New Mom Lesson Learned: Traveling with a Baby... Top 10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known

So a few weeks ago, Kennedy and I took our first trip to Florida together to visit my side of the family.  Daddy had to work, so it was just me and baby cakes flying alone.  I learned... a lot, but these 10 things I really really wish I would have learned before our trip.  Actually, let me give myself a little credit here... a few (and by "a few", I mean 2 or 3) of these things I actually did know beforehand.  Most, however, I learned the hard way and a little too late.  Hopefully my lessons learned can help out another mama who is getting ready to take her first solo trip with a little one.

  1. Book Smart-  And if you are like me, you might just need someone to tell you "Don't be an idiot."  A little back story...  Normally, I work evenings.  I am NOT a morning person.  At.all.  Thankfully, baby girl is not really into mornings either.  We usually wake up around 8:30 or so and hang out, take our time getting ready for the day before I head off to work.  Why oh why oh why did I think it was a great idea to book a 7am flight?  Smack me.  WHY??  Well, I *thought* (insert stupid "should have known better" chuckle here) that if we got up really early then baby girl would be super tired and sleep on the plane.  Then, we would get there by 10am and still have a whole day ahead of us to enjoy.  BAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  So here is what happened... Alarm goes off, I'm still in a sleepy stupor, Kennedy thinks she should nurse and then go back to sleep, Kevin and I are flying around the house getting everyone dressed and assembling last minute things like snacks and such.  We go to the airport at about 6:45am... for my 7am flight.  Yeah.  Worked out real well.  NOT.  Needless to say we missed out flight (which brings me to #2)... but first, let me just say that you need to book a flight at a time that works for YOU and your little one.  If you are normally awake, put together and out the door by 6:30am... then a 7am flight would probably work just fine.  Otherwise, stick with a flight that would actually fit into your normal schedule.
  2. Arrive early-  Duh, right?  But seriously... We fly in and out of the Syracuse airport, which happens to be about the size of my pinky toe.  Kevin and I both have flown several times and never taken longer than 30 minutes get from car to plane.  Stupidly, we assumed this would be the case for this flight as well.  Even though all of the airport guidelines and such recommend 2 hours early, I thought we could arrive at 6am and be just fine.  Well, we didn't arrive at 6am, but even if we had, we may have still needed some extra time.  Think about it... you have to remove the car seat and/or from the car (if you are like me, the last time you did that was... well... never) and pack that away into your not-so handy dandy car seat bag.  Then you have to figure out how you are going to drag car seat bag, luggage AND baby (oh and don't forget your diaper bag and carry on) through the airport to the ticket counter.  Daddy can only watch helplessly from the car as he pulls away, otherwise the airport parking nazis will ticket or tow him immediately.  Then, it never fails, when you do get to your gate, baby decides to have a massive poop-splosion that requires a change (outfit included) before boarding.  Then, when you get her cleaned up, she wants to eat.  So... yes.  Bottom line.  Arrive at LEAST 2 hours early, if not more depending on the size of the airport.  Not just to get through security, but to give yourself time to get everyone cleaned, fed and comfortable before boarding.
  3. Wear Your Baby-  Baby.  The fashionable new hands-free accessory.  :)  This one (pats self on back), I knew ahead of time.  I babywear all the time anyway, but knew for sure, that I would be wearing K when we traveled for a few reasons:  She sleeps really well in the carrier, I want to keep her close and I wanted to have both hands available.  I bought an Ergo for our trip, but it didn't arrive in time so I used our Maya ring sling.  Bonus- the Maya has a pocket sewn into the tail.  I put our IDs and boarding passes right in here so I didn't have to dig through the diaper bag for them when we needed them.  Getting through security was a breeze.  I just popped her out of the sling, tossed the sling in a bin with the diaper bag and we waked through.  I put her back in the sling and was able to nurse comfortably and discreetly no problem.  About 5 minutes before boarding, I got up and walked around and swayed with her until she dozed off.  I kept her in the sling on the plane and she slept about half of the flight.  I was even able to nurse her on the plane, in the sling, without any problems.  Worked out perfectly!
  4. Two Words:  Curb.Check.-  Yeah... shoulda woulda coulda.  I wish wish wish we would have arrived early enough to take advantage of the curbside check-in.  Since Kevin couldn't help me carry anything in, I attempted (ha!!) to drag the car seat bag and large suitcase (and diaper bag, and baby) through the airport to the ticket counter.  I made it about 1 foot every 5 minutes before I had to adjust, reposition, take a deep breath and schlep on.  Thankfully, after about 15 minutes, someone took pity on this pitiful sight and offered to help.  I am normally too proud to accept a helping hand (big lesson learned here, see #8), but I was already starting to break a sweat by this point and was very grateful.  I could have avoided this all together, though, had we just curbside checked the car seat bag and suitcase.  "But what about the car seat?  I have heard it's safer if you gate check it"... I don't get this.  I see people all the time dragging their car seats around the airport.  Why??  If you gate check it, it still goes under the belly of the plane... I don't get the reasoning.  I did buy the car seat bag to protect it from dirt and scratches, but i checked that bad boy as soon as I could and was happy to see it go.  One less thing to fight with.
  5. Pack Smart (and Light!)-  I originally planned to bring her stroller with us and gate check it, using it like a shopping cart through the airport.  At the last minute I decided to just leave it at home and I'm so glad I did.  I can't imagine folding it down and getting it through security, while holding her and wrangling a diaper bag and camera bag... all by myself.  You also *can* take a carry on and a diaper bag (counts as a personal bag)... but then that is a suitcase and a bag and a baby you have to manage.  It's just not worth it.  We brought one large suitcase and fit everything for K and I into the suitcase.  Things like diapers and wipes... I only brought what I needed for the diaper bag and bought more once we got there.  Dealing with the car seat bag and the one large suitcase (and diaper bag and baby) was more than enough for me.  Another carry on suitcase would have just been absurd.
  6. Pack Everything But The Kitchen Sink In Your Diaper Bag-  Contradictory, much?  Yep.  But... just when you think you have everything you need (and have ENOUGH of everything you need)... you get stuck in an airport for an extra 4 hours.  True story.  Then, all of a sudden, skimping on packing the diaper bag to try to keep it nice and light was a horrible idea.  Think you packed enough diapers and clothing changes?  Thank again.  Think you packed double what you need?  Great.  Now pack more.  MORE!!!  You may know your baby's routine by heart and know just how many diapers and extra clothes you need to get through your flight... but... what you can't account for are delays, cancelled flights, extra blowouts and the number of things you will drop on the floor (hence rendering them automatically useless).  We made it by the skin of our teeth... but in retrospect, I should have packed at least one extra outfit and at least 2-3 extra diapers.  Just in case.  Also, pack an outfit change for you... or at bare minimum at least an extra top.  Why you ask?  Well... sitting on an airplane for 3 hours next to a complete stranger while you reek of baby poo is... well it stinks (Ha!  Get it?  It stinks!).  So yeah... take it from someone who has endured that embarrassment.  Pack a shirt for yourself.  
    •  *A little side note here.  I found myself really wishing that I had brought a back-pack style diaper bag instead of my super cute purse style.  It would have just made the hands-free business even easier.  I wouldn't buy a special diaper bag just for traveling (unless you travel a LOT) if the one you have functions well for you at home... but... if you own a back-pack style diaper bag, I would most definitely take that for traveling instead.
  7. Buy A Million Booginheads-  What the heck is a Booginhead?  THIS... is a Booginhead.  Best.Invention.Ever.  They are intended for pacifiers (and they make some to fit around sippy cups too!), but they can be used on just about everything.  I brought 3 with us and could have easily used 3 more.  As I'm sure you know.  The airport and airplane floors are no man's land.  Once a toy or pacifier hits... it's dead.  Gone.  Bye-bye.  Well... since baby's love to throw things on the floor (or at least mine does) and you can only pack a finite number of toys and pacifiers... this presents a bit of a problem.  Insert Booginhead.  I clipped a toy, a pacifier and a burp rag to her.  Problem solved.  She can attempt to throw them on the floor as much as she wants, but they don't go any farther than the 6 or so inches that the Booginhead allows.  These things are wonderful!!
  8. Ask For Help, Ask For Favors-  Don't be afraid, too proud or too shy to ask for a helping hand.  And if/when you are traveling without your little squish... be the one to lend a helping hand.  When you check in or get to your gate, ask the representative if the flight is full.  Let them know that you are traveling with a small baby and would really really appreciate extra space if there is any available.  We lucked out and ended up with a whole row to ourselves on the way down. 
  9. Borrow, Borrow, Borrow-  Staying with family??  Pull some strings.  Ask grandma or grandpa or whoever you are staying with to ask around for loaners.  My mom was well prepared when we arrived.  She borrowed several things (pack and play, jumparoo, bumbo seat) from a friend in her yoga class.  She also scoured garage sales and CraigsList for a cheap stroller.  If you are not staying with family, call your hotel ahead of time and see what they have available.  Most hotels have portable cribs and some have other baby items available free of charge or for a small rental.  Popular vacation destinations even have baby item rental services that will deliver items to your hotel.  I would never recommend borrowing or renting a car seat (for safety reasons), but things like strollers, pack and plays and toys are just fine. 
  10. Keep Your Cool-  So you packed and planned and you've got books and toys... and your sweet little prince or princess decides that here... on this hot, crowded, uncomfortable airplane and now... 30 minutes into a 4 hours flight... is the optimal time to have a melt down.  Stay calm.  Babies can sense our anxiety and it only makes a bad situation worse.  Smile, speak softly, hold them close, rock them, bounce them, give them a paci, make silly faces.  Do whatever you can do to calm them down.  Getting embarrassed or upset isn't going to help the situation at all.  And worst case... apologize to your neighbor (who is thinking next time they will happily fork over the extra $200 for kid-free business class) and offer to buy their headset... or a stiff drink.  Crack a joke about it.  Make the best of an awkward situation.  Chances are... there are at least a few people on the plane who can empathize with you.  True, right now they may be thinking "Thank God that's not MY kid"... but trust me... at one point it likely was their kid.  No one is perfect.  So... don't let the eye rolls and icy "shut that baby up" stares get to you.  Smile, keep calm, be polite and people will soften up.  Next thing you know the melt down will be over, baby will be smiling and acting all cute and stuff.  People will be cooing at them and saying how precious they are.  Amazing, but true.  :) 

Hope you find this helpful!!  :)