And then once you're there, you still have to take care of a baby.
True story: the first time I flew with Reese was just a short Pittsburgh to NYC when she was six weeks old. I was so nervous that she would freak out that I kept her under the nursing cover the whole time, ready to feed her the instant she got cranky so she wouldn't cry. I had burned about two years off my life expectancy, my blood pressure was through the roof, and I was drenched in sweat. She slept the entire flight. Takeoff, landing, the whole 90 minutes without even making a peep.
Subsequent flights were not all that pleasant.
Joanna Goddard at Cup of Jo did a post about 10 Tips for Traveling with a Baby which is an excellent guide for those who are nervous about the first flight. I would like to highlight a couple and add a few of my own.
First and absolute foremost is BE NICE. Be more than nice. Smile at everyone. Ask how they are. MAKE FRIENDS. I'm not the world's most gregarious person to strangers, but a little goes a long way here. I have found that most people are actually not super annoyed with you for bringing a baby on an airplane but they can get there fast. I always try to make nice to TSA agents, gate personnel, the bag check people, everyone. It's gotten me a free seat to bring the car seat on board (usually you have to pay for it), my husband to escort me through security when we were flying alone and tons of friendly passengers to amuse the baby while we were on board.
Choose your gear wisely. It's heavy. I used to carry the car seat bucket with Reese in it when she was small and then just gate check the seat. I got a great arm workout, but it wasn't the easiest thing to do. Nowadays, we use the carrier (TSA will almost always tell you to take the baby out to go through the metal detectors, but they've never made me go through the new scanner with her) for getting around the airport and still gate check the seat. I would recommend a stroller frame for airport as Joanna does. Think very carefully about all your activities on the other end and pack minimally.
Use a nursing cover. Sorry. I'm a huge advocate of breastfeeding and I know it's your right to breastfeed whereever, whenever without any cover, but really? It's very close quarters in coach these days and a lot of people are not so into it. I found that people were extremely kind and understanding about nursing on a plane, and I tried to be as discrete as possible to give them the same courtesy.
Diaper changes must be conducted with military precision. If you have two people, go together to the back of the plane. Change the baby. Hand baby off to second party. Use the bathroom yourself. Take the baby back. Other person goes. Then return to seat. Passengers around you will be thankful you did this all at once.
Pack a change of clothes. Seriously. I do not want to have to tell you about the blowout diaper that happened during takeoff coming back from Mexico last year. Oh...wait, I just did.
Distractions! When Reese was super tiny, I could count on her to fall asleep for at least part of a plane ride, nurse most of the time, and be amused by other people on the plane for the other part. Oh, man, those were the days. Now we are in full blown Elmo-on-the-iPad territory. I read somewhere that you should present a baby with a new toy or food product every hour of a flight. UGH. Honestly, if anyone has any suggestions for this part, I'm all ears.
Once you are there...
Joanna mentions this at Cup of Jo and I want to reiterate: Rent a house/apartment/suite. It is soooo much easier and actually makes the vacation feel like a vacation. You get some separation from the baby and some alone time. Plus, you don't have to brush up on your sign language to talk to your partner.
Travel with family. If possible. I know this is far from ideal for a lot of people, but for me, it was amazing to be with people who WANTED to watch Reese while we were away. Again, made it feel like a real break. When we all go on vacation there is a nice way to all rotate who we hang out with so it never feels like we are all stuck together on a National Lampoon style vacay.
Make it familiar. Babies like routine. I know there are a lot of babies who wig out at a new crib smell or weird wallpaper. They don't appreciate that new Molton Brown product in the hotel. Bring your baby's lovey, some favorite board books in small form, a t-shirt that you've worn, whatever.
Bend the rules. While babies do like routine, I think it's also a time to relax a little and go with the flow. Your baby may not be on the same schedule as at home, but they tend to be pretty flexible when needed and can nap on the fly, eat new foods, etc. We usually have to have baby bootcamp when we get home, but it's worth it to really enjoy the vacation.
So, those are some of my tips. But to be honest, at least 50% of the time, things totally go to pot and we are the parents with the screaming baby who won't shut up. So, when in doubt, I always go back to the first tip. BE NICE. And also, BE APOLOGETIC. Tip if necessary.
So, anyone got any tips for me? We are staring down a five hour flight in T minus 9 days...