When you have a baby it’s all about establishing routines; after a time you’ll have a bedtime routine and a routine for feeding. Then there are the comfortable go-to activities you find yourself turning to time and again to make life as a family fun and easy. You may have that one spot in the living room, for example, where you always lay her down to play on a blanket, or a certain arm chair that’s best for nursing.
This is why going out on the road can be such a challenge. Everything is disrupted, and you’re just put out there to deal with a lot of external factors beyond your control. Baby is out of her comfort zone, seeing new sights and sounds, which, interesting as they are, can also be upsetting.
There are no surefire ways to ensure a smooth trip with your child, but there are some things you can do to prepare.
It really starts with you. During your journey you’ll be in full parenting mode, responsible not only for baby’s needs but taking care of logistics like finding your seat, going through customs and picking up your bag in the baggage claim. Try to be in top shape for the trip – get plenty of rest the night before, lay out your and baby’s clothes for the morning, have a protein-packed breakfast; all the things that give you plenty of energy and make you feel competent and confident. Wear comfortable shoes, and consider laying off the coffee a little if it will mean more bathroom breaks.
As you prepare, think of all the details of your trip in terms of how you’ll either hold or stroll baby as you get through each stage. For going through the airport, an easily folded stroller will keep your hands free (bonus points if it has a basket underneath to hold your carry-on bag). The stroller can be wheeled into the larger handicapped bathrooms, and folded up as you go through security. For getting to your seat, and using the bathroom on the plane a baby carrier really helps. You’ll have to transition from one piece of equipment to the next, often even if you’re traveling with someone else.
Imagine when and how you’ll feed baby – in the long rows of chairs as you wait for your flight, on-board the plane or even during the shuttle to your destination when you leave the airport. You can then carefully pack your diaper bag to be sure you have everything close at hand – you may want a nursing cover-up, burp cloth, or portions of formula already in bottles to just add warm water.
Then think of how you normally entertain your baby. Is she happy to look through padded books, or does she love things with buttons? Bring along some items you know she likes, or things that will (hopefully) hold her attention for more than a few minutes. Many parents are against electronics or dole out screen time very carefully, but you may keep your tablet or phone handy as a last resort, depending on your child’s age.
It’s also useful to plan for worst case scenarios, like leaky diapers, a cancelled flight and unpredictable temperatures. Pack several changes of clothes for baby, and an extra outfit for yourself too! Bring sweaters for if it’s cold on board, or wear layers you can remove if you find yourself burning up from running through the airport. Take along wholesome snacks and sandwiches in case the plane food is terrible, or things your baby can safely gum on if she’s already started solid foods (along with a good bib or two to prevent messes).
In terms of practicality, remember that slip on shoes are always easier to remove and put back on for security or just comfort on the plane, and a bag for trash can be really helpful if you have to toss out soiled napkins, diapers or wipes.
Sip water to keep yourself hydrated and take along a toothbrush or tiny bottle of mouthwash to keep your mouth feeling fresh- the better you feel the better shape you’ll be in to handle the ups and downs of travel. Last of all, don’t forget to smile! The best protection against travel stress is an easy-going attitude.