It’s 8am Sunday morning Sydney time; 3pm LA time, and we’ve been travelling (including car, airport transfers and actual time in the air) for something like 28 hours. We just missed our connecting flight to Canberra so I’m mainly writing this to stay awake. And because I wish someone had wrote it for us before we travelled!
Last Sunday, Simon and I flew Virgin Australia Canberra – Sydney – LA – San Jose and then the final leg was a 2.5 hour car ride to Pacific Grove.
Why did you go all this way with a 6-month old, you ask? We were both invited to participate in a really amazing week of strategizing big picture ‘breakthroughs’ to get progress on climate change with about 25 amazing climate folk from around the world. It was called the Climate Strategy Accelerator, convened by three big philanthropic foundations: Packard, Oak and Good Energies.
The meeting was a challenging, inspiring and profoundly thought-provoking experience that I suspect will prove life-changing for many of its participants, either through the ideas we came up with or the relationships we formed. But to write about that would require more brain capacity than I have right now, in my jet lagged and sleep deprived state.
So, to the practical lessons learnt from the journeys there and back. In no particular order, here are my ten commandments of international travel with a 6 month old.
- Set up your bassinet well. It goes without saying that you really need to reserve the bulkhead seats so you can have a bassinet. It would be awful – almost impossible – if you had to hold a baby for the whole flight. The bassinet was great not just for Robbie to sleep but also as a place for him to sit and play. On the way over, there was a toddler across the aisle who needed the light on the whole time. We covered the top of the bassinet with a dark muslin cloth we’d brought, but it was very close to Robbie’s face so we had to keep checking he was breathing. On the way back we got smart and took some sticky tape – this meant we could tape the cloth to the wall and create a canopy that covered the bassinet from light, while still letting air in.
Take the overnight flight. On the way there, the flight was during daylight hours. This meant Robbie had to be entertained for his 2 hour stretches of awake time in between his 2 hour sleeps. On the way back, we got a night time flight and it was so much better. Robbie slept pretty much the whole way, other than about 4 feeds every 3 hours or so.
- Stay hydrated. Planes are drying, so both you and baby will get thirsty sooner than usual. Bring a big water bottle and get the flight attendants to keep re-filling it for you (don’t rely on the tiny bottles they give you on the plane – they only hold enough for one sip!). Expect to feed your baby more than usual. Bring a few bottles of boiled water for bub to sip in between feeds (but put a bib on him first – Robbie got water all over himself when we tried to get him to drink his from a cup as he still won’t take the bottle).
- Don’t do connecting flights. Just stay overnight and get the connecting flight the next morning. We flew Canberra to Sydney and then Sydney to LA – and we should have stopped there, got a hotel, and kept travelling the next day. Instead we had another 8 hours of travel to get to our final destination. It was NOT FUN.
- Avoid LAX at all costs. It is a broken, awful place.
- If baby gets over-tired, just hold him. There will come a point, usually after transferring through an airport (which is very stimulating) where your baby is really tired but there are just too many distractions for him to go to sleep easily. Expect hysterical crying. Try to feed him. Eventually he will fall asleep.
- Paper cups and plastic water bottles make great toys. The airline provides both for free, so factor these in when you’re deciding how many toys to take on the plane.
- Other essential items: rusks, baby sleeping bag (it gets cold on planes) and pillows. Proper pillows, not the small neck pillows. I had to breastfeed Robbie on the floor of the baggage carousel area at LAX while we were there waiting for our luggage for 2 hours, and sitting on a pillow was great (there are no chairs). Another time I used a pillow for Robbie to sleep on during a domestic transfer flight that didn’t have a bassinet (see below). Pillows are also, for me, the only way I am going to get any sleep on the plane.
- You’re allowed to take your pram right up to the plane. We didn’t know this on the way there, and assumed we had to check it in. But then we saw people walking with prams through the airport. Turns out you can take it to the gate, which is awesome – not only can it carry your baby it can also carry your hand luggage in the bottom bit. They make you dis-assemble it though, so don’t have too many loose items in it.
- Bring your own infant capsule. We were going to bring our own capsule but then thought we’d just use a local shuttle bus that said it had an infant capsule. Turns out they did, but it was forward facing and they wouldn’t turn it rear-facing. It was a very stressful almost three hours on the bus, holding Robbie back in the seat every time the bus braked and worrying about him getting whiplash. Luckily we found a private car service on the way back to the airport at the end of the week that had a rear-facing one installed. But we almost extended our trip by a week and if we’d done that, we would have had to buy a new capsule over there. So bring your own – it gives you flexibility. And the smart parents seemed to transport theirs in a box to protect it from damage.