Even before Luc was born we were thinking (and actually planning) our first trip with the little one. We have no intention whatsoever to cut back on our love for traveling and exploring now that we are a family. Obviously we realize that traveling with kids will be different, and it will rule out a few countries – at least for now. Return trips to Turkmenistan and North Korea might have to wait a few years.
Our first real adventure with Luc was a winter road trip to Norway last February – which I yet have to share the details of, I know. And for his first flight experience we booked a trip to Guadeloupe, a beautiful set of tropical islands in the Caribbean. Waves, waterfalls, beaches, cocktails, and seafood: yes please. In the end we decided to cancel that trip due to the unexpected illness and loss of my mother in law, and I’m happy that we did because those precious final moments with her are far more meaningful than any tropical island.
But we immediately decided that we would go somewhere sunny in Europe a few weeks down the line, and that’s how we ended up in a cab to the airport before 5am, and on a plane to Portugal before 7am. And because Luc’s first flight experience went as smoothly as one could possibly want I decided to share some tips & tricks. Which may or may not work for your kid – but hey, there’s no harm in trying.
We both remember seeing a family on a flight to Taipei a few years back: the parents were completely stressed out, sweating like pigs, and carrying SO MUCH stuff in SO MANY bags. During the flight they kept getting up to search for some stuff in one bag, not finding it and then looking in another bag, stressing out again – you get the picture. We decided then and there: this will never be us. And so far, so good. Maybe we got lucky, who knows, but this is how we prepared for our first flight with Luc.
- KEEP CALM ALWAYS. Yes, this seems like a no-brainer, but kids pick up on your stress, so remain chill at all times. AT ALL TIMES. Even when there’s a delay (oh hey, TAP AIR), a gate change, a ridiculously long line, or whatever. Stay relaxed. So, make sure you’re prepared to shake off whatever your travel day throws at you.
- In order to follow rule number one: get your shit together before you leave. What I mean is: get organized. Check in online, have your boarding pass on your phone, know your terminal and gate, that sort of stuff. So you can roll through the airport like a family of travel pros. Also: organize your bag so that you have your passport within reach, your liquids in a clear bag, baby food in another, and your electronics easily accessible. This will help speed up the security check.
- Speaking of bags: the best thing you can do is pack sensibly. I don’t want to keep using all caps, but seriously: THIS IS KEY. We only packed one suitcase as a checked bag, and other than that we had one big tote as a carry on (I highly recommend my Lo&Sons bag), plus our Babyzen Yoyo stroller – which was a life saver. This stroller is allowed in the cabin (that’s right!), and it can be packed in a nifty backpack. If you check your stroller as a hold item, I highly recommend having a baby carrier or baby sling with you on the plane. We also brought our own car seat, which we put on the stroller until we dropped it off at the odd size bagage (pro tip: put it in a backpack flightbag, we still had one from our backpacking days, and stuff it with diapers). So I had the carry on bag on my shoulder, Luc in the car seat on the stroller, and the husband had the suitcase and the (empty) stroller backpack. We were swift like cheetahs. True story. Side note: we use a Fjallraven Kanken with a diaper bag insert (that I got in the USA) as our diaper bag, and we packed the Fjallraven in our suitcase and the bag insert went in the bottom compartment of my carry on tote. Done and done!
- Don’t bring too much stuff on board for your baby. I get this really depends on your kid, but we happen to have a baby who’s not particularly attached to any kind of toy, so we only got him two things (this Plantoys phone and his Oli & Carrol teething apple). One new item, one familiar item. Turns out his favorite “toys” on the plane were the puke bags, the paper napkins, and his spoon. So glad we didn’t pack a bunch of stuff. Other than that we obviously packed diapers, some muslin clothes, and one set of clean clothes (which are standard items in our diaper bag insert). As it can be chilly in planes, I always bring a big scarf, or a cotton hammam towel – which was what we brought this time because we could also use it on the beach.
- In terms of food it highly depends on how old your baby is, and if he’s on solids, formula, or on the boob. I’m still breastfeeding so that part didn’t require a whole lot of packing obviously. But since it’s really – REALLY – smart to feed your baby during take off (it helps with the pressure on their ears), and sometimes you’re not allowed to nurse because the baby has to sit on your lap facing forward (depending on the airline and crew), we brought a bottle of pumped milk to feed him as soon as we were in the air. As a snack we had a little container (I really like these bowls) with mashed banana. On our return flight we didn’t have any pumped milk (although I brought my pump) so we simply filled the bottle with water. On both flights I also fed him straight from the boob to make sure he wouldn’t get hangry, and so that we could get out of the airport straight after collecting our lugage.
- One item I also recommend is this airplane hammock thingy from FlyeBaby. We borrowed it from my brother, who got it while they were living in the US, and it really is a nifty gadget. You can attach it to your tray table and it means you don’t have a (sleeping) baby on your arm the whole flight. It’s also fun for playtime because the little one can look at you. And it converts into a high chair, although we didn’t use it like that.
- Final tip: accept that it’s not a normal day. Travel days are not the time when you want to be strict with your baby’s nap schedule. Because of our early (EARLY) morning flight we had to wake Luc up at 4:30am, which is 2-3 hours before his usual wake time. We simply left him in his PJ’s, and put him in the car seat. If you have a baby who easily transitions back into sleep I salute (and envy) you, but our bambino is always ready to go and see what’s happening out there. We knew he wouldn’t sleep until we were on the plane, and we didn’t stress about it. And even on the plane he didn’t sleep for super long. It’s just what it is, no big deal. You’re going on vacay!
Oh, and this may or may not had anything to do with how well our flight went, but we have been using airplane cabin sounds as white noise at nap and bed time since Luc was born, so it might have worked as a sleep association. Who knows.
I hope you find these tips somewhat useful and please feel free to contact me with your own advice for flying with a baby. On to the next adventure! Up, up, and away!