The thought of international travel with a baby is enough to keep many parents at home. Although nightmare flights do happen, most parents are relieved to discover oftentimes things go better than expected. Meticulous planning is essential. Here are 10 sanity-saving tips from the author of the award-winning guidebook and website Travels with Baby, Shelly Rivoli.
If you’re flying a U.S. carrier, you might be lucky to get water in flight. But many foreign carriers will supply you with helpful items in flight such as baby food, infant formula, toddler snacks, and possibly even packs of diapers and wipes if you contact reservations in advance. You’ll need to notify them in advance, however, and even then, don’t count on this and keep that diaper bag stocked with any supplies you know you’ll need.
While you may assume that flying with an infant overseas entitles you to an airplane bassinet (usually used on the bulkhead row), there’s still a chance it might not work out. There are a limited number of bassinets per airplane, and even with an advanced reservation requesting one, they are assigned on a first-come first-served basis upon check in — and of course only to those with proper seat assignments. Don’t be late. Also, the bassinets are small and best used when for international travel with an infant. Check age requirements in advance.
Aside from the complete lack of privacy for breastfeeding moms, babies over 4 months old, especially, who are more easily distracted and over-stimulated by passersby, galley noise, flashing movies, and other activity may never fall asleep in the bulkhead row. Consider your child’s temperament and distractibility carefully before committing to a very long flight on this row of seats. Also avoid the rows near the restrooms, which often get clogged up with passengers waiting.
If you’ll have a layover between flights, chances are you’ll be quite glad to have your stroller meet you at the gate — rather than checking it all the way through to your final destination. If your child had any trouble sleeping on the airplane, or it’s simply time to snooze, it could be a big help. It may also help you make way through an enormous airport in a timely manner, or eat in a restaurant without high chairs along the way. Many parents like the option of both a stroller and a baby carrier. You can always just use the stroller to help you carry all your baby gear. If you’re traveling with a car seat, a stroller that allows you to snap the car seat in is very convenient.
A surprising number of people — including some travel agents and most new parents — don’t realize that a baby needs more than a passport to fly out of the USA these days. Although, you may have paid a 10% lap child fare for your baby to fly on your lap, and he or she is documented in your reservation and noted in your e-ticket, a lap child must also have a physical, paper ticket for international flights. Be sure to get this before arriving at the airport.
When you travel internationally, you’re in a large enough aircraft to cross the ocean, so there should be at least one changing table on board (generally one is included in all airplanes with three or more lavatories). However, it may not be in the first lavatory you access. To save time wandering around with a not-so-fresh baby in your arms or waiting in line for the wrong one, ask the flight attendants upon boarding or as they make the first pass by your seats.
Of the parents I speak with, painful ear pressure is one of their biggest fears about travel with a baby — and the crying that may go along with it. Most infants’ ears will actually adjust quickly and normally without much to-do, just as yours or mine will, even doing so as they sleep during a descent in most cases. However, since babies can often sense their parents’ anxiety, being nervous about whether or not the ears will be a problem may itself prove a cause for crying. So try to stay as relaxed as possible especially during takeoff and landing. Sucking helps, so this is a great time to pop in a pacifier, bottle, or breastfeed if you sense discomfort.
If your baby is flying in an infant car seat, take full advantage of that sunshade or canopy to help block reading lights and turbulent air vents as they snooze in flight. One more advantage? Think of it as a portable sneeze guard.
Stash travel-size packs of these sanity-savers in the side of your purse or diaper bag and use to wipe down sticky tray tables and arm rests, help clean up after on board baby meals, and when you finish changing that diaper? Let’s just say it’s much easier to clean your hands back at your seats than while juggling a baby in your arms at the sink in the lavatory.
Though it’s always good to keep a positive mental attitude as you travel with a baby, it’s also good to be prepared for the Plan B scenario. Whether it’s over-stimulation, gas, or general crankiness that inspires your baby to perform a vocal solo somewhere over the Atlantic, your neighbors will surely appreciate your attempts to help keep them happy. Think about packing some disposable ear plugs or a sweet treat to offer seatmates, especially on a red eye when everyone is trying to sleep. And don’t forget an extra clothes for both you and baby in case there are any big messes.
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