Ever since my little man was about 2 weeks old, we were traveling all over the place, from Virginia to Florida and back, to Pennsylvania, back to Florida, repeat. I’ve learned quite a few tips and tricks along the way. I may look like a hot mess going through the airport, but I’m actually a superstar, octopus like, luggage carrying, baby soothing machine. Some of these tips I’ve acquired from other traveling mommies and some from my own experiences.
My son and I travel alone most of the time we hop on airplanes. One thing most people don’t realize is how much stuff such a tiny little human requires. I take more things for baby than I do for myself! Here is how I manage.
1. Packing and Luggage: I plan for packing early. Babies are always getting dirty one way or another, so you need to pack at least TWO outfits for the day, plus two sets of pajamas. JUST IN CASE. It should be weather appropriate, so make sure to pack that baby bathing suit and towel or puffer coat and hats. Luckily baby clothes can fold up small. Logistically, I recommend a duffle bag for baby. Why? You only have so many hands, so likely you’ll be pushing a stroller, carrying a diaper bag, pulling your own roller bag suitcase, so??? You need to sling something over your shoulder. This one is my favorite. It’s the perfect size for a long weekend or week long trip, there are three useful outside pockets for extra bottles, sippy cups, food, diapers, whatever incidentals you might need.
I use a small roller bag for myself. I can fit everything I need for a long weekend, including clothes, makeup, shampoo, shoes, and more shoes.
2. The Diaper Bag: When your baby is an infant, you can get by with a smaller diaper bag. All you need is enough bottles (unless you are breastfeeding) for the flight, a toy, a blanket, diapers, wipes, a spare outfit, and a few binkies. It’s likely that your baby will fall asleep to the white noise of the plane and your flight will be peaceful. When they start to get older and more aware of the world, entertaining them is key. No mom wants to be “that mom” that everyone is looking that. Though, do not mistake this list of tips as a guarantee that you won’t be “that mom.” At some point, you will be “that mom” and you’ll want to flip off everyone around you giving you dirty looks and tell them, well, you know what you’ll want to tell them.
So, when they are older, upsize your diaper bag and use it as your carry on. You can fit everything in these bags. Mine has been kindly named Mary, after Mary Poppins, who had a bag that could fit a coat rack inside of it. On top of what you kept in your smaller diaper bag, you can fit more toys, snacks, an iPad, books, a favorite stuffed animal, your big giant DSLR camera that you’ll now take everywhere with you. And of course the Goldfish. Don’t forget your Goldfish.
This is the one I recommend, or one of a similar size. It’s called the Wistful Weekender from Petunia Pickle Bottom. Any of their weekender bags will do the job. Hmm, in fact, I spilled red wine on mine and these new colors make me want to get a new one. Don’t judge.
3. The Stroller: When I was registering for my baby shower, I thought I’d be incredibly efficient and cost savvy. I registered for a jogger/travel system combo. I didn’t want to own more than one stroller. In theory, this was a fantastic idea. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my jogger/travel system. But…you realize how bulky the thing is, how it’s a pain to fold up on the jetway, and oh surprise! It doesn’t fit in a standard sized rental car without taking the wheels off and not having a place for any of your bags. After you have to rent an SUV everytime you travel, you negate any money you would save on your combo pack. So, I recommend a nice, sturdy umbrella stroller. I found a fantastic one that also interfaces with your car seat. It has a cup holder, a place for storage underneath, can hold really small babies, even without the car seat, folds up easily, lays nearly flat for naps, and has good canopy coverage. Warning: It’s on the expensive side. But I think it’s worth it. I can fold this baby up while holder my son and all my bags, grab it’s handy handle or over the shoulder strap and have it nicely fit through the x-ray machine. Yes, strollers have to go through the x-ray machine. Big ones don’t fit.
4. Riding, Driving, Parking: If you are traveling alone and you can have someone drive you, please do this. If not, don’t worry, I have a solution, but again, there is a cost. When it’s just you and baby and you have to drive, forget about parking in the long term or distant lots. Why? Picture this…you get all of your stuff out of the car. You get baby into the carseat/stroller, sling the duffle bag over you, put the diaper bag on the stroller handle, begin dragging your roller behind you and off to wait at the shuttle stop. The shuttle gets there, and oh sh*t. You have to get all your bags up there, take the baby out of the stroller because they can’t stay in there on the ride to the terminal, and oh by the way, you then have to fold up the stroller and store it so that other passengers can have some space. And why can babies ride on a shuttle not in a car seat? I haven’t figured this one out yet. So, it’s virtually impossible unless the driver is very nice and helpful and you give him a large tip. Though this option puts you into hot mess status. Trust me, been there.
Solution? Pay the extra money and park in the parking garage closest to the terminal where you can walk. It’s worth every penny, I promise.
6. Odds and Ends: This one is a tip that I took from my good friend, Lisa. Take only enough diapers plus some spares, for you to make the trip on the plane and to your hotel or final destination. When you get where you are going, take a quick trip to Target. But your diapers, swim diapers, wipes, and food (or formula). This reduces the amount of things you need to pack and carry with you. Then you’ll be stocked up ready for your return flight!
7. Check your bag and baby’s bag: Don’t try to manage carrying on more than you need. Only you, diaper bag, and stroller. And baby of course, don’t forget your baby. The only other item I can recommend if you are breastfeeding is an insulated bottle carry with ice pack. You can take breast milk (or water for formula) on the plane with you. You’ll have to have it tested at security, but you can take it. Speaking of breastfeeding, if you have a pump and need to take it with you, try to fit it into your checked luggage otherwise it’s one more thing you’ll need to carry.
8. Seat locations: If you have an infant, I recommend the aisle so you can get up easily if needed and make it to the bathroom for changing. NOTE: Not all airlines have planes that have changing tables in the bathroom. Check on this before booking unless you are ok with changing a poopie diaper on your lap and potentially getting it all over your jeans (I’ve done this before too, but luckily made it out unscathed). If you have a toddler, I recommend the window so they can look outside. It’ll be a pain to get out and walk around with them in the aisle or go for a diaper change, but it’ll be more entertainment. Recently, ok maybe not so recently but a few years ago, I developed a fear of flying. I’m an aerospace engineer who is afraid to fly. I know it makes no sense. That’s like a chef who hates to cook, which if I’m honest, I don’t really enjoy that activity either. Before baby, I’d have a few drinks to take the edge off. Now, that’s not really an option. So I try to get seats close to the emergency exit row, so if needed, we can escape quickly. Or sit up close to the front. You can get off the plane faster and have a happier baby if you sit close to the front. If you happen to be fortunate enough to fly first class, get a deal on an upgrade, or get put there because of a cancellation, First Class is the way to go with a baby. Who cares that you’ll piss off all the uppity business people, you’ll have more room and be way more comfortable!
I think that’s really all the tips I have for your right now. If you follow these simple steps, you’ll wow the people in the security line who watch you looking like a hero as you sling your diaper bag onto the conveyor belt, swoop your baby out of the stroller, and fold that bad boy up with a flick of two switches. They’ll look at you and say…Oh do you need my help? And before the question is out, you’ll already have gone through the scanner and are getting set up on the other end. Share your friendly nods and knowing looks with the other jet setting moms out there, you are a superhero!