Monday, March 5, 2007

Traveling with Baby

This post is for ltrajman and anyone else considering traveling with a baby. Ian has been through 10 take-offs and landings in his short life, including a trip from DC to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to Cairo. The rest have been fairly short flights in Egypt and the Middle East. I have found that traveling with an infant is slower, but easy. You can't move as quickly, but with priority boarding and the right attitude, it is fairly painless. As soon as the baby starts to walk, it will get harder, so go everywhere you can before your baby walks!

First things first, for international travel, babies need a passport. Ian had his passport picture taken at 6 days old because we knew we were going to Egypt. Also, if you are going somewhere that requires a visa, chances are the baby will need a visa as well. In places like Egypt and Qatar, you can just buy a visa at the airport after you land, but some places require an application. This is just a bit of trivia, but if you go to Israel, don't let them stamp your passport. You may have trouble getting into Muslim countries if you do. They can stamp a piece of paper and then remove it when you leave.

Next, on a long flight, if you can afford to purchase a seat for the baby, do it. The extra room is well-worth the extra money. It makes feeding, changing and entertaining so much easier. Even if you decide against buying a seat for the baby, you must get a lap ticket when you are making your reservations.

As for what to take, bring a baby carrier like the Beco or Ergo Carrier. These carriers are wonderful. I can't say enough about them. They are two-shouldered carriers with waist and chest straps. They can be used in front, side or back carries and are adjustable to fit a wide range of sizes. They are both lightweight and foldup, unlike a frame back pack. You can do lots of vigorous site-seeing with these carriers. I would probably leave your stroller at home for most international trips. If you do buy a seat for your infant, you need an airline-approved carseat for take-off and landing (most US seats are airline approved, but you should check). In that case, I might take the stroller to push the car seat around in th airport. The airline will gate-check your stroller and bring it back out to you when you land as you de-plane. I am actually trying to decide if I will take my stroller with me to the States in April. I will have the carseat to contend with, so I think I will. I will still carry him in my Beco Carrier, though. It keeps him calmer.

Luggage allowances for infants vary from airline to airline and also depend on what type of ticket (lap or seat) you have purchased. Generally, though, you can check the carseat in checked luggage and gate check your stroller with no extra charge, even for a lap child. Also, you can bring a diaper bag for the child at no extra charge. If you haven't travelled in awhile, the weight allowances per piece of luggage have decreased. Some airlines will weigh your carry-ons also and take them away if they are overweight. Others aren't as precise. Still, it is better to be well within your limits at the beginning of the trip to make room for any souvenirs you might bring back with you so check with your airline so you don't get caught throwing things out as we did on the way back from Japan last year. Another option is to pack an empty duffle bag so you can off-load some weigh into another bag. Weight is checked on each bag. It doesn't matter if you are under your total weight allowance, if you are over it on a particular bag, you will have to pay. Excess weight allowance charges can be hundreds of dollars. It was going to be $800 to get our excess weigh from Japan. Like I said, we just threw a bunch of stuff out.

For carry-on:
1. Baby Tylenol, Ear Numbing Drops (you can get these by prescription, they are usually for kids with ear infections), Anti-Gas Drops and any other medicine they are currently taking. Put them in a sandwich-size ziplock bag. The clear zippered bag is a requirement. Some airports with have these, others won't.

2. Feeding: If you breastfeed, you are all set with the exception of any solid food your baby might need. Travelling is much easier if you breastfeed. I have been on a few flight where they gave me baby food (Ian doesn't eat baby food, yet, we are starting tomorrow), but you should have what you need, plus water or expressed milk for mixing with the food. If you formula-feed have the bottles you need for the double the length of the trip (transport to your destination, not length of vacation). Delays can be long, be prepared.

3. Diapering: Bring twice what you think you will need for traveling. This should cover you in case of delay or lost luggage.

4. Miscellaneous: extra change of comfortable clothes like a onesie and a sleeper; a blanket; a toy or two.

Try to limit what you put in your carry-on other than the baby stuff and absolute essentials, especially if you don't have the help of another adult.

To Pack in the Suitcase:
1. Manual or battery-powered breast pump and extra batteries because the current is different so you won't be able to plug it in. If you think you will be separated from your baby for any length of time during the trip, say to climb a mountain while leaving the baby with daddy at the bottom, or you have problems with engorgement, or want to keep up your supply because you are a milk bank donor, bring your pump. Otherwise, leave it at home.

2. Diapers: you can get disposable diapers most places, but they aren't always the same quality (like here in Egypt) or the same price (like Europe), especially when you factor in the exchange rate. Consider what day and time you are arriving so that you at least have enough diapers to get you through to when the stores are open.

3. Miscellaneous: Clothing to layer (to account for drafty hotel room and unpredictable weather), sun protection, hat for the baby, etc., any additional bottles or feeding supplies you need.

At the Airport:

1. Take advantage of family pre-boarding policies. In some parts of the world, people push and cut and family pre-boarding is not enforced. If that is the case, board last. Don't fight the throngs of people if you don't have to. It is a lot harder with a baby and all the accompanying equipment, so just sit down and wait until most people have boarded if you can't pre-board.

2. If your baby has a seat and will be in a carseat for take-off and landing, have a bottle or pacifier ready to go in case baby's ears won't pop. After you get airbone, take baby out to nurse, if you are nursing. If you are holding baby on your baby, you can probably nurse on the way up, though, I think you are supposed to have them upright on your lap facing out for take-off and landing. Nurse, pacifier or bottle on the way down as well.

3. Don't rush getting off the plane. You will have to wait for your stroller anyway, so it is better to take your time. Especially with international travel, people will push you. The "zippering" concept does not exist everywhere, most international flights I've been on people take their big bags and push. When you've got a baby, it isn't worth it. Keep your hands over the baby's head as you exit to avoid falling luggage or pushy people knocking you into something.

In summary, when traveling with a baby, it is hard to pack light, so to pack smart instead. Know the resources, culture and accomodations of your destination when planning what to bring. Take your time and breathe. You can do and see a lot while traveling with a baby, just maybe not as much as fast as pre-baby.

A note for ltrajman: Great picture of Gideon on the front of his blog. I love that new baby look.

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