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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Traveling with the baby...


Having a baby changes everything. I knew that...but flashing back to my trip to St. Louis last year reconfirms it. I was flying back to St. Louis for a weekend Fundraising Summit for the American Cancer Society. We had the focus groups for two days, and a day and a half of wrap up. I flew out on Thursday with plans to fly home on Sunday afternoon.

At six months pregnant, I flew with one backpack. Relay clothing, pajamas, camera, training materials, and magazines. Carried on so I wouldn't lose anything or need to wait at the baggage claim.

Sunday morning as the training was ending, when I was getting ready to head out to airport to fly home, I got the call that my grandpa had gone into the emergency room. Seven hours after getting that call, I had driven to Des Moines in a rented car and made the 5 1/2 hour drive to the hospital. I spent the next few days in Iowa with the fam, living out of that same backpack, flying home a week after I left.

The days of traveling out of a backpack are over.

It's not harder than it was before, it's just different. A new normal. But an important new normal, because I love new places and adventures...and I want that for Thomas. When he received his wings (above, which made a nice chew toy for him) from the Alaska pilot, he had visited 14% of our nation's states. By the end of the year, he should have one or two more under his belt - perhaps Utah or Hawaii.

We've logged a lot of car miles (15K in the womb, another 12K outside the womb), a number of flights, and a boat ride or two. The lessons I've learned in traveling with an under-one-year-old?
  • Be flexible.
    Know that things rarely go as planned. Inevitably, your child will have a blowout as the plane is taking off (true story) and you are trapped by two competing beverage carts - neither of whom can let you out. Regardless, there is no room in the airplane bathroom to change him anyway. Decide to perform your Fastest Ever Diaper Change. You have no idea how well you can perform until under pressure like that! I do believe that I may have said, "We have to change him as fast as humanly possible. Once this crap hits the fan of the airplane, we will be "those people" who changed their baby on an empty seat in the middle of the plane."
  • Remember that not everyone is paying attention to the baby.
    This is helpful when you think that all eyes are on whatever is going wrong, or all ears are tuned into the crying. Granted, those immediately around you may be paying attention (and often remembering how they've been there too), but a few rows away, the crying baby blends in with the other airplane noise.
  • Planning ahead is key.
    For toys, I only bring on the plane things that I can tether, leash, or hook to something on a seat, Thomas, or me. That saves the problem of chasing down lost toys underneath the chairs and dealing with the germs on the airplane floor. Big fun toys go in his suitcase, the smaller "busy" hookable ones go in the carry on. I bring a ziploc bag of Huggies Cucumber and Aloe wipes (which are good for me too, if I get spit up on) and a ziploc bag of Clorox disinfecting wipes (because you never know where you'll end up changing the wee one). I also include one big gallon bag of a wipe, diaper, and fresh onesie in case he destroys his earlier outfit. These don't take up that much room in the bag, and if I need to change him quickly, grabbing that bag is a lifesaver.
  • Start a master packing list.
    What to bring for him, for me, for Jonathan. I love lists. It helps me stay sane, and prevents the results of my first flights with Thomas - where he had 3 outfits for every day, and I remembered to pack 3 outfits for me for the whole trip. Ooops. For diapers - I usually pack a few extra diapers in the carry on, and bring a pack of diapers in my suitcase. Before they are taken out of the package, they are compact and pack very well.
  • Wear your baby.
    It is a lifesaver. I wear Thomas pretty frequently in a sling, so to him, it's almost like another trip to Costco. He's content by me, and doesn't panic when the scenery is different. It's also awesome when you are flying without another adult with you to watch the baby when you have to use the restroom. I wear him right through security all the way onto the plane. When we take off, I roll up his sling and use it as a pillow for him when he nurses and then sleeps. It allows him to stay in relatively little clothing (usually a onesie or playtime outfit - simple and easy to get in and out of) because of the warmth of being close.
  • Feed the babe on the way up and down.
    I didn't realize how easily this alleviates the popping of the ears. It's not like Thomas is ready to chew gum to pop his ears...so nursing or giving a bottle is a godsend. Even sucking on a pacifier is better than nothing. I don't give him much to eat right before the flight, so he's ready to eat and he normally crashes right afterward.
  • Realize that TSA agents are only human.
    It has been my experience that there is very little rhyme or reason as to how they handle issues with babies. The less-knowledgable agents have lectured me on baby-wearing (while testing everything I own for explosives), told me that I couldn't carry on pumped breast milk without a baby in tow (um, hello? If he was with me, I wouldn't have a half dozen full bottles!), or made me taste the milk to make sure it's really milk. If you will be traveling with pumped milk, formula, or juice, I would recommend bringing a copy of this TSA release along with you. Great TSA agents test for milk/formula by holding a small, special tab over the liquid, absorbing its vapors, and testing that. Declare what you have with you (pumped milk, baby food, breast pump, etc) and let them decide what to do. With the same items, at the same checkpoint at Seattle, I have been fully stopped for explosives with everything unpacked and scanned, and I have also been waved through. I am not sure which one makes me feel better as a traveler. :)
  • If you make your baby food, freeze it ahead of time.
    I make the food, freeze it in Ziploc quart size bags, and it travels well. By the time you reach your destination, it's still partially frozen and is in great shape. When the food is consumed, you can toss the bag afterwards. I bring just a few small take & toss containers with a spoon and bib. For the flight down, if I need to feed him, I include just a cube or two of food in a take & toss container. The cube defrosts quicker than the flat bags and it's the perfect portion for a small meal.
  • Check your car seat at the gate.
    I don't check it with my checked baggage because I want to know it makes it to our destination. When I run it through security, I place it face down on the belt so it goes through easily. When I reach the gate, I ask for a gate check claim check which allows me to leave the car seat right before I get on the plane. It's at the new jetway when I arrive. If there is an extra seat next to me, I might bring the car seat on board so he can chill in it. It really depends on how long the flight is, and if the extra seat is available.
  • Accept help when offered.
    Especially when traveling by yourself with the babe, accept offers for opened doors, to help with bags up and down and off baggage returns, for little or big things. People can be very gracious, especially if they've been there before. :)
  • Try to keep your routines no matter where you are.
    I try to keep Thomas's bedtime routine the same no matter where we are - dinner, bath, story, prayers, nurse, sleep. Similar routines, though in different spots, help keep a semblance of normalcy. Same thing with naps - the overtired child can sprout horns quicker than you can imagine! Sometimes it's best to take a break from things and give the wee one a bit of downtime on his own.
  • Enjoy the change.
    From new scenery to new experiences, there are all kinds of new things to try and do. It only lasts a short time, so take advantage of the time. When we were in Chelan, I loved the time that Jonathan had with Thomas where they could just hang out together and I could sit in the sun. When Thomas was two months old and we headed to Iowa for the first time, I loved having Mom with me. I hadn't had a 'real break' from newborn 'maintenance' since he left the hospital...and it was awesome. She got up early with him and I could sleep in for the first time in months. Everyone had a great time.
  • And last, remember that this, too, shall pass.
    After our flights home from Tucson, with my champion flyer, he finally broke down on the car ride home. I still had an hour and ten minutes left to drive, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs. At that point, it was time to turn the music up, sing along, and get him home!

I would love to know what tips for traveling you might have as he gets more mobile and walking around.

What should I expect in the year ahead?

1 comment:

CFCina said...

Enjoy "wearing" him while you can. Also enjoy his flights while he's still FREE. It's great when they are able to walk on their own, but oh baby, NOTHING is safe once that happens.

Our biggest success to the trip to HI last year was bringing new activity books on the plane and then bringing out the portable DVD player with her then favorite show, Signing Time....it bought us over 2 hours of peace, she slept the rest of the flight, it was GREAT! They really do "sense" when you are stressed, so Victor & I just went with the flow and surprisingly had two great 5.5 hour flights to and from Hawaii!

You guys are doing an AWESOME job with Mr. Thomas...going thru all these travel adventures while he is really young is the best way to learn first hand...makes our kid-free flights seem so so EASY....

Have a great weekend!

~ Kathy

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