Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Big USA Pilgrimage: Traveling with an Infant

International travel is always an undertaking, but never more so than when you have kids in tow. The flights between Australia and the USA are so long that one must come prepared. I was extremely anxious before we took our first transpacific flight with my first born. She was 7 months old at the time and I know I lost sleep for many nights before we departed wondering if she'd scream her guts out for 14hrs and how exactly I'd deal with the ensuing mutiny if that really did occur. Fortunately, my nightmares never saw the light of day and my daughter was relatively well behaved. Of course, half of that is credit to her personality and the other half is credit to good planning on my part.

When traveling with an infant on a transpacific flight, I always tried to contain my hand luggage to just the nappy (diaper) bag. The reason being, I'd need to have my hands free to carry the baby. Inside of the nappy bag I'd pack:

*nappies (enough for the flight plus extra in case we missed a connection or had a delay)
*Plastic bags
*changing mat
*bottles (w/formula if you require or to be used for milk)
*baby food or snacks
*baby's blanket
*Couple of changes of clothes for baby and a clean shirt for me
*Medicines: panadol, dimetap, bonjela, etc
*Travel Documents
*My personal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc)
*Toys: 6 or 7 small items, some old favourites mixed with something totally new but NOTHING with noise (your baby might like the sounds, but your fellow passengers don' me!)

(This is not an exhaustive list, but just a general idea)

I always pack these items in sealed plastic bags (ziplocs or space bags). I did it on a whim the very first time I flew the distance with my new baby and have stuck to this method ever since. It's much easier to pack and repack ziploc bags holding groups of items rather than each item individually. Also, something always spills or leaks, so if every item is zipped up in plastic then you won't have any big consequences with these unfortunate spills.

My children always traveled as lap children when they were under 2 years old. This meant we only paid 10% of the full fare for them and they aren't allocated a seat. When they are small enough, they can sleep in a built in bassinet while on board the plane. The bassinets fold down from the bulk head at the front of each section of the plane (on Qantas anyway). Many parents find this a useful place for baby to sleep during the flight. My kids have always hated them and never settled to sleep in them . So in my personal experience, they were of little value, unfortunately. Don't be deterred though. Give them a go and see if they work for your child. If it means having your lap free for 7 out of 14 hours, then it's all worth it. The downside to these bulk head seats is the arm rests house your tray tables so they do not lift up. So if you do have an empty seat next to you, you can't really stretch out because the arm rest is in the way. So bottom line is, if you aren't going to use the bassinets, try to request seats elsewhere so you can spread out more easily if you have the chance.

Another item I found really useful during my travels with my infant children was my Baby Bjorn. This came in super handy when baby number 2 arrived and I needed to have my hands free to hold child number 1's hand or push child number 1 in a stroller (pram). You do have to completely remove baby from the pouch and put the whole thing through the x-ray machine at the security check point, but it was nice to have my hands free for checking in, paying for food, carrying hand luggage, etc. (It might be important to note here that a great many of my USA trips with my children have been done solo due to my husband's work commitments. So having my hands free was very important because I was doing everything myself),

I always take a small collapsible stroller that I can gate check. I found it useful to have the kids buckled into a stroller in a busy airport so 1) they don't get lost and 2) we can move quickly if necessary. Also, I've found the stroller a great help in transporting my hand luggage as I'd generally hook that bag on the handles. A basic stroller that can fully recline with some sort of small storage space underneath is what I've always used. The stroller has always been really helpful in the LAX airport waiting for our return flight to Melbourne as that flight doesn't depart until 11pm LA time. By this point, my kids are beyond tired. So I just wheel them around in the stroller till they fall asleep and then wrap them up and carry them on board the plane when it's time to depart, turning the stroller over to the airline staff at the jet way entrance.

As for car seats, we've never taken them along. Partly because we've got so much other luggage and partly because we are always able to borrow seats from kind family and friends upon arrival in the USA. Now that our kids are older and only require the basic booster seats, we've actually purchased their own inexpensive ones in the USA and leave them with family members there from year to year. This works well if you always visit the same place.

I'm sure this does seem like a lot of things to consider, but when it's all packed up, it' isn't really that bad. I'd love to hear from others about what things you take along and what's worked for you. Please share what you know in the comments section! Thanks.