Travelling with a baby under the age of 1 is very different than a baby under the age of 2 and even more so under 3, 4 and so on. A baby under 1 doesn’t know that much and will primarily need milk and a diaper change so should be less ‘trouble’ but a baby under 2 is more aware and active so would want to walk around and get into things. They are also more prone to tantrums and need some level of entertainment. Children between 3-5 maybe more self-aware, well behaved and can follow instructions but would need more entertainment. You can either walk with your own or rely on the entertainment provided on board the airplane. If you are cruising, then you can take advantage of the nanny services and other child safe designated areas which are typically designed for the various age-groups up to teens. Here are some of my experiences travelling with small children of varying ages.
Crying on the Plane
Travelling with a small baby or child can be as stressful as you think it is. Babies cry and sometimes they cry uncontrollably for no apparent reason. Their pamper is dry, they’ve been fed and they haven’t been bitten by any insects but yet they still cry. The fact is some children cry simply because they are tired/stressed, confined or need to sleep. Most of these things are manageable at home in your own environment where you can go for drive or a walk until things calm down or you can rock, sway and sing until it stops. In the small, confined limits of a plane full with strangers, that could be a challenge.
I have travelled when my children were under 1, under 2 and under 5. Fortunately, they were not in those age-groups together. My first experience travelling with a small child was when my son was around 6 months old. He cried a lot normally and I did worry that being on the plane might have been stressful for him and I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to handle him efficiently in that situation. I had a plan to breast feed him on take-off to prevent his ears from ‘popping’ and I hoped and prayed that the gentle rocking and hum of the airplane would be enough to keep him calm for the 4 hour flight. It generally went well in the beginning but sure enough, the crying started and it wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know what to do so I got up to ‘walk and rock’ in the aisle to calm him. It sort of worked at first but then turbulence started, the seatbelt sign came on and I had no choice but to sit down. Inwardly I freaked out but I survived and the remainder of the flight went well.
Eating on a plane with a baby in your lap is really challenging. The seating area is small to begin with, so you are not able to use the trays efficiently to rest your food. This is an area where you ‘help’ sitting next to you can play an important role since you can take turns holding the baby and eating. I certainly had to rely on help in order to eat with enjoyment while on the plane.
I have had different types of seating available (in economy) and each of them have their own challenges.
(1) An aisle seat – It so happened that the aisle seat I had was directly next to the bathroom and at first I thought it was going to be a horrible experience – What if someone does a number 2? What if there is a nasty scent from frequent usage? I was very fortunate that the experience was not too bad. A bathroom nearby meant that the baby (under 2) could ‘see’ where I went and I could get back sooner if there was any crying or fussing. It also meant I could sanitize more frequently and I didn’t have to go very far for a diaper change. I did however, have to watch out for the aisle traffic and drinks cart.
(2) First row after business class – This seating offered more room and I thought it was going to be great and the best possible option. In fact I think it was the greatest challenge of all because it was almost too much room and nothing to grab on to for any kind of support. The TV came out of the arm rest so it stuck out and got in the way since I had a lap child. More room also meant more room for her to want to explore and this could be a little dangerous if there’s sudden rough turbulence (we can’t have it all). In the end I decided to get her to sleep and we both had a nap to pass the time.
(3) The window seat – This seating is always nice but when I had the babies, I didn’t quite get to enjoy it as much and I didn’t like to inconvenience the passenger at the end.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the type of plane used in all of these instances, but I presume they will be similar across planes and airlines.
Once you have a baby, it’s almost guaranteed that you’d have a sizable bag to carry your items plus baby’s, but a big bag needs to go somewhere. In this case, I think under the seat in front of you is best since it is more easily accessible. I packed some of the things I needed more frequently in the pocket at the back of the seat in front of me for convenience. Things like wipes, a small toy or book are suitable, I just had to remember to take them before leaving. Overhead maybe required for some bags but it may be annoying reaching up frequently, and taking down from the overhead bin plus you have to have to watch out for items that may have become loose and possible drop on you or your baby.
The stroller is the single most important equipment you can take with you on your journey. Children are small and cute but incredibly heavy. However, a stroller is also bulky and can take up a lot of room in a small space. So, while it’s great for journeying from place to place – in smaller shops and restaurants you’ll have to be mindful not to inconvenience other customers. I was particularly conscious of this in my first eatery in Paris. I had always heard that Parisians weren’t very nice and even though I didn’t believe it, it always stuck in the back of my head. My consciousness wasn’t necessary, as these guys were so welcoming as I navigated between the small path and other patrons and they readily stored it away until I was ready to go. My experience in the UK was the same. But there were a few other things to watch out for when traveling with the stroller:
- Not every airport has the facility for you to collect the stroller by the plane door as you exit, so if you were using the stroller to carry some of your other luggage and carry-on items, you would be left in a pickle. This is also a good reason to never pack more than you can comfortably carry without the use of aids or human help.
- Not every underground (train) station is equipped with elevators so you would need help lifting the stroller and baby up and down the stairs or be prepared to close the stroller and lift it down with you, the baby and your handbag. Either way, it will test your energy so it maybe best to consider taking a taxi.
- Strollers need to be sanitized also so be sure to give it a wipe/spray down before and after use.
I did leave home with my own snacks and juices but they were lost when the airline lost our luggage. I truly can’t say that the different taste in food was an issue even though they did taste a little different. I personally am not a fan of overloading children on empty calories and soda so where ever possible I searched for natural juices with low sugar content. Fortunately in international cities there are much more of these options. It was challenge in Paris because my French is rusty so I had to choose snacks based on the image on the packaging and guess if it would nice enough for them (or me) to eat. Sure enough some were good and others were left behind. Children can be picky eaters but if they are really hungry they would eat.
I was in the UK one October, and it was cold, and I needed a heavy jacket. I was going to the USA and assumed it was going to be the same, but I was so wrong as the sun was out and it was warm. If you’re going somewhere new or at a different time- it’s a good idea to do a little research on what the weather is like so that you’d be adequately prepared. It would be awful to arrive at your destination and your children are freezing. In my case, I prepared the children for chilly to cold weather which would have been foreign to them. The weather has changed so much now that in some cases it really wasn’t necessary but in other cases it was valid.
One of the beautiful things about travelling and being surrounded by strangers is that they don’t know who you are, so that should reduce the pressure to impress that comes when you are surrounded by people that you know or acquaintances that can spread gossip in your community. However, there are mean people are all over the place and that doesn’t change because you are obviously caring for young children. In fact, there seems to be a growing intolerance against that grouping. I’ve been fortunate to have really good experiences with strangers who saw us struggling with strollers or luggage or both and offered to help with no questions asked or nothing in return. I’ve also been fortunate to be seated with my family on the plane even without paying for assigned seats. This meant I had access to help when needed.
I did however encounter a few difficult people on the long train rides in the UK. Whenever I purchased train tickets it came with assigned seats, but on this occasion the rail companies were on strike, so they were fewer trains running and assigned seating was no more. The tickets were purchased way in advance before any indication of a strike but the alternative of getting plane tickets was out because the price increased tremendously so we felt stuck with the train option. This turned out to be a nightmare as there were more people than seats or room and it was almost impossible to maneuver. On one occasion a man didn’t want me sit next to him. I was holding the baby in arms, so I didn’t make an issue of it and took the seat adjacent to him and carried on smartly. Later in the journey, he apologized and said he had a terrible day at work and needed some space. He tried to make friendly conversation and cooed with the baby. I politely returned his effort to make up for his snub and he later confessed that the baby made it easier to talk.
My worst experience and biggest regret was leaving my children for two minutes alone on the train to go help my mom get settled a few feet away. She was 70 years old, and we were travelling a long time, so I worried about her. I didn’t fear kidnappers, nor theft nor that the train doors were going to close and leave me outside. My main concern that all of my travelling party was able to board the train and that our luggage was secured and not impeding other travelers. I believed that my son was old enough to watch the baby while I did a quick check and come back but instead, he allowed a woman to uproot the baby and my belongings and seat herself next to them. I was annoyed as I would never think to do what she did but later I was furious to learn that she offered both of them sweets. Sweets could have drugs; she didn’t know if my children had diabetes and I generally feel as an adult she should not have wanted so much to sit next to other people’s children especially since there were signs that someone was going to be returning. I got another seat and so she could have gotten another seat too. I am thankful that no harm other than a lollipop being offered had occurred, but it reminded me not to break my own rules. Never ever leave children unattended even if just for a moment.
For tips on travelling with small children read here.