and ready at the checkpoint and don’t be surprised if you get a little extra screening from TSA as a result. I always got my hands swabbed carrying our son through the checkpoint and the food examined more thoroughly.
- Start your trip off on a sane note and pre-board if possible. Most airlines will allow families to pre-board after the elite boarding. With Southwest, you will board between A and B groups. It is harrowing on that first flight, I’m not going to lie. Give yourself extra time to get situated and seated before the cattle call that is US air travel begins.
- Best seat on the plane as a family? In the back! Close to flight attendants, close to the lavatories, and likely, more families. I’ve always felt more comfortable back here with our son. Particularly when flying alone with our son. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help either. Most flight attendants will happily hold your baby/watch your child if you need a bathroom break, etc.
- Make sure baby’s ears are equalized for landings/takeoffs—this means breastfeeding or bottle-feeding at these times. This will make for a much happier baby AND momma!
- Skip Hop portable diaper pad—this thing is a veritable godsend. Pack it with a few diapers, cream, wipes before you leave and use this in the lavatory on the plane. Look for the changing table above the toilet. This has also come in handy in places with no changing tables (restaurants, etc.). So nice not to have to lug the diaper bag everywhere with us! Amazon stocks this in various patterns/colors and it will hook on to a backpack
- If possible and financially feasible, bring the car seat onboard (make sure it is FAA-approved, there will be a sticker, if so). Your baby is familiar with their seat, and it will make travel a lot more pleasant (not to mention safer). We’ve had luck booking the aisle and window in hopes that middle will go vacant. We’ve also been fortunate to ask nicely and get the gate agent to block out a row for us (when we haven’t paid for the third ticket). Kindness can go a LONG way—particularly with frazzled airline staff!
- Travel at baby’s nap times—yes, easier said than done when you have a baby with a crazy sleep schedule. Conversely, early in the morning is also a great time, everyone is fresh and the likelihood of delays/cancellations is much less
- Toys/familiar items—air travel is going to be a new experience for baby (and for you too as a new family). Bringing some familiar (small) items to keep them occupied during the flight
- Don’t feel obligated to give people around you little “goodie bags”. This is entirely unnecessary and families have just as much right as anyone else to fly. Truth be told, I’ll take a crying baby over a belligerent adult any day!
- And the best travel accessory of all—your sense of humor! You have to roll with the punches, understand that things won’t go perfectly and remember, you will likely never see these people again. Deep breaths and put on a smile…you got this, momma! And if you don’t, flag the flight attendant down and grab a glass of wine!
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Happy Family Travels, y’all!
Kirsten is a Seattle native who has crisscrossed the country living in New York City and Phoenix before settling in beautiful San Diego. Like any mom, she wears a lot of hats including finance as her day job while raising her equally travel crazy son along with her awesome husband and working on her new blog “These 3 Little Birds”. In her free times, she spends her time working on planning her next trip, helping others plan their next trip, bingeing on House Hunters International and Parts Unknown and following her college football team (Go Huskies!). Kirsten also enjoys playing tourist in her own town when she is home (hello, Balboa Museums, beaches, San Diego Zoo!). She loves to show others how accessible travel can be and how having kids does not mean the end of life as you know it, rather, you are about to embark on your best adventure yet! Embrace it and go see the world!