I think it’s safe to say that one of the reasons why my husband and I got married is for our love of travel. We've taken a ton of trips in the short two years we've been married. Everyone warned us that “the good life” would come to an end once we had a baby, but this didn’t necessarily register with me since I grew up traveling with my family around the world from a very young age. Travel is deeply ingrained, and I look forward to sharing it with my family as well. I want to make it a point to take one big trip every year with my son - this year we chose to do a Central European Tour - the countries we visited included Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic! Here's my take on what it was like traveling on flights/trains/buses/just about everything with my 8-month-old.
Zidaan has been no stranger to traveling. His first flight was from Houston to Michigan when he was about 6 weeks. This was just a short flight from Houston to Detroit and Ebad was with me. I remember sitting in the airport, baby on my lap gurgling away, our gear overflowing onto the adjacent seats and floor. The baby bag was stuffed with enough baby clothes and miscellaneous supplies to last a month. Being a mom was still very new to me, I nursed him through take off and landing and tried to stay relatively calm throughout the flight. He slept most of the trip which resulted in me not being able to eat or go to the restroom. BUT, we made it. Our first flight wasn’t so bad. Little did I know that traveling with a “newborn” was going to be the easiest stage! We've taken over 10 flights since then, but with them being domestic and fairly short, flying with a baby has never been too hard.
ANYWAY, this trip was different. This was going to be his first international long haul flight! Zidaan isn't a helpless immobile newborn anymore, he's an active, curious little monkey with tons of energy. Our flight was from Houston to Paris (9 hours) and then a connection from Paris to Vienna (1 hour). I could go on for days about every detail about our flight, but let's stick to what I'm glad I did, things I'm glad I took and what I will absolutely never do again.
1. PACK FOR EVERY POSSIBLE SCENARIO
I bought two fancy diaper bags when I was pregnant. I thought looking cute with a prim and proper diaper bag was important. RIGHT. We use a $30 diaper backpack from Babies"R"us on the daily now. That's what we took with us on the flight. I packed everything from 6 meals, enough formula for 3 days, diapers for 3 days, lotions, sanitizer, snacks, extra clothing and lots of toys. Also, we decided the roller carry on we were taking with us would be filled with Zidaan's stuff. God forbid something happens, at least we'll have all the baby's stuff to be safe. And so it turns out, our luggage was left behind at the airport in Paris. We spent 12 hours without any of our clothes, bags, stroller or car seat. BUT, we did have everything we needed for our little one. I'm so glad we chose to keep his stuff separate! If you can, keep all baby essentials in your carry on!
2. TAKE LOTS OF TOYS/ACTIVITIES
International flights are looooong. Entertaining a baby for over 6 hours in a cramped seat can be challenging. We took Zidaan's favorite little monkey friend, little nooks and hooks he keeps himself entertained with and a few books. I would recommend taking any new small novel toys or books your kid hasn't seen before. It will make it exciting for them and may keep their attention for longer than 10 minutes. If we're lucky.
3. LOW MESS SNACKS
Zidaan loves his teething crackers and his happybaby puffs. They're self-serving and quite entertaining. I took plenty of those to give him on the flight. Also, feel free to ask the flight attendant if they have baby food. Most airlines carry meals for babies.
4. DRESS YOUR BABY FOR QUICK AND EASY DIAPER CHANGING
No, you won't have time to button up a nice shirt followed up with pants that look cute, but are a nightmare to put on. Airplane bathrooms have come a long way, but the changing tables are still a nightmare. Add in a squirmy baby and a moving flight.. its a recipe for disaster. Don't make it harder on yourself by dressing your baby in difficult clothing. My favorite is a full overall outfit with a zipper like this one linked here.
5. CHOOSE A LONG LAYOVER
When booking plane tickets, if you have a choice between a 30-minute or 90-minute layover, choose 90. Ebad and I were never scared of tight connections when it was just the two of us, but we need more time now to change diapers, stock up on snacks and play. Get to the gate early and blow off some steam. Even a young baby can benefit from stretching out on a blanket in between flights. Wakeful time at the gate can optimize nap-time on the plane. We had a super short layover in Paris and we almost missed our flight!
6. BABY ITEMS ARE PRIORITY
If you're taking a carry on with you, make sure it has EVERYTHING for baby! We took three bags total - 2 check-ins and 1 carry on. Ebad convinced me to use the carry on for all of Zidaan's stuff (clothes, more formula, bottles, lotions etc). GREATEST decision ever. Air France forgot all of our luggage in Paris and we didn't have any of our stuff in Vienna for over 15 hours. Luckily, we had everything we needed for Zidaan.
7. STURDY STROLLER
Your stroller becomes invaluable when traveling. Throughout our trip, not only was it Zidaan's permanent bed where my poor jetlagged baby rested, it also became our private baggage cart. Everything from cameras, purses, jackets, food, and snacks - the stroller was a be-all carry-all. Take an amazing stroller and be prepared to carry it up and down the stairs if needed. Not all cities in Europe are stroller friendly. Ahem Budapest Ahem.
8. YOUR BABY IS NOT AS FRAGILE AS YOU THINK
My doctor repeats this all the time. Babies are strong. Yes, jetlag will suck, but your baby will adjust. Yes, all the travel may tire him/her out, but they adjust. Don't stress over everything. Enjoy the vacation you've spent so much money on!
Kudos to my husband for not only being the voice of reason majority of the time but for being such a hands-on dad with Zidaan. With everything said, you should DEFINITELY travel with your baby! Babies are cheap travel companions! If you’re flying with them as a lap child, they’re basically scoring a free flight before even collecting a single sky mile. Finally, babies do not count for additional occupancy in hotel rooms and they usually get in free to all the stuff you totally want to do. So ya know.. the more you travel with your baby, the better they will get at it and the better you will get at it.