International Travel with an Infant

About this series: One year ago, January and I took our eight-month-old daughter, packed up a few bags, and headed overseas to attend the wedding of her best friend in Prague. Although the trip was very well photographed and tweeted, the trip left us without enough energy to actually blog about it afterwards. On this, the one year anniversary of our trip, I’m going to finally write about our journey. Enjoy!

Prague. We’re finally here. We started our journey at Columbus International Airport and a mere two flights and sixteen hours later, we’re halfway around the world and ready for two weeks of sightseeing, relaxing, and celebrating as Tasci and Honza get married. Overall the trip went prett well, but it wasn’t without it’s stressful points. We tried to do a pretty job thinking things through and planning the best ways to make international travel with an infant as easy as possible, but we did learn a few lessons along the way.

I’m notoriously nervous about airports. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person in the world who actually shows up a full two hours before flights, as the TSA recommends. The first leg of our trip wasn’t even international, but we still showed up way, way in advance of our 11:50am departure. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that this flight ended up being delayed. The time between flights wasn’t a big deal — we had about five hours to kill once we got to JFK — but Lucy did get a little figety just hanging out in the airport for that long. Fortunately, we had charging cables for our iPhones to keep January and me entertained, and a nice collapsable stroller to keep Lucy happy.

But we did make it to JFK, and with plenty of time to spare to catch the second leg of our flight directly into Prague. The one big piece of advice we received — from numerous people — was that if we were traveling with an infant we had to make sure we got the bulkhead bassinet seats. If you’re unfamiliar with this, I’ll explain; Most large airplanes, as you probably do know if you’ve flown cross-country or internationally, are kind of divided in half with a restrooms in the middle of the plane. Directly behind where the restrooms are is a row of seats with considerably more legroom. There are also bolts and straps on the wall that these seats face where you can mount a small cradle large enough for a baby to sleep in. “That would be amazing!” we thought. “We’ll book a flight that takes off in the evening, put Lucy down to sleep, and by the time we land in Prague she’ll be awake and happy and ready to go!” What they don’t tell you about the bulkhead seats, though, is that throughout the entire flight you will have people waiting to use the restroom leaning up against that wall, waking your kid up after they have been asleep for maybe — maybe — fifteen minutes.

Lucy wasn’t very happy about this, so January and I ended up taking turns with her strapped our chests, standing in the back of the plane. While I wasn’t able to enjoy any of the in-flight entertainment, I did basically see every scene from Bridesmaids playing on one screen or another. I pieced the order of the scenes together in my mind and, let me tell you, that is one confusing movie.

After eight hours of this, we touched down at Airport Prague Ruzyne where our vacation could finally begin. Lucy really was a trooper throughout the whole trip, and while it ultimately took her a day or two to get onto European time, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience travelling with her. A couple of things I would have done differently, however:

  • Don’t try to leave late in the day, hoping your baby will sleep the whole flight. Just leave as early in the morning as you can.
  • Don’t even bother bringing a book or magazines to read. That’s just not going to happen.
  • Did I mention that the bulkhead bassinet was total crap? It was, but that doesn’t mean the seats weren’t awesome. Tons of legroom. So definitley request the bulkhead seats — which they specifically reserve for parents traveling with infants — but don’t expect that your kid is actually going to sleep in that thing.

Some things we did do right, and I absolutely recommend:

  • If you have an iPad or iPhone, throw some videos on there. I don’t care if you’re an adamant “my kid will never watch TV” parent, just do it.
  • If your infant is of teething age, grab one of these teething necklaces for you. Yes, you. Mom, Dad, I don’t care. Both of you should wear one. With all that change in air pressure, your infant is going to want to chew on things to soothe the ear popping.
  • Speaking of ear popping, we did get these EarPlane earplugs for Lucy to wear during takeoff and landing. I’m not totally certain how well they worked, but they’re cheap, so why not do whatever you can to make the flight as painless as possible?
  • Formula: If your infant is taking formula, and you aren’t tied to a particular brand for some reason, we had a good experience with these single-serve packets of Enfamil. The TSA, for understandable reasons, won’t let you take opened containers of powder on a plane, so if you don’t have individual packets like this you do stand to waste a lot of formula when you have to leave it behind on the return trip.
  • Gate check a good stroller, especially if you’re going to have a layover. You may be able to get a nap in between flights, which will help a lot. We couldn’t be happier with our collapsable, travel friendly Citi Mini Single, for what it’s worth.
  • On a related note, get a gate-check stroller bag. I’m about as cheap as they come, and I was a little hesitant about spending the $15, but I’m really glad January talked me into it because if we hadn’t, ours probably would have come out of the flight from JFK to PRG in pieces. $15 very well spent.

Next up, getting onto a European sleep schedule and seeing the sites!

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