These tips are gleaned from the experience of first-time parents travelling on long-haul overseas flights to the USA and Europe for 6-8 weeks at a time. We travelled on three occasions, when our son was 6 months, 12 months and 18months of age. Here are some of the challenges we faced and some suggestions we can share. We were fortunate to be travelling on business class for most of the long trips, which was a privilege and a god-send!
Very difficult on the plane as the change tables are tiny and are positioned side-ways above the toilet. As if the space wasn’t tiny enough, manoeuvring a child and the fumblings of a nappy change is not much fun. Do your best to do a nappy change at the last minute before boarding and when you do a change mid-flight it was useful to have your partner (where available) to stand at the door to hand you things. Only take the bare essentials in with you as space is at a premium. It is tempting to change nappies at your seat, but keep in mind other passengers are all in close quarters. Take plenty of nappies as well as changes of clothes. I had a reflux baby, so had many changes of clothes for him and I, as well as loads of bibs and burp clothes.
if you are breastfeeding, then you have one of the easiest and most portable foods available. I kept up the breastfeeds especially for travel as it was great for settling an overtired child during the flight. (Not something I ever did at home, just for flying). Once solids come into play, be aware that most airlines wont refrigerate food for you. They will give you a bag with some ice but that's it. I took a small cooler bag for a few perishables (some pots of yogurt that had been frozen) and some cooked veges. Other than that I took the best quality commercial food pouches I could find. And only those that I new my son liked. Depending on your destination, you can buy most things you need to either cook your own or buy commercial foods. I did not use the foods provided by the airlines, but they did provide fresh milk when required and basic foods like toast or fresh fruit. As part of a security check in LA I was required to open one of the commercial food pouches and taste it in front of the officer.
In terms of quantity, it pays to take much more than you need just in case you get delayed or arrive late at your destination and do not have any immediate supplies. I planned to feed my son every 4 hrs and had enough to last an extra day if needed. Given he didn’t sleep much, I did use more than I anticipated.
We found the plane bassinets useless. They are small, narrow and have a 'seatbelt' in the form of straps that go across the top. Necessary by all means, but they are very close to the child’s face and our son just found them like a toy to play with and poke his dummy through. The bassinets are positioned near the curtain so there is lots of 'traffic' and noise just near the child’s head. And for when my son was 6 months, I felt nervous that the solid sides of the bassinet meant I could not see him from my seat, nor hear him over the sounds of the plane. I was nervous that if I slept I would not hear him when he woke.
Instead, my son slept at the top end of my seat when it was fully reclined and I sat at the foot of the seat. Not ideal for me, but at least he slept for some large blocks of time and I could resettle him easily with a quick pat when he stirred. On other occasions he slept on our laps and even on a blanket on the floor of the airport lounge when we were in transit.
We maintained a regular familiar sleep routine for him, so even when he was in an unfamiliar environment he had the cues that it was sleep time. These ranged from wrapping him and giving him a dummy (when we was younger), to putting on pjs and putting him in his gro-bag and giving him his comforter. I found the muslin sleeping bags best for the flights as they were cool.
We didn’t take much, just a few favourite books, a travel sized etch-a-sketch, a few small cars etc. but we were resourceful. Paper cups, serviettes rolled into a ball etc become great toys. The in-flight entertainment was great. We did invest in an iPad recently so some downloaded games and shows were great backstops. A few new toys or books, or things that have been deliberately kept out of circulation for a while are good for a novelty factor.
Despite extensive research online prior to travel, it was not until we arrived at Sydney Airport to check in that we were told that our three-wheeler mountain buggy could not be taken up to the door of the plane. This foiled all our plans to give our son a good nap in the pram prior to boarding. Apparently Sydney is one of the only airports where this is a problem and it is due to baggage handlers. Instead we were provided with a small, dirty and non-reclinable folding stroller to use instead which was no good for sleeping in. Apparently 4-wheeler foldable strollers are OK as they can be stowed in the cabin, but the three-wheelers cannot. On our second trip, based on some sound advice from a Qantas staff member, we purchased a 'Quicksmart' folding stroller that folds up into a backpack and can be taken as cabin luggage. Still no good for sleeping, but great for transiting through those long airport halls. Quite a few on Ebay! LA, Heathrow, Washington, New York and Hong Kong airports all allowed us to take our mountain buggy up to the gate of the aircraft, but it is best not to assume!
Highchairs and cots
We found that hotel cots were all very good, but they rarely had the right sized linen. Instead they folded up a larger sheet to use in the cot. It is best to take a couple of sets of your own cot linen with you and light blankets that are dryer-friendly. We looked into hiring a high-chair and car seat when in the US, but it was very expensive, so instead we borrowed a car-seat from a friend whilst over there (it pays to ask around for such things...) and we bought a $30 portable high-chair booster seat that just straps onto any chair. It folds up small, it is light and It now stays in the boot of the car when we are at home for use in homes or cafes without highchairs. (Also take a look at Mealtimes - highchairs in our Product Reviews) If using taxis in most places, you just have to hold onto your child and hope for the best! It pays to look into car services with infant seats for trips to and from airports etc.
Although it requires some additional thinking, planning and organising, travelling with an infant is very rewarding. Assume and prepare for the worst case scenarios and you will find that you can face most eventualities calmly. Allow extra time for everything you need to do when actually on the move to ensure you are not feeling rushed or stressed We found it better to get to an airport early and give our son some exploring time rather than be worrying about missing flights and then rushing through a busy airport or train station with heaps of bags and a confused child in tow. You will find it amazing to discover new destinations through the eyes of your child.
This article was written by Rachel from Randwick who is a client of Cradle 2 Kindy Parenting Solutions