As I approach my now third international trip with Hudson, my eleven month old son, I can't help but find myself staring blankly at the empty suitcases waiting to be packed, alongside the plethora of ‘baby tools’ lined up to be strategically placed in the travel baby bag.
It feels like only yesterday I was embracing my first ever solo mission, moving my entire life from New York back home to the UK back in Dec 2019. Talk about jumping in at the deep end. Travelling alone internationally with a four month old baby, a dog, three oversized and overweight suitcases, a travel baby bag, and a carry-on, I can now say, having made it through the biggest journey of a lifetime, I feel like a travel professional!
As a new parent, and a single mom, the thought of travelling still seems to crank up that already overwhelming feeling of anxiety. However, what I have found, is that with each stage your baby is at, there are tips and tools to make travelling as smooth as a flight without turbulence.
Ok, let’s get ready
Plan ahead and RELAX! Getting ready to leave the house on a daily basis already feels like being stuck in traffic trying to get from A to B. What should take 10 minutes, typically ends up taking us an hour. Pre-planning and packing has helped me when travelling tremendously. Giving myself the extra time to assess and reassess what I will need, quite literally takes the pressure off. Making a packing list was also essential to make sure I didn’t miss anything!
What NOT to pack
The first international trip I took with Hudson was when he was just four months old. I packed an entire suitcase dedicated to Hudson's baby gear as if there had been an apocalypse, and that no other country would have what I needed. This, I can tell you, is not the case!
Plan ahead and research nearby stores to your hotel/home so that you can purchase everything you need when you get there! There is no point stuffing a jumbo pack of nappies into your already overflowing case!
If you are travelling to see family, call ahead and ask them to pick up essentials such as nappies, creams, wipes etc.
Carry on essentials
Exactly what is says in the title; ESSENTIALS. Whether you are taking a two hour trip, or an 11 hour international flight, pack what you would typically pack in your baby bag for that duration. A few nappies, wipes, a change of clothes, Elvie Pump, snacks, a couple of toys. There is only a certain amount of room one has in their seat, this space should be utilised for you and baby.
Find out what you can check-in vs carry-on (see official links below). Contact your airline ahead of time to ask about their policies for checking-in strollers and car seats, how much extra baby-related baggage you're allowed and what you’ll be able to take with you on the plane (as in, will that bulging diaper bag count as a carry on)? Knowing the rules makes figuring out what to bring when flying with a baby all the easier.
Getting from check in to your seat
An absolute must have essential that I will not travel without is a baby carrier! Whether you are going through security, or baby is getting irritated in the stroller, your baby carrier will become your best friend. On my first travel experience, I was blissfully unaware that my stroller would have to go through the x-ray machines at the security check, leaving me with a wriggly baby to contain alongside my carry-on luggage AND baby bag. Bringing a baby carrier also gives you the option to either gate check your stroller, or check it in with the rest of your luggage.
For those moments when you need your hands free the baby carrier is a life saver!
How to keep your baby entertained
Nowadays, majority of airlines have great on-board entertainment for kids, however I typically pack some baby travel toys such as finger puppets, a soft book, and Hudson's favourite toy remote control, however I try to keep these to a minimum to save that much needed space in the hand luggage.
How to breastfeed/pump on board
Firstly, I would like to reassure you that no one is going to stare at you as you discreetly nuzzle baby and feed. I was always a little conscious of feeding on the plane, however, the more I do it, the more I realise that there was nothing to be afraid of, if anything it is encouraged and supported. Breastfeeding on flights work a dream with Hudson. It’s soothing, provides comfort, and will always settle a fussy baby.
Another great go-to tip is to feed baby during take-off and landing. The changes in cabin pressure can bother those little ears, so it's a good idea to feed your baby during the ascent and descent. This forces them to swallow and helps keep the ears open! Keep in mind, you’ll want to offer baby a feed before the final descent. Pressure change is most noticeable once the plane begins its initial descent, as much as half an hour or more before landing.
If it is not feeding time, then I highly recommend using your Elvie Pump! Due to cabin pressure changes, your breasts have a higher risk of engorgement. This I know all too well. What is so fantastic about the Elvie Pump is that being hands-free and discreet, you are able to pump in the comfort of your seat, all whilst making sure your little one is happy. With it being so perfectly compact, and there being no need for wires or an external pumping device, the Elvie Pump can neatly fit into your travel baby bag without taking up too much space! Make sure your pump is fully charged and you carry the USB charging cable with you on long haul flights. Remember breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to 4 hours or can be carried in a cool bag with icepacks for up to 24 hours.
Naps & sleep and time zone differences
Book your flight around your little ones nap or bedtime! This has been the best tip I have ever received, and am passing the torch over to you. By travelling at these times, you are guaranteed an extra hour or two of quiet stress-free time. I tend to travel around Hudson's bedtime, so that when he wakes, it is the start of a brand new day and is easier to acclimate to any time zone differences.
Tears & tantrums
Luckily the noise of the plane mostly drowns out the cries of an upset baby. I have been incredibly lucky that by sticking to all of the above, I have reduced any possible moments of irritability to a minimum. This, however, has not meant I haven’t experienced a crying spell or too.
In the USA, some parents board a plane pre-gamed with goody bags for their nearest companions should a tantrum happen. Personally, I think that this is a little extreme however quite endearing at the same time. As long as you stay calm, then what's the worst that can happen? I typically find myself reverting back to the old ‘Troubleshooting’ method. I check to see if he is hungry, tired, got wind, or now he is a little older, just a bit bored. I learnt fairly quickly along the way, that with a slightly older baby, a trick to get them to calm down is the fine art of distraction. Pull your phone out, sing their favourite song, go for a walk up and down the aircraft and make light of the situation. The more you stress, the more they do, too.
Safe travels, and remember you can do this!
Here are some useful official resources for both the UK and US to help you when packing/making your to-do list:
UK Government Hand Luggage Guidelines
US Transportation Security Administration Liquids Rule
US Transportation Security Administration Security Guidelines