I just returned from my first solo cross-country trip with my baby. It was her sixth trip since she was born ten months ago, and my second time flying with her by myself.
People tell me I'm "brave" or "impressive" for traveling with her, and ask me how I do it. I decided to blog about it when a mom friend asked me for advice, pending a big trip of her own.
I should begin by saying I don't aim to demonstrate courage or impress anyone by traveling with Alicia, first at 5 weeks old, again at 3 months old, and as she gets bigger from there.
My husband and I travel. He is from a different country; I am from a different coast. Our people are primarily elsewhere, and so we go, to see them, and introduce our sweet baby to them.
It isn't a choice as much as a necessity, and I was incredibly nervous the first time. Alicia was tiny, hadn't had any vaccines yet and we were experiencing postpartum anxiety in a big way.
We covered her while she slept on the plane, to ward away germs; we crowded into the airplane bathroom together for a diaper change, since we were both too nervous on our own.
Experienced traveler parents told us then, and they were right, that it's simpler to travel with a tiny baby who sleeps all the time than a mobile one. Now Alicia is up and ready for action!
I have a few tips for parents traveling for the first time (see below), but mostly encouragement: You will all survive. You will get there, you will get through it, you will come back home.
When I say "get through it," I mean the unexpected challenges that will be frustrating at the time, and you will mostly forget once they're over. (Here's a taste from our trip to Buenos Aires.)
An experienced mom friend told me, as we anxiously approached that first trip with tiny Alicia: "Expect it to go well, and it will."
I've found this to be good advice, in general. If I am calm and confident, and exude that energy, my baby picks up on that and she does better, too. (The same goes for her papa.)
I didn't expend a lot of energy worrying in advance of this recent trip, where Alicia and I flew to the East Coast for ten days together. It was going to be as it was going to be, regardless.
Trust, expect, and hope for the best - that helps.
Another helpful growth curve is that I am practicing letting go of caring about what other people think. I was caring, a lot, especially when in public with my baby.
Then somewhere over the last few months that I've been practicing mindfulness, I started to see this pattern and how much it was adding to my stress. For example:
Alicia is crying on a plane. She's tired and this is not her usual place to fall asleep. The initial event itself is difficult: my baby is crying. Considering the circumstances, this is inevitable.
Everything that comes off of that, though, is optional: I worry about what other people think. I take glances in our direction personally. I feel myself being judged. I start getting anxious.
After observing how much pressure I was putting on myself, and Alicia, for her to not cry in public, I came up with a new approach. I figured that babies cry and mine will too, sometimes.
If other people are upset or uncomfortable, they'll have to find a way to cope. I certainly was able to in all past instances in my life that I was around someone's fussy baby.
Plus, there's no reason for me to take people looking at us the wrong way. Maybe they are concerned, or commiserating from their own child-raising experiences.
I smile at people as much as I can, and tune them out the rest of the time. My responsibility is to myself, and my baby. Everyone else can take care of themselves, and will be fine.
Things I've found that help Alicia cry less when traveling:
- She nurses during take-off and landing, since that is when babies' ears can hurt due to changes in altitude. (If she is sleeping, we don't wake her up.) This has been successful! She doesn't take a pacifier but that would work, too.
- I brought along a few books and toys to distract her now that she is more up and mobile. Snacks that don't get too messy help, too.
- I always ask for a row with an empty seat, if there is one on the plane, so she has somewhere to stand up and move around. (Before, she would sleep in the extra seat!)
- I bring along the baby carrier so I can put her in that to go to the bathroom or walk her in the aisle. On our last flight that was how I got her to sleep, swaying in the aisle for half an hour.
- I find the baby-loving people on the plane (who a. are awake and b. smile and wave at her) and go visit them often. If we're lucky they're sitting behind us or across the aisle!
- I remember that this flight, too, will end, and however long or challenging it was, it soon will be forgotten.
I take care of myself because the more calm and patient I am, so it goes with Alicia. So I practice compassionate self-talk. I pack my snacks and eat them. I get as much help as I can.
Coming onto and leaving the plane, that could look like asking for help (to get my suitcase down, or help setting up or breaking down a stroller). Usually, though, people stop and ask me.
"Do you need help?" "Can I help you?" "Is there anything you need?"
For the rest of my life, I will ask young mothers these questions. I will ask moms with babies even when I am a mom of a child. There is something so magical about being asked.
The mom is seen - not just the cute baby. The mom is acknowledged and supported, as her own person, one doing a hard job!
I have always had people stop and ask. Getting onto the metro, onto or off a bus or a plane, people stop, and ask, and help. They see, and care, and stop their own journey for a moment.
I saw right away how I could trust in the goodness of strangers. It's one of my favorite parts of traveling with a baby! It helped me travel by myself without much concern at all.
- Go through security with baby in a carrier, because that way you can leave her there (if she's in a stroller, if you have to take her out and put her back in again).
- Travel as light as possible. I always buy diapers and wipes upon arrival, and plan to do laundry while traveling.
- Wear pants with a stretchy top so it's easier to go to the bathroom while holding baby. Bring an extra shirt for you (as well as extra outfit for baby) in case the unexpected happens!
- Families with children are usually invited to board first; we liked this when Alicia was little but now prefer to board last, so there's less time cooped up on the plane with mobile little girl.
- It's possible to check a stroller or carseat at the check-in counter but we always bring them, since that way you can load the bags and suitcases onto the stroller and wear baby!
- We bring Alicia's crib sheet and lovey stuffed animals from home so her travel crib feels as comfy as possible. (Same for white noise machine and lullabies.)
- Sleep, in general, is just going to be what it is, when traveling. Get through it, do what you need to do and reset the routines when you're back home.
- Get outside and get sunlight as much as possible upon arrival, if there's a time difference (same for when you get back home). Be patient and flexible!
Because we've traveled with her, Alicia knows her godparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, mom's friends and their babies, and her father's home country.
We as her parents, but still ourselves, have been there for weddings and holidays and quality time with people we love.
As a family, we're figuring out how to do what we have always done - travel. We are raising a daughter to be a flexible, patient, accepting traveler who adjusts to new places and people.
Whatever the motivation or destination is - don't be worried about how it will go. Just go!