Our First Mommy & Son Adventure Flying Solo
Flying with a baby is easier than you think. There. I said it. And I damn well meant it too.
Here’s the thing:
I have been an adventurer for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was the frequent family road trips to Florida counting down the famous “Pedro” signs to South of the Border. Or maybe I just inherently have a gypsy soul grounded only by my love for my sweet little family. Either way, I’ve never been able to stay still for very long, so when I had my son just 5 months ago I knew that my love for travel and adventure was something I wanted to share with him.
And so we embarked on our first Mommy and Son Adventure this past weekend. Daddy had to work, so it was just the two of us headed to my home state of New Jersey to surprise my parents for their 60th birthdays.
Are you Insane?!
I know what you’re thinking. Flying alone with a 5 month old baby is absolute insanity – and you might be correct. But for me this was just the latest in my long string of adventures and the first of many to come for me and my little guy.
I’ve taken plenty of solo vacations in my lifetime, as well as romantic getaways, girls weekends and business trips, and each of them carried their own life lessons to be learned. Traveling alone provided me with some fantastic time for reflection and even forced me to go out and interact (albeit safely) with new and interesting people. The romantic getaways that my husband and I have taken have been the most spectacular way to reconnect in a world that can often be chaotic.
And business trips? Well, they are business trips and work is work, but I ALWAYS made sure to make time to get away and explore the cities I was in – and mostly solo, might I add. I happen to be a huge history buff and I loved indulging in any local history I could find.
Flying With A Baby Rule #1: Be Prepared!
Traveling with my son is my (fabulous!) new normal now and a wonderful bonding and learning experience for both of us, but it isn’t like my previous travel adventures. There is no “throw your stuff in a bag and let’s go” kind of spontaneity involved in traveling with littles. You. Must. Be. Prepared. I can not stress that enough. Trust me when I tell you that preparation and research means the difference between a smooth sailing trip and complete and utter chaos. Yes – I’m talking about poor Suzy and her out of control toddler who is screaming so loud she has to buy everyone within a three-row radius a double Jack and Coke.
But as much as flying with a baby has the *possibility* to be out of control, it doesn’t have to be. I’m not some long lost relative of Merlin himself with a slew of magic spells and potions in my carry-on – anyone can have a dream trip with their baby with the right tools and a great mindset, and I’m here to provide you with the extensive research I did all in a one stop shop.
Flying with a Baby Rule #2: Start Small
One of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is this: Don’t try to be a hero. Seriously. If you make your first trip a 10 hour trek to Hawaii, I promise you that no matter how “chill” your baby is, a long trip like that will be way too much for them at first. Limit your trip to 4 hours or less and if you really want to make that trip to Maui, split the flights in two with a long overnight layover – or stopover in San Diego for a couple of nights and hit the San Diego Zoo while you’re there!
Rule #3: Prepare Your Munchkin
I’ve been taking my son out on day trips since he was about six weeks old, knowing that this would make for a baby who is adaptable to change. Babies – and mommies alike – love routine, but they can’t be so conditioned to one that they can’t adjust. For example, if you little one has to take a nap in his or her own bassinet at 12:40pm on the dot and can’t nap elsewhere, you’re going to have a hard time.
Get out of the house a couple days a week at varying times – go on a Target run or find a great local family-friendly festival. This will also give you a chance to understand your baby’s temperament in different situations and at different times. For example, I know that Jameson travels better during the day and that he is not a fan of being in his car seat for too long.
The other thing that you want to do is figure out what works best for your baby when they’re fussy or bored. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse works more often than not in our house and when all else fails, Mommy’s self-written “Stinky Pie” song (don’t ask – I’m such a weird Mom) always gets a smile. Once you know what works, make sure you have this on hand easily – download cartoons to your phone or bring baby’s favorite toy.
Rule #4: Plan for A Car Seat
One important thing you must be certain not to forget when flying with a baby is that your baby is going to need a car seat to get to your destination once you’re back on solid ground, if not on the plane itself. Some parents prefer to buy a ticket for their little one and bring their car seat along for their little one regardless of the length of the flight and others prefer to bring their child as a lap child, which they can be as long as they are under 2 years old. I can understand both sides of this popular debate.
For me, unless it’s a particularly long flight, I will more than likely continue to check Jameson’s car seat and bring him as a lap child, partly for the ease of getting through TSA checkpoints and partly because my little man much prefers being on my lap anyway and will fuss a whole lot less that way.
What worked well for me was to purchase an affordable FAA approved convertible car seat with a high safety rating like the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat, which you can grab here on Amazon for a great price. The seat is both rear facing and front facing and can last you many travel-filled years. Just be sure to read the instructions on how to install the rear-facing option as it is packaged ready for front facing.
Not only does having a dedicated “travel car seat” that my son can grow with spare his primary car seat any possible damage while in cargo, but its lightweight enough to carry in this the Birdee Car Seat Travel Bag for Airplane Gate Check and Carrier for Travel, which actually turns into a backpack! I checked it at the counter, leaving me to travel lightly through the TSA checkpoint.
Rule #5: Don’t Forget Baby’s Birth Certificate
Enough said… Make sure you have it with you! Southwest requires this for your baby to board as a lap child or even with a seat. Check with your airline ahead of time to ensure that this is all you need, as well as to let them know that you are flying with a baby even though a lap child doesn’t need a paid ticket.
Hint #1: Consider TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck allows pre-approved low risk travelers to speed through the security lines with their own dedicated entry point, which I’ve never seen more than one or two people in. You also don’t have to take your shoes or light jacket off and don’t need to pull your laptop or electronics out of your carry-on for screening. Kids 12 and under traveling with their parents get to go through TSA Pre with them without having to pay the enrollment fee or go through the verification process. To be honest, this is kind of a no brainer for parents. It costs $85 per adult, but it lasts for 5 years. If you plan on flying with baby a lot, that’s essentially $17 a year for a lot of time saved. For more info and to start the process, head to https://www.tsa.gov/precheck
Rule #6: Travel Light and Travel Smart
When it comes to your carry-on luggage, travel light and travel smart. Unless it’s a particularly long flight, I found that it was a lot easier to use Jameson’s baby bag as a carry on and my purse as my personal item. It was only a 2-1/2 hour flight so we didn’t need much besides some diapers, wipes, a couple toys, a change of clothes and my small laptop. If you breastfeed, you can really travel light since your boobs are basically your baby bottles. Haha! If your baby is formula fed, a couple of bottles stuck in the baby bag should suffice.
As far as carrying baby, baby carriers are EVERYTHING. I am a huge fan of the Lillebaby Complete Airflow 360 baby carrier. It’s fairly breathable, easy to put baby in when you’re by yourself and has lumbar support, which I would be a broken human without. Not only does it make it easier for you to have two free hands while carrying your munchkin, but if your little one gets fussy on the plane you can just strap him or her into the carrier and walk up and down the aisle until they fall asleep. I had to do this on our return flight and it worked like a charm!
And as a bonus, this carrier is so versatile that I use it daily at home while cleaning the house, doing laundry, etc. This is 100% one of the best baby product purchases I have ever made.
If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, I suggest wearing either flip-flops or another slip-on type of shoe so that you aren’t struggling with laces and squishing your shoes back onto your feet after everything has run through security. And if you don’t have to travel with your laptop or carry on any liquids, don’t. One less thing to have to deal with. Pulling things in and out of your bag is not ideal when traveling alone with your munchkin.
Rule #7: Be Overly Prepared for the Flight
I highly suggest being prepared for on-flight entertainment, whether you pre download some of your baby’s favorite cartoons, bring his or her favorite (travel friendly) toys or purchase WiFi on board just in case. I do not suggest using headphones for a baby under 2 years old (they have very fragile little eardrums), but just keep their cartoon super low if you do end up having to play it for them. It’s a last resort for me, but I didn’t have any issues with anyone being bothered by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse playing very low on my laptop for Jameson. Most people wear headphones and, in my humble opinion, they could opt to listen to a screaming baby instead. Their choice. I’d choose Mickey every time.
I also had Clorox disinfectant wipes in my carry-on and wiped down every surface that Jameson *might* touch once we sat down because, well, germs.
If you breastfeed, try to nurse your munchkin during takeoff and landing. It will help with their little ears popping. I did this for Jameson and he wasn’t bothered one bit by the change in cabin pressure. If you bottle feed, saving their bottle for these times would work just as well.
Flying with a Baby Rule #8: Have the Appropriate Checked Luggage
You are going to have to haul your checked luggage with you once your flight lands and you are headed to your next destination (unless you are going to Disney and take advantage of the Magical Express…squeeee! But that’s a post for another day). Make sure that your luggage isn’t too heavy to pull off the belt at baggage claim and don’t overpack. I used a hard case spinner suitcase by Vince Camuto and I’m obsessed with it! The spinner option for your luggage is super important so that you can move with ease without having to tip your suitcase while trying to juggle a baby, a baby bag and a car seat. And I mean, it’s also SUPER cute!
Hint #2: For Those Checked Car Seats
If you do check your car seat, keep in mind that it will not come out onto the carousel with the rest of your checked luggage. There is a designated area with an attendant where you can pick this up. Don’t be afraid to ask them to help you get the backpack carrier onto your back for the car seat either!
I must’ve looked like crazy lady with my baby in a front carrier (facing in is safest in this case), my spinner suitcase on my right with the baby bag secured atop it, my backpack car seat carrier on my back and my purse on my left arm, but you know what? I had it all down! My only wish is that I could have had someone take a picture – haha!
Rule #9: Car Rentals
If you are renting a car, I highly suggest renting from an on-site car rental company, especially the bigger names. I have rented from plenty of companies in the past and my two favorites by far are Hertz and National. I search for car rental deals multiple times before my trip, even after I’ve booked what I think is a good deal. It costs nothing to cancel your car rental reservation unless you’ve already pre-paid so it’s a great practice to continually check to make sure you are getting the right deal.
This time around I rented from Hertz and it was probably the best experience I’ve ever had renting a car. Not only was the car brand new and super clean, but when I went to return it, they noticed that I was traveling with my son and offered me a courtesy ride right up to my terminal rather than make me walk through the entire airport. I’m telling you – it’s the little things that make all the difference!
Just as a side note – some travelers prefer to rent their car seat when they rent their car. This is another “personal choice” topic, but being a germaphobe and all, this is something I don’t prefer. While I am certain that most car seats will be clean, the thought of someone else’s child throwing up in the car seat gives me grossed out chills just thinking about it.
Flying with Baby Rule #10 (the MOST Important Rule):
Most importantly, all of this pre-planning might seem like a lot, but its true intention is to ensure that once you are on your trip – wherever it may be that you are going – that you are able to just relax and HAVE FUN! Smile, keep calm and enjoy yourself – you’ve got this! I can’t tell you how many people told me I was brave and, to be honest, I was brimming with pride in those moments, but also totally aware that ANYONE can do this! Just call me your guinea pig. I will proudly go where few women have gone before so I can give you the tips and courage to do the same. And if you do, let me know! I’d love to hear how your experiences went! Email me at [email protected] and let’s celebrate together!