I was quite nervous about my first plane trip with 6 month-old twins in tow. Kiran and I very much wanted to visit his family in New York, but I worried it would be a total meltdown situation taking a 5-hour flight from LA, plus a one-hour drive on each end to/from the airports.
Fortunately, thanks in no small part to my extensive prep and research, our trip was a smashing success.
But… I did a ton of research online before we left, and found it surprisingly difficult to get the answers to many of my questions in advance. That is why I simply had to write this blog.
Eventually, I bought the book Travels with Baby, after discovering the blog of the same name. It provided some useful tips, but wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped about things like what to do with car seats and stroller (see below), especially when you consider that the author never specifically addresses travel with twins.
I also spoke extensively with my brother Derek and his wife Erica, veteran globetrotters who have visited China, Germany, Costa Rica, and many other destinations with their family, as well as regularly making the long haul from their home town of State College, Pennsylvania to our parents’ home in Hawaii with their now 8-year-old, 5-year-old and 1-year-old girls. In addition, I asked a hundred questions at Babies First, my twin mommy class in LA.
I made lists. I guessed. I prayed. And when the time came, off we went.
Here are some tips based on my experience. I don’t claim that this list is exhaustive, by any means. These are simply a few perhaps obvious points, but many that I didn’t find obvious at all. Here are 9 things I wish I easily could have found out before taking off on my first infant twin travel adventure.
PS: Future posts will include specific lists of what to pack in the babies’ suitcase, what to pack in your carry on bag, and how to handle your first long road trip.
- How to Deal with Your Car Seats
Lots of research and conversation led me to this conclusion: If you are going to be doing any driving on your trip outside of getting to and from the airport, then you definitely ought to bring your own car seats. They are far safer than rental seats. Most new car seats these days can easily be buckled into a car without the base, using the shoulder restraint in the back seat.
The question was: How to transport the car seats to our destination?
It was surprisingly difficult for me to sort out this situation. We don’t use our car seats in a snap-n-go type of stroller, but rather always take our babies out and put them in a rugged CityMini double stroller to get around town or hike in our neighborhood. I wondered if I had to buy a car seat stroller frame just to take my babies’ car seats via airline to another city? And if so, then I would be sacrificing the CityMini, which I really didn’t want to do without for 10 days.
I finally found my way to a sensible solution.
Great news! You can check your car seats at the airline ticket counter at no extra charge, and furthermore they do not count toward your overall luggage allowance. You mean, those cheap-o airline companies are actually doing something right for once? Yes, indeed!
So, you do not need to bring a snap-n-go, or whatever stroller base you use for your car seats. Instead, I strongly recommend that you bring your proper stroller: better for napping, better for trekking around town and country.
However, I would definitely purchase a check-in bag for each car seat you bring (see photo above). The attendant at the luggage counter may have a large enough plastic bag to give you for free (rumor has it), but there’s a very good chance in these days of airline cost cutting that he/she will not. You do not want your precious car seats going through the airport luggage system without protection! Spend the $20 on a proper car seat bag (which can be purchased anywhere online) to keep your seats clean and in one piece.
NOTE: Do NOT bring your car seat base. All you have to do is haul those car seats themselves from your car/taxi to the luggage counter, or even better, the SkyCap, bag them up, and hand them over to the airline attendant. Then retrieve them at baggage claim on the other end, and install the seats in your car or cab via the seatbelt.
- How to Bring Your Stroller
Once you have checked your car seats at the luggage counter, transfer your kids into your hearty street traveling stroller with large, rugged wheels that can make it up and down curbs, around city streets and over dirt roads, on hikes or walks across all terrain.
These strollers are far more comfortable for your baby, and far healthier than leaving them in a car seat snapped into a frame all day. Real strollers usually can recline to almost flat if your child takes a nap, or they can be made to sit up straight if your babies want to take in the world.
And there is more great news! Your stroller (even a twin stroller) can be checked at the gate for free! Nor does it count towards your luggage allowance! So just put your babes in there at the curb after getting out of the car, check your car seats and luggage in, and you’re on your way.
As with the car seats, I would strongly recommend investing in your own bag to put the stroller in (which can easily be purchased online for about $20) once you reach the door to your aircraft. We almost lost a wheel on our stroller due to rough handling!
- Why You Should Bring a TwinGo or Similar Baby Carriers
I read on some websites to book an extra seat in addition to the one or two you have for parent(s), and bring a car seat to strap into the extra seat for safety purposes. My response was: WTF?
First of all, like I said, I hate leaving my babies in their car seats for longer than necessary. Second, they hate being in them. Third, who wants to haul a dang car seat all over the airport? What a pain!
The obvious solution here is to bring a baby carrier for each child. My preference is the TwinGo, which you can use either separately–you wearing one baby, your partner wearing the other–or together, with one baby (over 6 months old, who can hold his/her head up) on the back and one on the front. But any type of carrier will work.
Once you get to the gate, strap a baby onto you so that you have both hands free to check the stroller and grab your carry-on as you board the plane.
Now keep your baby strapped on during take off and landing – bonus that you can even nurse with many of these carriers on you! What could be safer than your baby securely attached to you, while you are safely buckled into your seat? And without a doubt, these carriers keep baby feeling secure. Facing inward so that the little one isn’t over-stimulated makes parents and children and surrounding airline guests much happier.
Finally, your baby can stay on you if she ends up sleeping during the flight (see Number 4). If not, undo the carrier and let your baby stretch her legs. But having the carrier on hand to walk your baby up and down the aisles when she gets fussy is also super convenient.
With a TwinGo or similar dual carrier, you can even feel confident traveling alone with two babies. Though I haven’t attempted this myself yet!
- Why You Should Consider Taking the Red Eye
My brother suggested that we take the red eye from LA to New York since our babies are such good sleepers. Woah, did that make me nervous. What if they screamed the whole way and kept everyone up? Talk about disgruntled fellow travelers!
But it worked out great. The babies slept almost the entire time from when we left our house at 7pm PST until we arrived at our destination in Manhattan at 8am EST (5am their time). We had to change their diapers just once during the flight, and fed them as we landed to keep their ears from getting plugged up. They maybe stirred twice otherwise, giving little cries, but promptly fell back asleep each time. I was even able to sleep for a few hours as we flew.
- How to Pack in Your Carry-on Bag
Best advice from Travels with Baby: Pack down your diaper bag, which can be too unwieldy to fit into the tiny airline bathroom. Instead, bring one LARGE ziplock bag with:
- 6 diapers.
- A spare ziplock to serve as a trash bag (please: seal up your poopy diapers so the other passengers don’t have to smell that stench wafting from the plane bathroom trash!)
- A travel pack of wipes.
- A disposable changing mat (which you can place over the plastic shelf in the bathroom that serves as a changing table).
- A small bottle of diaper cream.
- A small bottle of hand sanitizer.
Take only this “diaper baggie” with you when you go for a diaper change on board the plane. (Side note: There is usually only one bathroom aboard the plane that has a changing table – ask the flight attendant.)
When packing, put this makeshift “diaper baggie” into a large canvas tote bag along with baby blankets, toys, pacifiers, bottles, breastmilk/formula, food, two changes of clothes for each baby, a spare shirt for you, and any other emergency items (like teething toys or Tylenol) that you might need while on board. (Separate blog post coming with a complete checklist of what to pack!)
This bag will be far easier to access than a backpack or other bag because it allows you to quickly reach in – in spite of cramped quarters – and grab what you need.
The canvas bag counts as one carry-on. You still can bring a purse, backpack, or one other item, if you are traveling with a partner.
- What Gear to Bring With You On Your Trip
Be prepared: It’s A LOT OF SH*T (see real picture of all our stuff above, with added bonus of my husband’s guitar).
If you used to be one of those people who packed down to a small carry-on suitcase and a backpack, let me tell you… Those days are over.
Two car seats. A twin stroller. One suitcase for me and my husband, and another for the boys. A backpack with our computer and personal items. A big canvas bag filled with on-flight necessities.
We are already talking about a lot of stuff. Think carefully about what you really need. Bring only the minimum necessary.
Here is one way to cut back: Order whatever can be delivered to your destination from Amazon Prime or a similar service, unless of course you can ask friends and family you’ll be visiting for help. When we arrived in Manhattan, we had an Amazon box waiting for us, which contained: diapers, wipes, baby food and formula. That way, we didn’t have to pack 10 days’ worth in our luggage or race out to the store the moment we arrived.
Once at your destination, you will likely also need cribs or pack n’ plays, perhaps a boppie or other infant seat, maybe a highchair, and some other large items. See if you can borrow these from friends and family, or if you are staying at a hotel, if any of said items can be reserved in advance (be sure to call ahead). If not, you can use a service like TravelingBaby. These companies will drop off and pick up kid-friendly items at the place you’ll be staying for a daily or weekly rental fee.
- Why You Might Consider Doing the TSA Pre-check Thing
My husband and I signed up for TSA Pre-check right before our babies were born, and let me tell you, was that ever a great idea. If you will be traveling frequently with your children, and you generally fly on major airlines through major airports, this will save you a ton of time and hassle.
Basically, you fill out a quick application online then sign up to visit an office in person with your passport and pay $85 each. Once you are approved, you get to use a special (usually shorter and faster) security line at most major airports. You do not have to unpack your computer, unload your liquids or take off your shoes. What a blessing!
When traveling with babies, you must put all your carry-on stuff onto the belt, pick the little ones up out of the stroller and walk them through the scanner with you, wait while TSA runs a special check on the stroller and possibly your breastmilk, then gather all your gear on the other end.
That is plenty to worry about without also having to untie your shoes, track your computer’s whereabouts, and separate out your liquids!
SIDE NOTE: I have found that TSA is very understanding about traveling with infant twins, and will let you bring as much breastmilk and ready-made formula as you like. They’ll just take their time scanning it.
- How to Time Your Grand Adventure
Please don’t forget to arrive two hours prior to your flight when traveling domestically, three when traveling internationally. A full hour earlier than required. I assure you that you will need the extra time.
Once you have cleared security, find a quiet area of the airport – usually there is a gate that isn’t in use. Spread out your muslin cloths/blankets and lay your babies down on the ground so they can roll around and stretch their legs before the long flight. Change diapers, fill your water bottles, buy snacks, and doing anything else to prepare yourself for the plane ride ahead.
If possible, try to feed—either breastfeed or from a bottle—during take off and landing. If that’s too much, I recommend really going for the feeding at landing, where I have found ear popping is much more of an issue than on take-off. I also have found that as long as you drape one of your muslin cloths around you, no one really minds if you breastfeed. I even had to pump once, with a handpump, on a flight without the boys – and my neighbor was super understanding.
- How to Deal with Other Passengers
Laugh and smile. A lot. Be apologetic if your baby (or 2 or 3) starts screaming.
Now here’s the real pro tip: Consider bringing a bunch of cheap earplugs and some chocolates or gum to hand out to folks. Bribery works!
But in the end, if they’re grumpy and they can’t take your babies being fussy, too bad. I like to remind myself that we ALL were babies once. Screaming little ones is a fact of life!
AND IN SUM….
Maintain your sense of humor.
Stuff will go wrong. And you will all survive.
We arrived at our AirBnB in Manhattan at 7:30am after the red-eye from LA as two pretty worn-out parents with two 6-month-old babies who wanted nothing more than to lay down in their cribs and enjoy some peace and rest.
Instead, we found the lobby in complete disarray – a construction nightmare. The superintendent told us that we would have to take the elevator down to the basement, walk down the hall, and climb back up stairs at the far end in order to get to our first floor rental apartment. All this with our twin stroller, two babies, two car seats, two suitcases and a heavy canvas bag in tow. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry.
So instead I laughed.
After all, the worst experiences make the best stories, right?