Chillin' with my mister man, pre-flight at our gate...clearly expending some baby energy! Nash and I have flown quite a bit his first (almost) year of life. I think we have six round trip flights with over half of them being JUST THE TWO OF US. He's my great little traveler and I cherish the hilarious moments we've shared together already. My hope for Nash is that one day he'll have an innate love of travel and exploration, just like his parents. - Mo
1. Don't scrimp with your carry-on
Ok, seriously...I have a checklist the size of Alaska with me for each trip. And I keep them all. They are labeled with the name of the location and date on the top and are on a clip on the side of our fridge. As Nash has grown/changed, I'm able to still reference my old checklists but add new items that are more age appropriate with each flight. So don't throw those lists away. They're like gold if you're an avid traveler like us.
I'd start making the checklist about a week in advance. I also like to use the 'notes' function on my iPhone if I'm not near my list at home. Anything and everything I thought I might need, I added to that checklist. Granted some things ended up in my luggage and others in my carry-on, but that was beside the point a week in advance. If I wanted to take it, I'd add it to the list. Also, I lay out a suitcase about a week before a trip and I start throwing things in it that I want to take but might not need until we arrive. This alleviates having to pack it all last minute. I hate packing, like mega hate it.
As for the carry-on specifics, don't scrimp. Some people say, 'Travel light, you'll have a baby to juggle!' I don't agree. I'd rather lug a jam packed carry-on around (which, for the most part, I just hang on the stroller and don't even 'have' to carry) and be prepared for any curve ball. I've found that this calms my worries and I've actually needed some 'over the top' backup items a few times too.
Things I like to pack in my carry-on(s)...which yes, are exploding:
Copy of birth certificate/my ID (yes, Mom brain can attack at anytime, these are on my list!)
Extra shirt/nursing tank for me (just in case for spit ups, throw ups or blow outs)
Extra outfit and jommies
Enough diapers/wipes to get you through a 'lost luggage' debacle (lost luggage usually arrives 24 hours+ after landing so plan accordingly)
A few NEW toys from the dollar store or some 'new to baby' toys...something to hold his attention for a bit that he's never, ever seen before
3 of his favorite (and easy to carry-on) toys or books...just 3!
Tons of snacks (for me and baby)
3 food pouches (I've been so hungry and been rushed on a layover that I sucked a pouch down, so pack three of more)
Sippy cup or a bottle...however your child takes milk
A full water bottle...TSA allows you to bring in water bottles when you're traveling with a child so pack one, no need to purchase.
Nursing cover (I use an Aden & Anais blanket and believe me, you are going to flash someone, so just go ahead and plan on it!)
Anything your child needs to sleep at night (teething tabs/tylenol if they're teething, a lovie, etc...just IN CASE your luggage gets lost...have those key items with you if your flight arrives close to bedtime!)
A few gallon size ziploc bag(s)...you never know when you'll need one.
2. Pre-purchase bulk items for destination
If you are staying with family/close friends then you might want to ask them to head to Target and grab you some diapers, baby food, formula...and anything else you use in bulk. It's so nice to arrive with diapers waiting than to have to pack them and take up tons of space in your suitcase. I've done both options and the only reason I'd say that packing them is also good, is because then I know I won't be over the limit on the way back because the 'used' diapers have freed up some pounds, ha!
3. Call ahead to ask about open seats if you haven't purchased one
So here's a great little trick I've learned. The day you're flying out you can call the airlines and ask how many empty seats are open on you flight. I think the rule is, if there are 10+ empty seats, they will allow you to BRING ON your carseat. Now, I don't know about you, but Nash loves his carseat. So if there's room we absolutely bring it on. He naps better in his carseat and it also frees up my arms for a bit too. If you fly during peak travel times, you might be out of luck as far as this is concerned. We have the luxury of usually flying midweek so I've had numerous open seats all around me and my happy little camper got lots of down time in his car seat.
You can also ask at the gate (nicely) upon checking in. The flight attendants can check the count for you and let you know if you're car seat with fit, or not.
4. Wear your baby until you get to the gate
If you're a baby wearer, I highly suggest popping that cutie in your carrier the second you get out of the car at the airport. We've done this every...single...time. It works beautifully. But Nash loves his Ergo. If you're baby doesn't like the carrier, make sure they are situated where they are most comfortable (stroller, car seat) because sometimes they won't really move at all for an hour (security, etc) and you want them to be content.
Then I load up the stroller with his carseat and our carry-on(s).
5. Arrive with plenty of time to spare if you aren't familiar with your airport security
So we live in Austin. Austin's airport rocks. Like, knock your socks off...awesome. Security is a breeze, everyone is super friendly and parking is a cinch. Other airports, not so much. Give yourself PLENTY of time if you're unfamiliar with your airport or your flight on the way back.
Nash and I have literally RACED through airports, scrambling to our gate, because we just 'assumed' that all airports are as efficient as Austin. Not true. They aren't.
6. Purchase flight times that optimize napping
This rocks for us. Obviously there are some flights you just have to take the flight time because of ticket costs or where you're heading but if you can plan around your nap schedule, then go for it.
7. Nurse/snacks during takeoff and landing
It's for their ears. And comfort. Just do it. Juice, bottle, water or nurse...get them swallowing to clear their ears.
8. Know which plane bathroom (usually the front) has a changing table
Ask this question as you board. And don't save a diaper change for when you get on the plane. The bathrooms in the airport are much more efficient. But KNOW which bathroom has the changing table just in case you have to make a mid flight run for it. Hello blow outs!
9. Have family/friends walk you into airport and even wait at gate then have people waiting at baggage claim to help you with luggage
This is awesome. I've had Walt and my sister do this with me. It doesn't seem like it would be a huge help, but it is. This was something my good friend Mel told me about when we flew to FL (pics HERE) as she had her Mom walk in. It's a huge, huge help. You can grab a bite to eat, go the bathroom (hands free, ha!) and just prepare everything for the flight.
10. Fly during the week and avoid layovers on shorter trips
This is where we've gotten super lucky in our travels. We've flown mid week quite often which means we have a greater chance of not only bringing the car seat on board (see item 3 above) but also just having room around us. One of my worst flights was a 3 1/2 hour flight from Austin to San Jose, CA. It was jam packed because Nash and I flew on a Saturday. Granted we had Walt's help at the gate in Austin (since he wasn't at work and was able to hang out) but I surely would've traded a comfy flight for that help, honestly.
My last bit of advice, stay calm and don't be shy about asking for help. These nuggets feed off our energy for sure and people around you would rather you ask for help than hear a screaming child. Flight attendants, other passengers and complete strangers have been so helpful on my travels. Sometimes you do just have to ask for what you need. Aka: can you please open this gate check bag so I can hoist my stroller in while juggling my child!
Last, but not least, I want to know YOUR TIPS below in the comments. But a stiff drink, pack super light, a certain type of clothing or even don't travel alone. No judgment here! We have another flight coming up and I'm so curious what your take is on this. Until Nash is 2 years old...we'll milk it for all it's worth flying him for free. So any more tricks of the trade? Share away!