A week ago this very moment, Amisadai and I were careening through Newark International Airport like two little sweaty piglets who could not wait to return to their abode. In the first 8 months of her life, Misa hasn’t spent more than two consecutive weeks at home, and has taken over 20 flights and nearly a dozen long road trips. She flew across the country for the first time at six weeks, only a month after coming home from the NICU, and has helped us host a retreat in Thailand, venture to Mexico for a wedding, and adapt to very rarely being in her own bed. We were both ready for home.
The ramp agent cooed at Misa and asked “is this her first flight?” I had to think for a moment before telling him it was her 20-something-ish flight; airplanes are her second home. “Wow. More than me!” he beamed at her. Hello, instant humbling. A lump sprang up in my throat as I told him how lucky we are. Sweaty piglet trying to travel with a baby? Yes, and it’s such a gift to even have the option!
Are we tired? Yes, duh, who isn’t. But more than being tired, we are crushed with gratitude for the opportunity to bring our wee bairn along on this life with us. To show her how to work hard at your dreams and fling your arms open to greet the world with curiosity. As you’re planning your own travel, focus on this first: what a freaking gift to even have the option.
So you’re traveling with yo’ baby! Let me be the first in line to cheerlead this cool life choice. Is it hard? YEP. Is regular travel hard, though? ALSO YEP. But you can do hard things! Here’s what we’ve learned in the first 8 months of traveling with a baby. Take it from the top, maestro (me, I’m the maestro, why did I just say that):
#1: pack lighter. I’m starting with this because you just 100% have to pack lighter, there is no way around it. I’m reporting to you live from Team Carryon-Only, and we’re recruiting new members. Pre-baby, we traveled for months on end, to multiple countries and climates WITH our gear, and never ever checked a bag, and we were adamant about keeping that system as long as humanly possible.
We don’t want to wait at the baggage carousel once we land in a new place, let alone risk losing our expensive camera gear on international flights. So the only way around this is to bring less shit. We’ve gotten so streamlined in both gear and clothing that we can pack for a one week trip or a month long trip without checking a bag, and you can too! We would rather get creative with finding something we need after arrival (or figuring out how to make do without it) than pack everything in our house to travel.
-Set out all the things you want to pack, then take away half of them.
-Don’t pack for “what if’s,” pack for the very basic needs. That flouncy dress in case of a fancy event, bai.
-Create a color palette and make sure that every clothing item you bring matches with every other item.
-Find AirBnBs with laundry access.
Two things I would advise you to bring if you value sleep and sanity:
-Noise machine. People will tell you that bringing an extra thing is a waste of space, but you know what else is a waste of space? YOU, after a night of no sleep with a baby who wakes up without her beloved sound machine. We are premier skeptics about almost everything baby related but the noise machine is a must. We forgot ours in Mexico, had to make do with an iPad and Youtube… and it was not okay.
-The lovie. Misa cannot sleep without hers and it’s been the best transitional object for her as we drag her around and make her sleep in new beds every week. I ALSO forgot hers when I was packing for Mexico and it almost ruined an entire week of our lives (yep this is how real it is). (In a pinch, you can use one of your worn shirts as a blankie, but it’s desperate times otherwise)
Listen friend, it’s traumatizing enough to have to pack diapers everywhere you go and be prepared to whip a boob out upon demand. But a normal diaper bag is too depressing to even think about. Skip a diaper bag and get yo’self a big ass leather satchel that can double as a purse once you arrive. And you’re a parent now, it’s time to commit to a serious suitcase. We realized that we were going through carryon bags like candy and spending way too much money replacing them, losing wheels on cobblestone sidewalks, having them show up cracked and broken and basically decided to get our lives together. We squinted our eyes shut and bit the bullet on these bomb carryon bags from Filson. Yes, the price hurt. But it’s been 100% worth it: if anything ever breaks for the life of the bag, they will fix or replace it for free. So basically these bags are a gift for Misa’s kids to travel the world with too, and in the meantime they are spacious and perfect. I share a bag with Misa now, so a carryon has to have room for my clothes AND hers AND things like diapers and formula, and these feel kind of magical in that they can fit so much more than you’d expect and still zip up. It’s an investment but if you’re traveling, you’ll pay for it if you have cheap and flimsy gear.
Most airlines will allow you a personal carryon AND a diaper bag (except Alaska, which is a huge bummer) so you have to be creative with what you bring along on the flight. This is where our other biggest parenting strategy really comes into play:
Garbage can toys, all the time
Ok, at home Misa has some BOUGIE toys because her godparents and our friends are incredible and send her the coolest shit like mini-accordions from France. But on the road, her toy situation is purposefully sparse as hell. Her current fave travel toy: a crumpled up water bottle. Her fave toy last month: my wallet. We don’t really bring toys with us when we’re on the road and so far Misa hasn’t noticed. The exception: a chew toy if they’re teething (because they’re going to chew on everything otherwise) and one or two of her favorite books.
What to pack in your travel bag
Clean bottle and a Ziploc of formula
Clorox wipes for the seat and handles
Complete change of clothes for the baby and if possible, a clean shirt for you
Changing pad, diapers and wipes
Snacks for you, especially if you’re breastfeeding
Headphones to watch movies on the plane (HAHAHA JK JK JK this will not happen for the next decade)
Schedule more flexible time
We used to show up at the airport 20 minutes before boarding and cruise onto the plane. Now we show up earlier because we have to do more thiiiiings: deal with a more complex TSA situation, gate check our stroller and carseat, and charm the gate agents so they feel inspired to bump us up to better seats. Once we got to the airport and TSA found something on our carseat handle (our Uber driver was the last one to touch it! WHAT!) and that ordeal took longer than planned. Things happen, so leave yourself a little more time. (side note, this is how all dads everywhere ended up at the airport 3 hours early. This is too early. Don’t do this.)
Ok, let me start by saying UBER– please start offering a carseat option! So far this genius idea is only available in NYC (and not for infants), but until every city has the option, you have to figure out your carseat if you don’t want to pull a Britney and ignore the law. I am pleased to report that flying with a carseat/stroller situation is NOT the clusterfuck I imagined it to be, thanks to Uppababy’s system where everything latches together easy peasy. I’m sure there are tons of great brands out there, but I picked Uppababy because it’s incredibly versatile and adaptable– expensive, but I want to invest in the things I touch every day and if they don’t work right, it makes life difficult.
Almost every single airline will check your stroller and carseat for free (double check the policies if you’re traveling abroad), so you can gate check it once you arrive and have it waiting for you when you disembark. See below for my full strategy for making it through the airport unscathed. I will be honest, carseats are the #1 hassle but if you get a system that lets you drive a stroller to the gate, it ain’t no thang. That being said, THE IDEAL is to rent a car on the other end that will have a carseat in it, and skip the stroller altogether. If we could only bring a carrier everywhere we go, we would.
Speaking of carriers, I’m obsessed. We were gifted a K’tan and used it every day when Misa was tiny. Perfect for airports, it takes like 2 seconds to get your baby situated and secure. Now that she’s bigger, we needed to upgrade, but I wasn’t loving anything until Colugo very generously sent us their carrier and now I can’t live without it. She’s equally comfortable front facing and back facing, and I don’t feel like my back is about to crumble. I love Colugo and their stuff is on POINT.
This is the hardest part of traveling with the wee beb: pulling up to security like “WHAT UP HOMIES, WE’RE HERE TO WREAK HAVOC.” Pre-baby, we had our systems down to a freaking science and could get from our front door to our gate in 27 minutes. I mention this because if you aren’t a well-oiled machine at the airport pre-baby, post-baby is not the time to learn– become as streamlined and efficient as you can with your own stuff so folding baby into the mix later will be easier.
Okay, this is going to sound complex but it’s a science that I swear by and will be smooth as an infant’s well-moisturized butt for you very soon. Here is my complete system to get from door to gate:
Call an Uber. Wear a baby carrier out the door. Have baby strapped into her car seat next to the suitcases and gear bags BEFORE you walk out the door so you can just buckle her into the Uber when they arrive. Use the bottom of the stroller as a carryon bag holder while walking through the airport and leave the baby in the carseat until you get to security. Hold her through TSA and transfer her to the on-body carrier as soon as you’re through. (NOTE ABOUT TSA: every airport will have different rules about how to get the stroller through, how they want you to hold the baby, etc. Our stroller requires us to remove the wheels to get through the x-ray machine and when I’m traveling alone, I literally can’t do it. I usually tell the agents that I can’t collapse the stroller and ask what they’d like me to do– as in everything, if you’re polite and helpful they will usually be the same way.) Use the stroller to carry bags to the gate. As soon as you’re there, drop by the checkin desk to gate check your stroller and carseat, and be extremely nice to the agent at the desk. These people deal with straight BULLSHITE all day long, and being one of the only nice people they interact with has gotten us things like a row all to ourselves and an upgrade to premium class (hello free Baileys in our coffee). I also ask if they are taking volunteers to gate check carryon suitcases, and they normally are, so I don’t have to lift my suitcase overhead while still holding a baby– and the bag is waiting at the door next to your stroller when you land. When you board (first! Being the parent of small children is a free pass to cut the line and board first, BLESS), just leave the stroller/suitcases at the bottom of the ramp and board handsfree. Boom. You got this.
First agenda item when you plan to leave the country: RESERVE A BASSINET. When we flew from Seattle to Taipei to Chiang Mai and back, it was a grand total of $250 to have a bassinet in the front of the plane for Amisadai. Worth. Every. Penny.
You will be placed in the very front row of economy class, since you need access to the wall that has the bassinet, and you will have more leg room than you can handle. Also, they’ll most likely move the other person/people in your row because the bassinet covers their seat slightly. And this, my friends, is how you get an entire spacious row to yourself for long-haul flights. After takeoff, the flight attendant comes over and attaches the bassinet to the wall, and if you’ve timed your flight right, your baby will hopefully sleep for a lot of the travel time. But even if they never settle, you will have a space to let them rest and play without having to hold them the entire time. Local Milk referenced this guide for how airlines tackle the bassinet situation so bookmark this for when you buy your next tickets.
Your wee beb needs one too! Give yourself a few months of lead time if you can, or be like us and discuss doing it every week and then panic to rush order it like one day before you go. Potato potahto! Here are all the forms and directions to order your baby passport.
Get it. Don’t be a dummy.
Often for international flights, and occasionally for domestic, it’s hard to add a baby to your tickets when they’re still flying free under age 2. Make sure you call ahead and add your infant to your reservations so you don’t end up in a snafu once you get to the airport. Be prepared for a small fee for your baby when traveling abroad– it’s not like domestic flights that don’t charge anything for babes in arms.
We left for Thailand one day before Misa turned six months, so the doctor had to pull some serious strings for us to get her six month round of vaccines before we left (normally you aren’t allowed to bump the date back at all, so be aware of that as you plan your trips). We are lucky to have a pediatrician who supports our decisions to bring Misa with us for work, and before both Thailand and Mexico I asked her: “would you do this if you were in our position?” and she said “I absolutely would.” This gave me the peace of mind I needed to trust that all would be well and that Misa was in a healthy space to go. It really depends on the level of risk you’re willing to endure– I’m willing to risk a few colds and germs here and there to fly with Misa, but as I write this, the coronavirus is spreading like wildfire and if I had international tickets I’d consider canceling them. For the most part, though, your babe is probably more resilient than you think, and in most cases I would encourage boldness when traveling.
Feeding on the road
Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, it’s a complicated thang to feed a babe on the road. I am doing a combo of both as I’ve never made quite enough milk for Misa, so flights are a mix of having my nips available and having enough formula to prevent a meltdown. SO.
Breastfeeding: stay hydrated on your flights and do not hesitate to mention to your flight attendants WHY you keep coming back to ask for more water. I swear I get so much free food when I tell them I’m breastfeeding because HELLO YOU NEED CALORIES TO FEED THAT BABY! But either way, they’ll generally be happy to be on your team.
Formula: there are expensive as hell pre-packaged formula cartons that you can buy and take through security, but I just pack a bottle and a Ziploc of formula, fill the bottle with a purified water station at the airport (or if they don’t have one, I ask for a bottle from the flight attendant). Here is when it gets tricky: I get a cup of hot water from the back and straight up warm the bottle in it while trying not to get third degree burns. This cool maneuver requires a steady hand but it works. Misa is juuuuust getting to the age where she will eat what we eat at the table, so I also get protein plates on flights and share them with her.
Also, one time this 8 year old on a flight basically crawled over his parents to give Misa a blended fruit pouch (“HEY! Does your baby want this?”) and that was ridiculously cute.
What to wear on the road:
When flying or taking trains or being out for any length of time, you’ll also have to consider your clothing and how easily a boob can be removed from said clothing. I’ve gotten stuck twice (aka once more than an adult with normal intelligence should) out in public with a hungry baby while I’m wearing a dress, and unless you want to sit half naked on a toilet seat to nurse, make sure to wear shirts that either button or are liftable and an uncomplicated bra. The whole first summer that we traveled, I only traveled in a bardot top and no bra so I could just pull it down whenever. And I’ll never forget trying to pump in the car during my first road trip across the state to shoot a wedding when Misa was just over a month old. I showed up to the wedding covered in spilled milk without a change of clothes (luckily it didn’t show, but I felt like a hot mess). Having a change of clothes for you is just as important as for the baby, and those clothes need to be user-friendly and washable.
Side note: SeaTac, and many many other public places, have cute little Mamava pods for you to nurse in peace. Download the app to find out where they are so you can sprawl half-nude like God intended. Misa’s first few flights these were huge, before I completely gave up on any kind of privacy and began nursing her literally ANYwhere at any time. I’ve been nursing in public for 7 months now, in multiple states and countries, and no one has been anything but supportive (but the first dude who says something… I have some sass ready and waiting). FYI breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states. We’re so accustomed to doing things to make everyone else comfortable–cover up if it makes YOU feel more comfortable, but in this one rare case ladies, let other people work around you rather than vice versa.
ONCE YOU’VE ARRIVED
First and foremost. When you’re abroad, 99% of the places you will go will lose their shit about your baby and be ready to hold her at any moment. Other cultures tend to be more community focused than the States are, and we’ve had baristas take our baby while we drink coffee, hotel staff gift her with clothing (see below), and old men ask to hold her. It delights me to raise her in a way that greets strangers and people from all walks of life with joy, and as a mom it overflows my heart to have her experience love and community in far-flung places. I mention this because the world will rise to meet you with open arms– you just have to go to it. I want Misa to know this fully.
Controversial opinion here: when Misa was first born and we were flying all summer, most often we would let her sleep in the bed with us. I KNOW this is not for everyone and even writing this a few months later I cannot imagine doing it, but it worked for us. It wasn’t the safety issue I imagined it might be because no one was really getting any sleep anyway: Misa was up every 90 minutes to two hours to eat, so neither of us could be in REM, and it was easier to just be in bed together than stand up all night long before heading out to work all day the next day (meditating all the while on the 2019 motto “WE CAN DO HARD THINGS”).
When she started sleeping 2-3 hours at a stretch, we moved her into her own space when traveling, and most often that space was… A DRESSER DRAWER, because we classy. Honestly, whenever we booked Airbnbs, we would scour the listing to see what furniture they had. If there was a solid dresser, we’d remove a drawer, line it with blankets, and boom: instant baby zone. Misa slept in drawers everywhere from the Hamptons to New Orleans and we felt resourceful and old-timey. You can also narrow down your search on Airbnb to include items for a baby so you don’t have to pack them. Hotels also often offer supplies like a Pack n Play if you ask ahead of time.
Now that Misa is 8 months, she’s getting a little big for most drawers and we will either reserve a Pack n Play ahead of time or bring ours in a pinch. Every airline is so different about what they’ll allow, but often you can bring an extra carryon for the baby– that’s usually the bed, in our case.
The internet will tell you all kinds of things about how to handle jet lag for babies, and they are purely there to make you feel like you have a single iota of control over it (laughs until she cries). If you have the time, energy and wherewithal to get your baby on a new sleep schedule before you leave, then you’re a better person than I. We opt to just let nature take its course, knowing that sleep will be a struggle for a few days after arrival. The first handful of days, we let Misa sleep more or less how she wants to, though we try to move in 60 minute increments toward the new time zone. Inevitably, we are in for 3 am hangouts, but we try to keep the room dark and quiet so her body (and ours) attunes faster to the new time. Using sunshine strategically is also key- getting a little sun on your faces even when you feel like dying is a gentle way to adapt. Leaving a few days of adjustment time if possible is ideal, but often when the time difference was minimal (a long weekend on the east coast, for example) we tried to just keep her on the west coast time schedule. Jet lag is humbling no matter your age, so keep your chin up and know that you are making memories no matter the hour!
When we got pregnant we said (like every soon to be parent, haha) that we didn’t want the baby to change our lifestyle, knowing full well we were being naive. Has she changed everything in our world? Of course. But— our values and priorities have remained exactly the same: to love people, work well, travel often, and enjoy life. So in many ways, traveling with a baby is just adding a tiny human to the mix and taking away your normal sleep schedule. It’s not crazy, it’s not impossible, and I want to encourage you to venture forth boldly and make it happen! Now, to learn how to travel with a budding toddler…
A few 2019 adventures with Amisadai Áine… we can’t wait to see yours unfold!