Travel has always been an important part of my life – something that energizes and inspires me, and upon becoming a mother – I really didn’t want that to change. My son is now 18 months old and we’re about to embark on his 8th trip involving flights around Asia and the Australasia region, along with as many road rips as well. Since we live in Bangkok and some of our travel has been around the Asian region, I’ve had to be pretty prepared, and picked up quite a few lessons on making travel easier with infants.
1. Be clear on what you want out of the trip for everyone involved
We’re always pretty clear upfront what the main purpose of our trip is, and by doing so we’re able to make sure that we plan the trip to meet those objectives. We’ve taken trips that have been solely to visit family, others have been to attend a work conference or sporting event, some are for the purpose of escaping the big city that we live in and to spend time outdoors, or to visit and experience a different location. Whatever the purpose may be, keep that in mind, and do as much as you can to make that compatible with all family members needs. There were some trips that we ruled out because it was going to be too difficult when traveling with an infant, for example, visiting certain beach destinations that were known for being excellent diving and snorkeling locations just weren’t going to work for us to be able to vacation with our young son.
2. Do your research on available facilities for little ones
Many of our trips have been made much easier by knowing ahead of time what facilities are available at your destination, and during your travels to get there.
Many airports have special facilities for babies and young children – such as priority security/immigration lines, special bathroom or nursing facilities, playrooms/playgrounds and porter services that parents with lots of luggage can take advantage of. Its worth doing some research about your intended airports to work out what facilities are available to you to make your trip easier.
By understanding the airline regulations on child restraints on planes, and the age/weight restrictions for babies using the bassinet on the airline we were traveling with, we were able to save ourselves a lot of headaches once we boarded the flight. Also be sure to pre-order a toddler or child’s meal on the flight if applicable.
By checking ahead with the hotel we were staying at we were able to ensure that they would be able to provide some of the gear for our son in order to make life a lot easier, and save us lugging extra stuff with us. Most large chain hotels can provide a port-a-cot/pack and play or a crib, and some even have high chairs and car seats available for use while staying at the hotel. Also by checking the hotel’s facilities such as babysitting, kid’s club and playgrounds – it can help to plan for the best way to keep kids entertained and have some time-out for parents if desired. We also checked on the availability of child-friendly meals when deciding on hotels – having a kids menu can make meal times much less stressful when traveling with small children.
I also found that by doing research on availability of upgrades and loyalty programs I was able to make my travel a lot less stressful. For example, by using loyalty points to upgrade to a suite room instead of a standard sized room, we were able to have more space and somewhere to escape to when my son was asleep in bed, rather than tiptoeing around a dark, small hotel room. Hotels which included buffet breakfast (or club access breakfast) were also really helpful to feed a starving child fast. I also found that I was able to make the most of some sweet spots in redeeming airline loyalty points for business class travel, which allowed for much more space and more relaxed transit areas in the airport – a huge bonus when traveling with an infant.
3. Allow extra time when traveling with children
When planning your travels, definitely allow extra time – whether that is time to board the plane, transfer between flights or get settled at your destination. Things always seemed to take longer than I expected – and somehow there was always an urgent nappy change needed right when we were rushing to collect our luggage or board our flight.
4. When flying, select your seat carefully
Many airlines allow you to pre-select your seat online, or when traveling with a child you can request a seat preference over the phone with your airline. We found that while many airlines will put young children in the bulk head seat, we found this row to be very difficult when storing luggage, as it all must be stored in the overhead locker and not under the seat in front of you – which made reaching for the urgent needed item much more difficult. The other downside of the bulkhead row is that the tv’s and tray tables are stored in the arm rest, which can be awkward with a toddler (particularly when holding a sleeping child), and the arm rests do not lift up to allow for more space for a sleeping child. Other things to consider are the proximity to lit-up or heavily trafficked areas such as the galley or lavatories (especially if you are traveling at night), and the option of possibly getting an extra seat to spread out onto if the flight is not fully booked.
5. Consider your child’s routine and the best time for traveling
One thing we learnt the hard way, was that ‘pushing out’ your child’s nap time to try to coincide with travel time just didn’t work for our son. Depending on how good your child is at sleeping, especially in a stroller, car seat or baby carrier – may impact how you time your travels. We were taking a weekend car trip, and decided that we would leave mid afternoon on Friday – and postpone our son’s nap time in the hope that he would nap for the first part of our journey. Of course that didn’t happen, and we ended up stuck in Friday evening traffic – with an over-tired, unhappy toddler! We’ve also had several day time flights when my son didn’t nap a wink – there was just too much going on inside the cabin to distract him at his usual sleep time.
On the other hand, we flown on many ‘red-eye’ flights with our son from an early age and on some trips he slept in the car to the airport, and even while walking through the airport – but generally once we were settled on the plane and we had his regular sleep time comforts – he fell asleep until morning. The white noise and rocking motion planes is said to be helpful for young children to sleep. But certainly ensuring he had his regular teddy bear and night-time bottle helped our son to know that it was sleep time as well.
Depending on your child’s sleep patterns – flying at night is not always as terrible as it sounds, and by employing as much of their usual sleep routine as possible, can be a good strategy to travel in peace! But changing up your child’s sleep routine can be a recipe for disaster if they are not someone that easily adjusts – so this is definitely an area for careful consideration, experimentation and just rolling with the punches if things don’t go smoothly.
6. Pack the essentials – and bring extra essentials!
On our very first flight with our son as a tiny 8 week old, I made sure I had supplies for every possibility – extra nappies, wipes, clothes, baby clothes, hats, booties – you name it. But when I ended up covered in baby vomit – I learnt the hard way that I needed to bring a spare change of clothes for me too! Here is a list of items that we travel with
- Change of clothes for baby and parent, including some warm layers for when it cools down on the plane
- Enough nappies/diapers for the time of the travels plus extra in case of delays
- Burp cloths
- Baby wipes
- Baby’s favourite comforter or teddy
- Swaddle or sleeping sack
- Baby’s favourite bottle, sippy cup and formula (if needed)
- Baby snacks and utensils
- A few small toys plus some favourite light weight books
- Ipad apps to keep them entertained
7. Consider carefully what gear will make your life easier (and what is just extra stuff to carry or lose!)
Its certainly through experience that you work out what gear is essential for your travels and really makes life easier when traveling with an infant – and what just becomes extra stuff that you have to lug around (or can end up losing along the way!). Several things became indispensable for us when traveling with an infant:
- Lightweight pram/stroller
We discovered pretty quickly that lugging a huge stroller around airports was just not feasible – plus it took up so much space and was difficult to maneuver in crowds and was heavy. Once our son was able to hold his head up and sit supported, we went looking for a lightweight stroller that was compact and easy to carry around wherever we went. In Asia this could mean folding it up quickly to carry onto a train system, weave through crowds, pack onto a plane easily as well as pack into a car when going on driving trips. There are several strollers on the market that fit this – and we landed on the Mountain Buggy Nano, the big advantage for us is that it can fold up small enough to fit inside the carry-on luggage dimensions for most aircraft. Which means no more waiting for gate-checked strollers (or wondering where they will show up), and no more concerns about the stroller being damaged in the hold – we can easily fold it up and put it in the overhead locker on the plane.
- Compact car seat & Car Seat Trolley
When traveling with a young child on long haul flights – we decided pretty early on for reasons of safety and our own sanity, he needed to have his own seat. But being so small, the seatbelts of an aircraft don’t do anything to secure a toddler – both to keep him sitting in his seat and not tormenting the entire flight, and particularly to secure him in the event of an emergency we wanted him secured in his car seat. While FAA approved car seats can be taken onto planes – many car seats are too bulky to fit into the space of a plane seat, or to carry through the airport. After trying out several different car seats, we found that we needed something slim that could easily fit in a range of different cars, and could fit alongside other passengers or car seats. We found the Diono Radian RXT US carseat which fits 3 car seats alongside each other in a regular car, and is FAA approved. It can be positioned rear or forward facing, and can also be converted into a booster seat for larger children. We found it fit easily in the airline seat, and was manageable to transport through the airport.
When we paired the Diono Radio RXT with the Britax Car Seat Travel Cart – it made traveling through the airport with the car seat a breeze. The car seat was easily secured onto the cart with the latch attachments, and held in place securely. We could roll our son through the airport strapped into the car seats – making transporting him and the car seat much easier, eliminating the need to carry the stroller onboard (or gate check).
- Baby carrier
A must for traveling in Asia is a comfortable, durable and easy to use baby carrier, as there are many places where using a stroller just isn’t practical. In addition when traveling through airports or other busy/unfamiliar locations – having your little one close to you gives added comfort and security. We use the Manduca, because it is primarily secured at the hips, and prevents a lot of the weight being taken by your shoulders. It also ensures that the baby is in the ‘froggy’ position – which is a more neutral hip position compared with carriers that support the infant more by the crotch and put a lot of weight on the adults shoulders. Several other similar makes of baby carriers also offer the option of inward or outwards facing for the infant – which could be helpful for inquisitive toddlers.
- Toddler booster seat/strap-on high chair
Throughout Asia we found that not a lot of restaurants provide high chairs for little ones. Sometimes we were able to booth/bench seats which were easy for our son to sit on and made meal times OK, but by carrying our own booster/strap-on high chair – we were able to boost and secure our son to any regular dining chair. This really helped to keep him in one place in order to get through mealtime.
- Cares Flight Harness
This isn’t something I’ve tried yet, but for travel when a car seat isn’t needed yet you still want to be able to safely secure a small child in a plane seat – a light weight option is the Cares Flight harness. It secures to the seat behind in order to create a 5-point harness for the child, and stop them slipping out from under the plane lap seatbelt. I’m going to be testing it out on our next trip.
8. Bring extra special entertainment (and anything can be entertaining)
Once our son hit the toddler stage, I tried hard to bring extra special entertainment onto the flights with us – this mean a package of small toys that were new or interesting to him, along with some different books, such as sticker books or activity books. While he did enjoy this (for a little while) – what actually proved to be more popular was regular things that we can across on our travels – such as watching the luggage be loaded on the planes in the airport, playing with the plastic coffee mug that comes with the airline meal tray, or playing peek-a-boo with the passengers behind us.
We also found that snacks were really important! We took a range of items – from dried raisins, pre-packed food such toddler fruit snack bars and crackers, fresh fruit (such as whole banana) or pre-cut in a disposable container, plus regular meal-time items such as a sandwich. Even though we also requested toddler meals on the flights, having food that our son was familiar with (and other food that was considered a treat) was really helpful to get us through the flight.
9. Pack similar items together in packing bags
One thing that I struggled with early on in our travels was finding the exact item that I needed in the moment of chaos while traveling with an infant. Invariably it was at the bottom of the bag, or carefully stored in a different pocket of the bag never to be found until we unpacked the bag. One way that we overcame this was to use small ziplock bags, paper bags, zippered pencil cases or drawstring cloth bags to group similar items together. For example, we have a zippered wet/dry bag for all change items such as spare outfit, wipes and nappies. We also had a zippered pencil case type bag for small toys, and a zip lock bag for snacks. This meant that I could just grab the appropriate bag from inside the carry-on luggage and much more easily locate the exact thing I needed.
10. Be prepared for the unexpected
These strategies helped my husband and I to continue to be able to travel even when our son was small (his first flight was at 8 weeks old), although of course – traveling with an infant is harder work than solo travel. Some people say that a trip with children is not a holiday!! Be prepared for things to go awry, for elements of the trip to be hard work, and for less relaxation than without kids. For us we were able to plan in ways to relax, and activities that the whole family could enjoy and make the most of. But if you can go into the trip with the preparation that even the best laid plans can go wrong, you’ll be prepared to approach those extra delays or unexpected required outfit changes with less angst than if you expect everything to go smoothly.