This is a little fluffier than last time, because I like to keep you guys on your toes. Also, because I’m staring down the barrel of packing for 10 days with a messy 13 month old and no idea whether we’ll have laundry facilities at our disposal. Which is a good thing to check on in advance, actually, so maybe I’ll send an email to the travel company as soon as I tap this little missive out.
We’ve done a fair bit of international travel with our kids, and all our long flights with kids have been with ages 3 and younger. I think as they get older it will probably get easier, but as we no longer live abroad and their tickets aren’t “free” any more, (ask me about international taxes on lap babies. My upper thighs are a tariff-able region.) we’ll probably never find out.
Or maybe we will. I don’t know why, but our family seems to have been given a travel charism of sorts. Or at least a “travel to Italy” charism. It’s one of those ridiculous this-doesn’t-make-sense-at-all God things, but since we got married almost 7 years ago, we’ve had the opportunity to make the trek for work or as a ridiculously generous gift at least once per year, and always with kid(s). (So to the narrative that laments “your life is over once baby is born” I issue a resounding “nuh-uh.” At least not mine.)
By now I should be a travel guru where lap babies are concerned, but of course, I’m worried afresh about how Luke my very mobile, cusp-of-walking, pushing 30 lbs chunka love will do on the New York to Rome leg of our journey. I haven’t started worrying about the return trip yet because to date, every return trip across the Atlantic is a blacked out blur in my mind, and hopefully this time will be no exception.
But I do know how to pack a suitcase. And a carryon. And in case anyone out there in blogland is gearing up for holiday travel season with minions and sweating a coast to coast flight, I got you.
Here are some of my non negotiables for friendlier skies with babies on board, in no particular order. Well, maybe in order of size. We’ll go with that.
1. The umbrella stroller. I know you have a great stroller, maybe an amaz$$$$ing jogger with a super comfortable seat and undercarriage storage for days. That’s awesome. Don’t bring it with you. At least not for an international trip.
First off, cobblestones and inner tube tires do not play nicely together. Secondly, if you will be jumping from plane to train to automobile, the last thing you want is anything larger than a simple umbrella handle to sling over your arm as you wrestle bebe+bags onto a crowded vehicle or into a diminutive seating compartment. I asked around this time because our last umbrella stroller retired somewhere between babies 2 and 3, but alas, I had to resort to a very sophisticated Mickey Mouse model found at Walmart for right around $20 bucks. I’d love to have a Uppababy or BabyJogger version just for such occasions one day, because the construction is so superior, but for the price and with the distinct likelihood that this thing will get super beat up during our trip, Micky Mouse it is. Bottom line: leave the fancy stroller at home.
2. The baby carrier. Yeah, you’ll have a stroller with you. But once you hit the airport, that bad boy will be pulling double duty as a rolling luggage rack, and you’ll want baby strapped on for the ride until you clear security. (Bonus tip: around the same time the x ray scatter machine things came into vogue, I had my first baby. I’ve only traveled +1 since then, and I’ve never had to go through the scanner. Just step to the side of the line, put your palms out for a bomb wipe down, and be escorted through the center aisle for a simple wanding. Voila. Plus, you get to keep baby strapped on the whole time.)
I am not a huge baby-wearer outside of travel, but when we’re on the move, I wear at least one kid for the majority of the day. I try to wear them during the majority of the flight, too, thought some airlines will make you unstrap them during takeoff and landing. It helps keep baby calm and contained, distinctly increases the likelihood that they will sleep, and makes your arms a whole lot less sore as you’re pacing the rear of the plane for hours. And hours. Once my babies fall asleep in their carrier (I like the Ergo Sport, but I haven’t really tried anything else), I can usually settle gingerly back into my seat with them still strapped on and sometimes enjoy up to an hour or two(!) of peaceful seated flight time. Once you get to wherever you’re going, and especially if you’ll be doing a lot of touristy stuff or walking (like on a pilgrimage) having a front to back carrier is basically essential to having any sort of a good time. And you can always toss them back into the stroller when you’re both too sweaty and too tired to go on.
3. The food. Bring baby foot pouches or applesauce squeezes. Injecting liquid nutrition straight into an angry toddler’s gullet is a proven delivery system. I usually bring about 40% more food than I think they can possibly eat, and then they eat it all and I spend the rest of the flight changing diapers. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Diapers. Bring so many more than you think you will need. And if you cloth diaper? Don’t do that for the flight. Just trust me on this one. I figure 2 diapers per flight hour is a safe bet, while accounting for delays and tarmac sitting too. So for a 3 hour connection to La Guardia and then a direct flight from NYC to Rome, I will bring 24 diapers. Isn’t that ridiculous? Yeah. But you know what’s worse? Repurposing a blown-out diaper with some cocktail napkins and crossed fingers. Don’t be that guy.
5. Change of clothes. I bring a single onesie for the baby and I layer the older toddlers so that if one layer gets blown, they can get peeled back to a clean base layer. I’ve definitely arrived at my destination with a shirtless diaper-wearing cherub, but usually the backup onesie is a sufficient plan, and doesn’t bulk up the carryon.
6. Muslin swaddling blanket or scarf as wrap/nursing cover/swaddle/comfort object. Don’t bring their beloved stuffed animal, unless they truly won’t sleep without it. Do bring a super soft, versatile something they can cover up with, rub their face against, and which becomes your umbrella stroller canopy-extension once you’re on the ground.
7. A water bottle with a suction pop top. My little man is currently in the throes of weaning from an actual bottle, but he will be appeased by the sucking action this little water bottle requires. Plus, there are no sippy cups in most restaurants in Italy, so we’ll be able to dump his cappuccinos into this.
8. That’s it. Did you think there’d be more? Trust me, you are already going to be a human pack mule. Don’t exacerbate the problem by overpacking or bringing 10000 fiddly little toys and stickers (okay, maybe 1 sheet of stickers) to try to keep track of on the flight. It’s crap that will get dropped or thrown away anyway, and most airlines offer complimentary tv (cartoons!) on individual screens for long haul flights anyway. Plus, plastic cups and drink stirrers make great toys. If you simply must pack something, bring an activity book with stickers and let them go crazy on the tray table (maybe test the stickiness first) or inflight magazine. I have done the 824 dollar store toys in the bag trick before, and it’s not worth the hassle nor does it keep their attention or keep them from fighting. Flying, as my friend Rachel eloquently notes, is already super stimulating for kids. Let it be that.
What to find/buy/borrow at your destination:
A crib or packnplay (most hotels have these, call ahead. Or look up friends in the area and ask for them to lend you one/borrow one on your behalf. You can even buy one at your destination and then gift it to a friend, local charity or church when you leave, and that will still be cheaper (and less of a hassle) than checking and paying international fees for your own trusty Graco model.
A carseat. This one is personal preference of course, but when we’re going to be traveling a lot by train/bus/taxi, we don’t bring one. Some parents are okay with this, others are not. When we lived in Italy our kids didn’t have carseats because we didn’t have cars, and carrying around multiple carseats + kids while navigating public transportation would have rendered us effectively homebound. If you will spending time in a car, or if you have a scheduled airport limo pickup or tour bus, most companies will rent you or find you a carseat or booster, too. Ditto for rental car companies.
diapers and wipes. Bring what you need for the flight plus day one, then plan on buying the local brand at your destination. It’s actually sort of fun.
Babyfood/formula: ditto. Unless your kid has specific food allergies and needs something special.
Traveling with kids is a little bit stressful. But travel in general can be a little bit stressful, and there is something kind of magical about experiencing a new and exciting place with your kids. Plus, people are really so kind, sometimes especially when your baby is having a hard time. We’ve always been blown away by the charity and kindness of strangers, the flight crew, servers in fancy little restaurants you’d swear were coming to yell at you but really just want to take the baby for a stroll around the dining room, etc. It’s a great way to see the world. (Also, popebait.)
Buon viaggio! (And pray for us on Friday if you think of it. Fingers crossed for a very sleepy Luke.)
(p.s. follow along on our pilgrimage on Instagram.)