Friday, March 1, 2024

Traveling internationally with an infant: What to know as a parent

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There’s no doubt that babies can complicate travel plans. (There’s a reason parents call it a trip, not a vacation!) Still, plenty of people travel outside of the U.S. with their infants. Some have family and friends they want to visit, while others figure it’s easier to travel to far-flung destinations with a baby (who still sleeps 16 hours a day) than with a toddler (who wants to spend the flight walking up and down the aisle).

Whatever your reason, your trip will go more smoothly if you make a few preparations before booking your tickets and boarding your flight. Here’s what you need to know about traveling internationally with an infant.

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Requirements for traveling internationally with an infant

As you’re planning your trip, take care of these must-dos:

Check travel advisories

Before booking, check the U.S. Department of State’s websiteOpens a new window for international travel advisories. You can also look at travel health advisories for your destination at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s websiteOpens a new window as well as information on required vaccinations by country. Although most countries have lifted COVID-related restrictions, you can quickly check requirements for international travelers on the United Nations’ Destination TrackerOpens a new window.

Talk to your baby’s doctor

The American Academy of PediatricsOpens a new window advises talking to your pediatrician before flying with a baby. Some doctors recommend delaying unessential travel for the first few weeks after birth (sometimes until babies are at least until 2 to 3 months old). Babies are prone to catching infections – especially those who were born prematurely or have certain health conditions.

Once they clear your baby for travel, your pediatrician can verify that your baby is up to date on vaccinations, recommend preventative medications to pack, and determine whether your baby requires any additional immunizations. If your destination is experiencing measles outbreaks, for example, your doctor may adjust your baby’s MMR vaccine schedule.

Depending on where you’re traveling, your doctor may recommend – and some countries require – vaccinations for other infectious diseases (such as yellow fever or rabies) that aren’t part of the standard childhood vaccine schedule. Book your appointment at least four to six weeks in advance of your trip, because it can take time to build up immunity after a vaccination.

Make sure your baby has a passport

For international travel, your baby needs a passport. Make two copies of each family member’s passport, and leave one copy with a trusted friend or relative. 

If you’re traveling as a solo parent, consider bringing documentation proving you’re a legal guardian – as well as letter of consent (preferably notarized) from the other custodial parent saying “I acknowledge that my son/daughter is traveling outside the country with [the name of the adult] with my permission.” If you have sole custody of your child, you might want to bring a copy of the custody agreement. 

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12 tips for international travel with an infant

  1. Consider travel insurance. Travel insurance ensures that you’re not out of luck if, say, your baby gets an ear infection the day before you’re scheduled to fly. (Keep in mind that your credit card may already offer travel insurance.)

  2. Bring your baby’s car seat. Though babies and toddlers under age 2 are allowed to fly free (or at a discount) sitting on your lap, it’s safest if you buy an airplane seat for your baby. That way you’ll be able to use your car seat on the plane, as long as it’s approved for aircraft as well as motor vehicles. (It likely is – just check for a sticker on the car seat confirming this.) What’s more, your car seat will come in handy at your destination – or at least on the car trips to and from the airport.

  3. Request a bassinet. If you’re on a long-haul flight, and especially if you forgo buying a seat for your baby, consider reserving a baby bassinet. Most airlines offer free portable baby bassinets that attach to the bulkhead for longer international flights. These beds, which generally accommodate babies up to 20 pounds and 26 inches long, allow your baby to snooze during the flight. There are usually only a couple of bassinets available per flight – so be sure to call early, ideally when you book your tickets, to request one. 

  4. Bring the basics. Depending on where you’re traveling with your baby or toddler, you may not find your usual brand of formula, diapers, or baby food – although you’ll usually identify a decent equivalent. At the very least, be sure to bring a two- to three-day supply of these products in your checked baggage, so you aren’t pressed to find a pharmacy as soon as you arrive. If you’re really attached to specific products, pack enough for your full trip, plus a couple days’ worth of spares. (Here’s what else to put on your baby packing list.)

  5. Don’t forget adaptors. You don’t want to scramble to find a store that sells adaptors for your breast pump or sound machine when you’re scheduled to be at the beach. Throughout Europe and in many countries worldwide, power outlets and voltage are different from the U.S. Be sure to check the requirements at your destination, and buy a few appropriate adaptors before you leave.

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  6. Pack a change of clothes. Having a couple of full-body changes of clothes in your carry-on bag, including socks, is essential. There’s a good chance you’ll have to deal with at least one leaky diaper or major spit-up on a long-haul flight.
  7. Stock your carry-on. Besides a change of clothes, pack all of the essentials you’ll need for the duration of your flight – bottles, formula, pacifiers, diapers, wipes, baby food – plus a few spares for potential delays. Think of it like your usual diaper bag on steroids. Airports in the U.S. allow you to carry on liquids (such as water, pumped breast milk, and baby food) that surpass the usual 3.4-ounce limit, but be prepared to remove them from your bag when you go through the security checkpoint. For your return trip, you’ll need to verify whether there are liquid limits in the country you’re visiting.

  8. Bring a carrier. A baby carrier is extra convenient for infant travel, especially when you’re boarding your flight and when you’re trying to help your baby fall asleep.

  9. Pack sleep essentials. Sleep can be tricky when you’re traveling with a baby. As much as possible, try to stick to the bedtime routine you follow at home. Pack anything your baby relies on to sleep, such as a sleep slack, night light, or sound machine. And while many hotels and rental apartments have play yards available, check beforehand to make sure your baby will have someplace safe to sleep.

  10. Prep for jet lag. It may be worth gently adjusting your baby’s sleep schedule before your trip, especially if you’re traveling to a different time zone. Starting a few days before you leave, begin moving your baby’s bedtime 15 minutes earlier or later every night to closer match your destination. (This trick can help you with jet lag, too!) Moving your baby’s bedtime by even one hour before you travel can make a difference. When you arrive, try to stick to your baby’s usual nap, meal, and bedtime schedule, adjusted for the local time zone, right away. Here are more tips for handling time changes with a baby.

  11. Dress your baby in layers. Airplanes are usually chilly, but it’s hard to predict just how cold. Dress your baby warmly in layers that you can remove or add if it’s warmer or cooler than expected.

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  12. Leave yourself lots of time. Like most tasks, traveling with children takes a lot longer than traveling solo. The Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) recommends arriving three hours early for international flights, but you may want to get to the airport even earlier. That way you won’t panic if, say, your baby has a massive diaper explosion on the car ride to the airport. Arriving extra early also helps ensure you can secure that baby bassinet you reserved when you booked your flight.

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