I consider myself a well-traveled, adaptable adventurer. I have traveled in the lap of luxury, chartering a private sailboat with crew for two. I have roughed it in conditions far grosser than anything you’re currently imagining, living out of a car and a suitcase for seven months. All-inclusive. Developing world. Tent floor. I thought I had done it all.
Yet, nothing could have sufficiently prepared me for traveling with a baby.
My husband and I were bound and determined to continue living once baby arrived. It was unspoken, yet unanimously decided that we intended to schlep our kids on planes, trains, and automobiles for many reasons. To name a few, we wanted to instill a curiosity about the world beyond what is comfortable or familiar in our progeny. Most of my husband’s family lives in Egypt. Selfishly, too, we didn’t want to give up our wanderlust; to sacrifice a certain spiritedness that intertwines us tightly in our relationship.
A few months after the arrival of our son, Sami, we began to plan a quick visit to see my grandparents in rural Pennsylvania – a “test run” to see what it was like to travel with a baby. This trip required one short domestic flight a little over two hours in length and a three-and-a-half hour car ride. A nice little flight + road trip combo to give us variation in travel scenarios. There were a few tears shed during the long stretch in the car, but the trip was smooth overall. We daydreamed the whole flight home about possible destinations for our next baby-accompanied adventure.
Remember when I told you that nothing could have sufficiently prepared me for traveling with a baby? Well, hell if I didn’t try! In preparation for baby’s first flight, I invested hours upon hours pouring over mommy blogs, travel threads, airlines and TSA sites. I pinned every mom travel hack I could find on Pinterest. I Googled every dumb question regarding traveling with a baby that came to mind because I didn’t want any surprises or to show up without the right distractions, medications, or doodads.
Over the next six months, Sami got his passport and we visited Egypt, New York, Wisconsin, and Cuba. We were getting the hang of it. The Egypt journey was a little nutty, as our flight pattern required three flights each way, taking about 32 hours to arrive and over 40 hours to depart. But our then-7-month-old was a champ and lulled us into a false sense of confidence. We brought him on a business trip to NYC and disaster struck on our flight home.
It was a normal day at the airport. We waltzed through security, boarded the aircraft first, found our seats and got settled. As we prepared for takeoff, Sami started to whimper. They announced the closing of the airplane’s door and the baby started to wail as we slowly pushed back from the gate. Worried, my husband looked at me and said, “Should we get off the plane?”
“No, it’ll be fine. I’ll feed him,” I assured. I attempted to coax a nipple into his mouth to no avail. He fought me, he screamed.
“Should we get off the plane?!” My husband questioned, desperately searching my face for an answer.
“WE CAN’T,” I exclaimed. We were taxiing and our fate was sealed with the airplane door.
We proceeded to try every snack, teething toy, and song in our arsenal. I held the crybaby. My husband tried his hand at the inconsolable infant. Basically, we were playing cranky baby hot potato, back and forth, back and forth. The poor woman stuck beside us pretended to work on her laptop, stealing glances here and there, but trying her best not to show her annoyance. At one point, a small vial magically appeared and a man leaned in and said, “It’s orange and cloves. Try rubbing these essential oils on his feet to calm him down.” Feeling as if we owed it to the entire plane to demonstrate that we were exhausting our options, we took the liquid without question and sprinkled a drop on Sami’s feet. He howled harder.
My husband reached his breaking point thirty minutes into the flight. He broke protocol with the “fasten seatbelt sign” still activated as he sprung from his seat to bounce baby up and down the aisle. As soon as he was on his feet, the baby shut-up and began flirting with nearby passengers. He wanted to be walked. That was it. Sami pretended as if nothing ever happened, put his head on his dad’s shoulder, and conked out. We, on the other hand, are still shaken to this day reliving the horror of subjecting 200 some strangers to our baby’s finicky sobs.
Moral of the story: prepare all you want, but there are wild, erratic factors beyond your control. You get the baby you get on that day.
In my experience, traveling with a kid is both not as bad as you think while simultaneously a true test of nerves. Like so many challenges in life, the keys to success boil down to preparation, patience, and mentality.
Below are a few tips I’ve honed over my travels with baby:
Function Over Fashion. I’m not suggesting wearing sweats on an airplane, but you’ll want to make intentional choices in apparel and gear to make your life easier. I like to wear slip-on shoes to help expedite security lines, as my hands are usually fast at work tending to the baby and trying to move our family through conveyor belts and X-ray machines in a quickly-yet-organized manner. I give my regular diaper bag a vacation, opting for a golf backpack that my husband wishes would go some place to die. Is it old and ugly? Yeah. This choice, again, frees up my hands. It also evenly distributes the weight I’m carrying, lends a little more storage than my diaper bag, and I can stash an emergency candy bar for “mom meltdowns” in the secret pocket that I’m pretty sure is intended for golf balls.
Slow your roll. To quote the jet-setting dad, Kanye West, “drive slow, homie.” Allot extra time in your planning for getting to the airport and between connecting flights. You’re not moving at a regular pace – don’t even play yourself. With the possibility of a blowout diaper, a forgotten comfort item or an independence-asserting toddler, you might find yourself running around the concourse like a chicken with your head cut off. Don’t cut it close. I have never regretted arriving at the airport early in all the times I’ve traveled with a baby. In fact, if you do find you have some spare time on your hands, reward yourself with a treat, like a fancy coffee or newsstand glossy. Positive reinforcement works on parents too!
And for my next trick… Any magician knows the importance of having the next great trick up the sleeve. This is also crucial to salvation when traveling on a plane with a baby. When packing, plan for variety – choice of toys, snacks, and anything your baby particularly loves or hasn’t seen in a while. We’ve found that staying ahead of baby’s boredom and switching up the game or treat with something new (and before he tires of it) gets us through any flight. Give me blueberries, Cheerios, some Veggie Straws, a teething toy, and a plastic cup or garbage wrapper and TA DA! I will juggle, dazzle and mesmerize even the harshest of infantile critics for hours.
Embrace Your “Baby Edge.” Don’t think of traveling with an infant as a handicap. It actually comes with perks and assistance. I mean, you get to board first and settle yourself before the rush to the coveted overhead compartments. My husband likes to shamelessly prop the cute baby up on the ticketing counter during check-in and we’ve had some amazing customer service agents go out of their way to help us get the best seating arrangement. We’ve received a few upgrades too! Also, did you know that on some flights you can request an in-cabin bassinet? Be sure to request it at booking to ensure that you’re higher on the priority list, as it’s usually first-come, first-served. Honestly, people are rooting for you and your little one and it’s in their best interest that your baby experience has as little “turbulence” as possible. So, don’t feel one bit of guilt when the flight attendant sneaks you an extra snack or another passenger lets you cut in line. The gravy train stops when they turn two and you have to start paying for their seats.
Imagine everyone around you as a baby. It’s way more fun than picturing everyone naked! Remember, your baby is a baby. In the event that your child is fussy in-flight, take a deep breath. OK. Now, take another one. Then, take a look around. You’re actually the person on the plane most stressed out about the unfolding shituation. Also, you are surrounded by nothing but human beings who were all babies themselves at one point. If they can’t practice empathy and extend a sympathetic “sorry, cute lil baby. I know you’re suffering, angel pudding pie. You don’t mean to be an asshole” smirk – well, that’s their problem. Try popping baby’s ears by offering a bottle, boob or snack. If that doesn’t work and the Fasten Seatbelt sign is off, feel free to move about the cabin with a bounce or a silly song. Do your best. It’s all that you can do!
BY Ashley Paguyo El Shourbagy - August 9, 2017
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.