My husband and I took our (then) eight-week-old son on his first flight for a so-called 'vacation' to Florida; Fast-forward six months and he's been airborne 11 times. Now, as mom to a one-year-old and step-mom to a 10-year-old I am far from a parenting expert. But what I am an expert in is flying with kids. Here's how we survived so many excursions with a baby:
It seems impossible and perhaps cliché, but less is more. On my first flight with my son I looked like a pack mule hauling everything I might possibly need through the airport. Bad move. In hindsight, it's all about packing only the in-flight essentials. Airplanes are notorious for their tight quarters and when you add a baby to your lap, toys, books, blankets, bottles and (possibly) breast-feeding, every inch of space counts.
(2) Invest in the right diaper bag.
Acquiring the right bag for travel might mean buying something specifically for flights. For us, it took trial and error (and four different bags) but I finally found my ideal bag for flights (The Fisher-Price Fast Finder) (for more tips on shopping for a travel diaper bag visit my website: www.familytravelguide.ca). Look for lots of exterior pockets so you can easily reach down under the seat and access key items. We keep antibacterial wipes, baby snacks, a bottle and teething toys readily available in outer pockets. You also want to consider fabric -- since you'll be scanning, swiping, x-raying, cabbing, storing and on-the-flooring your bag you are going to want to wipe it down. Make sure you can give 'er a good clean.
(3) Make a schedule.
Similar to how I survive each day at home, schedules help with sanity. If your flight is four hours, for example, know ahead of time how you hope to pass the time. If not, you will be staring at your watch as time drags on (and in the air it seems to move much slower than on land). I break the time up into 20-minute intervals for the first and last hour (take-off and landing) and 30 minute chunks for the remainder. And be realistic -- babies rarely nap when you want them too so don't count on it.
SAMPLE 3-hour itinerary:
20 min - Explore seat (after thoroughly wiping down everything)
20 min - Take-off (feed, hold in lap)
20 min - open/play with new toy(s)
30 min - books
30 min - snacks
30 min - colour/crafts/eat crayons
20 min - books
20 min - new toy
20 min - landing (feed)
**if you divert from the above plan -- no biggie. It is just there for peace of mind.
(4) Make friends.
When your baby starts to fuss or squeal (despite how cute you think the sounds are, no one else does) you'll want allies. Parenting expert Alyson Schafer talked me through this one: "when you first get to your seat," advises Schafer, "smile and crack a joke about how lucky everyone is to be near an infant." Self-deprication can lead to sympathy when you need it. I've had to ask someone to hold my baby while I used the restroom and you'd be surprised at how eager some people are to play with a baby. A change of scenery (away from parents) can also buy you some quiet time as your kid explores new people.
(5) Pack extra essentials.
Delays can happen. So can accidents. During a wicked winter storm my hubby and I were trying to get to New York City with our eight-month-old. Our flights were cancelled and delayed repeatedly for two days until we finally caught a dreaded connecting flight. Needless to say my lack of experience resulted in chasing down another mom begging for spare diapers. Airports and airlines do not carry baby needs. Make sure you have enough (plus multiple back-ups) of items you cannot buy in transit -- special food, diapers, clothes, extra bottles, wipes, baby Tylenol and so on.
(6) Embrace Type B.
Can you tell I'm slightly Type A when it comes to all of this? Sleepless nights plagued the lead up to most of my first trips with my babe. Will he cry mid-air? How will he nap without his crib/routine? What if he takes an in-flight dump? Questions flowed like a river through my mind. My solution: toss Type A instincts out onto the tarmac and embrace Type B. Relax and enjoy the journey.
When all is said and done, you barely even remember the flight aspect of your trip (unless something really funny or stressful happens but then it just makes for a good story down the road). When you think about it, these are the times to travel with your child because it's free. So take advantage of it.
Let me know if you've found fun, creative ways to travel with your kids. Contact me at www.familytravelguide.ca and comment below.
Enjoy the friendly skies
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