After welcoming a new baby into their lives, many parents are tempted to say goodbye to the idea of traveling outside, say, a four-mile radius of home — not to mention a several-hour trip to grandma’s. If it’s this exhausting to care for a baby in their own home, they think, how in the world can it be accomplished in a cramped car or — God forbid — in an airplane?
But if traveling is a part of your life, there’s no reason to put it off once baby arrives. I should know: My 4-year-old, Lucy, has logged enough frequent-flyer miles to earn two free tickets, accompanying me on trips since she was 8 weeks old.
Apparently, Lucy’s not the only seasoned young traveler. “Children who travel from infancy learn to be at ease with airplanes, time changes and new environments,” says Theresa Detchemendy, president of Rascals in Paradise, a San Francisco travel agency specializing in family trips.
Still, there are tips to making family travel as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.
Diaper changing may be your biggest challenge on board an airplane. Although planes on most international and transcontinental routes have changing tables in the lavatories, on shorter flights you’ll face diaper changing at your seat or on your lap in the bathroom.
Regardless of how impossible it sounds, it is doable. But be sure to bring lots of diapers and wipes, as well as a change of baby clothes in case of emergency. Erin Harding of Boulder, Colo., had to buy a Chicago Bulls sweat suit for 18-month-old Joe at O’Hare International after a messy blowout.
Keeping toddlers entertained also can be a challenge. Betsy Keller of Greenwich, Conn., buys inexpensive plastic toys for 22-month-old Ryan so he’ll have something new to play with that she doesn’t care about losing. Children’s magazines, such as Sesame Street and Ladybug, are also good entertainment for older kids. Along with toys, pack plenty of snacks and juice. Most airlines offer children’s meals that can be ordered in advance, but you’ll want back-ups. Nurse your baby or offer a bottle during takeoff and landing to alleviate pressure on the ears.
A couple traveling with a lap child should reserve an aisle and window seat and hope the middle seat stays open. (Be sure to alert the gate crew on check-in that you’re traveling with a baby.) Bring your car seat on board in case you do find an open seat — your baby is safer in it than on your lap. If the plane is crowded, you can always check the car seat at the gate.
Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee a space for a car seat is to purchase a seat, but some airlines do offer a discount for children under the age of 2 to encourage this. (You’ll probably pay full fare for children ages 2 and older, but be sure to ask about any special discounts or “kids-fly-free” promotions when you book your flight.) Although some people swear by getting seats next to the bulkhead, keep in mind that the armrests don’t flip up, so you won’t be able to lay a toddler down on your lap.
On long flights, although it’s harder on you, consider taking the red-eye. Put your children in pajamas, give them their favorite “snugly,” and, chances are, they’ll sleep. Harding uses the “parrot principle,” draping a blanket over the seat to shut out noise and light.
Don’t try to pack too much — borrow, rent or make do wherever you can. But be sure to bring along those essential “loveys.” Susan Sheerin’s son Will, 10 months, has a lamb’s-wool rug that he has slept on since the day he was born, and when she took him on a recent business trip away from home in Boulder, Colo., to New York, it came along to create his own personal comfort zone.