How to Travel the World…With a Baby
It used to be that when I saw exasperated parents traveling with babies I’d tell myself, “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that!”
But that was before I became a mom.
Time passes so fast. All of a sudden, there I was, in that very same position, traveling with an infant.
The first time I traveled with my baby, she was four weeks old, and we had a 12-hour layover in Dubai on our way from Chicago to Lagos.
It was September of 2015 and I felt like a shipwreck. I had not gotten a full night’s sleep for four weeks, and was about to take a 24-hour trip (stopover inclusive) halfway around the world.
Since then, our travels have taken us to four continents and aboard planes, trains, and buses.
When she was just 11 months old, we took an 11-hour ONEBUS ride from Frankfurt (Germany) to Como (Italy), an 8-hour MegaBus ride from Milan to Rome and back, and another 8-hour MegaBus ride from Milan to Venice. While in Venice, we traveled aboard the Water Bus on the Grand Canal.
Our longest trip ever was a 19-hour train ride from Chicago to New York when she was 14 months old.
And contrary to expectations, she hardly fusses. Instead, she soaks in the scenery, her curious eyes always wide-open, and passes time playing with other passengers.
We’ve traveled a lot within our home country of Nigeria.
Both due to the nature of my job, and also to visit my husband — who lives in another city, almost 6 hours away — we see ourselves constantly traveling. I live and work in Lagos State, while my husband is in Delta State. Sometimes we travel by plane, when I have to attend to urgent official matters. Sometimes we go by bus, when we visit daddy in Delta.
Traveling by road within my country is not exactly fun. We have poorly maintained roads, occasional traffic gridlock, and heavy duty trucks to contend with (although after a while, you just might get used to it). On the bright side, it’s almost natural to have other travelers — especially women — assist you with holding and distracting the baby while you get some rest.
When selecting a transport line, I make sure the bus is air conditioned and has an entertainment system to ease traveling. It costs a bit more, but comfort is priceless. Catching a flight is an obviously faster option, but ironically, with frequent cancellations and rescheduling, it often leaves me wondering why I didn’t hop on a bus in the first case.
The best part about these frequent travels is that they’ve equipped me with the skill of packing up for myself and baby in a jiffy, making sure nothing important is left out.
(Though I must confess that sometimes I do forget the occasional spoon, or sippy cup.)
I’ve had many fantastic experiences traveling with my baby. And a few nasty ones.
On top of my list is Emirates Airlines, on that trip from Chicago to Lagos via Dubai in 2015, when she was four weeks old.
The air hostesses were so helpful. They kept checking on us to ensure we were comfortable, and always made sure to wake me when she woke up or was fussy in the bassinet. As a new mom, I was exhausted. But on that flight, I slept like I hadn’t done so in a year.
Next is Turkish Airlines, from Lagos to Frankfurt and Milan to Lagos in July 2016, a month shy of her first birthday.
I had forgotten her bottles and sippy cups at home (See? We all make mistakes.) and was in complete disarray. But my panic was short lived once we boarded, as the flight attendants were on a mission to make sure my baby was well fed! We were supplied with enough baby food to last us until I was able to buy bottles at a department store in Frankfurt (At twice the price I would have bought it back at home!).
My worst experience was when I had to take an impromptu trip from Lagos to New York aboard Arik Air, in September 2016, just after her first birthday.
I did not have enough time to stock up on baby food, and judging from my past experiences aboard international flights, I did not think this would be much of a problem. Sadly, the flight attendants were very rude. There were no meals for my child, and when I asked for a regular meal so that she didn’t starve, they told me that she did not have a seat, so she could not be given a meal. I ended up feeding her only milk throughout the entire 10-hour flight.
When I approached a flight attendant to express my displeasure, he asked me to fill out a complaint form. A female attendant ended up giving me a regular meal for her just before touchdown, but the poor child was too hungry to enjoy the meal.
As you can see, I’ve done this quite a bit. And you can travel with a baby, too. Here’s how.
- In preparing to travel with a baby, it’s most important to remain organized.
Even though being organized seems foreign when you have a baby, it is undoubtedly a lesser evil than being stuck on a flight and remembering you packed the diapers in your checked luggage (This may have happened to me once on a flight from New York to Chicago with a stopover in St. Louis. I ended up buying a small pack of undersized diapers at the St. Louis airport for almost $25. It was regrettably the only diaper pack I could find.).
- Your diaper bag is the most important piece of luggage you need for your trip.
Diapers, wipes, bottles, sippy cup, spoon, bowl, blanket, toys, tylenol, pacifiers, five sets of clothes, baby milk, baby food, cereals, burp cloth, and bibs. In some countries, immigration will not allow you to take water on the flight for your baby. The flight attendants can always provide you with water upon request. When traveling on the bus or train, alway make sure you take water along (and always ensure it’s from a source you can trust).
- Different countries have different dominant brands of baby milk.
It’s advisable to stock up on your baby’s milk and food for as long as possible so that you don’t have to experiment. In the US, the most popular milk brands are Enfamil and Similac. In Italy, we encountered Mellin. In Nigeria, we use Nestle’s NAN. For baby food, while Gerber and Beechnut top the charts in the US, Plasmon was the top player in Italy, and in Nigeria, good old Cerelac.
- Stock up on diapers.
You don’t want to be out in the night looking for emergency diapers and end up experimenting with an unfamiliar brand. Babies may react to certain diapers, so this is not a chance you want to take.
When my baby was born in the US, she reacted to Luvs diapers (I was trying to save $2!) but adapted to Huggies quite well. Back home in Nigeria, we switched to a Danish brand called Bleer Bleier, which we used for a long time. In Italy, we tried Chicco diapers. We switched back to Huggies in the US — which she then reacted to, just as she had reacted to Luvs the first time! Pampers Sensitive Diapers rescued us until we got back home.
- Take advantage of your baby’s baggage allowance.
The most generous of international airlines allow an infant to have their own checked luggage of up to 50 lbs, as well as 12 lbs for carry-on luggage, and a diaper bag. When you do the math, that’s 100 lbs of checked luggage and 24 lbs of carry-on luggage between the both of you. So, you can shop a bit more without worrying about extra luggage. You can also check in your carseat and stroller for free.
- Depending on where you’re traveling, a stroller can be a burden or a relief.
In the US and Europe, a stroller is a big help. But in Nigeria, there is practically no use for a stroller. Sometimes when I am in a hurry and have a lot of luggage, I carry my daughter strapped to me piggyback style, so that my hands are free. Other times, I carry her on my chest with a baby carrier.
- Contact your airline and inform them you will need a bassinet for your infant.
It is indeed a blessing to have one, as It is not fun carrying a child on your lap the entire journey. Usually, babies traveling on an adult’s lap fly free within the United States, but note that for international routes, babies pay 10% of the adult ticket price.
Most airlines provide a bassinet for free, but some airlines such as Lufthansa may charge an additional bassinet seat reservation fee. You can check this with your airline before your trip.
Once, on a flight from Istanbul to Frankfurt, I requested a bassinet seat and the ground staff assured me it was in order. I was at a loss for words when I realized that my allocated seat was sandwiched between three hefty men! Worse still, the individuals occupying the bassinet seat area were all men without babies. It was a very frustrating journey.
Thankfully, halfway into the flight, one of the men beside me got the attention of the flight attendants to change my seat and ease my stress. Even if you are not allocated a bassinet seat, you may be able to request a seat change even after takeoff.
Airlines list their bassinet policies online, so definitely do a search before you depart. Here are some quick links for convenience: Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines, Emirates, KLM/Air France.
- Most airplane restrooms are equipped with baby changing stations.
As a courtesy to the passenger next to you, use the changing stations in the bathroom when changing the baby’s diaper.
- Most babies feel uncomfortable during flight takeoffs and landings.
Their ears ache from the altitude change. If this happens to your baby during a flight, soothe and distract the child by breastfeeding or offering a pacifier.
- Bring a nursing cover or blanket for breastfeeding.
While attitudes about breastfeeding in public are changing all over the world, it’s still a controversial issue in many places and for many people. Be respectful of local cultures and customs. Your and your baby’s safety should always be your #1 priority.
- Babies get bored, but there are ways to distract them and beat the boredom.
Do not underestimate the power of in-flight entertainment. It is capable of distracting fussy babies, and gives you enough time to compose yourself before another round of tantrums.
You can also take a walk up and down the aisle and a visit to the flight attendants every now and then to ease the boredom, or take along her favorite blankie or teddy for comfort. Many airlines, such as Turkish Airline and Emirates, have a bag of toys for your child’s pleasure.
Before you travel on a bus or train without in-flight entertainment, see if you can download childrens songs and games on your smartphone or tablet.
- While waiting for a connecting flight, you may be allowed to wait in airport lounges just because you are flying with a baby.
You can check with your airline to confirm how you can access these services.
- There are a lot of perks airlines make available to traveling parents.
These will make your trip bearable until you get to your destination. And you can always check with your airline to take advantage of these perks before you leave.
- When selecting a hotel, make sure you check with the hotel policy regarding children.
Some hotels may not provide an extra bed for your baby. Others may not be kid friendly, especially due to smoking, noise levels, child safety, and other amenities.
When we visited Rome, for instance, I specifically looked out for a place that welcomed kids. I was lucky enough to secure accommodations with an open policy, and the other guests were really glad to have a child to play with. Within a few days, another family also checked in with kids.
It was a beautiful cultural experience for us. We easily interacted with the other guests, because we all shared a common living space, kitchen, and lobby. We made friends from Brazil, Argentina, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, and India during our stay. There was also a woman traveler from Nigeria who helped piggyback my baby while I took a shower.
On the flip side, we once spent a night in a Frankfurt hotel quite close a nightclub that played music all through the night. We were both very tired from our trip, so she thankfully slept soundly, but I would not recommend such a place to a family traveling with a baby. Luckily, it was just one night, and by 6am, we were out of there to catch the bus to Como.
I always look forward to taking my baby on new adventures.
I love to see the excitement in her eyes every time she looks out the window, or encounters a new face in the seat next to us. Our frequent travels have made her a very friendly and boisterous child, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Even though there have been some bumps in the road, it is such a joy for us to travel together.
My dream is to visit somewhere new every year until she comes of age and can explore the world by herself. Or, perhaps someday, with a child of her own.