Wednesday, May 23, 2012

international travel with an infant

The Standard "I'm Attempting Not to Sound Like a Know-It-All Asshole" Disclaimer: I am far from an expert on this subject, my only experience being our very recent trip to Mexico {which involved two measly 3 hour, direct flights to and fro}. Flying from NYC to LA is likely much more taxing. However, we did muddle through the infant passport process, the breast milk carry-on rigamarole, and a few other experiences that might be helpful to anyone out there planning an international trip with a wee one.

Now that the CYA language is out of the way, let's hop right in, shall we?

{1} Procuring an Infant Passport

The Secretary of State's website has decently comprehensive instructions for applying for a child's passport. You may also download all the forms you will need directly from that link. A few things to keep in mind / tips from someone who's cut through the red tape, fussy baby in tow...
  • You must apply in person for a passport for any child under 16... and both parents must be present or parent(s) who is (are) not present at time of application must provide notarized consent. There are caveats to this, of course, but that's the general rule {see Step 7 on instructions}.
  • Since you must apply in person, it's waaaaay easier to go to an issuing facility that takes photographs there rather than attempt to take the baby's photo yourself. Just be sure to bring your infant car seat or stroller in with you if your child cannot sit or stand on its own.
  • Call the issuing facility ahead of time to inquire about hidden fees... I assumed I only needed $10 cash for the photograph, but there ended up being an extra "photo processing fee" that, you guessed it, had to be paid in cash... cue MyChildisScreamingWheretheHellistheATM Freakout.
  • Processing times are anywhere from 4-8 weeks or 2-3 weeks expedited. If your trip is to take place soon after your child's birth, you might try to expedite the birth certificate if that option is available in your county. You also might want to order a few extra certified certificates as you will be required to submit an original birth certificate with the passport application {the Department of State will return it to you in the mail, but better safe that sorry should something happen to it}.
{2} What Else to Pack?

You've got your hysterical precious infant passport in your hot little hand... but what other essentials should accompany you on your travels? Some considerations before you laminate your packing list...
  • Will you have easy access to pharmacies / grocery stores? It turns out diapers and wipes take up a shitton {technical term} of precious suitcase real estate. If you can buy those items in only the quantities you need for the duration of your trip once you arrive at your destination, you'll save packing space {realizing, duh, that you probably won't find your exact brand and style abroad}. Same goes for medicines {tylenol, saline for stuffy noses, etc} that you hope you won't use but want access to on an as-needed basis. Markets and pharmacies were not easily accessible for us on this trip.
  • Can you drink the water? If not, you'll need bottled or distilled water to wash out bottles and/or mix formula. Our hotel's water was filtered and 100% safe to drink.
  • What baby necessities will be available upon your arrival? Can your hotel provide a porta-crib? Is there a fridge or mini-bar for milk storage? How will you warm bottles if you need to? We had a crib and mini-bar in our room, but no microwave.
  • Will you need a car seat or stroller? Are car seats mandated by law in the country you are visiting? If you're going to be traveling via car or bus upon arrival, would you want to chance it even if they aren't required? How much walking will you be doing? Mexico does not require car seats, but we brought ours anyway, along with the Snap-n-Go stroller. We did not use the stroller except in the airport, but I'm glad we had it as we found it was easier to push our carry-ons in the car seat / stroller combo and hold L.
  • If you're breastfeeding... Are there times on vacation where you will want to give the baby a bottle? If so, will you be able to pump enough once you arrive or will you need to bring some expressed milk with you? I was out-of-pocket for a decent chunk of time due to wedding events and attendant duties, so I had to bring some milk with me as well as pump there... see below for more details.
  • Are both parents traveling together with the baby? If not, you'll need a notarized statement from the other parent giving you permission to take the chid out of the country.
Keeping those thoughts in mind, here is the run-down on what I packed for L for a five night trip with two half-days of travel time:

  • Car Seat & Stroller - taken through security {both must go on the conveyer belt through the scanner... We did not know this and held up the security line like hillbilly assholes} and checked at the gate. American Airlines allowed us to check these items free of charge. Had either piece weighed more than 20 lbs {re: jogging stroller}, we would have been required to check them prior to going through security. Look up your particular airline's rules online prior to traveling.
  • Diaper Bag - all the usual suspects, including 8 diapers, wipes, changing pad, muslin blanket {to use as nursing cover and in case of chilly A/C}, 2 burp clothes, pacifier, pacifier wipes, extra change of clothes for her and an extra shirt for me, wet bag, and breast pump {just the pump itself + one boob sucker part thingie}. I also packed a clutch bag with wallet, phone, lip balm, a copy of L's birth certificate, and our passports, as well as my iPad in the diaper bag so that I wouldn't have to mess with a separate carry-on for myself.
  • Insulated Cooler Tote - Figuring out how much expressed milk to bring and how to carry it was an extremely annoying and anxiety-ridden ordeal a bit of a process. I figured I would need around 60 oz total for the time I was scheduled to be away from L throughout the trip. I would be able to pump some of that amount in Mexico, but not all of it. I packed 24 oz of fresh milk in the little black cooler with icepack that comes with the pump {labeled with a "use by" date... fresh milk keeps for 6 days if properly refrigerated}. I packed an additional 12 oz of frozen milk in a wet bag with one of those cheap-o 79 cent gel icepacks {the frozen milk partially thawed on the flight, but I used it within 24 hours and was able to pump during those bottle feedings}. Both the mini-cooler and the wet bag went into an insulated cooler tote with two more cheapie gel packs. TSA unpacked and tested the milk at security during our departure flight, but the agents were very nice about it. No one in Mexico batted an eye when we went through customs with a bag full-o-breastmilk upon arrival... literally no questions asked. For the return flight, since I wasn't transporting milk, I ditched the gel packs and folded the tote up in my checked luggage... leaving me one less carry-on to keep up with! Read the full TSA regulations on traveling with milk, formula, and icepacks here. Consult breast milk storage chart here.
Checked Luggage

I packed L and myself in one large bag. Her portion included:
  • 60 diapers, bundled with rubber bands in packs of 10 {we left the cloth dipes at home for this trip}
  • Two packs of wipes {with an additional in the diaper bag, for a total of 192 wipes)
  • 6 muslin swaddle blankets
  • 6 burp clothes
  • 3 books {including Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever, which is great for travel because it is so thin, but contains over 50 nursery rhymes... it's like several "stories" in one}
  • 5 footed sleepers {all suction packed in a gallon Ziploc}
  • 5 casual "play outfits" {onesies, rompers, etc... also suction packed in a gallon Ziploc}
  • 3 "fancy outfits" for the events that were child-friendly {you guessed it... Ziploc}
  • 2 swimsuits, one sun hat, one swimcap
  • Children's Tylenol, gripe water, saline, oral syringes, Nosefrida
  • Travel sizes of baby lotion, baby wash, and butt paste
  • 2 bottles
  • Bottle Warmer {since L doesn't take many bottles at home, we've been warming them with water from the kettle... but we figured the $30 investment would be worth it, if only for travel purposes}
  • Sunblock {without getting into the finer points of the debate over putting sunblock on a child under 6 mo, we decided it was safer to use it poolside than not...we used Aveeno Baby and washed it off her skin in the bath at the end of every outing}
  • milk storage bags {I also had the four pump bottles in the carry-on for additional storage}
  • manuel pump {given to me at the hospital when I rented the industrial grade pump}, just in case batteries and electric outlets failed me
  • Beco Baby Gemini Carrier
  • We used the WhiteNoise app on our iPhones and iPad as a sound machine during naptime and at night.
I think I did pretty well. We came home with 8 unused diapers, an entire pack of wipes {never had any Serious Wipe Situations}, one clean swaddle blanket, and 1 casual casual outfit. We {thankfully} didn't have to use anything from the "medicine bag" except for some gripe water. I really thought we'd use the Gemini Carrier a ton, but it was so hot outside that it was more comfortable for all involved just to carry her in our arms.

{3} On the Flight...

The all-knowing "They" told me flying with a baby this age is a piece of cake, and I'm happy to report "they" were correct! I can't imagine the crap we'll need in the future to keep the peace {snacks, toys, etc}, but all that was required for a happy baby at this age was a boob and a pacifier. L barely even slept - she just nursed and took everything in {watching the window shade go up and down was a big hit}. It would have been nice if she had napped as she was in Melt Down Mode by the time we arrived at the hotel {and, on the way back, while we waited forever in customs}, but I'll take the happily awake baby over the screaming variety in-flight, even if it means a rough patch later. We didn't even get the dirty looks I expected from our fellow travelers... except when we walked through First Class. There was some major Stink-Eye in First Class. To which I responded with a "Screw You, Fuckers, I Used to Be You and Now I'm in Steerage with My Lukewarm Diet Coke and My Child Who is Usually Well-Mannered, But Even If She's Not, You Won't Even Hear Her Through The Iron Curtain of Classism, So Back Up Off It, Assholes" Eye.

Again, we were on a short flight for an international trip, so I'm sure a longer travel time would be much more difficult as far as keeping a baby happy goes.

Aaaaaaand... that's about it! It takes a little orchestration and organization, but traveling outside American borders with a little one was much easier than I worked myself up to believe it would be. So gather your Ziplocs, bundle your diapers, and take a deep breath... It's all going to be okay.

over it

And if for some reason it's not... there will be adult beverages waiting for you upon your arrival.


  1. I am SO not even CLOSE to having a baby, but I feel like I might keep your tips until then--so thorough and helpful!

  2. This is very helpful! I'm expecting my first in 6 weeks and we will have to travel A LOT, I hope to breastfeed and this really HELPS!!

  3. She looks less than enthused to be on a fab vacation. Lol she's so cute!

  4. My goodness you are organized!!! We just did our first international trip with our 2 year old and I wish I hadn't put off travelling to far of places with him for so long! We spent two weeks in Europe and it really was easy peasy! Thanks, will have to remember your tips, assuming we travel sooner with any future littles!

  5. I'm so glad you wrote this up! We're Hawaii-ing in a few months and while it's not international, I'm stressing about traveling with milk already. Good to know it's probably not as bad as I'm fearing.

  6. These are all great tips! I always recommend using ziploc bags for baby and toddler packing.

    I didn't even think of a white noise app for travel! Going to recommend that to my sister for our trip next month (my nephew will be 3 months).

  7. Since I am still sans child I had NO idea what all goes into a trip with a wee one! Good LORD. I'm glad all went well and that everyone had a great time! (PS- That picture. I've never laughed so hard in my life!) (PPS- I'm preeeeetty sure you have the cutest little dumpling on the planet.)

  8. The amount of list making that goes into travelign with an infant is amazing! We had our first plane trip Mother's Day weekend, and we left her bed in the nose of the plane! Luckily, there was a Target 30 minutes away which carried her little travel bed, but still. I'm glad y'all had such a lovely time. I was in a wedding in Charleston this past weekend- bridesmaiding is so different with a baby!

  9. we are embarking on direct flights to and from chicago in a few weeks and this is woooonderful. i had no idea about using ziploc bags, but now i'm gonna stock up. gracias, lady!

  10. Thank you so much for this. We are traveling to Mexico 6 weeks after our second is born. Crazy? Probably. We were just discussing how the trip does not give me anxiety but the packing and customs so this was so helpful. Now I just have to remember that my 19 month old will also need things :)

  11. Your blog is hilarious. Your baby girl is adorable. Had to just tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog and your true honest language is great. Myself and hubby had 7 and they are all over the age of 10 through 25 and I miss the baby stage so much. Enjoy every minute.

  12. I wish I could triple star this post in my Google reader. We are considering moving our not-yet-born bambino to Malaysia when it's about 3 months old. Crazy? Yes, yes we are. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  13. Super informative post. Am mentally bookmarking in the event I ever reproduce. I just helped my best friend from HS travel from NC to TX with her 3 month old and 3 year old in tow. It was not glamorous, it was not simple, it was fucking exhausting pardon my English. I can't imagine doing it on the regular.


happy little comments!