I just got back from a fairly whirl-windy visit to the states with my 14 month old and though it wasn't easy, I did find a few ways to to make it as low-key as possible (and made a few mistakes I won't be repeating). While it can be a challenge to navigate all the ups and downs of air travel with a little one, it can be a real joy and special bonding time, too. Here is a breakdown of some what-to-expects and how-to-prepares:
1. Notice the kindness of others
I've never been so impressed by how naturally kind most people are as when I've been traveling alone with my baby. Not only did I get a lot of big softy smiles and coos at my little one snugged up to me in our Boba Carrier, but I got offers left and right for help with everything from my carry on bags to opening my dinner entrée (international flights still serve dinner!) - no kidding. Also, airline staff may likely go out of their way to make it easy on you (like they always have me). When facing the daunting task of flying alone with a baby, knowing you'll get lots of help and people will be especially friendly. Watching for and focusing on the kindness also helps keep my mood high when stress mounts.
2. Move slowly
Take your time with everything, and give yourself extra time for the taking. We had eight legs on our international adventure, and had one near-miss and one missed flight. Both of those came down to leaving little extra wiggle room that ended up being needed for traffic issues. All our other flights went smoothly with ample time booked between (avoid booking flight with tight connections). When a direct flight wasn't available or convenient, I made sure to give us at least an hour between planes. If you fly through one of these several-concoursed mega ports like O'Hare, you'll be glad to no have to run through them when your flight lands just 15 minutes late. Also, it seems to take extra time for parents to get off planes (me included) so don't expect to be able to dash off. I always get to the gate early so I can do one last trip to the bathroom together for us both before boarding. Using airplane lavatories yourself with a baby strapped to you is only so-so in the comfort category, and their changing tables are usually a bit awkward, too. Walking slowly and taking the time to enjoy the surroundings (some airports are prettier than others), and your baby, is worth getting up
3. Pack light (no, really)
Well, duh, right? But come on ladies (and gents)! We tell ourselves this every time, and most of those times we're dreading putting our two-ton bags up on the scale, trying to figure out what we'll pull out if we have to lose some weight. Well, when traveling alone with a baby, any added burden is extra heavy. This is especially true with carry on luggage. I over did it a bit in the carry on department on my trip back to Chile and while on one hand I was pleasantly surprised how lenient airline staff were with me and baby, I regretted that extra tote bag. Opt for a roller bag with non-flight essentials and a well-stocked diaper bag with a few snacks and toys (for you and baby). Any number of nice people will help you with the roller bag, and many flights these days will take volunteers to gate check roller bags. Go for it if it's offered. Just like with our own clothes, we tend to over pack. You'd be surprised how far the "minimum" can go with a baby as well. Aside from a few extra cloth diapers in my big bag, I planned on my roller bag and diaper bag as my baby's luggage, and even that was more than we needed for our month-long trip.
4. Stay connected and playful
Using a good, ergonomically-designed baby carrier really is a must when traveling. Little ones can easily get overwhelmed with the sheer number of new faces, new noises and bustle of airports. Keeping them held close will help them stay stable, feel secure, and communicate with you even if that's a little extra emotion-steadying eye contact. If you nurse, a carrier like the Boba 3G will help you stay mobile while nursing. We used the Boba quick release shoulder strap adjustments A LOT while moving on and off planes - it makes it so easy to nurse anywhere. I was never asked to take my daughter out of the carrier while going through security, and instead of that big scanning puff-air machine, someone simply swiped my hands (I assume to check for explosive residue, right)? Children under 12 don't have to take their shoes off anymore at security checkpoints, so that was helpful.
Getting in a little play time between flights is good, too. I got right down on the airport floor with my freshly-toddling girl between a connecting and final overnight home after we'd been traveling all day by car and plane, and it made a huge difference. She got lots of energy released, we had some sweet fun together (even made a new friend), and she easily fell asleep after boarding.
5. Take advantage of airline and airport options
6. Take good care of yourself
Like in every other area of our lives, it can be easy to forget our own needs when caring for our little ones in intensified situations (or um, every day ones). Remember to drink a lot of water to combat that airplane dryness and if you can, get up and walk a bit on your flight(s) to keep your circulation moving and reduce puffy ankles. Eat light. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Take a few extra caring steps along the way and treat yourself a little. Pop a few of your favorite candies. Pack some uplifting essential oils in your purse (citrus and wood scents are helpful, and also help calm an agitated mind). Splurge on some crazy over-priced coffee drink in the airport. Self care always translates into better care-giving as well. I noticed the more I helped to keep myself calm and happy on our trip, the more relaxed and easy going my girl was.
7. Bring some toys, but don't sweat it
A couple weeks before we left, I stowed away a few of my daughter's more interesting toys so that they'd be new again to her on the trip. I had read that it is helpful to pack at least three never-before-seen toys to help keep your baby entertained. I don't use electronic toys or gadgets with my daughter (yet), so while many traveling-with-children sites talk about DVD players and iPad apps, I kept with some old fashioned nesting toys and dolls - nothing that makes a lot of noise (for the sake of the other passengers) and nothing with too many parts. My daughter enjoyed these a little, but preferred digging in the seat pockets and inquiring into the activities of the passengers next to and around us. Luckily, we mostly had some very engaging neighbors who were more than happy to help entertain.
8. Special considerations