I am happy to report that what I thought would be a journey through Hades ended up being a relatively pain-free experience. Of course, I didn’t sleep for 24 hours, but I also didn’t have a crying baby as we made our way from Munich to Madrid and Madrid to Miami, followed by a 45-minute car ride to Ft. Lauderdale. I would love to chalk it up to some magical mommy secrets, but I think it has most to do with having a baby who is still only 7 months (other, slightly older babies on the plane definitely gave their lungs a workout during the entire flight), and a baby who really loves to be on the road and around new people.
However, there are definitely a few secrets for easier international travel that I discovered on this journey, which I will share in a moment. But, first I want to give a special shout-out to the Madrid airport, aka the Googleplex of transit buildings, aka heaven on earth. Not only is it an unbelievably modern and beautiful complex, with curvy, Gaudi-inspired wood beam ceilings, ultra yuppie restaurants (i.e. the Evian café), and colorful seating areas with ample free charging stations, but it also has an enormous KID’S PLAYROOM! This child oasis is stocked with mats, toys, books, playpens, a crawl-through castle, rocking horses, a room with cribs in it, a kitchen for baby food, a child toilet area, changing tables, and even baby baths. After foggily booking our flight after a night of little sleep and mistakenly choosing a route with a six-hour layover in Madrid, you can only imagine my relief when we hit this VIP’est of the VIP lounges (forget the business lounge with free drinks and food, for a parent this is the ultimate relaxation room while waiting for a flight). And, it wasn’t bad for my baby either! After he had woken up at 4 am, sat through a long car ride to the airport, waited for 2 hours for our flight and then embarked on a fuss-free first leg of our journey, he had more than earned some uninterrupted, non-distracted playtime with his parents.
Refreshed from our playtime and expensive eats at this luxury airport, we then embarked on our second leg of the journey to Miami. I wasn’t thrilled when I saw our seats were in the long middle row towards the back of the plane. But, luckily there was one empty seat in our row, which we promptly converted into a little crib. I can’t say that he slept there the whole time (he is too curious to sleep through such a new experience), but it definitely gave us some free time to watch a movie and rest a little. I mean, it wasn’t the FRONT ROW with a BUILT-IN BABY BASSINET that some other family got, but you gotta work with what you have, not with what you don’t.
So, all of that being said, here are some good takeaways for parents traveling internationally with one or more bundles of (noisy) joy.
1. You are Priority Class everywhere
As I mentioned in my ten tips for traveling with a baby, priority everything is one of the many benefits of being a parent. When we arrived at the airport in Munich and saw the huge line for coach travelers to check in and the business class line with only four people in it, we immediately took the latter route. Feel guilty? Don’t. A baby that doesn’t have to wait around in line for an hour will be a happier plane baby, and trust me, the business class travelers will be grateful for that. We did the same thing going through security and at the passport checkpoint before boarding our flight for the states. In all, I estimate we spent a total of 10 minutes waiting as opposed to the 2 hours or so it would have taken us to get through all of the lines. The key is: don’t ask, just do. If they give you a problem, say ‘sorry, my baby has to eat’ and they won’t ask any more questions. But, not one person even flinched when we stood in those lines, so just go for it.
2. Bring a thin ‘play mat’ in your carry on
Now, we found kiddie heaven in Madrid, so we didn’t need to use our play mat. But, had we been forced to wait 6 hours with no place for our baby to crawl around or stretch out, I don’t think the journey would have been as pain-free. Just in case, I always carry with me a thin little play mat that doesn’t take up too much space but is always there in case we need to lay it on the ground and let him have some fun.
3. Get creative with toys
There is no need to pack a dozen of his or her favorite toys that will only fall on the ground and become unusable (because yuck, plane germs). To a baby EVERYTHING is a toy. Plastic water cups are endlessly fascinating to squeeze and hear crackle, the red security leaflet is almost like a comic book with all of its little safety drawings, and don’t get me started on the new touch screen entertainment centers. As a parent who wants my kid to have little exposure to our addictive devices, I did make an exception for the plane, and boy, did he have a grand old time swiping the screen and seeing new images pop up after he touched it. So, a toy or two is good, but remember, there is a whole new world of discovery in all of the little items found right in the seat pocket in front of you.
4. Get first dibs on front-row seats and other plane perks
Did you know that airplanes have little baby bassinets on hand? I sure as heck didn’t, which is why we ended up having to create our own sleeping space for the little one, because other, more seasoned parents laid claim to them ahead of time. If possible, get your seats in the front row, where no one is sitting in front of you, and on the wall, the flight staff will stick a bassinet for your baby. The key is to ask ahead of time for these seats and bassinets, because they are limited and it’s a dog eat dog parenting world out there.
5. Consider a portable crib
If you have a baby that is crib-trained and you don’t know if your hotel or rented apartment has a crib on hand, you can always pack a portable crib in your suitcase (given it is a big suitcase). I was pretty amazed to see the usually large crib break down easily into this little portable carry-on, which is super convenient to put back together once you arrive. Now, if I can only muster the discipline to crib train my little one, we might actually use it.
Obviously other tips include bringing formula if the baby isn’t breastfeeding, snacks for the little ones, and layers of clothing due to the extreme heat when the plane AC is off and the extreme cold when it’s on… but most of those are common sense, so I didn’t include them in the numbered list.
Bon voyage and good luck!!