My partner sauntered into our home office and I knew something cool but weird had happened. I could tell by the tone of his voice.
‘Do you want to come to New York with me in two weeks?’
Obviously yes. He’d won an award and the company wanted to fly us over for the presentation. The only issue was I had no idea how to travel with a baby. Our almost one-year-old daughter can barely sit still for dinner let alone a 24 hour overnight flight. She’s a very chill kid but she’s also at that super awful stage to travel with. If your kid hasn’t started crawling – go for it. If your kid is old enough to binge-watch Bluey until his eyes fall out – go for it. If your kid is crawling/standing/cruising and has the attention span of gnat… proceed with caution.
I said yes immediately and figured I’d worry about the consequences later.
In a panic, I texted my best mate who knows exactly how to travel with a baby. Her son has done a few 6-hour jaunts across the pond to New Zealand. She recommended lots of snacks, lots of activities, unlimited screen time (seriously anything to get you through the flight) and very, very low expectations.
She told me to expect my child to scream like a banshee the entire time, get zero sleep and for it to be the worst 24 hours of your life. This advice was actually my saving grace.
So when you travel with a baby, it’s hard. Obviously, but it’s not THAT hard and it’s also totally worth it.
How To Travel With a Baby
1. Book the bassinet seat or an aisle seat or both
Even if your kid is too long for the bassinet (as our very tall girl is) request it anyway because there’s extra legroom and the bassinet acts as an additional surface you can throw your belongings on. With the extra legroom, your kid can scrap around at your ankles and burn off some energy. We requested the bassinet and didn’t expect to use it but our girl was just able to squeeze in it and had a fairly decent sleep on each flight. If you can’t get the bassinet, go with an aisle so you can get up as much as you need to. Also get to the airport early – they often give the bassinets on a first come first serve basis at the gate so it pays to get there early. Also, be nice to the staff at the airport. They have a lot of power. We couldn’t get the bassinet on the first leg of our flight home and we didn’t make a fuss and they upgraded us to premium economy on the next flight. And it was because we didn’t act like total pork chops when we didn’t get what we wanted the first time. Her weight was fine for the bassinet she was just a tad long. Little sweetheart.
2. Don’t book a spare seat unless your kid will sit in it
We debated booking an extra seat for our girl but at 1 year old, she just wouldn’t have sat in it and there’s no way she would have slept comfortably in it. As it turns out, she spent most of each flight either fighting sleep in the carrier as I walked up and down the aisles or climbing all over me. I would have been pissed if we booked an extra seat for her on this flight because there’s no way she would have sat in it and it would have been such a waste of money. Definitely next time though.
3. Pack snacks
Any snacks. All the snacks. We packed rusks, little crackers, fruit bars – all the stuff she never has at home. She loved opening up the packets and exploring new foods. I also got a few little divided pillbox style containers and put tiny bits of snacks in them and this kept her amused for ages.
4. Pack activities
Post-its were a godsend. I stuck them to the wall in front of us and she loved collecting them and returning them to me. We packed some Play Dough which was great but our girl is quite a gentle player so I wouldn’t recommend Play Dough if your kid is likely to pelt other passengers with it or rub it into the carpet. New things were a hit – I gave her some Little People toys and she loved them. She also spent ages playing with the free in-flight headphones. Whatever floats their boat.
5. Consider a carrier
We weren’t going to pack a carrier at all because our girl has been too heavy for a carrier for months but we got a small travel carrier when we frantically bought our Mountain Buggy online four days before we left and I’m so glad we took it with us. Our daughter is a good sleeper which actually sucks hard when you’re on a plane. All she wanted was to go to sleep on a flat surface without anyone touching her but I couldn’t put her down in the bassinette unless she was asleep first because it was too bright and loud and she can’t fall asleep on us because she never really has. I walked her up down that plane for hours and she didn’t sleep much but she was very quiet and happy. Carrier was a godsend.
6. Make friends
There were a few other mums on the flight with kids the same age and we formed a little gang and hung out up the back together. We shared nappies and snacks and counted down the hours until the flight landed.
7. Remember it WILL end
I mean look, 24 hours on a plane is always pretty awful but doing it with a one-year-old is only marginally more awful. It’s not like they’re ruining something super fun. I spent the whole flight reminding myself that it’s only 24 hours and I know EXACTLY when it will end. I was in labour with my daughter for 41 hours (yes, you read that right and that’s from when my contractions started. My waters broke a good three days before she was born) and I had NO IDEA how long that awful experience was going to last. Unless I fly twice around the world without stopping, every flight I go on will be shorter than my labour and will have a definite endpoint. It was a very comforting thought.
8. Don’t get hung up on sleep
I got about 6 hours sleep on the way over to New York and about 3 on the way back and it was honestly fine. It’s not like you’re doing anything on a flight. You’re not operating heavy machinery or writing important reports. You’re just sitting there trying to keep your kid from annoying everyone else and that’s pretty easy to do when you’re really tired.
9. Don’t get hung up on doing anything but kid wrangling the whole flight
Don’t expect your kid to sleep or sit still ever. You might not get a peaceful meal, any sleep, a glass of wine or the opportunity to watch a movie or a TV show. Expect that you won’t get any of those things and then if by some miracle your kid manages to nod off for a few hours that nap or glass of wine is going to feel like a next-level luxury. I managed to get a few hours of sleep and at least one interrupted meal on each leg of the journey and it was bliss. Just keep your expectations super low.
10. Get back on schedule ASAP to avoid jet-lag
By some miracle, jet lag didn’t touch our girl on her trip but we were really strict with keeping naps to a minimum during the day and trying to get her to sleep at appropriate times on the plane. It was totally worth it. We kept her up about an hour past her bedtime at both ends to ensure she was properly tired and to avoid early wake-ups and it worked. Every kid is different and some kids get super ratty when they’re overtired so it might work better for your kid to have longer day naps to catch up but do what you can to get their sleep schedule as normal as possible as early as possible.
11. Try not to do it alone
I know it’s unavoidable in a lot of circumstances but if you can avoid doing it alone, do it. I made friends with a lovely woman who had gone back to Australia THREE times with her under one year old. Deserves a medal she does. Also, try to refrain from punching people who complain about how tiring long flights are when they’re not travelling with kids. A 15-hour flight where you can watch movies, nap and eat uninterrupted is a luxury I will never take for granted again.
12. Revel in the positives
This was the first time I travelled with a kid and because I was up and down and walking with her for most of the flights I felt pretty darned good at the other end. Normally I sleep (I’m a really good plane sleeper) but I wake up at the other end feeling like I’ve been hit by truck from sleeping at odd angles and not moving enough. Aside from being unbelievably tired, my body felt quite good. Win.
13. Pack only the essentials
The actual bare minimum. We packed spare Bonds Zippies (no one needs to look cute at the airport), a few nappies, some wipes and snacks. That’s it. Babies really don’t need much.
14. Take advantage of priority boarding and get yourself seen
March yourself right to the front of large queues and make sure the airline staff see you. Particularly in Australia. I found they cared a little less about babies in the US (which is sometimes a good thing – less luggage limits and less scanning of every single bag we have) but but by making ourselves seen we were more often than not ushered to the front for priority boarding.
15. Plan to do laundry
Our daughter is in that particularly grotty phase where she needs at least one sometimes several changes of clothing a day. Rather than pack 30 outfits, we just work in a laundry visit. We prefer to stay in Airbnbs that have their own laundry but if you’re in New York they’re hard to come by. We tend to have one ‘admin’ day per week when we travel where we take it easy, do some laundry, grocery shop and chill out a little.
We didn’t have a high chair with us so little miss just sat on our laps for most meals. We don’t use a non-slip mat in her bath at home (we just totally missed the memo that they even existed!) but the bath at our Airbnb was a bit rank so we just held her in the shower when it was bath time. Even though we packed our travel change mat we hardly used it – we’d often just change her in mid air (one of us holding her the other changing the nappy) in a public toilet if we couldn’t find a clean surface.
What To Pack
1. Nappies – but only enough for a few days and then buy some when you get where you’re going.
2. Wipes – again just enough for a few days.
3. Nappy bags – we used them not only for nappies but for on the go rubbish bags and to keep soiled clothes in.
4. Baby carrier – we had the Mountain Buggy travel carrier and it was ACE.
5. Spare clothes for the baby – we packed two spare onesies and didn’t use them. They were mainly for nappy leaks but we haven’t had too many of those in recent months. If your baby is younger, this is essential. Older babies tend to not leak as much I reckon.
6. Activities – Post-it notes, stickers, Play Dough, Little People and a reusable cutlery set that rattled in it’s box was enough for us.
7. Snacks – We don’t buy any pre-packaged snacks for our kid (not because we’re smug assholes but because most of them have very little nutritional value and we’re busy – we don’t have time for her to slowly munch her way through a snack that’s only going to keep her full for 5 seconds) so we bought all these fun little snacks and she had a ball eating them. Excellent time waster.
8. Any soothers, dummies, favourite toys your kid needs. Our girl seems wholly unattached to most of her toys which is great but if your kid has a favourite toy, better take it with you.
9. Hand sanitiser – it’s a life saver when you can’t get to a sink to wash your hands. We also used it on our daughters hands because she liked to touch EVERYTHING on the subway.
10. Stroller – this was a wild card for us because we are hardcore stroller avoiders. We bought a second hand Stokke stroller when our girl was born and we loved it (she actually slept in it until she was about 3 months old) but as she got older it was a bit heavy and serious for getting in and out of the car. We preferred to just carry her or pop her in the carrier. She’s getting way too big for that now so we went with a travel stroller. The Mountain Buggy came highly recommended by lots of our mates and it fits in the over head locker of most planes. We LOVE this stroller and that statement carries a lot of weight because I actually contacted Mountain Buggy and offered to review their stroller for the blog and they never got back to me so I bought one. And it’s great.
And that’s about it! I’ll pop together a New York specific guide but this was more for travel in general.