If ever there’s one thing I’ve dreaded, it’s traveling with a kid. Mine or anybody else’s. I took a trip last year to Toronto and found myself sitting next to a lady and her 6 month old son. It didn’t go well. The kid cried for 8 hours straight, the mother was helpless, trying everything, from feeding to bouncing to distracting with toys. Nothing seemed to work. It took all my self control to not perform a vasectomy on my myself using those silly plastic airplane knives. That bad.
Fast forward to January 2012 and it was time to take a trip ourselves. We planned a trip to Dubai for my wife’s 30th birthday and we were taking our 7 month old daughter with us. Cold feet. Now, to be certain, our daughter is not a cranky kid by any means but she’s moody like me – She can snap if things don’t go her way (no paternity test required here). So, it was our turn now. Would we be the hapless parents trying to pacify our child or would we be the savvy, self assured, comfortable parents who know what to do? Time will tell of course. But to help anyone out there who’s probably trying to find tips on how to fly with a little kid, here are a few :
1. Priority :
Remember, the holiday should be centered around the kid. Choose a place the kid will enjoy. And if the kid is way too young (as in our case), choose a place that would be most convenient and also where the kid can observe and learn. We chose Dubai because of the relatively short flying time (approx 3 hours), making it a good trial run for trips in the future. Also, food and language aren’t a problem in Dubai so if you need something quickly, you aren’t lost in the woods.
2. Hotel and airline tickets :
Once you’re certain of the destination, it’s time to book the hotel and airline tickets.
For the airline, I would really suggest you step up, use all your miles (or savings) to fly business class. It’s really no fun camping out with an infant. Kiss your backpacking through Europe days goodbye. The reason I’m recommending business or first is that you’ll begin to appreciate more space once you have someone little with you. Also, the check-in lines are shorter, the immigration lines are shorter and you have more baggage allowance. If your kid cries and you can barely shift in your seat, it becomes really hard to nurse the child. So, if you need to, start saving up now.
Also, once the kid is asleep, maybe you can get a little massage in your seat or even enjoy a glass of wine. You’ll appreciate this more on the return leg of your journey.
Don’t listen to anyone that says “Stay here, it’s in the heart of the city”. That’s all fine but try and stay in a hotel that’s self-sufficient. Like a resort. A place where you don’t need to leave the premises if you don’t want to. There should be plenty of stuff to do in house, so if you need to rush up to your room and put your kid to sleep or feed the kid or just take a breather yourself, it’s possible. Plus, I’ve noticed that the staff at resorts is way more accommodating than a city hotel. They’d be happy to microwave sipping cups, pull up a high chair or even babysit your kid for a little while till you finish your meal. We found a very kind sous chef who made wonderful khichdi (savory Indian cereal with rice and pulses) for my daughter.
The added advantage of staying in a resort is the presence of other families with kids. That increases the tolerance level of all concerned. Also, seeing other kids is a learning experience in itself, making new friends, seeing how to behave and importantly, how not to.
3. Packing :
Pack light. If ever there was a time to be frugal in what you take with you, this is it. (My wife ignores this rule. I’m saving up for my hernia surgery).
Packing for yourself :
Pack comfortable wear. You aren’t really going to be able to set the town on fire with an infant. In all probability, you’re going to have to finish dinner early and be up in your room by 10pm. So, it doesn’t make sense packing many pairs of party wear. What you do need is comfortable clothes to wear at the airport, and some back up casual clothes if your kid throws up / spits up on you during the trip. If you’re going to a resort, pack shorts, capri pants and plenty of t-shirts. No high heels; flip-flops and loafers will do just fine, without killing your heels or lower back in the bargain. Ever tried carrying an infant for a few hours through a mall wearing high heels? Not recommended.
For the baby :
All the regular clothes plus some nice clothes when you take your kid out for dinner. Socks. Booties. Diapers. And don’t forget a small sweater or jacket in case it gets cold on the flight or during evenings in the resort. Baby swimwear or swimming diapers (swimmers) if your baby is too small.
Also, don’t forget other essentials like her diaper cream, baby food, plastic spoons, thermos for hot water, wipes (no place for cotton balls and top-tail bowls on a holiday). Also, disposable microwaveable sterilizing bags are a good thing to pack in case you want to sterilize their sippy cups or bottles (Medela). Don’t forget baby sunscreen (we used Coppertone water babies 50 SPF).
For her bath, we carried this green sponge makeshift tub. So that she doesn’t slip and slide around in the large tub. It’s pretty convenient and packs easily. Also, we carried a small travel set of her toiletries all well labelled by my wife. Don’t forget her little rubber ducky if she has one. My daughter was surprised the ducky showed up.
Some old faithfuls are a must. Seeing a toy they’re familiar with and one they like, goes a long way in making the baby feel comfortable in alien surroundings. Also, pack some new toys to surprise and distract the baby when she tires of the regular stuff.
Also, the airline will provide a few toys for the kiddo anyway so there will be no shortage of novelty.
People underestimate the iPad. The iPad can be your lifesaver. Load it up with a few Baby Einstein videos or cartoons and you’ve got a kid who’ll stay quiet for a period upto half an hour or more. Also, if you’ve got an older kid, fruit ninja and angry birds will ensure you get some rest on the flight. If you’ve got more than one kid, invest in an earphone splitter – no fights over sharing the iPad.
4. At the airport :
Be calm. If you’re flying business class or above, checking-in, security, boarding is usually a breeze. If you’re flying coach, duties must be split. One parent is in charge of the kid, showing her/him around (making ooooh sounds helps… eg : Ooooh, look Myrah, a trolley. Ooooh, look, a poster). The other parent has to be ridiculously efficient, filling forms, loading bags, pushing carts, taking care of passports
etc. It’s handy to jot down passport numbers and expiration dates on a separate piece of paper or in the Notes app of your iPhone. Much more convenient than clumsily shuffling passports while standing in a queue.
5. Settling into the aircraft :
If you’re with a kid, you’ll probably board first. That’s always a good thing for several reasons. The most important being, you’re not hassled to settle down quickly. You have time to pick out the toys, iPad, sippy cup, blankie etc from your bag before putting it up in the overhead compartment. Also, the stewardess can come and help you figure out the stupid extension belt for the baby. It’s not rocket science but it’s clunky and badly designed. All in all, pretty useless technology.
6. Take off and Landing :
Most parents fear this. And rightly so, as the change in cabin pressure can cause earache which can be pretty annoying and scary for the little one. The best way to avoid it is to ensure that the baby is feeding during these two events. If your baby is breast fed, hold out feeding her while the plane is taxiing because she may finish just before take off and that defeats the purpose.
We had many people advising us to use some sort of medication during the flight. It’s an antihistaminic + decongestant. It must help but we didn’t try it. We were able to time the feeds well and our baby took it excellently on the way there. On the way back, our daughter was a little cranky and cried for a few minutes before take off. This might have something to do with the fact that it was a late night flight and I had given her a few licks of my Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream in the lounge (The crash following a sugar rush is not fun. Avoid the ice cream). We, however, had purchased the medicine and carried it with us just to be on the safe side, never ended up using it.
7. Sleep :
By sleep, I mean baby’s sleep. Forget about your sleep. Maybe I’m exaggerating, you may be able to nod off for a few minutes at a time.
If you’ve booked a separate seat for your infant, make sure you carry your car seat with you so you can plonk the kid in and don’t have to carry him/her for the entire duration. We didn’t, because we have a very stubborn girl who hates the car seat. She wants to be up and about, part of the action.
What helps though is carrying a feeding pillow / boppy. If that’s too bulky, buy an inflatable feeding pillow like us. It’s not as comfy but cuts down the bulk.
If however, you’re traveling coach or have the option of a bassinet, it solves a lot of your sleeping problems.
8. Feeding on the plane :
If your baby is bottle fed, it’s not so much of a problem. Breast feeding can be tricky though. However, you get these amazing ‘feeding covers’ which are like small smocks, you put it over your head and the baby can be hidden underneath, no wardrobe malfunctions. Slurpy noises however are not muffled and the only remedy for that is swallowing your embarrassment. It also helps if you wear a front-opening shirt or easy access to the food source (boobs).
9. Eating airline food :
Why would you want to?
But, if you must, you need to have a loving husband. If the baby is asleep on your lap, there’s no way you can access your food tray. Make sure your tray also goes on your husband’s table and he feeds you lovingly by hand. It’s a little clumsy but it’s also romantic (romance shall end here for the rest of the holiday). You’ll find yourself giggling stupidly when the baby shuffles a bit when you bite into something crunchy.
10. Stroller :
If you have a slightly older child, carry a lightweight umbrella stroller (MacLaren). It’s easy to fold and easier to stow away. If you’re traveling with an infant, like us, carry the entire car-seat stroller shebang (ours is Graco). You can use the car seat If you’ve bought an extra seat for your kid.
You can take the stroller all the way up to the aircraft where they’ll check it in. Make sure that you have tags on both the car seat and the stroller and that both tags are stamped by security, or they’ll send you back. Also, it’s wise to ask them where you can pick up your stroller after you land. Some airlines will give it you just outside the aircraft but most of the times, it’ll come along with your checked in bags. (We had to collect it from another carousel, so it’s better you make sure).
Even if your kid hates the stroller, it’s wise to carry one. It acts as a wonderful carrier for the diaper bag, purse, murse or any shopping bags.
11. Rocking the boat :
Before we left for our holiday, my wife and I decided that we weren’t going to rock the boat. No introducing new foods, changing schedules etc for the kiddo. However, since we came here, we’ve thrown caution to the wind and now my little daughter has tasted orange juice, tea, mango pudding, baked ginger cake, yoghurt and some cheeses. The one-eye-clenched-recoil that she does when she takes her first sip of orange juice is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, followed immediately later by a forward leap for some more.
So I urge you to go forth and rock that little boat. Your baby will learn something new and in a place which will make it a wonderful memory. My parents did it with us and I’m doing it for my daughter.
12. The swan song :
Plan one event that you’ll never forget. Something to make the entire trip unforgettable. Something that your baby will remember (in our case, see photos of) for years to come.
We swam with dolphins. It was exhilarating. And our daughter loved it.
I’m no expert but this is a new Father’s perspective. I’m sure my wife would have plenty to add and so would you, dear reader. I will be more than happy to receive more suggestions in the comments section.
Do you travel with your kids a lot? Where have you been that’s been the most fun? And what advise do you have for a novice like me?