Baby Proof: Have Baby, Will Travel

July 24, 2014
It’s almost August, which means that the population of New York has begun its annual shift. Our neighbors have drawn their shades and made off for who-knows-where and a whole new population of visitors have arrived to stroll the promenade and sample treats from neighborhood ice cream parlors.

While we sadly don’t have any adventuring planned for our own immediate future, James and I have started to think about what traveling with our little Junebug will be like. Thank goodness for a big sister to pave the way. Cait’s thoughts on air travel with a baby, below. Semi-unrelated photo of prop plane taken by James on our trip to Oregon last summer, above.
Surviving the Skies with a Little One
by Caitlin Boyle
I recently made a staggering calculation, and it was this: I have spent an entire month of my 18-month motherhood traveling by plane with a baby. More specifically: I’ve spent a month’s worth of days—thirty travel days by air, to be exact—and probably close to fifty individual flights, with a babe in arms. 
A month of days at 30,000 feet. A month’s worth of diaper changes in a tiny airplane bathroom. A month of security lines with an impatient baby and a few whispered prayers. Or curses, depending. 
I don’t claim to be an expert, and I am not a seasoned parent by anyone’s definition. But I’ve been humbled enough by the process of flying with an infant, and now worse, a toddler, to understand that it is not for the faint of heart. It is for the bold of heart, in fact. Or maybe the somewhat-crazy-of-heart. Or just the operating-wholly-with-the-heart-and-not-at-all-the-rational-thinking-brain kind of heart.
Oliver has experienced 30 days at 30,000 feet not just for the love of adventure, mind you, but in recognition of necessity. My job and my husband’s require a good deal of travel. And ours is a bi-coastal marriage, too, which means there’s at least a couple thousand miles of air between Oliver and one set of grandparents pretty much all the time, no matter where we are or where we’re headed. That kind of situation, in our case, demands some air travel. 
And it demands a good dose of humility. I’m perhaps not my best parenting self whilst bouncing a cranky toddler up and down (and up and down) the aisle of a 747. I’m decidedly fazed by negotiating a full-on poop-splosion on a changing table the size of a cutting board. I’m not the picture of calm as I charge to the taxi stand, bags a-flying, to escape the pitying (or worse) looks of fellow passengers as I debark a three-hour crying fest known as the direct flight from Salt Lake City to JFK. No, not at all an ideal parent in those moments. But a bona fide parent nonetheless, in all of parenthood’s messy, tired, improvisational, small-victories glory. In fact I think I feel more like a parent in those traveling moments than at most other times. It’s me, my kid, and our baggage against the world. Literally and figuratively. 
Beyond humility, though: I’ve gathered some tools to ease these journeys. Perhaps they’ll be helpful to you, too. Or to a friend or sister or cousin who’s coming to visit you, and who could use some pointers from someone 30 days in: 
One: Buy, borrow or steal a very lightweight travel baby carrier. I like the Boba Air, but you may find another that’s just right. The key here is easy-on, easy-off, easy-stow. 
Two: A carry-on backpack and the willingness to wear the same pair of jeans and shoes for a week, so as to pack all one’s essentials (and the baby’s) into it. Sailing past baggage claim and out into the fresh air with a done-with-flying-let-me-run toddler makes the lack of wardrobe options worth it. 
Three: An arsenal of mini or multi-purpose items. Tiny shampoo and toothbrushes; fold-small sundresses; a few favorite mini board books; a lightweight blanket that does quadruple-duty as a swaddle, lovey, sunshade and changing pad. As Oliver has grown from his first plane ride (2 months; approximately 10 pounds) to his most recent (18 months; approximately 27 pounds), trading luggage weight for baby poundage has become increasingly necessary.
Four: Advance planning. After the first few trial runs in which I gave nary a thought to what I’d need for a baby after landing, I began diligently arranging for a portable crib, carseat, and stroller to be borrowed or rented ahead of my visits. If you’re staying in a hotel, a mini-crib is usually available without any advance legwork, but finding a friend-of-a-friend (or barring that, a rental agency) from which to secure loaner equipment is key to packing light, particularly if you’re solo parenting en route. Shipping diapers ahead is also convenient, though I’ve been known to stalk stroller-pushing strangers to ask for the nearest local diaper purveyor, too. 
Five: Okay, this one you can’t totally control, but…the kindness of strangers. I tune into it, and I actively try to tune out the irritated folks who shoot ungenerous glances and audible sighs my way. (Muttering to oneself, “You were a baby once, too!” always helps.)
A bit more on this point: Just as often as there are grumps among your fellow passengers, there are those who gracefully—even merrily—survive tantrums and blocked ears and shrieks of wriggly frustration or joy. I look for these people (hint: they often take the form of grandparents). They’re always there to shore up one’s confidence with encouraging glances and undue praise. “He did very well,” they say, even when he most certainly did not. 
I take it as evidence that, even if I’m not always the parent I want to be, there are people around me to cheer me on, in mid-air as on firm ground. 
PS. The links in this post were updated after the birth of Erin’s second child (January 2017).

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  • Reply beastmomma July 24, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I am enjoying the baby proof series so much! I traveled a lot with my daughter when she was under 2 because her ticket was free 🙂 She is not 2 years and 10 months. We still travel with her to visit her grandparents who are all a flight away. I think it is good to be out of in the world with your kids even if it is hard. I agree with the sentiment of feeling more like a parent and deserving of a badge of honor after being on a flight with her from Boston to Hawaii and then again from Baltimore to Delhi, India and back home. I wrote a small set of travel tips as well:

    • Reply Caitlin July 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      Great tips! Wow, Baltimore to Dehli. That is one heck of a plane ride! Our longest has been 13 hours, and it went well but was grueling nonetheless. You go, girl!

  • Reply cindyleed July 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Great list and I couldn't agree more that traveling with toddlers is much more trying and difficult than traveling with a baby. Not only do they weigh more, but they're louder, sleep less, are prone to irrational tantrums and touch everything within their reach (especially a curious child) including but not limited to bathroom stuffs and kicking the seat in front or patting a strangers head. Gosh it's a good thing they're so cute.

    • Reply Caitlin July 24, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      Oh yes, the touching! So much touching of everything: tray tables, other passengers, crumbs on the floor, safety cards. Hopefully, this means boosted immunity! Thanks for reading!

  • Reply missris July 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I am decidedly not a kid person but still can't stand passengers who are rude to parents flying with little ones. Unless they're letting their kids run amok, they're probably doing the best they can. Cut them some slack! Or better yet, offer to hold the baby for a few minutes so they can eat/go to the restroom/read a magazine/etc.

    • Reply Caitlin July 24, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Here! Here! Thank you, for reading and for your generosity!

  • Reply Alexa July 24, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Yes to #5! I am not a mama yet but I was a nanny in college and I remember well those grumpy stares from strangers. More than that, though, I remember the strangers who were quick to shoot an understanding nod or encouraging word—so don't lose heart! Chances are, there are plenty of people onboard, old or young, willing to offer a sweet smile or even a helping hand.

  • Reply Kerry June July 24, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    traveling with little ones is a lot of work, to put it simply. totally agree with #4, you definitely need to plan, especially the first few times before you get the hang of it. i'm like you with our little one, where we are constantly on the go. it was slightly difficult in the beginning but i feel like we've gotten the hang of it now! & the kindness of strangers is SO important, there's nothing that makes me feel worse than having a crying baby & getting starred down because of it!

  • Reply sophie July 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I love this, so great. We realised that our son, who is now 4, has spent only one birthday in his home country (Australia)! Travelling with kids is the best, especially the first (though it's hard to realise that at the time!)

  • Reply Alexa July 24, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    This is such a sweet post. I love the bit about finding the cheerleaders. We are several weeks away from a first flight with our feisty little one who will be a year then and your tip will be remembered! Being a parent involves so many difficult situations daily but handling them with grace (i.e. embracing a little chaos) does make all the difference!

  • Reply Jill Sarah July 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Love this post! I don't have children yet but my parents traveled so much with me when I was a baby and I've always thought that I'd love to do the same. A friend recently even road-tripped with her baby!

  • Reply Kara September 5, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Hi! Great post and tips! I have a 5.5 year old daughter who's been on nearly 60 flights (NOT counting connections). We are lucky in that she's always been a great flyer. We now also have a 16 month old son who's a little more challenging in the air 😉 That said, we are happy to take our lumps in the air to have the opportunity to expose our kids to new places and cultures. Your sister's tip about looking for the kindness in strangers is spot-on; there are nice people to be found on every flight. I wrote a post recently including some slightly unique tips for flying with kids that you might find useful as yours gets older. Enjoy and happy flying! It's totally worth it!!!

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  • Reply Megan K March 6, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    I know this comment is coming late, but I’m searching for some advice or encouraging words. My husband and I have a new baby and a job offer for him in Colorado, we (and my whole family) live in California. I’m curious what it’s like being a flight away from aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My husband grew up with not much extended family around and now has little to know relationship with them. Thanks to anyone who responds to this.

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