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Coming Home from Home | Travel Essentials for a Longhaul Flight with a Baby

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I don’t hear the different vowel sounds of my husband’s Kiwi accent, I have stopped noticing the alien words in my own vocabulary, the starburst shapes of cabbage trees and flax and the open hands of punga ferns no longer seem exotic. The tui call is as much the soundscape of home to me as the robin.

When you sense that home is a feeling within the heart, or an outlook, or a process of discovery, making a home wherever you are becomes as much an adventure as exploring new communities, cultures, landscapes, cities, friends, flavours, and ways of shaping your day.

But, on cooler days, this plenitude can sometimes be registered as a slight out of place-ness. Being a Brit living overseas is a constant dance between here and there, between home and home. Having Sol has made the question of home even more vivid and open ended. And coming back to the Motherland more of a necessity.

Though I don’t recognise the political terrain anymore, I deeply know the landscape. It lives in me. The Jurassic rocks, the jewel and velvet sea, the thick and lushly billowing trees.

Last time we flew this far, Sol was tiny and breastfed/slept/cried in a non offensive kitten way in my sling the whole journey but now bigger, bolder, louder, mobile, tactile, and having cut two molars the night before we left (!) I wasn’t sure which way this would go.

But we snagged a row to ourselves to Hong Kong and on the next flight a bulkhead seat and my super babe slept, cuddled, roamed the aisles, played quietly, stood up waving at everyone in her bassinet, yelled occasionally in some kind of tribal support when the other babies cut loose, grinned like mad and was basically way less hassle to fly with than her dad back in the day (airport dashes/customs/locked in a van with armed police on the runway because he was traveling with a speargun…)

PS Thank you, Sol, for your inimitable good cheer and trust. Though woken at 5am the next morning to start the day, it was with smiles and runny nose kisses so all is well, all is super, sunny and seagull squawky. It is so good to be back.

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Before we left NZ, I googled long haul flight with a 13 month old and variations on that theme and couldn’t find a huge amount so I’ve put together a few tips for if you find yourself in the same position, going solo and long haul with a baby.

Here are the things we learned:

1. Baby Carrier

Crucial. Baby feels so much safer tucked in close to your heartbeat, she will sleep and you will have two hands free: one for pulling your suitcase behind you, one for rummaging for boarding passes. Also brilliant when needing to use the toilet on the plane if you are traveling alone. When Sol was newborn to about six months, we used J J Cole and now we have an Ergo Baby as she seems more comfortable in that for longer periods of time. We’ve also got a Sakura Bloom ring sling because it’s easy and gorgeous so that was packed in our hold luggage for use while we’re away.

2. Pack plenty of nappies and changes of clothes

The chances are your baby will eat and drink constantly on the flight. Babies seem so connected to their bodily needs as if the barriers between instinct and behaviour haven’t yet developed. So drinking = wet nappies and possibly clothes. I would overpack as the last thing you want is a wet uncomfortable babe. And plastic bags for disposing of the nappies and for keeping the dirty clothes separate from clean in your bag. Wet wipes too. So many of them.

3. Take a little activity bag with new treats inside

I did this when we flew to Rarotonga in November and it was a great trick. I packed a new book, a toy truck and a weird foam globe thing that I anticipated pointing out our destination on but Sol just chewed off a chunk of it, spat it out and we left it behind on the plane. This time we had books, finger puppets a colouring book and crayons and Cathay Pacific gave Sol a mini rucksack with some bits and pieces in which was the most thrilling thing ever for her.

4. Pack your own food

Plane food is not that inspiring and there’s never enough of the stuff you can actually eat, so pack plenty of sachets of baby food, crackers, fruit. whatever you know your little one likes. We had lots of fun with a bunch of grapes – Sol enjoyed feeding them to me, trying to stuff loads in her mouth at once and watching a couple roll down the aisle. If you do eat the plane food. order a special meal like a vegetarian or vegan meal. You’ll find more on the tray that you can eat happily and you’ll get served first.

5. Hydrate

Drink all the water and, if you can get your hands on 1 Above, it’s a life saver. You can get it in effervescent tablet form and dissolve it in a litre of water. It’s full of B vitamins and polyphenols and it really honestly works at combatting that drained jet lagged feeling once you’ve landed. It’s amazing!

6. Make bed time familiar

Take baby’s pyjamas and snuggle cloth or teddy and change her before the lights go down so she knows it’s bed time. I sprayed the pillow spray I use in Sol’s room at home and we also walked up and down the aisle saying good night and talking about how everyone was going to sleep just so she knew what time of day it was supposed to be.

7. Order a bassinet

Your baby probably won’t fit a bassinet after she’s a year but order anyway as it means you’ll get a bulkhead seat with extra leg room and room for her to play on the floor. Sol slept on me but played in the bassinet in the morning, so I had a bit of time without her attached to me which I needed.

8. Get extra blankets and pillows

If you’re likely to be the mattress for your baby, ask for extra pillows so you can contort yourself over the arm rests while she slumbers peacefully. And blankets will help too.

8. Ask for help

Sol and I had some fairly awful attention from a male passenger the last time we flew to England. It was so horrible that I cried at the check in desk when we were due to fly back to NZ alone last December. I want to emphasise that you don’t need to have had a bad experience to ask for and accept help. You are a mother traveling alone with a baby and as such you need extra assistance and care. If it’s not forthcoming ask for it. Now every time I check in, if all the bassinets have been booked and we therefore don’t have a bulkhead seat, I ask if we can be seated with a spare seat beside us so we can feed and sleep more comfortably. And I ask repeatedly. At check in, at the desk at the gate before boarding, as I am stepping on the plane and once I am seated, when the steward/ess brings us the baby seatbelt. Just keep faith that you’ll get the help you need. On that flight back last time, we had three seats to ourselves for blissful sleep together and this time, we had the block of two seats so Sol slept and I could stretch out.

9. Burn off steam in transit

Let baby toddle, crawl, roam, climb, yell, get all their pent up energy out in your transit airport. Even if they look beyond exhausted, if they want to be on the move, let them. They will be able to handle the next leg that much better once their physical energy has burned off.

10. Re routine + relax

Once you land, make baby’s routine as close to their routine at home as possible. Know that you probably won’t get a great night’s sleep straight away while they adjust but catch any rest you can if friends and family can take your little one out for a walk etc. Leave baby in safe hands. Drink all the coconut water. And relaxulate! You made it, you total pair of superheroes!

Also a big shout out to Cathay Pacific and their crew on CX251 Hong Kong to London landing on 5/7/16. You were beyond amazing, making that the most pleasant flight I have ever experienced. No idea if you’ll see this, but you never know! xx

PS I’d love to hear your tips and experiences in the comments below and, if you think this will be helpful to someone you know, hit the share buttons. With lots of love and happy traveling, xx

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