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On Star Mega Do 3 in September of 2011, I had the chance to meet a great couple, Ryan and Kate. Ryan was on the SMD3 and Kate met up with us on the last stop in Denver. I remember her being pretty pregnant at the time, so of course I was drawn to talking to a traveler that was about to have a little one. Their boy was born a little over a month later, and they have not let their new addition to the family slow them down one bit. I get to keep up with their travels on Facebook, and wanted to share their stories of traveling with an infant with you all.
Before we get into your traveling adventures, can you tell me a little bit about your family?
We’re a young and active family. Mum’s a lawyer and Dad’s CFO of a public company. We have one son, Ben, who is six months old, and two dogs, Oliver and Marley. We live in Calgary, but aside from one brother who lives nearby, the rest of our family is spread across eastern Canada, the US, and Australia. We’re also the only ones with kids so far.
Here are Ryan, Kate, and Ben on-board the Virgin America A320 party plane at KivaDo (Virgin America threw a party on a plane at the gate. Champagne and sandwiches for all. Note ‘special guest’ (Randy Peterson) behind them!
What were your travel patterns like before having a child?
Frequent. Discovery’s ad campaign about the world is pretty representative of our views on travel. The world is just awesome, and we make an effort to see more of it every chance we get.
Mum traveled regularly during her pregnancy, right up to the 34-week mark. Dad’s been to 16 countries, Mum’s been to 31, and Ben’s been to 2. This year will bring at least another 4 for Dad, 5 for Mum and 2 for Ben.Our travel styles have been slowly converging over the last few years as well. Mum was a student backpacker and Dad is used to a more up-scale travel experience. Striking a balance has been a challenge (including one disastrous attempt to make Dad stay in a Middle Eastern hostel), but we’re getting there.
What have your travel patterns been after having a child?
Just as busy as before. If anything, its increased a little bit as we visit the grandparents and great-grandparents as often as we can. Additionally, the Canadian government provides 12 months of paid maternity leave, so we’ve planned a very busy 2012 to take advantage of Mum’s time off. Given our history, we knew even before he was born that travel was going to be part of Ben’s life. This lead to some interesting stories in the first few weeks of having him. First, discovering that Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program, will not accept a registration filed on the person’s date of birth – Dad’s first act upon getting home from the hospital (before Mum and baby were discharged) had been to try and register Ben. (You must wait until the second day of life to register with this program)
The next drama was trying to get a passport photo taken of a one month old. It is much more complex than you might think, as the rules that apply to adult photos (no smiling, eyes open, no shadows, etc.) also apply to infant photos. This means that even though Ben couldn’t hold his head up, the photo couldn’t show anything supporting his head. It took a photographer, his assistant and Mum a full 30 minutes to get a photo that worked – the process included stripping the poor little guy down to his undershirt to try and keep him awake! Finally, driving 4 hours to the Sweetgrass, MT border-crossing in the middle of the night in December for Ben’s Nexus ‘interview’ at 8 am (the local Nexus office had a wait-time of several months) was a bit of a gong show. When the agents called us in, they thought we were all applying; when we pointed out that we already had Nexus and it was just Ben they burst out laughing, but not as hard as when they discovered that his application had listed his height as 1′ 6″! Needless to say, Ben invoked his right to silence when questioned, but they approved him anyway.
Where all has your six month old baby traveled, and how old was he for each trip?
Ben has taken 2 trips, totaling 11 flights so far. (Though this was written a few weeks ago, I see from Facebook stalking this family that little Ben took yet another trip on Air Canada last night!)
First, when he was 2.5 months old we went to St. John’s, Newfoundland for his Baptism and Christmas (3 flights), then onto Orlando for New Years (2 flights) and finally back home (2 flights). Then at 5 months, we took him to San Francisco for KivaDo (2 flights each direction).
What were your biggest concerns about traveling with a baby before your first trip?
His ears. Any other issues (hungry, gassy, sleepy) we knew we could solve, but if he had a pressure problem in his ears that wouldn’t clear it could be tough. You can’t tell an infant to hold their nose and pop their ears. We had visions of being ‘those parents’ on a flight, the ones with the baby who howls for the whole trip, but luckily, it wasn’t a problem.
What turned out to be the biggest challenges on the trips?
Deciding between chicken and beef? Honestly, traveling with him so far has been a dream, and we’ve received countless comments from crew and passengers about how quiet he is. The couple times he’s considered being fussy a 2 minute walk in the aisle has settled him down. We’re lucky that he’s naturally a very chill baby and he can sleep anytime, anywhere. Ask us again in 6 months once he’s mobile and we might have a different answer.
What gear and supplies do you bring with you for your baby on the trips?
The starting point is car seat, stroller and baby formula. The benefits of a high quality stroller cannot be overstated. We have an Uppababy Vista and besides being very maneuverable and reclining to let Ben sleep comfortably, its base can handle a full messenger bag or backpack in addition to a diaper bag, which makes hauling everything through a terminal that much easier. It also accepts the car seat, which was great when Ben was smaller as you could move him from car to stroller without waking him. Lots of people choose to travel with a small umbrella stroller rather than a larger full-featured one, but we haven’t had any difficulty so far, even when our hotel in San Francisco managed to put us in a room on the one floor not accessible by elevator!
Ben is formula-fed, and changing brands can upset his tummy, so we travel with at least an extra 2 days’ worth of powder in case of catastrophe. Same goes for diapers. We’ve only recently introduced solids and haven’t had to deal with those while traveling yet; Mum is making his baby food, so storage at the proper temperature is a problem we will have to address soon.
For the plane ride itself, we pack a pretty full diaper bag. We bring a quilt, which can keep him cozy when he sleeps and double as a playmat in the lounge or at the gate. We pre-load bottles with formula powder, so that we can just add water when he needs to eat (this has the added benefit of stream-lining security because there’s no liquid to be checked over); we always take at least one more than we think we should need. Ben has only needed gripe water and baby Tylenol a handful of times in his life, but we bring them anyway – better safe than sorry! A few board books, soothers, a teether, and Montgomery Monkey, his lovey, and we’re good to go.
Mum and Ben take a break from KivaDo meetings for playtime, with special guest wijomas. This was literally in the hallway outside the conference room with the blanket, toys and books that we keep in the diaper bag.
The necessities will be different for everyone, but just as important as knowing what you need is knowing what you don’t. Minimalism is your friend. You don’t need 4 days of bottles, bring a day’s worth and wash them in the hotel room. If your baby can’t roll yet, you don’t need a crib, a blanket on the floor will work fine. Leave the purse at home and put anything you need in the diaper bag. Besides lightening your load, it makes security a breeze.
Whenever possible, we try and source what we can at the destination. So diapers, wipes, cribs, etc… we either buy or rent when we get there. Most cities have places that will rent cribs, swings and pretty much any other baby gear you can think of, and they’ll also deliver it to where you’re staying ahead of time. It can cost a little more (though not much, especially if it saves you checked bag fees), but the reduction in bags makes the getting through the airport much easier. That said, this is only really practical if you’re staying in the same place for a decent length of time, such as when visiting family.
What tips have you found to be helpful when traveling with an infant?
If travel if going to be a regular part of your child’s life, than treat it as such. Ben’s schedule doesn’t change when we travel; he eats when he normally does, sleeps when he normally does and plays when he normally does. If that means he needs to be fed and changed on a one-hour flight then so be it. In San Francisco he slept in his stroller for over two hours during a noisy reception dinner. We’ve tried to make travel something normal for Ben, so he just goes with the flow and hopefully that will continue as he grows.
If you are going to be traveling internationally, investigate the frequent traveler programs available to you. For instance, the Nexus program provides expedited entry into the US from Canada (by air, land and water) and into Canada from anywhere in the world. With young kids, it means you can use the crew lanes at customs, invaluable when your flight lands after 3 fully loaded 747s, as you can skip the entire line and be out of the airport hours (no joke, it can be hours) before everyone else on your plane. Cardholders can also access dedicated Nexus-only security lines at most Canadian airports (soon to be expanded to the US – a trial run is currently underway at 4 US airports). At a cost of $50 per adult (free under 16) for 5 years, it may be the best travel investment you ever make.
Has your experience varied by airline or aircraft?
So far we’ve only flown Air Canada with Ben, but we do go out of our way to fly specific aircraft types. For instance, on Calgary-Toronto (a 4 hour flight) the seating on the planes is either 3-3 or 2-2. Even though the 2-2 planes are smaller and slower, having a full row to ourselves is worth the extra 15 minutes in flight time. If the plane is 3-3, we take an aisle and a window, and hope for an empty seat. Worst case we offer someone who thought they were stuck in the middle an aisle or window seat, they never seem upset.
As Air Canada frequent flyers we also have access to a limited number of upgrades each year. We’ve planned out our year so that we will (hopefully) use them on our longest flights. Sometimes that will mean one person up front and one person in the back, in which case the person in the front gets Ben. While it isn’t critical, the extra space in the seats, lack of line for the restroom, and the occasional (and sometime much needed) drink make for a much more refined flight. We will note that the business class washroom occasionally doesn’t have a change table, so we have had to hike down to the back and stand in line for a diaper change.
Sometimes it can also be worth it to pay for a better seat. Our first day of flying with Ben was also our longest so far, going Calgary-Toronto-Halifax-St. John’s for a total of 7 hours flying and 13 hours door to door. For the holiday season Air Canada did that entire run with an internationally-configured Boeing 767, which has lie-flat business class seats, and the price difference was $200 per person. As soon as we took off, the seat went down flat and Ben slept at the foot of the bed while Dad at the top with his back against the side of the plane and played on his iPad. That was an easy decision for us, and made for an easy and comfortable day of travel. The crew said they’d never seen anybody do that with a baby, and agreed that it was a great idea.
What future trips do you have planned with your little one?
Ben’s first year is going to be busy – based on our current bookings, he’ll have 29 flights under his belt before he turns one. Next up is Orlando for a wedding (he and Dad are traveling alone for the first time on the way there). April brings Toronto for 3 weeks with the grandparents while Mum & Dad explore some of Asia. June is Toronto again for another wedding, then Goose Bay and St. John’s to see friends and the other grandparents. August will be Toronto yet again, then Buenos Aires and Santiago. There isn’t anything planned after that, but trips have a habit of popping up for us.
Thank you so much to Ryan and Kate for sharing their experiences traveling with a little one! I must say, traveling with my daughter at those ages would have been a completely different experience as she was not a “chill” kiddo in the slightest, but some babies make great travelers, and I totally agree that if you want travel to be a way of life for your family, then start that lifestyle while the kiddo is still young. This traveling family is awesome, and I hope to hear more from them as Ben continues on his adventures!