We just enjoyed a lovely vacation with my parents, brother, sister-in-law and 2 1/2 year old niece. We spent a few days on Edisto Island in South Carolina. Somewhat hedged in by the timeshare options left to us after we started planning our spring-break trip just a couple months out, it was the best beach with nearby sightseeing and golf that we could find, that wasn’t completely booked.
Edisto Island is a quaint, sleepy little island, about an hour south of Charleston. It was the perfect place for us to descend, with our three golf bags, eight suitcases and two small children. They didn’t look particularly shocked when we’d straggle into one of their restaurants, and we only caught the slightest hint of disdain when we boarded for our sunset marshland cruise with steaming-hot casserole dishes. Maybe they expected sandwiches or something similarly portable. But we had hungry guys, and the sweet grass baskets absorbed us for longer than we thought.
But you aren’t here for a recap of our vacation. You’re here because you want to know what I learned about travelling with a baby. A 6-month old baby who, in earlier months especially, struggled through colic (praise the Lord, I can say it does end!), who still has reflux and who still wears a bib all day long to catch the frequent spit-ups that are part and parcel of his young existence. For those of you who don’t have children and haven’t been around many of them, let me tell you a thing or two about 6-month old babies. They are not very mobile, but they want to be – this means they wiggle and squirm and want to stand up on your lap to swivel their heads like little owls. They cannot talk, but they want to observe everything (hence the owl-like head swiveling). They generally take a couple naps of at least one hour long each day. This is behavior not conducive to long travels.
Here’s what we were facing, to get to Edisto Island. Our Sunday flight left at 6:40 am; after a three-hour layover we were to land in Charleston at 1:45 pm, where we would get our off-site rental car and drive about an hour to the island. Our return flight on Wednesday left at 7:40 am and included two stops – the first, we stayed on the plane while passengers unloaded and reloaded; the second, we had a one-hour layover and then a short flight which put us on home ground at 1:15 pm; then a three and a half hour drive to be home, sweet home.
It was daunting. I was terrified the Little Guy would cry the whole way or tear through the eight diapers I packed for each travel day or spit up with such force and volume that my clothes, and the hair of the stranger in front of me, would be completely ruined.
I have good news for you, though. It wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, both travel days were incredibly smooth, but I did learn a few things that I want to remember…
1. Limit excess carry-ons. When the Big Guy saw the 8-pound “entertainment bag” I’d packed (for myself), he suggested we stick it in my suitcase instead and I grab maybe one book out of it for the plane ride. Good idea. With that adjustment, we only had to juggle the baby, the diaper bag, the umbrella stroller and my purse.
2. Take-offs and landings are the worst parts of the flights. We had 10 of them, so there was plenty of time to confirm the theory. It’s because of the altitude changes. Suggestion: choose nonstop flights no matter the cost.
3. Earplanes, those little earplugs meant to help offset the pain of altitude changes, may very well work. But they only work if they stay in your child’s ears. With the way the Little Guy would thrash and squirm as we tried to sway with him to sleep (wedged in our narrow airplane seats), the plugs popped out after approximately twenty seconds. He didn’t mind them going in, though.
4. Fellow travellers, for the most part, are much kinder than you would expect. The generosity of our first flight neighbors brought tears to my eyes – and all she offered was a jovial “Well, you made it and he got a little nap!” I’d suggest just a little casual chitchat before takeoff. It’s much harder for your neighbor to begrudge you when you’ve already offered pleasantries and a rueful pre-flight apology. They are probably just glad they’re not the one juggling a squirmy baby and an overflowing diaper bag through those aisles.
5. Don’t stress yourself out. Expect some wails. Expect a dirty diaper mid-flight. Expect spit-up down your sleeve before you even take off. If you expect these things, you’ll be prepared to handle them.
6. Offer a bottle with milk or even an ounce or two of water if your baby’s already eaten, during takeoffs and landings. Drinking from the bottle seems to do a better job than sucking on a binky, and we’ve already established that you cannot count on the Earplanes.
7. Travel with a baby whisperer. My sister-in-law fits the bill on this one. She held the Little Guy during two flights and he grinned and giggled to thoroughly charm nearby passengers, and then slept peacefully most of each flight.
8. Keep your sense of humor. Regardless of the havoc that is wreaked inside that airplane, you will land and you will enjoy your vacation thoroughly. It might even feel like a vacation. And six months later, you can cautiously bring up that massive dirty diaper on the third flight, and you’ll have a good chuckle over it.