Traveling with babies and toddlers
An email just came across one of the Israeli immigrant lists I'm on asking for advice about traveling back to the US with an 8 month old baby. Should they bring a stroller? What should they expect? What about car seats? I have more than a little experience in traveling with kids, so here's what I think about the matter...
First off, my experience. I have been a mother since the age of 17, 20 years ago, and I've been traveling with my kids since I was pregnant with the first. I traveled extensively in Central America with at least one of my (then) two kids in tow throughout my late teens and early twenties. When my third child was born I traveled to Israel alone with him when he was just six weeks old, then returned to the States so that I could move my whole family to Israel a month and a half later. Then when he was a year old we traveled to the UK. A few months later it was New Zealand. Then back to the UK. And two and a half years after that we went back to the US again. There's been more travel since then, but those were the infant and toddler years!!
I swear by front packs and backpacks for babies. Once the baby in a front pack is heavy enough that your back starts to hurt, switch to the backpack. Kelty packs are great, but there are lots of other brands out there. What you want is something with a good frame that is adjustable and fits your body well. That will distribute the weight on your body so that you can carry your baby or toddler comfortably for hours. Adjustments for the child seat in the backpack are important, too. Your child will be happiest if they are able to look over your shoulder when walking around. And, not to worry, they'll sleep just fine back there, too. My favorite baby backpack had multiple attachments for additional storage space. That way we could carry more than just a baby and a couple of diapers when we needed to, or we could just have the simplicity of the baby carrier alone when keeping weight low was the primary concern.
As for the car seat, YES. Bring it along. Don't bring it on the plane with you, though. Check it through with the luggage. A car seat in the front of the plane equals a seat charge for your baby. A baby under two generally travels free in the US or for just 10% of the airfare internationally. Why pay for a seat when you don't have to? You will need that car seat once you get to your destination, though. Sure, you can rent one with a rental car, but the car seat that you and your child already know is probably a much safer option. You know how to use your car seat, how to put it into the vehicle, how to get your child in and out quickly. That is worth a lot.
When you get your tickets, make sure to call the airline or the travel agent and ask specifically for bulkhead seats, even if you bought the ticket online. In those bulkhead seats they can attach a baby bassinet where your child can sleep comfortably. This doesn't usually cost any extra, but with all the changes in the fees airlines charge, make sure to ask just in case. Trust me, the bassinet makes a WORLD of difference!
I've traveled on many flights where I was stuck in the back of the plane, sometimes with no open seat next to me. On one such flight my then 1 1/5 year old eldest son slept on the floor by my feet for most of the flight. He survived, but the bassinet would have been much preferred.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure that you bring a favorite blanket and a favorite toy or two on the flight. The blanket will make the trip much more comfortable for baby (smells like home!), and the toys will keep them busy when they are not asleep.
When you take off, you will not be allowed to breast feed your baby until the seat belt sign is turned off, so make sure to bring a filled bottle or two on the flight for take off and landing. Sucking on a bottle limits ear pain for babies just like chewing on gum does for adults.
Don't be surprised if your baby sleeps through an entire 11 hour flight. Some babies are just lulled by the sound of the engines. (May you be so lucky!!) Also don't be surprised if your baby doesn't sleep a wink for the entire trip from door to door, house to hotel, or whatever. You just can't guess what's going to happen until you are there.
I am personally biased against strollers in general. They don't deal well with stairs. You aren't supposed to use them on escalators. In the US you have to fold them up when you get onto a bus. (I wish they made you fold strollers on the bus in Israel!!) They are bulky, and few of them are really all terrain. On the other hand, a backpack will go everywhere, including stairs and escalators, dirt roads, places with no sidewalks, or even a forest hike.