10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling with an Infant

A new mom. An urge to travel. Find out what lessons Managing Editor Sarika Chawla wished she could have known before flying cross-country twice with a 4-month-old baby.

1. I’m more nervous about my baby crying than you are

Every mother is familiar with the look of panic from passengers as we walk down the aisle carrying an infant. We know what you’re thinking because we thought it too. But here’s a secret: The first six months of parenthood is a never-ending process of “Let’s keep the baby from crying.” We will shush, swaddle, bounce, make up idiotic songs…every moment is spent anticipating what will keep our baby quiet. In a closed environment, that sense of urgency is even stronger. For you, a crying baby means a disrupted snooze. For us, it means spending the next hour doing acrobatics down the aisle to appease the baby while you give us dirty looks. In light of that lesson, parents, it’s OK to take the stress down a notch or you’ll make yourself crazy; other passengers, sorry, but we’re boarding whether you like it or not and we’re doing our best.

2. When in doubt, throw money at the problem

Traveling with an infant is simply cumbersome. On a transcontinental Virgin America with a 4-month-old, I opted for a $129 upgrade to Premium Economy. For that price tag, I got bulkhead seats legroom, premium in-flight entertainment, and unlimited food and drinks (alcohol included). First class offered similar perks, but the $300 price tag for an upgrade was off-putting. (And while the first-class hot meal versus a boxed lunch may sound appealing, you try putting down a tray table while holding an infant in your lap). The same money-throwing philosophy held up when it came to choosing valet service over self parking, and taxis instead of shuttles.

Mommy tip: No matter how much free alcohol is thrown at you, don’t overdo it. Not just because it’s unclassy to be the drunk lady with a baby, but because you’ll have to use the bathroom again…and again…while holding a baby. Same goes for anything with caffeine.

3. Do your research before throwing money at the problem

I thought the paid upgrade was the smartest thing I could have done, so on another trip, when flying MIA-LAX on American Airlines, I did the same thing. Big mistake. Huge. Those so-called preferred seats cost $39 plus a $25

administration fee and it got me a middle seat in row 10. No free food, no additional legroom. Just the comfort of knowing I had a better view of first class.

4. Don’t let common sense fly out the window.

Often when babies scream on planes it’s because they can’t pop their ears in response to the changing altitude. To help them adjust, simply feed them on takeoff and landing. Makes perfect sense, right? I was in such a pre-panic (see above “Keep the baby from crying” mantra) that I began feeding him the moment the plane began moving. You don’t have to be a seasoned traveler to realize that taxiing on the runway is far different than actually leaving the ground. When the captain announces, “We’re fifth in line for takeoff” and there’s no more food to give your overly stuffed baby, that window of opportunity is long gone. Same goes for landing. Just because the pilot has announced the descent, there’s still a good 30 minutes before touching the ground.

5. There’s no such thing as too many antibacterial wipes

I’ll never consider myself a helicopter mom. I grew up rarely washing my hands and I hardly ever get sick. But after months of watching tiny baby hands grasp everything in sight and then go into his little mouth, I’ve come to the unofficial conclusion that airplanes are gross. So are public bathrooms, hotel bedspreads, and strangers who touch my baby (even the Santa impersonator on the flight!). The last thing I want to deal with is a sick kid on the road, so those wipes are within easy reach at all times.

6. Consider the effects of air travel on bottles and booties

Already red-eyed before the redeye

Ever seen a deflated water bottle after a flight? Think about what happens to a bottle of milk after it’s been at altitude for a while. Milk exploded all over me, the baby, and our seat. And while this may just be my kid, the change in pressure made his tummy go into overdrive. Calculate how many diapers and wipes you’ll need to get from door to door and triple it.

7. Everything takes longer than you expect

When considering a cross-country flight with a baby I thought, “5 hours. No big deal.” I forgot to factor in drive time, shuttling from the parking lot, security, waiting at the gate, disembarking, waiting for luggage, and a host of other time sucks that no one remembers until they have to do it all over again. A 5-hour flight means at least a 10-hour trip. Remember that or your baby is going to remind you.

8. Time moves in 20-minute increments

I thought the hum of the airplane and the rocking of the cruise ship would lull my baby into an ever-sleepy state. Not so. Bright lights, new faces and general curiosity can keep wee ones alert for hours. A five-hour flight turned in a marathon of activities to prevent an exhaustion-fueled meltdown. I no longer cared that TV watching was inappropriate for an infant. In-flight entertainment, iPhones, whatever. A crinkle book, a napkin, and an unopened box of raisins, whatever keeps them busy.

Mommy Tip: Use the front-facing camera on an iPhone so your baby can see his or her face on the screen. Minutes of entertainment!

9. It’s OK to rely on the kindness of strangers

An extra pair of hands is an extra pair of hands. While wrangling my baby solo, certain logistics were impossible to do on my own. Namely, finding a place to put a squirmy baby while hoisting on the Baby Bjorn or transforming a Sit n’ Stroll from car seat to stroller and back again, accept help when it’s offered and don’t be afraid to ask.

10. Keep your eye on the prize

Traveling can suck, kids or no kids. But if you can get from point A to point B in one piece and in a reasonable amount of time, the trip is already a success. Consider yourself lucky.

Text and photos by Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com