This is part three in a series about photographing destination weddings. See part one for tips about flying first class for free, and part two for all things related to traveling as a photographer.
I thought traveling with camera gear was difficult. Traveling with gear AND a baby is 100 times more challenging. I couldn’t find many of resources online to help prepare for our first trip. Thankfully, a lot of our friends who are parents travel as much as we do, and they gave us great advice. We are certainly not pros, as Kitt is only one. However, we flew with him six times in his first year of life, and I traveled even more with my breast pump.
It can be overwhelming traveling for the first time with a baby or without your baby. Here are a few tips that might help…
TRAVELING WITH A BABY
What should I pack in my checked baggage?
We tend to overpack when we travel with Kitt. However, I’d always rather be over-prepared than underprepared. Essentials include: bedding, washcloths, wipes, diapers, pajamas, more clothes than you think you’ll need, blankets (car), jacket, shoes, baby food, toys, books, soap, nail clippers, medicine for emergencies, monitor, noise machine, bibs, baby spoons, etc.
We will also check his pack and play, car seat, and sometimes a stroller.
Does a car seat count as a checked bag?
Every airline has different policies, but Delta lets you check a car seat and stroller for free. Portable cribs are considered an additional item. You can also plane-side check your car seat and stroller, but we usually choose to check at the desk so that we don’t have to lug them around the airport. Worst case, we could always rent one from a rental car company if our bags get lost.
I also recommend purchasing a car seat + stroller bag so that they don’t get ruined while traveling. If you check both, you can stuff jackets, blankets and extra things in the bags to cushion the equipment. Once Kitt grew out of the infant seat, we bought a cheap car seat to fly with. We didn’t want to lug around our expensive, heavy car seat, and we certainly didn’t want it to get ruined.
Is it free to bring my baby? Do I need to purchase a ticket? Does he/she need ID?
Again, check with the airline, but most allow infants up to two years of age to fly for free. They have to remain on your lap (not easy with a toddler). Some parents will purchase a seat and bring a car seat for extra safety. With Delta, you have to call and add your child as an “infant in arms” after booking. They will issue a separate ticket at the desk for your little one.
You do not need to carry any proof of identification for your baby if you are flying domestically. He/she will need a passport if you fly internationally.
Yes, there are 10 bags in the photo above. Eight of those are for Kitt.
What should I carry on the plane? Should I bring the stroller?
When travel for vacation, we will bring one backpack for Kitt and another for us. His bag usually has toys, three to four pairs of spare clothes, pajamas (if we arrive late), lots of diapers, snacks, pouches, books, and wipes. Our bag will have our snacks, laptop, headphones, nursing cover, hand sanitizer, etc. If I’m traveling for work, our extra bag will have my camera gear. We will check all clothes and such to limit the amount of things we have to carry through the airport.
Before the age of one, we felt like the ergo carrier was more sufficient than a stroller. He could sleep in it, and he enjoyed riding in it. Once he could walk, he hated being strapped to our chest. Now, we bring a cheap “umbrella” stroller instead.
How will I entertain my baby for twelve hours?
This question freaked me out the most. I didn’t want to be that parent whose child cried the entire flight. Before the age of one, we discovered that flying itself was incredibly entertaining to Kitt. He loved looking at all of the lights and people until he was about 13 months. When he was crawling and just learning to walk, he loved exploring the airport terminal. Now, he just wants to run around, and it is far more difficult.
Bring lots of toys. Purchase a few new toys that he/she has never seen, so the novelty lasts a little longer. Kitt loves the app Peekaboo Barn, which we pull out when he absolutely needs to sit and is losing it.
Everything is a toy. Cups, napkins, snack bags, water bottles, you name it. On one flight, Kitt played with a water bottle and a chip bag for almost an hour. Don’t underestimate the novelty of these things!
Let strangers entertain your baby. I was shocked at how kind fellow travelers have been to us. If we’re lucky, the people behind or next to us will love playing peek-a-boo through the seat.
When is the best time to fly?
We’ve found that traveling in the evening is the easiest, if we don’t have layovers. If it’s past his bedtime, he will be much more likely to sleep on the plane. Otherwise, we try to plan flights around his nap times so that he can sleep. The white noise of the plane is magic.
Any other tips?
Don’t board first. Even though families flying with children are invited first to board, don’t do it. We get on the plane as close to take off as possible to limit time on the plane.
Don’t book tight connections. If you are plane-side checking a stroller or car seat, it can take a few extra minutes. Changing diapers and packing up with a baby also take extra time. It’s not as easy to travel gate to gate as it is when you fly alone.
Changing diapers on the plane is not fun. We try to time meals during layovers so that any diaper changes happen then. We will dress him in night diapers for long flights so that we don’t have to change him until we land.
Nurse on the ascent and descent to clear baby’s ears. Or, a pacifier works just as well.
Use travel time to fit in naps. We wanted to make the most of our trip, even with a structured nap schedule. To make sure that Kitt wasn’t overtired, we would plan his naps around the times that we planned to drive to hiking trails or other cities. This way, we could make sure that we didn’t have to entertain him in the car for hours on end, and he could sleep. Of course, this only works if your baby likes to nap in the car :)
Wear lose clothing if you’re nursing. Kitt always hated nursing covers, and I found loose shirts to be more effective, especially when I didn’t have time to dig out the cover.
TRAVELING WITH THE BREAST PUMP
What are the TSA rules for carrying on a pump?
TSA + airlines label a breast pump as a medical device. So, you can bring this in addition to your normal carry-on allotment. You might need to alert the desk attendant so that they don’t ask you to consolidate your bags.
A cooler is also considered a necessity for the device (or storage for baby food), so this will not count toward your baggage allotment. More than anything, it is a challenge to bring four bags. I try to fit my pump in my roller bag, if I have space.
How will I keep pumped milk cold in the airport?
The one thing that TSA is not chill about (see what I did there?) is bringing on partially melted ice. They will not let you carry on half-frozen ice packs or ice cubes. I recommend pulling ice packs out of the cooler on the way to the airport so that they are frozen when you go through security. I would not bring them if you won’t have a way to freeze them for the return trip. Yes, they will shake them and squeeze them to be sure.
If you don’t have access to a fridge/cooler while traveling, stop at gas stations to fill up on ice. My cooler keeps milk cold for at least 12 hours, so I have to replenish the cooler 1-2 times a day.
When you arrive at the airport, dump out all of the ice because they will not let you bring it through. As soon as you make it through security, find a restaurant that has a soda machine with ice maker. Hopefully the attendant will be nice and let you fill your cooler for free.
How do you clean your pump parts on the go?
Thanks to Obamacare, I received multiple sets of pump parts for free. When I travel or shoot weddings, I will bring all four sets. At a local wedding, I won’t need to wash any parts, since I have four sets. When I travel, I will rinse out the parts in the sink and then store the pump parts in the cooler. I try to re-use these parts within 12 hours to prevent contamination. This is not the most ideal situation, but breast milk is magical! It has special anti-bacterial properties, and the cold will prevent the milk from souring. Most milk storage websites will strongly recommend washing pump parts between use, but I’ve found this to be totally fine when I don’t have any other option. Of course, please ask your pediatrician, as I am not a medical professional.
Which type of cooler is best for airline travel?
I found a soft cooler at Target that has been great for planes. Hard coolers are difficult to fit in overhead bins, especially when flying on regional aircraft. And, you really don’t want to plane-side check that precious milk!
Where can I pump in the airport?
Thankfully, some airports now have pumping pods! They are amazing! ATL has them in every (almost every?) terminal. They are sanitary mini-rooms that are just for pumping or nursing.
Other airports will have a nursing/pumping room close to the bathrooms. When I’m having difficulty finding a pumping station, I will google the airport to pull up a terminal map.
Where do you pump at weddings?
Nine times out of 10, I will pump in my car. I bought an adapter for my pump on Amazon, and it works like a charm. I’ve found the car to be the most private space, which helps me relax and pump quickly.