First Class, Baby (Part IV: Ten Tips for Traveling Alone with Infants and Other Dangerous Cargo)

On Christmas day I crossed the border and got my Green Card. Yes! We're home now (the new home, in San Francisco, where I live with my husband and son) and I've had a few days to look back and reflect on my six-week window into life as the single, itinerant mother of a ten month-old named after a Mojave desert plant.

Ocotillo, Mojave desert false cactus

What did I learn?

Oh, lots of things. Like how old unmarried men are drawn to young (presumably) unwed mothers like old unmarried moths to an insta-family flame. And how tough it is to be a single mom -- to be the only person who could possibly take the baby for his night-time walk and rush him to the toilet at six am and then boil some organic prunes without forgetting about them on the stove for two hours. I value my family and friends in a whole new way.

But the really important thing I learned was how to travel with a baby. Sweet Baby James has taken eight flights in his short life; he's also taken one VIA train ride, two commuter trains and countless buses, subways, a boat, cars... he even climbed a motorcycle for the purposes of taking a picture.

Here's how I do it.

Ten Tips for Traveling Alone with Infants and Other Dangerous Cargo

  1. Ditch the stroller. It is not easier to push your baby in front of you when you're also dragging a piece of luggage behind you and the diaper bag is falling off your shoulder. Plus, you have to take the baby out of the stroller when you're going through security, and again when you fold it up to store it when you get to the plane/train. Babywearing, on the other hand, rocks. You can leave the baby in the carrier when you walk through security, though the guard will stop you to wipe your hands for explosives (not the pooping kind, unfortunately). Babywearing will also save you when baby's fussing and you need to walk up and down the aisles. Plus, bored strangers are less likely to assault (read: try to pick up and cuddle) your baby up if he/she's in a carrier. I like my ring-sling because it also doubles as a blanket when baby goes to sleep (that's a lie, he never goes to sleep). Mine are home-made but they look like the Maya Wrap:

    ***Airports are also great places to check out the hottest in babywearing fashion. See the airport posts on Too Hot For Stroller!
  2. Pack light. Lighter than you ever thought you could. They probably have diapers, wipes, burpee cloths, nursing pads and other necessities where you are going. Just bring what you need for your travel time plus 24 hours (in case of delays) and find a pharmacy first thing when you wake up the next day.
  3. That said, having a portable changing pad/diaper kit really comes in handy. Public restrooms should have clean and safe baby changing facilities, but they don't. It drives me crazy (see photos: This is what my Skip Hop portable changing station looks like:
  4. Pack even lighter. Yes, babies love to play with stuff but it doesn't have to be the locally-made, ethically produced organic toys they're familiar with. Your host's measuring cups, colander, coffee tin, old comb, recycling, etc. are all great options and you can leave them behind guilt-free. If someone decides to laden you with gifts (and they will), ship them home.
  5. Don't waste time trying to get baby to keep his hands to himself. OK so airplanes are nastydirty and the windows on the bus are grimygross. But the constant vigilance it will require and the fight that might ensue between you and the baby just isn't worth it. Pack some diaper wipes. Keep them at hand so you can wipe his. Think about all the immunities he's building.
  6. Accept Help. Your host wants to help you to the station? The airline allows you to board early? That withered old man is going to attempt to haul your suitcase up the stairs? Let people help because it makes them feel good. If help isn't forthcoming, politely ask for assistance. You are transporting the future of the world in your arms and they are rushing home to catch a Friends re-run.
  7. Make friends with the flight attendants. These are people who can make or break your journey and -- what luck -- they've made a career out of being helpful and cooing at infants! (they also watch out for thousands of people's safety -- and Alec "not a very unselfish man" Baldwin -- but that's another matter). When you're boarding the plane, pause and say hello, ask them how their day's going; show them your adorable little bundle. Then show them your boarding pass so they direct you to your seat. This way they know how to find you and shower you with attention: I had flight attendants offer to hold and carry the baby when I had to go pee; give me free meals, blankets and bottles of water; invite me to their gourmet first nations restaurant, stow my luggage at the front of the plane, let me change the baby in the first class toilet, and take pictures of us. Win!
    Our First VIA Train: taken by the ever-lovely attendant, Rachel
  8. Wear slip-on shoes. You have to take off your footwear at security these days. Boots with laces mean sitting down (as if there's a chair available) and bending over to get them off. Babies in carriers don't like it when you sit down and they hate it when you bend over. I know because I made the mistake of wearing my new boots because I was too lazy to carry them. It sucked.
  9. Carry written and notarized permission from the baby's other parent if you're crossing an international border. I forgot this and just barely squeaked into Canada. "Um, my husband knows I'm taking the baby to Montreal, I promise..." doesn't always cut it. You might also need a copy of the baby's birth certificate to prove that the person who gave permission is in fact the baby's other mama/papa.
  10. Don't worry about sticking to a routine. Traditional parenting philosophy predicts disaster (danger, danger, high voltage!) when a routine gets thrown off. But flight attendants were asking me, "Is your baby always this good?" and I don't think they were just being nice. Baby needs to know that although everything else is changing, you're there and not going anywhere (without her). I tried to focus on reading Sweet Baby James' cues and providing for them. It was more important to me that he feel content and comfortable than that he finish his breakfast (even if I had been burning cooking those damn prunes for two hours). He napped when he wanted to, nursed when he wanted to, alternately charmed or rebuffed strangers when he wanted to.
    Aside from the non-negotiable enactment of regular diaper changes, I let SBJ be the boss of SBJ. Even when he was a jerk and refused to engage in the best dual-baby-wearing-mama photo op ever.
    The long and the short of it is that traveling with a baby can be fun. I felt like Sweet Baby James and I bonded in a whole new way when he managed to intimidate his sweet two-year-old cousin and not to poop in the middle of my visa interview. It felt exciting, liberating... Sometimes when we were roaming the streets late at night, whether attempting to find our next destination or just a moment's calm respite, I imagined we were following the steps of our nomadic ancestors. I am mama, hear me roar.

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