Our first international flight with a baby

When Juliette was one month old, in our sleep-deprived state, we decided to book a two week trip to Barcelona. We weren’t thinking clearly at the time, other than knowing we love to travel and couldn’t wait to share that love with her. We also knew that traveling with a baby would be different (and inevitably harder) but didn’t want to stop all together. So we pulled the trigger.

It ended up being the best idea ever!

The best age to travel with a baby

We took Juliette on her first flight when she was eight weeks old. That was a five hour flight to Maui. At that age, she slept the whole way and barely even made a peep. It was a great time to travel with her (the full story here plus our packing list).

Juliette was three months old when she took her second trip. My mom and I flew with her to Boston to visit my family. That was a six hour, redeye flight from San Francisco to Boston (a surprisingly easy flight for her, but exhausting for me). So, in going with that pattern you’d think our next flight would have been a seven hour flight. Instead, we flew from San Francisco to London (10.5 hours) and then London to Barcelona (2 hours). We really went for it.

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Long-haul flights: Nighttime and daytime

There is a big difference between nighttime long-haul flights and daytime long-haul flights. Good thing for us, the first one we took was a nighttime flight. So, despite the length of the flights and the very long travel day, it was amazingly easy because we stayed on her schedule and she slept most of the time. We booked a bassinet seat for her on the plane and Justin bought a Cozigo cover while in Australia which went over the bassinet and blocked out the light, germs and onlookers peering in at our cute baby. We kept it unzipped in front, and it helped her sleep very well.

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Like I had in the past, I nursed Juliette upon takeoff and landing. After we took off, I fed her, we changed her and then got her swaddled for bed — yes, we brought her regular bedtime swaddle for her to use on the plane. It was around 8:30pm so it was close to her regular bedtime and she quickly went down to sleep in the bassinet. We got her up twice for feedings (more like “Dreamfeeds” since she was in a sleepy state and we just wanted to top her off by preempting the demon-like hunger screams) and she ended up sleeping about eight hours in total. It was incredible. Having a bassinet also meant we could sleep without holding her or having her strapped to us. It was so freeing!

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Daytime flights are a bit different. We weren’t really sure if she’d sleep more than the usual 1-2 hour stretches she often does in the daytime. We braced ourselves for a long flight.

Well, it definitely wasn’t as easy as the night flight! She was pretty fussy for the first few hours but then settled in quite nicely into her bassinet and we had to wake her up six hours later as we were preparing to land.

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In conclusion, if you can take night flights, they are awesome and as much of the flight time that coincides with your baby’s nap/sleep time is ideal.

We don’t yet know what it is like to fly with a baby who is sleep trained (or too large for a bassinet), but flying with Juliette when she was two months, three months and now three and a half months has been so easy because she is small, portable and sleepy!

Economy, Premium Economy and Business

We flew all three fair classes during this trip. The biggest difference was space. In Premium Economy, we were lucky to have the bulkhead seats with just two seats together so we had a lot of legroom, a bassinet and no one to step over to get out to the aisle. It was so comfortable for us.

On the way home from London, Justin brought out his ninja flight search skills and upgraded us to business using an incredible airline mile hack. In typical Justin fashion, he didn’t tell me about it, so when we got on the plane, he surprised me by stopping at the seats in business class and then telling me this was where we were sitting. I may have teared up a bit.

Our business class seats also had a bassinet, which was the same as the bassinets on the other parts of the plane. The difference was the space and seats for us. We got to lie flat and sleep — which was absolutely incredible. It was such a treat!

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TIPS:

  • Book the bassinet seats early, as they can go fast. Each airline is a bit different so call the airline to request the bassinet seats (they will often save them for folks traveling with babies so you may not always see them bookable online).
  • Go to www.seatguru.com to see the layout and descriptions of each seat on a plane. For example, if you fly on an A380 plane, the upstairs section is much quieter and has far fewer people. I never paid attention to airplane models before meeting Justin but it does make a difference!
  • For nighttime flights, treat airplane bedtime similar to bedtime at home. We brought her swaddle and portable white noise machine which we put in the bassinet with her. We had it on pretty low and couldn’t hear it from our seats, so it didn’t disrupt anyone else, but helped her stay sleeping through announcements and clanging beverage carts passing by.
  • On our flight to London, we were lucky that it didn’t cost too much more to upgrade to Premium Economy and with our bulkhead bassinet row, we had just our two seats together and a ton of space in front of us. It was well worth it if you can get it. Obviously, our business class seats on the way home are incredible, but the bulkhead bassinet seats in Premium Economy felt quite indulgent.
  • For daytime flights, have every strategy ready for how to soothe a baby — bouncing, walking, pacifier, white noise etc. You may need them, but hopefully not (we did)!
  • Other passengers are way more patient than you think. We were so worried when Juliette started crying on our return flight from London to San Francisco, but the other passengers were really fine. I think by the end of the flight they forgot about it. You’ll feel more stress than they do.

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Some airline treats

We were excited to be able to visit the cockpit on both the flight to and from London. The captain gave Juliette a little flight logbook and also invited her to sit in the pilot’s seat. Such a lucky girl!

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Deciding where to travel with a baby

When it came time to book this trip, we knew we wanted to travel for two weeks and gave a bit of consideration to where we wanted to go. This will be a very personal decision, but here’s what helped us make our choice:

  • Think about the conditions and variables that matter to you and narrow it down that way. We wanted to be somewhere that had clean food and drinking water, would be safe to walk around, where everything was close and walkable, where we could get to in one (or two) flights, where we didn’t have to rent a car or need to rely on multiple forms of transportation (e.g., plane, then train, then taxi or speed boat) or other crazy travel routes we previously would have been happy to take. For us, that meant a major city. We also narrowed it down to Europe.
  • Consider the weather. I really dislike cold weather (despite being from Minnesota and then studying in New York and Michigan; Why would I do that? I’m a glutton for punishment) so I knew an enjoyable vacation for me would not be anywhere cold. We also have learned very hot weather is not very comfortable for a baby (and we’d be subjected to staying inside to keep cool), so we looked for somewhere with moderate weather in May, which gave us plenty of options in Europe.
  • Research which cities are family-friendly. There is a lot written about various cities and how friendly they are to families. Not only does this include how walkable they are or how accessible public transit is, but also how normal it is to see kids in restaurants and out and about. Barcelona, among many other places, has strollers everywhere and restaurants are so accommodating of pulling up strollers or high chairs to the table. Knowing a city is family-friendly also helps if your baby has a meltdown somewhere — you have a better chance of getting empathetic and not annoyed glances.
  • Go to a city where you can stock up on supplies. One option we considered (when we were still in our pre-baby travel mindset) was to pick a remote little town, find an Airbnb and hunker down for two weeks. Although that sounded (very) lovely, the idea of multiple modes of transit to get to a home, only to have to drive anytime we wanted food or supplies, was not in our game plan. We loved being in the heart of Barcelona where we could easily walk to tons of restaurants and shops, and stock up on groceries or supplies daily.
  • Decide how much touring you want to do and consider revisiting places you’ve been. When traveling with a baby, you definitely have to reset expectations — about everything. Early on, we learned that we can’t do nearly as much as we used to be able to do, because we would take time at home feeding, or have to stop to do diaper changes, or adjust plans if she didn’t nap. So we were excited to go back to a city we loved but also toured a few years before so we didn’t feel the pressure to see everything on this trip — so anything we did felt like a bonus.

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Getting her (and us) acclimated to local time 

Juliette’s first night of sleep was super off — as was ours. We lightened up on ourselves to not have to adhere to specific bedtimes for the first few nights. Given how late most people eat in Barcelona, we didn’t want to feel stuck in our apartment after 7:00pm and with a baby this small we could be mobile! We eventually got on a schedule where we ended up still giving her a 7:00pm/8:00pm feeding, putting her in the stroller and then she slept while we went out to dinner.

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We then came back, did a “Dreamfeed” and put her to sleep in her Pack and Play. She had slightly different bedtimes for the first several nights but at her age, that wasn’t much of a problem. The bonus was that on nights when she went to bed later, she also slept in later — one morning she didn’t get up until 9:00am — we really all were on vacation!

This was also the first trip where she was sleeping in a different room than us, so we took some time to “show her around” her new room and get her used to that. After the first night she seemed to be okay being in a strange place. Or this is just our first experience of her not really needing us as much as we may want her to!

For the most part, to get over jet lag, we tried to live on the local time, stay hydrated, and be outside. Seeing the sun during the day and the darkness at night helps the body regulate, and that goes for her too. We took one to two days to transition but then got on a nice schedule.

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What are your tips for surviving international trips with a baby? Any best practices for flights or secrets for packing?

 

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