For some families, when the holidays arrive so does traveling. Traveling with small children can be extremely tough at times. The wife and I have experienced a wide variety of traveling adventures with the kids. We’ve travelled together as a whole family and solo with one, two, or even all three kids. I would say the wife and I are fearless when it comes to traveling with small children. Some people wouldn’t even dare think about doing some of the things we have done. Before we get too far into this post, I’ll give you our traveling resume so you can see that we have a legitimate amount of experience in this area.
The wife and I have both flown with a baby under the age of 1 year old by ourselves and together. We have done short travel adventures as little as 3 hours. We have also traveled during long stretches in the mini-van and truck. Those adventures were days up to 12 hours long going through places like Washington DC and multi-day trips spanning 4 thousand miles in 7 days. We’ve done and endured just about everything when it comes to traveling with kids. From planning out stops for breastfeeding the baby, to making emergency stops because there is just sooooo much barf coming out of someones mouth. We once had an 18 hour snow delay with a 7 month old baby in the Atlanta airport and slept on the couch of the Atlanta USO.
One of my first challenges was flying solo with an 11 month old baby. The trip was from rural North Carolina to Montana. This was one of my most challenging adventures to date. I had to take three flights just to get to my destination and on the way out to Montana our connecting flight broke down in Atlanta. That break down put me wandering around the Denver airport for 6 hours waiting on the next flight. Now, keeping an 11 month old baby entertained in an airport is super easy. The looks I received from some of the people in the airport were a bit disturbing, but I found plenty of grandmothers in those airports who loved holding my baby. It was such a contrast between older gentlemen wondering where I stole that baby from and grandmothers just begging for me to sit next to them so they could hold a baby. God bless those grandmothers out there and screw you older business men who were giving me the eye daggers! Here are the successful strategies I used when flying with a small child.
First and formost, traveling with a well rested kid doesn’t work well. You need your child to sleep on the airplane. I don’t care how much you think that having a tired child on an airliner is going to suck. Believe it or not, it is just the opposite. A well rested child will become bored on the airplane and eventually start screaming. It is much better to keep your kid up at night, only allow them about 4 to 5 hours of sleep, and then leave on the earliest flight in the morning. Your child will have no choice but to sleep on the airplane when they get bored, which is much better than screaming at the top of their lungs because they want out of the seat.
Lower your expectations when going through security. If you are lucky, the airport you are going through will allow you to break out of the normal line and use the handicap line/first class line. This really helps. If you are stuck in general population, then expect to slow everyone down. There is nothing you can do to make this experience any better. Lower your standards, it is going to suck, you will never be prepared to juggle all the crap you have, especially when they want you to send your stroller through the scanner. It’s not my fault it got stuck in there TSA! You said put it through the scanner and I told you it wouldn’t fit! (Only bring umbrella strollers) Your best bet is to find someone who is looking at your baby and smiling. Use some situational awareness and look at the people around you because one of these people might want to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The people that are not looking at you and are pretending you don’t even exist just don’t want to be around you and this baby. I don’t blame them really. We look like a freaking yard sale going through security and the baby really could go off screaming at any moment. Find that compassionate person because it might make their day to help you through security. God bless those kind hearted people.
Toys, trinkets, and more toys. You can never have enough toys or weird crap that will help you entertain your baby along this journey. They don’t have to be complicated toys either. Matter of fact, the less complicated the better. Don’t be bringing the battery operated laser gun or magic princess wand on the flight. You can tolerate the noises those things make, but the passengers around you may not be able to. You can buy some really ugly looking necklaces at JC Penny for 15 dollars that your kid will play with for hours. Just make sure those necklaces are not choking hazards. That is another reason to partner up with some grandmothers on this journey. Grandmothers love to wear the craziest necklaces that babies just love to play with.
Getting stuck in the airport for hours is not a bad thing. Use this time to your advantage to wear out your child before the next flight. When my plane broke down in Atlanta we ended up missing our connecting flight in Denver. The baby and I had 6 hours to kill in the Denver airport. Luckily, there is endless things you can do in an airport. My kid was just starting to walk so we played on Denver’s floor escalator for hours. We found an semi-empty part of the airport and I just let her walk and crawl all over the place. There were endless things to do at the airport and endless places to explore.
My kid is screaming on the airplane! Don’t panic folks. A crying baby on an airplane is inevitable. Forget about what you “think” people are going to say about it. Yes some people are going to think some really awful things about you and your baby. Just look at this article I found Being Stuck on an Airplane with Screaming Kids. You are traveling with a baby and they are going to scream. A baby screams on an airplane for a few reasons. They are hungry, they are tired, they have a dirty diaper, they want something, they are bored, their ears hurt from the pressure changes, or they are just fed up with traveling at this point. I usually start what I call my “Immediate Action Drills” for the baby.
Step 1: Check the baby’s diaper.
Step 2: Try to give the baby a bottle.
Step 3: Try to give the baby different kinds of toys or trinkets.
Step 4: Try to change the baby’s environment by putting them on the ground our walk around with them. This is when you start getting worried, but screw it man, baby’s are going to cry.
Step 5: Try to redirect there attention out the window or make funny faces.
Step 6: If their little ears hurt then bust out the Binky or some device they can suck on to help relieve the pressure.
Step 7: If some nice lady wants to hold the baby then give that a shot. Believe me, at this point you are running out of options and are getting desperate.
Step 8: Introduce a new food. I know this sounds strange, but giving your baby some yogurt covered raisins you just picked up at a shop in the Denver Airport might do the trick.
Step 9: Embrace the suck, because your kid won’t stop crying.
I made it all the way to step 9 once we left the Denver Airport and were heading for Montana. My kid was sick and tired of the travel. My jedi mind tricks and games weren’t working anymore. The only thing I could do is try to comfort my kid the best way possible. Sure, I was getting daggers in the back of my head by some of the passengers. I walked around and a nice lady wanted to help me. I allowed her to help and my baby calmed down for 5 minutes. After that, we went into a full blown nuclear meltdown. You know it’s bad when the head stewardess asks you to return to your seat and they start trying to help you.
We made it in to our final destination. I had pictured the pilot turning the flight around and becoming a headline for the 5pm news. I was thinking about grabbing a parachute and doing a D.B. Cooper out the exit door at one point. I believe that people were a little more pissed at me than they would have been if the baby’s mom was there. I could see some of the people looking at me and wondering, “Where the hell is that kids mother! Who thought it was a good idea for Dad to fly by himself?” In my desperation I was very tempted to start making up stories about how my wife left me and the baby for some “younger model” or how we were just flying to Montana because Mom was serving a 20 year sentence at the federal prison. Come on, give me a break! I was becoming a desperate man looking for any excuse I could think of to get those eye daggers out of the back of my head.
The trip back home was much better. We still had to hit three different flights to get home but my kid didn’t get more than 5 hours of sleep the night before. We also booked a 630am flight out of Montana. She couldn’t stay awake on each of the flights. Sure, I paid the price when I got home by throwing her sleep schedule off, but it was better than the full blown meltdown I had coming out. I was much more calm on the way out and I was more queued into the people around me. There is nothing wrong with sharing your child with those around you and accepting help when it is offered. Just remember that if something can go wrong it will. Also realize that some kids are just great travelers while others are a little more difficult. Don’t beat yourself up if your kid is the less than stellar traveler. I hope that I’m on the airplane with you and smiling at you and your baby. I will ask you if you need any help and try to pull off some of my baby whispering strategies for you. I know what it’s like when the kids are falling apart at everything you do, unhelpful passengers just giving you dirty looks, and nothing seems to work. I will help you anyway I can because I want to pay it forward.