One of the most terrifying prospects for any parent is the idea of travelling with a baby. Fact: Babies are not fun on trips. Babies cry, scream, kick and refuse to sleep. Luckily, there are ways to make the whole ordeal a whole lot more pleasant.
Remember the days when you were young, innocent and hated the person with a baby on the plane? Guess what? You're that person now. You have a baby, you need (or want) to take that baby somewhere and you cannot strap it to your back and swim — not that the thought hasn't crossed your mind.
Stop hyperventilating! There are plenty of ways to make a trip with your little one easier. The key is preparation. Put your heart and soul into research, planning and packing, and the travelling part really won't be so bad.
Step 1: Research and planning
The saying goes, "Preparation and planning prevents piss-poor performance." Aside from being an impressive — although perhaps a tad unnecessary — amount of alliteration, the message really rings true. Especially when it comes to travelling with a baby.
About 90 per cent of any potential issues can be avoided by simply doing the right amount of research and planning. Surprises are what spell disaster. Make it impossible (or nearly impossible) to be surprised and you'll be invincible… ish. So before you do anything, investigate the following:
- Luggage allowances — what's included and what's not
- Flight procedures
- Check-in procedures
- Plane bassinet availability
- Vignettes, road requirements
- Required documentation
- Border procedures
- Available options
- Availability of baby seats/capsules in hired vehicles and taxis
- Ease and safety of transport
- Local safety laws and regulations
- Health insurance inclusions and what is covered
- Travel insurance — what happens if your pram, suitcase or baby car seat is damaged, lost or stolen?
- Quality of the water
- Quality and availability of food
- Availability of formula and/or baby food
- Kitchen facilities
- Sleeping facilities — cot, what sort, etc.
- Ease of access with a pram
- Baby facilities — kiddy pool, a play area, babysitters, etc.
- Baby bathing facilities (suitable tub, suitable water, etc.)
- Level of medical care
- Major health risks in the area
- Required vaccinations (and suitability for babies)
- Medication that should be bought ahead of time (baby paracetamol, allergy medication, etc.)
- Best emergency clinic or hospital in the area
- Route and driving instructions to the closest top-quality clinic or hospital from your hotel
7. Recreational activities
- Suitability for babies
- Clothing requirements
- Additional safety items — baby sunscreen, baby-friendly mosquito spray, mosquito nets, etc.
- Local customs
- Availability of baby products
- Language — find out the most common phrases plus any baby-related phrases you might need
- Local dangers — dangerous plants or animals, common shams, etc.
- Baby stores — where can you buy anything you forgot or may need?
- Store operating hours
Once you've done all of the reading, have familiarised yourself with your destination and stocked up on swimming nappies, baby paracetamol and whatever else you may need, you'll be ready to move onto the next step.
Step 2: Packing
Packing for a trip with a baby is in a whole new packing league — in a whole new packing universe, actually. You spend hours arranging and rearranging baby items. Then, just when you think you've got all of your bases covered, your bag doesn't make it to your destination.
There's not much you can do about wayward luggage, but you can be prepared for it and other emergency situations:
- Split your stuff — make sure each bag that you're taking has at least two days' worth of nappies, nappy wipes, nappy cream, formula/food (if you're taking it), necessary medication and baby outfits, as well as your and any other travel companion's necessities. That way, if one of the bags does go missing, you won't be left naked and your baby nappy-less.
- Have enough nappies — always pack more nappies than you think you'll need into your onboard luggage. Throw a couple of outfits in for funsies. The second you think you're safe, your baby will have a poo explosion and you do not want to be stuck on a long flight without options.
- Pack extras — pack light for you, but pack extras for the baby. It's always better to be left with an unused onesie than to have to scrub a dirty one in your hotel bathroom.
- Make lists — write long and detailed lists, with subheadings like "clothing," "bathing" and "food" before you start packing and check them off as you go.
- Pack early — you'll enter a space-time continuum when you pack for the baby. Whole days and months will pass as you try to account for everything and squeeze it into a suitcase. It takes a long time, so give yourself plenty of it.
- Pack a cardigan — occasionally somebody sets the airport or plane air conditioning to "Antarctica." Put a cardigan or blanket for your baby in the onboard luggage, even if you are travelling to a warm destination.
- Pack toys — babies have short attention spans. Bring as many things as you can onto the plane to use in your hour of need (i.e. during a meltdown).
- Baby products — if you plan on doing laundry or washing bottles while on holidays, don't forget to pack the baby dishwashing and washing liquid. Just pour a bit into travel toiletry bottles for safe transport.
- Minimise — if you can, minimise on bulky things. For example, when we went to Thailand with our 5-month-old, we bought a car seat that clipped into our pram frame and took it instead of the regular pram seat. It meant that we could go straight from the airport into a taxi without worrying about boot space or safety.
- Emergency kit — there is always a small chance something will go wrong. Always have all of your and your baby's medical details (such as blood type, allergies, statistics and so on) and emergency supplies on-hand.
With your bags packed and your sanity still intact, it's time to move onto the final step.
Step 3: Travelling
Eeesh. This is the hard bit. No matter how well you plan, there is still a chance your baby will scream for four hours nonstop and you won't be able to do anything. Of course, there are some precautionary measures you can take to make your trip more pleasant:
- Well-rested baby — make sure to the best of your ability that your baby has slept as much as possible before the trip. A well-rested baby makes a happy and, hopefully, sleepy baby.
- Baby wear — if you can, a baby carrier or wrap is an ideal way to breeze through the airport. It leaves both of your hands free, your baby feeling secure and cradled, and some airports won't even require you to take the carrier off when going through security.
- Speed through — having a baby usually gives you a few additional privileges. If you know where to go, you can usually skip the regular gate security check lines and board the plane before other passengers. Ask the check-in or airport staff about the easiest way to get to your gate.
- Gate-check the pram — most airlines will allow you to take your pram almost to the very entrance of the plane. If you take the baby in a pram, take advantage!
- Organise a bulkhead bassinet seat — this will save your bacon. If you haven't bought an extra seat for your baby (something you won't be required to do until they're 2 years old), the next-best option is a bulkhead seat for two good reasons: leg room, which is actually baby and baby-stuff room, and a plane bassinet, which is a little pod of happiness that can be attached to the bulkhead and used to keep your baby between takeoff and landing. For additional privacy, ask for a window bulkhead seat as it'll make it a lot easier to breastfeed without flashing the entire plane.
- Feed or pacify — the pressure at takeoff and landing can be hard on little baby ears and babies don't know how to yawn, swallow or chew gum to normalise it. You can help by breast or formula-feeding your baby and offering them a dummy.
- Make friends — Murphy's law says that your baby will probably cry at some point. If you make friends with your fellow passengers and the cabin crew, they're likely to be far kinder and more forgiving when that time strikes. Some parents even prepare little baby plane kits with earplugs, a treat and a note introducing the baby and asking for forgiveness.
- Scope out the plane — there is very little in this world that is as aggravating as squeezing into a tiny aeroplane toilet with a dirty baby and being unable to locate the changing table. Those things are folded away and camouflaged so well, Sherlock Holmes would have a hard time uncovering them. So, before necessity calls, take a stroll to the toilet cubicle and suss out the facilities.
- Water, formula and milk — there are exemptions for breast milk, formula, water, baby food and baby medicine, meaning you can take them through security. Read up on what your airport and airline will allow.
- Plane baby seat belts — during takeoff, landing and turbulence, most airlines will require you to strap your baby onto your lap using a baby seat belt (unless, of course, you've purchased a separate seat). Ask a crew member to help you use this correctly ahead of time.
- Pram collection — items that have been gate-checked don't always come out on the luggage carousel. If you're not sure where to look for them, ask airline or airport staff.
More on travelling with a family
Travelling with a new baby
5 Games to play with your child on an aeroplane
Should you use a car seat when flying with young children?