Susan traveled around the world for 14 months before having kids and thought she had “sowed” her travel oats. Not so!
A familiar tale …
When Susan emailed me to share that she had just returned from a trip to Tanzania, Africa with an 8-month-old, I had to get the scoop given my recent trip to East Africa. This is an awfully big and complicated trip with a baby. I’m far removed from this stage, but vividly remember all the stress that goes along with traveling with a baby for long distances!
Flying with a baby is work. Our readers with babies need and want fresh perspective from a parent who has just been there. Meet Susan! She shares essential, must-read tips for anyone taking an international adventure with a baby-in-tow.
This was our first international trip with our son and it was a big one. We traveled from Seattle, WA all the way to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania with a layover in Amsterdam. Two 10-hour flights and a 3-hour layover. Friends thought we were crazy. Maybe we were. But we made it and had a great flight and trip!
Here are the most impactful and important things I learned from our experience that made our travel much more manageable.
Confirm, confirm, and reconfirm seats
Did I already say confirm your confirmation and then reconfirm? Yes, that was pretty much how many times I had to confirm that I had a bulkhead seat on our flight from Seattle to Amsterdam to Dar Es Salaam and the airline still managed to screw it up. But at least it was in the system and that counts for something right?
So lesson number one is to make sure you have a bulkhead seat. This is critical for two reasons. If you have an infant (the bassinet is based on height/weight restrictions), you want to have the baby bassinet at your disposal. Most international flights with larger planes will have these. Even if you don’t think your infant will sleep in the bassinet, it’s nice just to store stuff in it.
For babies older than 8 months, it’s just nice to have the bulkhead for the extra space and it’s easier to change their diaper and for you to get on the ground and play with them.
Follow your routine
Since this was our first international trip, I was nervous and unsure how to handle my son’s routine. He is not a good napper and had just begun to sleep through the night, so I was not thrilled about disrupting his newly-established sleep schedule.
From the very first flight, we decided to pretend like we were at home … except we were on a plane. He would play for 3 hours, eat, get a diaper change, and then we would strap him into our baby Ergo until he fell asleep. Sometimes we were able to transfer him to the bassinet and other times, we just kept him in the Ergo and sat uncomfortably for an hour.
Not ideal, but it was better than having a fussy baby. Then we would repeat. We did this for 24 hours. By the time we arrived in Dar (at midnight) our son was tired but not exhausted and we were actually able to go right to sleep that night. I believe our rhythm probably helped shorten his jet lag.
Think through potentially stressful scenarios
I’m a details person, although most people classify me as laid back and easy going. With a baby, details make the difference between a great experience and miserable one. The moment you are likely to be the most stressed out is also the same moment you will be thankful that you thought through the scenario already and planned accordingly.
For example, I decided that for our 24 hours of flying, I was going to pre-measure all of my son’s formula and put them in separate containers and/or bottles. This meant that when my son was hungry, I wasn’t trying to juggle a large container of formula, measuring cup, and bottle without spilling.
I purchased bottled water at the airport before boarding the plane. Although I knew the plane offered water, I didn’t want to wait around for a flight attendant to get me water with a fussy child.
Have a security strategy
My husband and I have a plan that is as rehearsed as Swan Lake. Security tends to be one of the most stressful parts of a trip for me and you typically have to do it multiple times. On our trip, we had to carry on all of our son’s formula since we were going to a location where this formula was not replaceable and I was not willing to risk lost luggage.
We had 4 wheelies, 2 backpacks, and 1 purse. That’s a lot of luggage. Plus we had the baby! Our strategy was that I would put through the first few pieces of luggage (that do not have valuables) that can sit at the end of the conveyor belt on the other side without worrying about it. Then I go through with the baby as my husband unpacks our electronic gear (usually a lap top – or two), and shoves through any of the larger items (like a stroller).
Meanwhile, I’m on the other side corralling all the items and keeping an eye on them as they come through and my husband brings up the rear and finishes putting all the things we had to take out back into their appropriate places.
Research arrival requirements
You don’t want to be delayed on arrival with your exhausted family. Research whether or not you need a visa, the cost of the visa, and then make sure you have the exact amount in US Dollars. We found that we were able to pay for every single one of our visas with US Dollars.
If you can get the visa ahead of time, do it. That was the one thing we didn’t do and wished we had. We ended up having to fill out paperwork and stand in line waiting for our visa to be processed at midnight after flying for 24 hours. It was not ideal.
Also research transportation to your accommodations and have a plan for how you will get there. The Lonely Planet is great for researching this; these guides tell you what ground transportation is available from the airport and may even provide estimated costs of a taxi to the city center.
Location, location, location
It’s the mantra for purchasing real estate and just as important when you’re traveling with children. The key is to stay in a central location, close to the sites or at least close to good public transportation.
You want to be in an area where there are already things to do, restaurants to go to, and distractions. If you’re traveling with children who still need to nap, the last thing you want is to be a half-hour taxi ride from your hotel to save a few dollars.
One of our favorites sites is VRBO. We’ve found centrally located apartments for less than half the cost of a hotel in the same area. This gives you the added benefit of having a room for the baby, a kitchen, and a living space to unwind in the middle of the day.
At the end of the day though, having the right attitude and being flexible is what will be the difference between having a great trip and one filled with anxiety. Rolling with the punches allows you to adjust and make decisions quickly on what is best for your family and have the trip of a lifetime.