Traveling internationally with a baby can be intimidating. Here at Ciao Bambino, we have a whole team of travel advisors and travel writers who willingly share their advice about how to travel with a baby successfully. Here are the most impactful and important things we’ve learned from our experiences that have made traveling with a baby much more manageable.
Navigating airport security tends to be one of the most stressful parts of family travel, especially when juggling a baby. Make sure you research in advance what you’re allowed to bring through security and what you’ll need to purchase after passing through. Formula, breast milk, and unopened baby food is allowed, but you’ll need to be aware of quantities and how it should be stored or packaged.
This is a great time to fold up the stroller and utilize a baby carrier, so that you still have two hands to load and unload baggage. Security varies from airport to airport and country to country, but parents wearing carriers without metal components are typically allowed to pass through security with their baby.
Bookmark the TSA website before your journey as a helpful resource to get last minute questions answered or to review their checklist of requirements. The rules change frequently, so what was allowed a year ago may no longer be acceptable. We also highly recommend that parents invest in TSA PreCheck and Global Entry to make this part of the travel process a bit easier.
Airlines don’t require children under 2 years of age to have their own seat on the plane, and they can instead be a lap child. However, we always advise that when flying with a baby, you reserve your child their own seat, especially for long flights. Then they can sleep in their car seat, and parents may even manage to catch a bit of sleep, too.
If budget limitations put that out of reach for your family, then we recommend reserving seats in the bulkhead row. This may require paying an additional fee, but we think it’s worth it. On international journeys, this is the row that most planes can accommodate an infant bassinet. 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. Babies older than 8 months likely won’t be able to sleep in the bassinet, but the bulkhead row is still nice to have for the extra space.
Finally, be sure to confirm and reconfirm seating assignments. It never fails that airlines somehow manage to separate parents from young children. On budget airlines, pay the extra fee to be guaranteed seats together. Upon check in at the airport, reconfirm your chosen seating assignments. The bulkhead row is very popular, especially with savvy business travelers who have status on airlines, so triple check you’re still seated there.
Navigating sleep schedules and nap patterns with a baby is challenging enough at home. Throw in the added complications of flights, hotel rooms, jetlag, etc., and this can become intimidating quickly.
As much as possible, pretend like you are at home. If your baby usually follows a 3-hour cycle of play, eating, diaper change, and nap, then attempt to carry that out while on the plane and once at your destination. This predictable rhythm can help shorten jet lag.
Babies are too young to reason with you about when it’s day versus night. But they do respond to daylight and darkness. Be sure to get your baby outside as much as possible during the day upon arrival, and make your accommodation as dark as possible during the evening so that they begin to get on the right cycle of sleep, especially if you’ve traveled a really long distance.
That said, sometimes it’s best to recognize when to lighten up and just go with the flow. If your baby typically naps for 2 hours at home, they may only manage to catch shorter naps during the day while you’re out exploring. Being able to see the attractions you’re traveled so far to see is usually worth a little fussiness.
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, for the plane ride, it’s a good idea to pre-measure all of your baby’s formula and put them in separate containers and/or bottles. This means that when your baby is hungry, you aren’t trying to juggle a large container of formula, measuring cup, and bottle without spilling. You probably don’t do this at home, but it may be worth taking extra steps like this while traveling.
Also, consider purchasing items like bottled water and snacks at the airport before boarding the plane. Even though you can get water on the flight, you may not want to wait for a flight attendant to bring it to you.
Keep comfort items like pacifiers or favorite blankets handy, especially during takeoffs and landings when babies are mostly likely to be uncomfortable or fussy.
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 (either in local currency or U.S. dollars if allowed). If you can get the visa ahead of time, do it. You will not want to spend extra time filling out paperwork and standing in unnecessary lines waiting for visas to be processed after a long plane ride.
Also, arrange private ground transportation to your accommodation ahead of time. Taxi lines can be long and navigating public transportation in a foreign country with luggage and a baby is overwhelming, especially while jetlagged. Knowing you have a safe, reliable way of getting to your hotel will be a huge comfort to you.
It’s the mantra for purchasing real estate and just as important on a family vacation. The key is to stay in a central location, close to the sites, a park, or at least near 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.
Apartment-style hotels are becoming more prevalent in major cities. This gives you the added benefit of having a room for the baby, a kitchen, and a living space to unwind during naps or after early bedtimes. Plus, services like an on-site restaurant or room service, a concierge, etc., is invaluable.
Also, think about which destinations are most baby-friendly. Certain countries, like Italy, love babies and you may be comforted by this family-friendly attitude among the locals. That said, one benefit of having a baby is that they’re too young to have an opinion about where to go on vacation. Any parent of a teenager will tell you that this changes as kids grow older, so take advantage of that flexibility now while you still can!
When you’re out and about exploring your destination with baby in tow, think about what will make life easier for you. A great travel stroller is helpful if your location is relatively stroller-friendly. If not, make good use of your baby carrier and forego the stroller altogether. A diaper bag that is comfortable to wear for long periods of time is also important. Backpack-style bags may be the right way to go, as long as you just store diapers, wipes, and toys and not your valuables in them.
As best you can, try to anticipate what the day ahead will bring. Extra snacks, sunscreen, or a rain cover for your stroller may not be items you use day-to-day at home, but they could be essential on your vacation.
At the end of the day, 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.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.