What if she has a blowout on the plane? What if I forget to pack a crucial item she needs? What if she's inconsolable during the flight and we look like "those" parents?
All of these "new mom" fears and anxieties immediately rushed to my mind when my husband proposed that we go on a family trip with our 4-month-old baby girl. Hawaii for a few days is always a good idea, right?! But this time would be different — this time we would be going to the beach with a two-foot-tall human whose delicate skin must avert sun exposure, whose cute little bum will need constant diaper changes, and whose strict feeding schedule will require "refueling" every two-and-a-half hours.
With all these restrictions, I had to ask myself, "Will this even feel like a vacation at all?"
As soon as we booked the flight, a new level of anxiety started to brew inside me as I tried to conquer all the major logistical stresses. How will I fit all of the items she needs into a suitcase, how will we all get to the airport, and how will she react to being on the airplane?
How to Pack
After I checked the weather for the trip, I opted to pack enough outfits, burp cloths, and swaddles for half of the trip knowing that I could do laundry midway through, so this cut the amount of items I was going to bring (albeit I couldn't help but bring three swimsuit looks for her, of course complete with coordinating accessories to boot).
I also made sure I packed items that would allow for me to have some freedom: a baby carrier to be able to walk the beach and catch those creamsicle sunsets, or her baby monitor so we could camp ourselves poolside (just outside our door!) while she was napping. I also made sure to hightail it to Hawaii with my breast pump to give us some freedom on the road or should I opt for an ice-cold piña colada (those drink umbrellas just scream vacation — err, I mean, family trip).
Here's my complete packing checklist:
- Washcloths, blow-up bath
- Travel-size shampoo, laundry detergent, dish soap, and sponge
- Baby monitor
- Nail clippers, file, hairbrush
- Diapers, wipes, diaper cream
- Clothing, sleep sack
- Burp cloths, swaddle blankets
- Socks, mittens, beanies
- Activity gym (just the mat)
- Diaper bag (with extras of everything in case of delays)
- Bottles, bottle warmer
- Breast milk bags, mini cooler bag (with ice pack)
- Breast pump and nursing bra
- Baby carrier
- Stroller, car seat
- Swimsuit, sunscreen, hat, bug spray
- Toys for the plane
- Baby Tylenol
I knew that a key element of having her comfortable on the trip was to make her feel as "at home" as possible. This meant keeping her on her schedule (noting the time difference) and bringing a few essentials from home that were part of her daily routine: an activity mat for "tummy time," a sleep sack for nighttime, and purchasing a travel tub for bath time.
Once I had all the items I needed for the little lady "island-side," I opted to pack her diaper bag as my purse and bring extras of everything inflight as my carry-on. Midflight blowouts? Bring it! I had extra pairs of clothing (for her and me) and diapers and wipes for days. With all this, I felt I had the "ammo" needed for anything that may
spit up come up during the flight. Worst case, I threw some Baby Tylenol in my diaper bag as a break-in-case-of-emergency type thing. Wanted to avoid any altitude attitude.
More prepping and packing tips:
- Get baby used to room-temperature bottles and food, so you don't have the additional hassle of heating en route (plus, your baby will likely enjoy the cold milk in the heat).
- Practice the car seat with seat belt and no base well before your trip.
- Bring black lawn trash bags (a cheaper alternative to protective covers) for the stroller and car seat when you gate-check them so they don't get dirty.
- Opt for a cute diaper bag that can also serve as your purse. You don't want to negotiate a bunch of bags every time you want to grab lunch.
- If there is a stage that your baby may start on the trip, like teething, go ahead and bring a few items baby may need for soothing. You don't want to drive around an island looking for a silicone teether!
- Figure out how many diapers your child goes through in a day and do the math to ensure you bring about half of that so you can buy or ship the rest.
- Order any items you can to be shipped straight to your accommodations.
How to Travel
On the big day, the alarm went off at 5:45 a.m., which meant I had precisely 15 minutes to shower, 30 minutes to feed her, and 15 minutes for anything extra. Before I knew it, we had our five bags and stroller in the Uber, and she was strapped in ready to go.
We checked all of our bags with ample time (whew!) and were finally ready to go through security. I held the baby as my husband fit the stroller, car seat, and carry-ons through the security belt, making sure the bottle of breast milk was in a separate bag, per TSA. We used the stroller as a makeshift luggage cart and stuffed the baby carrier underneath to use in flight. Once we made it down the jet bridge, we gate-checked the stroller and car seat and grabbed the baby carrier. It was showtime!
We stuffed the carry-ons overhead and put the diaper bag on the floor for easy access. Unsure how she would do with the altitude, I began to nurse her as soon as the plane took off. This worked quite well as before I knew it we were in the air cruising over 30,000 feet. Once she was fed and content, we pulled the insert of the carrier out and laid it across our laps to create a padded place to play. Having her favorite toys, which we alternated, was key. She fussed a bit, then took a nap. We were even able to watch a movie, which was a shock to us both. Overall, she did quite well on her first flight: four diaper changes (all number ones — winning!), two naps, two breastfeeding sessions, a few cries, lots of playtime, and zero dirty looks (score!).
By the time we landed, the major stresses I had were behind us and it was time to get the show on the road. At this point we had practiced the car seat sans base in our car so we quickly got her settled in the rental car and were on our way.
More air travel tips:
- If one of you has a lower status on the frequent flyer program, have the Infant in Arms booking under that person's name so you have a higher chance of boarding in the same "class."
- Choose your seats ahead of time — the window is great to control the lighting.
- Dress yourself and baby comfortably for the flight — easy access to nurse for you and easy access to diapers for baby.
- Look out for family bathrooms at the airport.
- Find out as soon as you board which plane bathroom has a changing table.
- Have your partner wipe down the seats, trays, and armrest with antibacterial wipes once on board.
- Fold a swaddle blanket in half to create a triangle. Tie the ends together to make a toga and use that if you want to cover up while nursing — you are sitting pretty close to the person next to you!
- Nurse on the way up and down (and bring a bottle just in case).
- Don't rush off the plane; it takes a while for the gate-check items to be brought up, and you don't want to feel "in the way" with the baby.
How to Enjoy
Once the trip began I quickly learned that this was not your typical vacation. That free-flowing feeling was gone. We were on her schedule, needed to plan our days, couldn't just rush out the door, and needed to stay out of the sun even though we were at THE BEACH!
Instead of watching the sunset each night, we were able to enjoy it the nights that worked best with her nap. Instead of lying on the beach for hours deep in a book, we had one-hour trips to the beach where my husband and I took shifts going into the water while she relaxed under the umbrella. Instead of having a few midday cocktails, we were keeping her cool with wet washcloths and sufficiently fed (better to overfeed babies in heat to avoid dehydration). I learned that although it was not the old vacation experience (i.e. I came home from Hawaii without a tan), it was still fun to be able to see some absolutely beautiful scenery, spend quality time with my family, and score a few Instagram shots.
The flight home was a lot easier for us — we felt like pros at that point. It took about four days posttrip to get her back to her normal schedule, but all in all she didn't seem to suffer from too much baby jet-lag.
More trip tips:
- Regardless of the time difference, try to keep your baby on the same schedule as at home because it will give you more control over your day and your little one will be happy.
- Once at the beach, find (or bring) nice shade for the baby.
- Bring washcloths to use with cold water bottles in case baby feels hot while outside.
- Bring beauty products that make it really easy to get up and go, such as tinted moisturizer matched to your skin, lip gloss, and dry shampoo for those days you don't have time to wash your hair.
- You're not likely going to see the inside of a spa, but pack a few face masks and other pampering items to treat yourself once the little one goes down. You gotta get in where you fit in!
The most important thing I learned? Just do your research to be as prepared as you can, and after that just roll with the punches and stay calm. It'll be the best family trip you've ever been on.