The baby isn’t happy.
He’s positively gleeful. He’s cooing like mad, climbing up my front and trying to get over the back of the chair to get to the two blondes sitting behind us. And he’s pretty quick too. I can’t grab the baby fast enough as he starts drooling buckets all over the two women. Teething is fun.
The women are delighted, at least.
The guy sitting next to us, not so much.
A madly giggling baby is better than an angry screaming baby, right?
There was a lot I was prepared for on this four-country, seven leg holiday over the course of two months. I’d been reading mommy blogs like mad before the start of the trip, but my ten-month-old already having a well-defined “type”, was not one of those things. (He LOVED Sweden).
That was far from the only thing my husband and I weren’t prepared for on how to travel abroad with a baby either. And then, there was all the useless information I took to heart that honestly shouldn’t have concerned me. Plus, there were all the things I did not pay attention to because #notmykid. With so many flights, we’ve found our mistakes, deliberated on better ways to handle situations, and tested new approaches over and over. Here’s what we’ve learned not to do when you’re travelling with a baby – everything from the myth of taking a toy for each hour to handing out “apology treats” to other passengers.
#1 Don’t take a new toy or book for each hour.
Several travel experts recommend this strategy, but when you’re travelling long-haul, this really isn’t an option. Unless, of course, you’re willing to give up all of your carry-on allowances to your child. My son was perfectly happy playing peek-a-boo with strangers for the majority of our flights. I was not happy to not have any room for my essentials.
#2 Don’t schedule back-to-back flights
You may think, oh, “let’s get it over and done with” and not give yourself tons of time between layovers, but toss that idea right out the window. A baby (and you) can only handle so much. Both of you are going to need a break, especially if at least one of your flights is long-haul. Take an evening or two somewhere nice and enjoy your layover, regroup, and chill.
#3 Don’t be shy
Some of your fellow passengers may seem hostile. It can be hard not to let the paranoia that everyone is going to hate you for bringing the baby onto a plane sink in but stop, give people a chance and have a chat with the person across the aisle (only if they seem open to it). By already having a “relationship”, you’re more likely to find willing Aunties and Uncles to help you mid-flight when you need a break.
#4 Don’t forget your baby carrier
You will never move so much on a flight as you will with a baby. For the ones small enough, definitely strap them into a baby carrier and walk them around the plane. It’ll help them relax and stop your arms from feeling like they’ll drop off. Also, having the father do this is ideal. For some reason, passengers looked much more kindly on my husband when he was trying to console the baby than me. (Now that we’ve been through it, I’ve heard similar father-favouritism stories from plenty of other parents).
#5 Don’t forget snacks!
Depending on what your baby is doing developmentally, bring lots of snacks. Even as a breastfeeding mother, my son demanded food each time we received our in-flight meals. (We think he was feeling left out.) And it was either give him my food and not know how it’d affect him or let him scream.
#6 Don’t check your pram in unprotected
After a seven-hour flight from New York to London, we discovered that our pram had been damaged. It wasn’t anything significant, but it was bad enough to render the pram unusable. It was partially our fault because we had lost the bag we initially packed our pram in and had hoped for the best. (What could possibly go wrong?)
Read also: How to do Bali with a baby
#7 Don’t fly late at night
Great! Plan around sleep and nap times, we thought.
Just don’t. We found that our child was too overstimulated on flights to sleep – so many people to see and meet! So many lights and windows and things to discover!
Instead, he spent all our overnight flights getting more and more exhausted. It brought him to the point where he screamed incessantly for hours when things were boring and after the flights were over.
#8 Don’t be afraid of germs
I know, the floors at airports are disgusting. Thousands of people can walk through a particular spot on any given day, with their dirty shoes and pulling their germ-infested suitcases behind them. But seriously, before getting on a flight, let the little one wander around (if they can). They need to burn off a whole lot of energy before a long-haul flight if you’re going to make it out alive.
Besides, you can use all the disinfectant wipes and gels you want on them later.
#9 Don’t hand out ‘apology treats’ on a plane.
I have heard way too much about “apology treats”, where parents will give other passengers “gifts” as a preemptive apology for their children’s behaviour. This, I’ve found, is pretty useless. We, as a species, fill carry-ons to breaking point these days (why are we too impatient to wait for checked bags?). And apology treats are just another thing that people need to stuff into an overstuffed bag. And trust me, no one needs another pair of dollar store ear-plugs. Nor do you really want to take the risk by giving your fellow passengers food. Only problems arise if people have allergies and special dietary needs.
And, in my opinion, parents shouldn’t have to preemptively apologise for doing their best to keep children happy and alive.
Read also: 8 Trips to Take Before Having A Baby
#10 Don’t forget to be picky with accommodation
Just because an accommodation allows babies, does not mean it is baby-friendly. Babies and stairs/glass tables/pull-out beds do not mix (why a pull-out bed was made for my son in one hotel still befuddles me – thankfully, we brought his own cot). Ask lots of questions before travelling. And make sure you can get all the safety gear you need.
#11 Don’t keep changing accommodation
Babies need stability. Spend more time in one place and don’t constantly change accommodation to a different area because you want a “different experience”. It takes time for infants to get to used to new environments. Constantly introducing them to new locations just means more sleepless nights.
#12 Don’t rely on family for babysitting
I know, everyone is super excited to see the baby. Nights out and free babysitting galore! Or so we thought. Family is family, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know your parenting style. For example, I’m anti-screen time (unless we’re desperate and in-flight), but apparently, my son has now seen those baby shark videos many a time.
Also, if you’re on a family holiday, your family is going to need a break from the baby too. You’re not the only ones being kept awake by those 3 AM screaming fits.
#13 Don’t forget to keep up your at home routine
Don’t. It’s exciting to go out and explore and introduce your baby to new things, but try to stick to your routine as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll somehow end up with a very awake baby at 10 PM – one who needs a good 12 hours of sleep each night, causing you to have to skip the next morning’s activities.
Read also: Plan the Ultimate Babymoon
#14 Don’t forget to give them time to roam
Our kids need time to roam on their own. Something my husband and I didn’t realise initially, was that although our son was getting to experience a lot during our travels, he wasn’t necessarily getting tired out by our activities. Schedule in lots of downtime either at your accommodation or at a safe place nearby. The baby was much happier when we gave him lots of time to do his own thing.
#15 Don’t travel without your own car seat
My son hated everything about using rented car seats. Despite giving rental agencies and car services all the details of my son’s age, height and weight in advance, we inevitably received terrible options. Like the one that had him sitting completely upright when all he wanted to do was sleep or the bassinet seat that was definitely too small.
#16 Don’t not trust your gut
There are lots of people out there who want to give you advice on what is best for your family (HI!), but you know your gang best. Do what you feel is right for them and just keep adjusting until you’ve found the sweet spot.