If you've ever been trapped on a plane with a mewling and puking infant (yes, that's this week's Shakespeare nod), you may have concluded that babies and travel go together as successfully as as happily as Montagues and Capulets.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Although personally deficient in the child-rearing department, I've gathered some sage advice guaranteed to make your trip run smoother than a baby's … well I think you know where that one's going.
Author Shelly Rivoli (travelswithbaby.com) is a font of wisdom when it comes to that first, potentially fraught, vacation. She says preparations need to start way before check-in.
"It sounds a little absurd, but taking your baby to movie theatres is very good practice – especially when you're sitting beside people who may be about as happy to see you as some passengers on the aircraft will be," says Rivoli. "It's great practice for soothing, entertaining and nursing or bottle-feeding in a plane-like situation."
Once you've endured your fill of dirty looks, it'll be time to book. "Contact the airline if you're planning to fly with the baby on your lap or if you hope to use a car seat onboard. Some airlines offer extra amenities – including bassinets – but these must be requested in advance."
With a bulging carry-on bag – think travel-compliant remedy bottles, breast milk and formula, jarred baby food and hand wipes – the biggest challenge, once seated, is the fear of a long-haul scream-fest. The trick, says Rivoli, is to stay calm.
"Everyone says the most important thing for babies is to help their ears adjust. Obviously that's important, but it usually happens quite naturally. A bigger problem can be parents' anxiety about whether their baby will cry. Babies are very sensitive and easily pick up on our stress levels. Remain calm and confident and you may help your baby do the same."
In fact, understanding this sensitivity is key to a less-turbulent flight. "From four months on, babies have a heightened awareness that makes it difficult for them to settle, snooze or eat until they've adjusted to their surroundings," says Rivoli.
"Bring your baby onboard well-rested and well-fed. Instead of waiting until the plane takes off to give her that bottle – when she's possibly too hungry or too stimulated to feed – provide a teething toy or pacifier to get her jaw moving. This will help her ears adjust while she takes it all in."
The flight, of course, is just the start. Vancouver-based baby travel blogger Nicole Wears (tipsforbabytravel.com) has several handy tips for stress-free trips beyond the terminal.
"Jet lag can be very difficult for children, so keep your first days free. If we're travelling internationally, we like to stay the first night at the airport, saving us the hassle of finding our hotel: we get off our flight and within minutes we're relaxing in our room," she says.
Aside from strollers, car seats, baby carriers and preferred toys, what other essentials are required in your baby-friendly room? "We always have favourite foods – including snacks for travel days – plus a small container of dish soap. It's handy for cleaning cups, spoons and bowls when preparing baby food."
And then there's the iPad. "We always travel with it. It's loaded with white noise – we like to use crashing waves. It helps our son sleep by drowning out background noises and allowing us to move around the room freely."
The secret to success, says Wears – who counts Maui and European train jaunts among her best infant-friendly trips – is pacing yourself. "Slow and steady travel with a baby is best. We plan half the activities we would do without kids and we aim for one activity a day. That way we can add activities if we're up to it."
OUR READERS WRITE
- Two words: baby sling. @BarbAdamski
- Bring a change of clothes … for you. Little did I know I would need it until I arrived in Heathrow covered in baby puke. @sonyahwang
- Buy a pack of ear plugs and half-jokingly offer them around to your fellow flyers. They will love you! @LisaKadane
- Travelling with baby? One good soother … and two parents! Solo U.K. travel with my son years ago left me exhausted. @YouTravel
- Just relax and enjoy, parent stress = baby stress. Just breathe and be flexible. @orbintuitive
- Treat the plane like your condo – have EVERYTHING. And set yourself up in the destination – don’t move around a bunch. Don’t panic. I’ve come to the conclusion that travel with children is pretty much travel as usual, if you let it be. @reidontravel
- Bring lots of patience. And also diapers. And formula if you’re using it. Having to switch formulas mid-trip could be bad. @iamTheMaritimer
- Travel before they’re walking, it’s easier! @PWBaugh
- On the plane make sure you have a change of clothes for baby and parents! @AmanadaJLK
- My tip? Don’t take the baby? @SnarkySteff
- When boarding a flight ensure that you have something to drink and/or at least a banana with you to give your child at take-off time. When the pressurization of the cabin gets started, it hurts the little ones in the ears and therefore they scream! I’m always surprised that the cabin stuff does not alert the travelling parents. Heidi Rust
- You’re usually allowed two additional oversized pieces of luggage for your kid. (Car seat/stroller etc.) – check with your airline! Also if you book aisle and window seats, sometimes you luck out with the whole row to make your baby comfortable. Oh, and nursing during takeoff and landing helps calm infants and equalize pressure on their ears! @smallandhungry
- CALM – avoid over-stimulation: “Baby are you excited? Going on a jet? Yes you are.” Also take snacks and shiny new toys! @ItsHeMom
- Wait to feed them until the plane has taken off. Helps their ears adjust to the change in air pressure. @margbryant
- Go with an airline that can guarantee a bulkhead with a bassinet, some accept requests but don’t fulfill them. @jurassicjay
Send your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.