For as long as I could remember, I was a traveller. Transatlantic flights to visit grandparents bookended our summers and the romantic sound of the night train clattering through stations remains a vivid memory from my childhood. The trips of my 20’s were those I took alone, to places where I knew no one and could be anyone. It was me and my camera and conversations with locals about everything and anything. And then came motherhood and baby Henri. My husband and I didn’t have the option to stay put those first years. Our family was still everywhere in the world but here (Brooklyn) and so off we went as soon as we got the pediatrician’s green light. Henri was 3 months old.
He’s now three years old and travels the globe like a seasoned business man. Little Henri has frequent flyer miles on multiple airlines, prefers a window seat, and has even been bumped to first class. We’ve built our own list of travel must-haves and routines that get us there, no matter how far the destination. Sometimes we bring his dad along, but often, it’s just the two of us, so I’ve had to find ways to turn my two hands into four when we’re on the go.
- You don’t have to travel light, just travel smart. Splurge on a quality, featherweight carry-on suitcase that rolls well and has multiple compartments. Stuff it with in-flight essentials: more diapers than you think you’ll need, two packs of wipes in case you leave one in an airport bathroom, your kiddo’s favorite, compact toys, a new activity book & crayons, a full set of spare comfy clothes, tons of healthy snacks for the little one (a few snacks for mama), toothbrushes & toothpaste.
- Forget your favorite handbag: pack it and use a backpack when traveling. My favorite travel bag is this stunner from Leader Bag Co, which is the most elevated diaper bag I’ve ever seen, complete with changing pouch that can double as an evening out clutch. Essentially, the perfect multipurpose travel bag. This is going to be at your feet for umpteen hours so I never pack it with too much stuff. Immediate snacks, a self-filtering water bottle, a fully charged iPhone and iPad with great apps for baby or toddler, kiddo headphones, a lightweight, super-soft blanket, one or two toys, lotion, and a changing kit. If everything in the backpack fails to impress, then start opening up the bigger bag.
- A baby carrier. The worst possible scenario, and – shocker – it always seems to happen, is that your little one finally gets to sleep right as the plane is landing. Whether you’re catching a connection or schlepping through customs, baggage claim, and a taxi line, do it with a child woken too soon from a nap and you might as well be traveling with an angry howler monkey. I can simply say that my travels with Henri would have been the end of me if I didn’t have my trusty Ergo along. From Day 1, this accessory was the difference between defeated mom and a sense that my life was still mine, still mobile. Transitioning Henri from his airplane car seat to the Ergo become such a natural part of our process, it took just seconds for my little babe to settle against my chest and fall right back asleep. Remember, while the carrier is a must for navigating through the airport, the car seat is the safest place for baby on a plane.
- Enforce naps, bedtimes, and routines during the trip. Despite the excitement, I always try to stick to Henri’s sleep schedule when travelling. Even if he fights it at first, I stand my ground and try to get those naps to happen. If you read to your little one before bed, mirror this in the plane. We brush teeth, read a book, cuddle before bed, no matter where we are!
- Milk it. Literally. If you’re still nursing, make sure your flight attendant keeps you hydrated and finds you the most private seat they can scrounge up. You’d be surprised what the in-flight team is willing to finagle for a breastfeeding mom. It’s heartwarming.
- The iPad will not rot your child’s brain. There are so many intelligent, beautiful apps for babies, toddlers, and older kids these days. Download the good stuff and embrace that 30 minutes that they’re playing solo and enjoy a much-needed break for you. Try these for baby (1, 2, 3), or these for toddler (1, 2, 3).
- Make it an experience. We live in such an incredibly mobile world: share the wonders of travel with your kids and make sure they’re aware of the adventure that travel can be. Do they know where they’re headed? Where it is on the map? Do they know how clouds are formed? The names of constellations? Who invented the airplane? There are so many fun facts to share around the journey. Read up, parents, and share the wealth.