Training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro - not to mention climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - was daunting. Skydiving was scary (oh, so very scary). Backpacking through the Smokies was exhausting.
But even added together, those endeavours don't compare to the fear that looms over my first flight with a baby.
My son will be 7 months old when his mother and I pack him and our world up to fly across the Atlantic for 10 days. What to do? What not to do? Are we crazy? I'd already heard that we should feed our little guy at takeoff and landing to relieve the pressure in his ears, but other than that, I had no idea how to ease the burden on what will undoubtedly be unlike any travel I've had before.
I reached out to friends and family members with babies to find out. Each has a child 2 or younger and, in many cases, also went through the experience with an older child.
Below is their advice, which I plan to heed and want to share with fellow first-time parents. If you are blessedly baby-free, just clip for when relevant. Happy travels! And bring a lot of wipes!
• "Pack a few Ziploc bags. They come in handy when you have the inevitable poop explosion on the flight."
• "Try. Babies cry, kids throw tantrums - that's just a fact of life. The worst thing, though, is to be stuck on a flight with screaming kids and their indifferent parents. If people see you trying as parents, they'll be much nicer. If your kids are acting up and you've tried everything else, be prepared to buy drinks for those around you."
• "You cannot have enough wipes. Once during a bumpy takeoff when my son was still a lap child, he projectile-vomited all over himself and me - and, because of the weather, we weren't allowed to get out of our seats for an hour. I had to try to wipe us off with an old issue of a magazine. It did not go well."
• "No expectations is the way to go. Just enjoy the trip for what it is. He's so little, and his schedule will be off. Good luck to you, and have fun!"
• "Most parents know to bring a change of clothes for the baby on the flight. You might want to think of a change of clothes (or at least an extra shirt) for yourself, so you don't need to spend the rest of the day with poop all over you."
• "Get to the airport earlier than you can possibly imagine is necessary. Why? Because your car seat, stroller and other kid items may or may not fit through the security scanner. If not, they'll have to be walked through and manually scanned. The agent may or may not choose to empty your entire bag in order to screen your 'child liquids' (such as breast milk). All of this will be extremely stressful if you're at risk of missing your flight. If you're not, it will just be one small additional little nuisance."
• "Split up, and have one person board with all of the stuff and the other board the plane with the baby last. There is less chance of the baby getting fussy while you are waiting in the terminal for everyone else to get seated."
• "Bring a dark blanket or other cloth to drape over the car seat so he can sleep on the plane even when the cabin lights are on."
• "For a baby that's more than about a year, go to a dollar store or toy store, and get $20 worth of little toys to play with - finger puppets, slinky, crayons, stickers, bendy figures - so you can constantly grab something new out of your bag as a diversion."
• "Read up on airline policies in advance (rules for lap versus car seat, when to board, restrictions on liquids, etc). You should know enough to be able to navigate with confidence and not have to announce to the whole airport that it's your first time flying with baby. If you're relying on stressed-out flight attendants to solve problems, then you're asking for trouble - everything from incorrect advice about car seat positioning to being kicked off the plane for teething symptoms has happened to me."
• "The less human interaction you can have from the moment you leave your home until you clear customs, the better. This is mutual. Other passengers and the flight crew will hew to the W.C. Fields-ism that your child is best seen (cute!) and not heard (WAAAAHHHH!). Minimise interaction; maximise efficiency."
• "My biggest tip is to bring as little as possible. You can always wash in sinks and buy on the go. Travel is way more fun with less to carry."
• "Anti-bacterial wipes. I've read that tray tables are the dirtiest things on planes. The last thing you need is a sick baby in another country."
OK - I'm feeling a little more confident. Thanks, everyone.