Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ten Tips for Flying Solo with a Baby

FYI- This isn't Little Man. He is much cuter.
I said it, and I meant it.

Well, Little Man and I made it back to Texas! And- all things considered- the return trip went pretty smoothly! 
He got a little fussy as we were landing in Waco, but I would much rather cope with fussiness at the very end of a long trip than the very beginning.
Times a million.
At this point, I feel like I’ve gained some level of expertise on flying solo with an infant (I mean, I’ve done it successfully twice!), so I’ve decided to share my top 10 tips for anyone else who takes on this challenge.

1.     When scheduling flights, choose them based on your needs. Some of the advice I read prior to traveling with Little Man said to “time your flight to your baby’s schedule.” That, in my humble opinion, is terrible advice. In my experience, baby’s schedule goes out the window when it collides with chaotic airports, noisy planes, and awful air pressure changes. Those things stress me out, so I can’t imagine how overwhelming it would be if you have less than 3 months of life under your belt.
When I booked our flight to NYC, I decided to fly out at 10AM- a time I thought would line up perfectly with his eating and napping patterns. And it probably would have- if we left that day. But, as tends to happen with infants, his schedule shifted over the next few weeks. That morning I was nervous about the fact that his schedule was now completely incompatible with our travel plans, but- in spite of his normal scheduling- Little Man still slept through most of the day. And I had (some) energy because I’d had time to get him up and fed, do last-minute packing/cleaning, and rest for a little bit for spending the next 8 hours traveling.
On the other hand, our first flight together in October left at 6AM (it was booked before I knew he’d be my travel buddy- or that he existed). This technically worked with his schedule since newborns nap 90% of the time, but I wound up being completely exhausted- despite his excellent traveling. (It’s hard to nap when you’re holding an infant in your lap and can only recline a few degrees backward, which becomes problematic when you’re running on 3 hours of sleep and have things to do when you land.)
All that to say, do what works for you. If it’s easy for you to hop out of bed hours before you see the sun, take that early morning flight! If you need a little down time to energize yourself for a big day, pick a later time. Whatever! Time it to your scheduling needs rather than your baby’s, because his will probably change- before and during travel day- and you have to have the energy and capacity to adjust. 

2.     Splurge on pre-made bottles.
During our first trip, I just packed our bottles- which I filled with water so I could quickly mix in the formula when he needed to eat. Genius, right? Wrong. It took me all of 2 seconds to discover that mixing up a bottle when you’re crammed into a tiny airplane seat, holding a screaming baby, and feeling as if every other passenger is staring you down to telepathically communicate just how much they hate you is fairly difficult. I’d give it about an  8 on a 10 point scale.
Rather than enduring that pressure, you can opt to purchase bottles that just require you to open them and screw on a top. Even that can be challenging in the previously mentioned scenario, but it’s so much faster. And it prevents you from spilling powdered formula all over yourself.
For day to day life, buying those bottles is crazy town. You’d spend a fortune on them. But one pack was just enough to last through travel to and from NYC. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent $12 so wisely.

3.     Bring a stroller and a wearable baby carrier. 
      Sure, the stroller will be a bit of a pain when you’re trying to fold it up at the end of the bridge while passengers rush by you to get the best seats on the plane (that’s not a thing on most flights, by the way, folks- pushing your way past me just buys you more time stuck in your tiny airplane seat. Do people not realize that?), but it will definitely come in handy when you’re traveling through the airport. ESPECIALLY if you have a wearable baby carrier. These, in my opinion, are necessities for air travel with infants. They leave your stroller open to carry heavy carry-ons, which is helpful when you’re sprinting to catch a flight. They shield your babies from everyone who wants to stare at and touch them. They make napping mid-flight sort of almost possible. And they give you a way to use the restroom on the plane without asking a stranger to hold your child. Thank you, God, for the Baby Bjorn/Moby Wrap. (I used the Moby Wrap on the flight to Oregon- a lot of people didn’t even notice I had a baby with me.  Success!)

4.     Consolidate the things you pack in carry-ons. On the way to NY, I thought I was being super smart by just carrying my small purse and the diaper bag. But then I also had to carry my coat, scarf, and Little Man’s blanket. And I wound up trying to stuff all of these things under the seat, because I knew I needed things from the diaper bag and didn’t want to be that person who puts smaller, loose items in the overhead bins. Sorry, neighbors sharing my foot space.
My first morning in NYC, I went out and bought a cheap, giant purse for the trip back to Texas. This allowed me to pack baby necessities (diapers, wipes, bottles, a rattle, and a pacifier) in the purse along with small things I’d need over the next few hours. Extra items (change of clothes, computer, bag of small liquids, etc) were stuffed into the diaper bag, which was then securely stowed in the overhead bin above me.
If you are an exceptional packer and can fit all of your stuff in your diaper bag, this may be a moot point. But trust me when I say an overstuffed bag that makes it difficult to find and replace items is far worse than two organized bags.

5.     Buy things there. If you’ll be gone for more than 12 hours, only pack the number of diapers you’ll need for your flight(s). Then, when you arrive, buy a pack there. You’ll probably use them all, and it will save you valuable suitcase space. Same goes for formula, and any other disposable items you will use quickly.

6.     Get creative with the non-disposable items you can’t pack and can’t buy there. Depending on where you are, you might be able to rent things like a crib. Fortunately for me, family friends lent us their old baby items in NYC. But in Oregon, I spent one night at a friend’s before checking into a hotel. With no crib in sight, I made do with a laundry basket. Before you judge me for that, note that it was a large basket with more than enough space for a 2-week-old. And I cleaned it out first. And I obviously lined it with a blanket. Essentially, it was exactly the same as one these portable sleepers that people pay money for:
This costs $50. But it can double as a laundry basket when your baby outgrows it in a month.
Creativity will save you money and space in your suitcase.

7.     Learn to love longer layovers. Before travelling with a baby, I thought long layovers were for chumps. My goal was to get the shortest possible layover- because who likes to hang out in an airport? This will not fly with a baby in tow. One- it takes longer to leave the first plane because you have to wait for your stroller to be brought to the bridge. Two- The chances of baby needing a diaper change and maybe even a bottle between flights are high, and you don’t want to/can’t rush that. Three- you just have a lot more stuff to haul around. And another person.
If you don’t give yourself some solid time between flights, you may wind up trying to rush your baby through a bottle from a bench by a toilet in a family-style bathroom, and then- when he doesn’t finish it quickly enough- trying to push a luggage-laden stroller with your right arm and carry a baby in your left while holding a bottle under your chin so you can make it to your next flight on time. This makes you look like a crazy person.
At least that’s what I gathered from the people staring at me throughout gate C.
Full disclosure: I did not look this cute as I ran to the Skylink.
In other words: take your time. You’ll need it.

8.     Bring a change of clothes… For everyone. When I flew to Oregon, I had about two and a half weeks of experience as a mom (a few days of prep, two weeks in action). Obviously I was super prepared.
In my naiveté, I thought I was incredibly smart to have not just one, but TWO extra baby outfits tucked away in my diaper bag. I was ready to write a parenting book with all of my wisdom.
Then, the unthinkable happened. I got up halfway through the DFW-Portland flight to do a routine diaper change, and what I found was horrifying. 
Little Man’s day of constipation had ended with a mess that could not be bound by the parameters of a mere diaper. Nor could it be held by his onesie. Nor could his pants contain it. 
By the grace of God, it was finally stopped by the 4th barrier- the Moby Wrap he was sleeping in. I truly believe it was a miracle that I was not covered in poop before, in the process of, or after removing that thing from my body.
As one does through surviving such a frightening experience, I learned a valuable lesson that day. Always bring an extra outfit- or at least a shirt- for yourself, too.
(Another tip- scarves work really well for cleaning and covering spit-up.)

9.     Don’t be afraid to cry. With the stress of our flight to DFW the other week and the chaos of trying to make it to the second flight (refer to the story in number 7), I was on edge by the time I reached our second gate. Probably anything could have made me cry in those moments, but what eventually did was the DFW employee who, when checking tickets, told me having an infant did not give me the privilege of boarding early. Oh, and that I had to fold up the stroller and car seat before entering the bridge- carrying them (rather than rolling them) all the way down to the plane. You know- along with the giant diaper bag, purse, coat, scarf, blanket, and- oh yeah- the baby strapped to my chest. Nbd.
I stared at him for a minute, trying to make sense of what he was saying to me. By the time I stepped back out of the line, the floodgates had opened. 
The man at the gate’s desk looked over at me, and I think I sputtered something along the lines of, “How am I supposed to carry it?” through my tears. Bless that man, he took pity on me- or just felt stressed at the sight of a lady with a baby crying. Either way, he rushed over and, asked me what was wrong, and told me he would fold up the stroller and carry it to the plane himself. Then he told the ticket taker to let me through.
Take that, DFW employee I’ll probably never see again! (Although, to be fair to him, I think his request came more from being oblivious than just being mean.)
Was it embarrassing to cry in front of a bunch of strangers and walk- red-eyed and sniffling- all the way through the crowded plane? Definitely. Did the people on that plane think I was a train wreck? Probably. Would I do it again? Without a doubt. I was certainly not intending to use those tears to get my way- they were genuinely coming from a place of overwhelming stress and an extreme need for (at least one) glass of wine. But was I relieved I didn’t have to singlehandedly carry everything to the plane? 
So don’t be afraid to bust out those tears- they may stress people out enough to help you!

10.  Accept help when it is offered. Someone wants to help you put your carry-on in the overhead bin? Let them. Someone else wants to buy you lunch? “Yes, please, thank you.” Another person wants to help you pull your suitcase from the carousel? Be my guest.
Initially, I struggled with this. And, to be honest, sometimes I still do. I have this terrible fear that someone will eventually notice that I am not managing everything in my life right now with the perfect grace and poise of Taylor Swift. I’m much more Jennifer Lawrence-esque- fumbling and tripping up life’s staircase. But, for some reason, I sometimes want people to see me as more the Taylor Swift-type. Why, Kaley?? People love Jennifer Lawrence! She’s so relatable! She has an Oscar for Pete’s sake! (Is this metaphor working?)
Where does this need look like I have it all together all the time come from?? I think there’s a (totally irrational) part of me that equates needing help to failure, and- clearly- I don’t want to look like I’m failing at being a foster mom. Because I’m not. I’m kicking ass at it- even if my house isn’t spotless and I’m constantly covered in spit-up.
I’m learning to embrace the fact that I can’t do every single thing perfectly all the time. It’s hard sometimes. But it gives me the chance to accept help grace from others, which is generally pretty worth it. It gives me perspective and connection- and sometimes gets me out of lifting heavy things on my own. I won’t complain about that.
If you are traveling alone with an infant, you are already crushing it- just by your bravery! Accepting help doesn’t lessen that- it just helps you to do an even better job.

So, those are my top tips flying solo with a baby. Have you ever done it? If so, what are your tips?

Come to think of it, what are any of your tips for making life with a baby easier? I’m still new to this game- I could use some creative life hacks!

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