Traveling with a baby is intense. Add in a long-haul flight and an older sibling and you’ve got your work cut out for you. Subtract any other accompanying adults, and you may well wonder if it’s even possible.
As I was planning my solo trip with a baby and a seven-year-old on my own from Buenos Aires to New York, luckily I had the accumulated wisdom of the Bebe Voyage community. Not to mention the fact that I’d done quite a few flights from Mozambique to Europe and the US with my seven-year-old.
So I set out to implement some key tips for traveling with a baby:
- Book direct flights
- Work with your baby’s sleep schedule
- Organize your carry-on bags well
I am going to share with you the details of this trip, not because you are likely to embark on such an extreme journey, but because hopefully, you can pick up some useful tips and tricks for your next trip with baby
In researching flight options, I got lucky and found the perfect flight on American Airlines from Buenos Aires to New York JFK. With a 9.45 pm take off, that was good timing to be able to check-in early (hopefully score a bassinet), make use of our Priority Pass lounge access, have dinner in the lounge (maybe a glass of wine), do a bit of a bedtime routine before boarding the plane and have the breastfeed I give at takeoff work as the bedtime feed and have the baby asleep through the night. With lounge access, I’d feel comfortable leaving my seven-year-old with the baby in the stroller and the luggage if I needed to go to the bathroom, as well as letting the little one walk around in a relatively contained area. And the 11-hour night flight was long enough that the kids could actually get a decent night’s sleep, especially with fly beds, and maybe even an extra seat if we could score one.
I wasn’t quite sure how I would navigate getting the suitcases from baggage claim, plus the carry-ons and the stroller, and the baby and the seven-year-old (wishing SkySquad was available at JFK!), but I wasn’t going to let that stop this otherwise good option.
But, then Covid changed our plans… Argentina restricted flights and all US-bound flights were suspended. So my 11-hour direct flight turned into a six-day journey with multiple layovers.
What ended up happening
With border closures and generally limited flights, not to mention entry and exit restrictions in various countries due to Covid, here’s the least bad option we came up with for traveling with a baby and a seven-year-old along with the challenges and solutions I was able to come up with (or wish I’d come up with).
Monday, take the Buquebus ferry boat from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, Uruguay. Stay at our friends’ place until the next available direct flight to the US on Friday to Miami. Take an early morning flight to Miami, three-hour layover, switch airlines, and go on the New York LGA. Private car transfer to my parents’ place.
Challenge #1: Limited flight and transportation options
There really wasn’t too much we could do about this. We opted to go through Uruguay because I was familiar with the ferry boat and our good friends lent us their house while they were away. In a situation with so many unknowns and potential snags, knowing that I could depend on my friends’ resources and, worst-case scenario, extend our stay there, was a comfort.
Challenge #2: Staying in a new space with a toddler
We opted to stay at our friends’ place because I have been there before and I knew it was kid-friendly. And there was no way I was going to stay in a hotel room by myself with two kids. Having access to a fully stocked kitchen, a garden, and generally more space was key. I also asked if they could do a bit of toddler proofing before leaving. As their kids are a bit older, they no longer had a crib or a high chair, but I brought my sleeping chair, and just held the baby on my lap for feeding. It worked out.
Challenge #3: Long haul day flights
Again, not my preferred option, but we had to take what we could get. That being said, I don’t sleep on night flights, and I probably would have spent the whole flight worrying about my toddler potentially rolling off the seat in his sleep, even with a fly bed. So I prepared myself for 10-hours of having to entertain a one-year-old on a plane. Enrolling my older son as my special assistant was key. We were going to outfit him with a special uniform (his Bébé Voyage sweatshirt and flight wings), but that never happened. We played as much as we could in the seat, looking at the laminated security card, playing with some plastic cups and ice, pulling out the toys we’d brought, etc.
Once he was done exploring our seats, the toddler wanted to walk up and down the aisle. Other passengers, food carts, etc didn’t exactly dissuade him, so I ended up having to carry him for a good part of the flight. Good thing I had the ErgoBaby carrier.
Of course, there were times when he got fussy and threw a couple of tantrums, but I was doing the best I could. I chose to enlist as many of my fellow passengers as possible in helping keep him entertained. So our seat neighbors were more than welcome to play peekaboo and make silly faces with him. We chatted quite a bit with another one-year-old in the galley. And we made friends with other passengers as we walked past them dozens of times.
Challenge #4: Juggling my two kids and all the carry-ons
Because this was a new route on a new low-cost airline, we couldn’t find very much information about it. As I didn’t know if there was going to be food on board, I ended up packing a food bag with three meals and snacks for the three of us. And because of the layover, I packed a carry-on with extra clothes and a basic medical kit in case we didn’t make our connection. In addition, we had my older son’s carry-on, electronics we couldn’t check, and the stroller, so we weren’t exactly empty-handed.
How I packed and organized my carry-ons will be the subject of another blog post… stay tuned!
When I was folding up our stroller by the plane door and they offered to stow it below the deck, I took them up on the offer, but only after double-checking that I would get it back at the plane door upon landing. I then strapped the baby to my chest and hobbled on with the hand luggage, directing my older son. Other passengers must have taken pity on us, as we got some helping hands to get what we needed in the overhead compartment and get settled in our seats.
When we deplaned and I asked the ground staff if the stroller pick up was at the beginning or the end of the jet bridge and she told me that it was at the baggage claim instead, I almost started crying. Luckily, as I was launching into what her colleagues at take-off had told me, someone came up with 3 strollers. But I was almost wishing I’d stowed it in my overhead bin!
Challenge #5: Feeding a toddler on the plane
Feeding a toddler excited about testing out his hand-mouth coordination is generally a messy affair. With my older son, I had several incidents of splattered yogurt and spilled drinks on airplane seats/ newly changed outfits/ all over my only pants, so I was trying to limit those as much as possible.
As I didn’t know what the food situation was going to be on board I opted to pack all our meals plus snacks which turned out to be a big bonus. Not only was I able to pack things that we actually eat/ like, but I was also able to select items that were relatively mess-free (yes pre-cut grilled chicken pieces, no yogurt). Most importantly, we could eat when we were hungry/ when was most convenient for us. We didn’t have to wait for the meal service and I could feed the kids and then feed myself when worked for me (like during the mini naps my baby took!) It worked out so well that I’m going to implement this on future flights.
For drinks, everyone (including myself) had closed water bottles to minimize spills. And when they came around with the drinks cart, I just asked them to fill our bottles.
Challenge #6: Layover in Miami
Given Covid restrictions and potential closures/ rule changes, I opted for getting to the US as soon as possible and having a layover in the US. Normally, I wouldn’t do this because it means that I can’t check my luggage all the way through as you have to claim your baggage and go through customs at your first point of entry into the US.
I was wishing that SkySquad was available in Miami and hoping that we might get through customs and check-in fast enough to enjoy the lounge before boarding our second flight, but alas, neither of those happened.
We schlepped the MILES from the plane to immigration with the baby in the stroller (I was done carrying him!) and all our hand luggage. Luckily, the food bag weighed significantly less. We cleared immigration without any complications. But I must have looked pretty desperate at baggage claim as it took only a few seconds for a SkyCap to pop up and ask if I needed help collecting our luggage. YES!
The SkyCap earned his tip as he not only helped us collect our luggage and accompanied us to the connecting flight counter, but then he helped us with the carry-ons to get to the security checkpoint. He even directed us to the one that was closest to our gate. Thank goodness for nice people!
While I was smart enough to have all our food and liquids in one bag at security, I forgot that in the US you have to take out all electronic devices from carry-ons, so we had to send a couple of bags through twice.
We made it through fast enough that I thought we’d take advantage of the lounge which happened to be by our gate. But it turned out that the lounge available to us was not the one that was conveniently located, but rather in a different section of the terminal. So we just did a run to the closest bathroom and then got settled at the gate to feed the baby dinner. We barely got through the squeeze pouch that they called us for pre-boarding, so it worked out.
Challenge #7: Flight delay
I thought we were home free when we boarded our flight from Miami to New York LGA. The pre-boarding and the fact that we had an extra seat for the baby meant that I could finish feeding him dinner, although he was a bit distracted by the other passengers boarding.
The timing was going to work out quite neatly because after dinner I would still have enough time to change his diaper pre-takeoff and save the bedtime boob for take off. But plans were thwarted again as we had a ground crew delay for over an hour. I couldn’t keep saving the boob for take-off, so I decided to satisfy the fussy baby and figured I would give him water from his bottle to help with his ears as we ascended.
Turned out I didn’t have to do that as the boob put him right to sleep and he slept through most of the flight. (Finally!) Even though he was asleep in my arms because I had scored the extra seat for him meant that I could use that tray table to enjoy a beer and the airline’s fruit and cheese plate.
Luckily, my older son was pretty autonomous and happily seated by the window, watching the city lights and then the lightning storm. (Quite a show when seen from the sky!)
Challenge #8: Luggage delay
When we landed at LaGuardia, I was expecting that we would just be able to quickly collect our luggage and head straight to my parents’ place. But first, we had to make it from the plane to the baggage claim… not at all obvious if you’re trying to do it in a stroller-accessible way.
Because it was almost midnight, there weren’t very many people around to ask, but we found some TSA agents who had us cut through the wrong way at a security checkpoint.
I assumed that this circuitous route meant that our luggage had plenty of time to make it before we did, but I was quite wrong. We ended up having to wait for an hour for our bags. Even though I had the baby in the stroller, the lights and all the new things kept the baby curious and awake. Maybe if I’d had a CoziGo blackout stroller cover he would have been able to sleep a bit, but alas I couldn’t get one in Argentina!
Challenge #9: Late night arrivals
The reason I avoid late-night arrivals is that they mess with sleep routines. By the time we got to my parents’ place, found the PJs, got settled, etc it was already 2:30 am. Of course, the kids were exhausted, so they fell asleep right away, but they woke up at 6 am with the sunrise. And I needed a bit more sleep after such a harrowing journey.
So the day after our arrival, I definitely relied heavily on my parents to help with the kids, take care of the meals, etc. Getting lots of support after traveling with a baby (alone or with another child!) is critical to recovery and being able to enjoy your time.
We took it super easy that first day didn’t have anything planned except hanging out with the grandparents, and made sure to get a couple of naps in. There’s no shame in napping when the baby naps!
As you can see, I was only able to implement one of my three original key tips for traveling with a baby:
- Book direct flights… that didn’t happen
- Work with your baby’s sleep schedule… not even close
- Organize your carry-on bags well… yes! Blog post on that coming soon!
Despite all the unexpected twists and turns, we made it. Obviously, I wouldn’t have done all this for a stay of only a few days. It was worth it because we’re spending 6 weeks in New York. And hopefully, the return trip won’t be as arduous.
Traveling with a baby comes with its challenges, more so during times of Covid. But here are my takeaways:
- Prepare as much as you can
- Maintain an open mindset and be grateful for the small wins
- Rely on help from others. You don’t have to do it alone.
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