On Tuesday, I wrote about how I keep my two-and-ups entertained during air travel. But what about babies?
For me, six months and under is EASY. They just nurse. The whole time. Trans-Atlantic, trans-continental, whatever. They nurse, they fall asleep, they wake up, they nurse, repeat until landing. Nursing is great for sleeping AND keeping quiet AND keeping ears from getting blocked. Many airlines have some seats available with baby cots, but I've never used them because my babies usually sleep with me at this age.
I never worry about trying to keep them on any kind of schedule on the plane. The above baby (Gus) slept from Los Angeles to Houston, then from Houston to Paris, then slept all night once we got there. Of course, it could have worked out otherwise, but I'll always pick sleeping baby on the plane. Maybe my crying baby is bothering the people in the hotel, but at least they won't be able to glare at me.
A six-month to two-year old is the most challenging baby to travel with, in my experience. They are too old to sleep the whole time, but too young to be entertained by most of the toys and tricks that keep two-year olds and up occupied. It is doable though.
As with younger babies, I would never intentionally try to mess with a toddler's sleep schedule. For instance, keeping them up really late the night before. I find that all things (even an awake toddler) are more manageable when we are all as well rested as possible. If you try to manipulate sleep, you might just end up with a super-cranky under-slept baby who won't sleep on the plane either.
I also never, ever give my kids medicine they don't need. I have always found travel with babies to be manageable without resorting to stuff like that.
I think the keys to success are snacks and novel new toys. Baby Jack (pictured) sat on that blanket on the floor and ate ice cubes one by one most of the way to Cancun. Things, like eating ice cubes, or putting something in Daddy's pocket, or moving peanuts from one cup to another, will often entertain a toddler for quite a while. Especially at this age, they are usually willing to do something they like about 700 times after I get tired of doing whatever it is. If it's on the plane, I just suck it up and keep doing it.
If the seat belt sign is off, I'll walk up and down the aisle letting baby toddle along. Baby likes it and most of the passengers seem to get a kick out of it too.
I bring plenty of snacks for toddlers. Whatever I can think of that they really like that isn't too filling so they can eat a lot of it and use up a lot of time. Little fruit cups, or my own cups of berries, and sweetened cereals all work well. I don't know about yours, but my babies will eat individual Cocoa Krispies for a really, really long time.
I have almost always been able to get sippy cups and fruit cups and other snacks and drinks for babies through security. Only occasionally, I have had overzealous agents confiscate things or make me dump something out. Usually, if you're in the family line you can bring on whatever you want. (Which kinda makes the whole thing pointless, amirite?)
Anything which allows baby to put stuff in stuff, or lets you peek stuff out at baby is also a good bet. We have a little stuffed Peek-a-boo Birdhouse much like this one, that someone gave us as a gift when our oldest was born. We have gotten a lot of mileage out of it, and it's always been very popular on airplanes. Toys that nest into themselves like this Three Little Pigs Play Set give you plenty of entertainment but don't take up too much space.
Which brings me to my final point, which is: DON'T BRING TOO MUCH STUFF. Sometimes I do, and I always regret it.
This is the husband and I and baby Gus on our way to France for 10 days. He got one overhead bin-sized rolling suitcase and the baby and I were packed in the other. The track bag is full of diapers (or couches if you're French) that we slowly used up and replaced with souvenirs. The backpack has what we need to be able to access on the plane, including the snacks and toys, one diaper for every two hours we'll be in the air ('cause you never know), two changes of clothes for the baby, and one for me.
We checked everything but the baby and the backpack.
I would only bring a car seat on board if you are certain your little guy needs it to sleep. My little babies sleep best on me, so I always check the infant seats. For toddlers, it's a real toss up. Mine usually do sleep better in it, but then when they are awake, having a car seat keeps you from the flexibility of switching kids between seats and makes it difficult or impossible to use the seat back tray. Also, an older baby in a car seat is virtually guaranteed to spend the entire flight kicking the seat in front of him. It's nearly impossible not to. In my experience anyway. I usually just check it.
An important part of being able to not bring too much stuff is having access to laundry during the trip. We always stay in apartments or bed and breakfast-type places so we will be able to do laundry. It makes all the difference.
We really do love traveling with our kids. We missed the other kids so much on our trip to France that we decided to bring them along with us from that trip forward. And we have had some truly extraordinary experiences together.
Like the time we got on the wrong bus in Mexico City and got to walk down a freeway on-ramp and back to the bus stop:
Or the time baby Gus threw a fit when the Gendarme tried to hand him to Pope Benedict XVI (the baby next to us was VERY well behaved):
Farewell Papa! You will always hold a very special place in the heart of my family. God bless Pope Benedict XVI and his successor!