YES WE CAN AND YES WE DID!!! My daughter Heléna and I embarked upon the first of many plane trips together. Over President’s Day Weekend we took a short trip from the Bay Area to Long Beach, CA (1.5 hour plane trip each way). This trip was important for me because I wanted to see if me and my 8 month old daughter could work as a team and navigate our way through airports dealing with TSA, other travelers and the flight itself. We did it and we did it carry on only! This trip was a tiny test run of bigger trips to come. Watch out world……Cultured Americana and Baby are now unleashed!
When friends learned I was expecting a baby last year a lot were surprised. Many explained they were surprised because I appeared to be this fancy free girl who loved to travel and they didn’t see me wanting children. Some said “well at least you got travel out of the way!” This indicated to me that it was assumed that my travel life was over with a little one on the way. I wouldn’t say it was over…..it was just going to be different. I am so excited to show my daughter the world and I want to start her early. She won’t remember these early trips but they will get her used to being in diverse situations. I have enjoyed a lot of solo traveling. I had a partner that would not travel and I did not want to let that stop me from exploring and being the woman and global citizen I was meant to be. I am so excited to share my love for exploring new places and cultures with my daughter.
While I was expecting I read a lot of blogs and articles about traveling with a baby. They were great and inspiring but I saw very little on traveling solo…..with a baby. Those who know me personally may already know or suspect that I became a single parent before I was even officially a parent. I will never let being a single parent prevent my daughter from having a big beautiful life. An integral part of that amazing life will include a lot of life changing travel! I am a somewhat experienced traveler but I am new to traveling with a child. I hope to share what I learn along the way. Maybe I can inspire you to travel with your baby solo or even with your partner.
I am a proud member of team carry on only. Believe it or not, Heléna and I were carryon only for our first plane trip. Our first road trip we brought everything but the kitchen sink but for this trip we were light and tight. So without further ado here is the list of gear.
- Osprey Farpoint travel backpack- I bought this for my trip to Spain in 2015. From my experience a travel backpack is the best way to go for international travel that involves train travel. Domestically, I used to opt for my Victorinox international size roller suitcase. I have found the Osprey to be handy for traveling with baby because Mama needs those hands to be free. I didn’t bring her diaper bag. I used the front compartment of the Osprey to fit all of her stuff which included: diapers, wipes, empty bottles, travel formula, changing pad, nipples and food. Once at my destination, I used a packing cube to serve as a make shift diaper bag. Speaking of packing cubes.....
- E-bags packing cubes- I LOVE these and love them more now while traveling with a baby. They allow you to organize and compress everything. I brought two skinny cubes that I filled with Heléna’s clothes and one medium and small one for my clothes.
- Mountain Buggy Nano Travel stroller- This is a bit of a game-changer for me. It is a super light travel stroller that folds down amazingly small and can be slipped into a sleek little bag. It folds down small enough that it fits in the overhead compartment of a plane. We usually roll in Heléna’s BOB jogging stroller. We consider that her limo so this fantastic Mountain Buggy is her red Corvette we use on vacation.
- Mountain Buggy Pod Portable Highchair- I love this portable highchair that folds down flat and fits neatly into my travel backpack! Oddly enough I didn't use it on this trip as my daughter slept during both of our restaurant dining experiences.
- Boba 4G baby carrier- I love this thing. It keeps Heléna close, secure and it allows me to be hands free….just like my Osprey FarPoint. I “wore” Heléna as much as possible during the trip and in our every day life. Baby wearing rocks!
- B.O.B B-Safe by Britax carseat- I love this carseat and use it daily. However, this was the most inconvenient thing to drag around but we made this work as well. We needed this for the rental car.
- Vintage Coach cross body purse-I needed something small and worry free. Since it was a cross body it allowed me to be ……yes you guessed it “hands free”
- Heléna’s birth certificate- Until her passport comes through it is the only form of ID she has. I believe it is required. I can’t be sure because on the way to Long Beach the TSA guy didn’t seem that interested in it and on the way back the TSA guy studied the certificate. Just bring it just in case!
- Mama kept her travel wardrobe simple. An extra pair of pants, shell top adidas, solid tops that don’t wrinkle, a buret and a scarf to keep things simple yet stylish. Of course, Helena had really cute wardrobe options. Her clothes are tiny so she can afford to bring more.
So you are probably thinking, well with all of that stuff listed above, how was she carry on only? . See my list of tips below.
- I bought baby a seat. Although Heléna is young enough to be a lap child, I opted to purchase her a seat. This allowed us to have more space. Additionally FAA suggest it’s best for babies to have their own seat with their infant car seat. Since I was renting a car at my destination and would need an infant seat in the rental, I opted to bring her carseat. So the problem was “how do we handle the baby, the backpack and the carseat while navigating the airport?”
- Used the stroller to transport the infant seat around the airport. While I was pushing the infant seat in the stroller, I had my Osprey backpack on my back and Heléna strapped to my chest. I know this still doesn’t sound carry on only. Bear with me.
- I gate checked Heléna’s stroller. However, I could have stashed it in the overhead bin since technically Heléna was entitled to a carryon since she had a seat of her own. I boarded the plane with baby strapped to chest, backpack on back and the infant carseat in my hand. By the way, bringing the carseat was the worst part of everything but we made do.
- Of course we took advantage of family boarding which gave us a little more room and time to navigate the plane. It was a Southwest flight so that meant open seating. We boarded early enough where we pretty much could sit where we wanted. I placed Heléna’s carseat in a window seat. I put my purse and Boba under the seat in front of Heléna’s seat and I placed the Osprey under the seat in front of me.
- Important tip: Notice I mentioned I put the Osprey under the seat in front of me. We did not use overhead compartments. I kept Helena’s essentials in the Osprey and needed to have it nearby at all times. I repeat….AT ALL TIMES.
- For Heléna’s formula I brought individually packed formula powder AND I bought those little to-go bottles for tiny infants. This wasn’t really for the purposes of feeding Heléna but more so I could give her a quick bottle on take off and landing to prevent her ears from hurting. THIS WORKED! I had 3-4 bottles on me when we left Oakland and used them all. I bought more for the trip home while in Long Beach.
- I brought a little more than enough diapers, wipes, formula and food. Notice I didn’t say just enough but a little more than enough. Bad things can happen like flight delays and exploding diapers so we wanted to be prepared for that. I bought more essentials when I arrived to my destination.
- I am part of the Global Entry program so I get TSA Pre-check. This was great solo but wonderful with baby since I don’t have to take off my shoes. However, they did want to see her food. No biggie. Food should be easily accessible for this purpose and just in case Heléna wants food….NOW!!
- I rehearsed going through security, boarding the plane and deplaning at home. Yes…..I rehearsed. I often would see stressed out parents at the airport with small children and I would think….”I wonder if a run through at home would be helpful”. I found it helpful because I accept things can go wrong but I felt good being prepared. Since I rehearsed other travelers and TSA thought Helena and I do this all the time.
- Got to the the airport early! This is a no brainer! However, I will repeat. I GOT TO THE AIRPORT EARLY. How early?? About 2.5 hours. This is total opposite of the pre-baby version of myself that would give my self just enough time to breeze through the TSA pre-check and slide on my flight. I mentioned above, travel is now different.
So those are the tips I have for now. Keep in mind this was a short trip so a trip with “more stuff” may force us to check luggage(gasp). People offered to help us with our things but I politely declined. I just needed to know I could juggle all of this on my own. Now that I know I can, I will probably accept assistance next time. It feels amazing to have reached this milestone. Helena was a wonderful traveler and adored the attention she received from those we came into contact with. This trip was a warm up. I have more ambitious plans for the near future so stay tuned. Until next time……get out there and collect experiences! Please share your baby travel experiences and tips with me. I am still a rookie!