Next week I’m headed to Chicago for a work conference, returning mid-day on Wednesday and leaving again (with Javi this time) to spend the rest of July with my family in New Mexico. While we don’t travel as often as some families, this will be Javi’s fifth plane-based trip and our second solo trip (without my husband along to help). Since we don’t live near a hub, we have connecting flights everywhere we go, so that’s 20 flights, four of which were just he and I.
Because he’s a different age each time (so, pretty much a different kid), every time is a new kind of experience. That said, we’ve learned a few things. Since I find it comforting to think through each trip as I prepare, I’m jotting it down here both for myself and in case it helps anyone else.
I think through each step of my experience as I plan. I picture each step of driving into the parking lot, getting my stuff and kid out of the car, somehow getting inside to the ticket counter, checking my luggage, going through security…. Much like an athlete benefits from mental imagery, walking through the process in your head not only gives you practice and makes you feel more familiar when you actually do it, you get the chance to make notes about packing and preparing you might have otherwise missed.
A stable stroller is really important. We own a “luxury umbrella stroller” but I prefer my more solid Bumbleride Indie because it doesn’t tip if I lift my kiddo out of it. I can put my hefty electronics bag in the basket, hang my not-lightweight tote on the handle, stash any number of blankets and stuffed puppies and water bottles in the hood and still maneuver one-handed while jogging. (How would I know this? One guess.) Before each trip I insist my husband do a full tune-up (check tire pressure, oil the moving parts) and I wash the fabric, then off we go.
I practice. Before my first solo trip with Javi, I practiced closing the stroller while holding a tote in one hand and wearing a weighted Beco Gemini (see next tip for more info). It took me a handful of tries to lock in my method, but I didn’t have any awkward moments when I had to do it for real, in an airplane terminal, with a line of people waiting behind me. We also tested out the maneuverability and stability of the stroller by loading it down with 100 pounds of stuff and pushing it around our living room and driveway.
I use a body-pack for my kid. Until this trip*, we’ve used a Beco Gemini for all airplane trips. I do not carry him in it through airports! We both prefer the stroller for that, but a baby carrier is a must for getting on and off the plane. Yes, I have a whole carrier that only gets used in the few minutes spent boarding and deplaning. With Javi safely corralled in a carrier, I have both hands free to get us to our seat, put a bag in the overhead compartment, stash another bag under the seat and sit down. Once seated, I leave the carrier attached to me and unbuckle him (airline regulations and my kid’s comfort both dictate this), but in the event of turbulence, I strap him back to me PDQ.
Pack lightly and tactically. I carry our big electronics and his extras in a backpack I wear that goes in the overhead compartment once we board. One (or two) changes of clothes for him, an extra shirt for me, three diaper/ undies changes, two wet bags, two freezer ziploc bags, a pack of wipes, the iPad and an assortment of snacks and toys all go in a tote we keep with us. His favorite stuffed buddy and his blankie hang off the tote with carabiners for quick access. Note that I have diapers/ undies, wipes, clothes, electronics in two places (my backpack and our tote) because I want everything I might need in the tote with the option for more in a different place. I don’t want to have to go into two different bags to get to an iPad and a snack.
I spent a lot of time thinking about which toys to pack. The first time we traveled I packed them all and he played with a bright red spoon from Starbucks. Now I’m more strategic. I always take stickers and bandages (which double as stickers). I pack two favorite books and at least one new one. For the last couple of trips I’ve taken a bag of Schliech animals; since one of our favorite books involves animals, we can combine the toys and books. My son is very physical and mechanical, so I’ve been searching for a good manipulative and am planning to order these two.
The rest of my tips all at once:
- We travel in the morning because we’re at our highest energy and patience points then;
- I book longer layovers when traveling with him so we have time to go to the potty and he can run off some energy between flights;
- I talk to people watching us, sometimes to explain that I’m letting him work off some energy so he doesn’t make himself and everyone else miserable during the flight, sometimes just to say hello;
- I try not to worry about germs but do pack sanitizer;
- I carry my ID and one card in my back pocket so I don’t have to get my wallet out every time;
- I pack our own (empty) water bottles and fill once we get through security;
- I dress my kid in the cutest clothes he owns;
- I ask for and accept any offers of help;
- I act as though I have it all under control even when I don’t;
- I talk to my child in a just-you-and-me-in-this-world kind of voice so he feels a connection even among the crowds and try to pause and get down to his level anytime we have to wait in a line;
- I dress in layers (at least two tank tops plus a third in our bag, a loose sweater that can double as a blanket, dark jeans, easy shoes), put on full make-up (because people are less judgmental if I look like a grown-up), breathe deeply, and smile.
*Javi vehemently dislikes the Beco these days, telling me his legs are stuck and freaking out. Now that he can walk, I debated not taking a carrier at all, but instead bought a woven wrap ring sling in the hopes that he’ll allow it’s use for those critical few minutes. If not, my carry-on packing plan allows me to have a hand free to hold his, at least.