There are many blogs and webpages all about traveling with a baby, and some even about traveling with a disability. But I had a difficult time finding information about traveling with both a disability and a baby, so I wanted to share my experience from my recent trip to Hawaii. I have asked my friend Becca who also has Muscular Dystrophy and a baby to share her insights, as well as two friends from home, Kylie and Madi, who do not have physical disabilities, but have traveled with their kids. I hope that this helps someone who is in my same situation or similar. Please leave your comments or thoughts below.
The most important thing you can do when traveling with a disability and/or a baby is to plan ahead. Plan every step of your trip: airport and security, the flight, transportation, housing, activities and events, etc.
BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT
With a disability and a baby, you definitely need to call the airport/airlines as soon as you book your flight to guarantee your baby a ticket on board, and to schedule any assistance you may have through out the airport.
If you have a long flight, or are going somewhere international, book the bulkhead seats on the plane (these are the seats with the walls in front of them--the start of a new zone). Each airlines have baby bassinets (first come, first serve) that can just screw into the wall in front of you. "This was a life saver!! After we boarded, we got all situated, I fed her for takeoff, and then when she was getting tired, I stood up and put her in there, zipped her in, and with the humming of the airplane, she knocked right out! I would've been so much more stressed if I had to hold her for that long." (Madi).
Pack a couple days early! There may be some things that you forget to pack, so it's good to have a couple of extra days so that if you do remember something, you can add it.
Traveling with any kind of mobility aid can be hard. If you can go through the airport, the flight, and to baggage claim fine without it, then pack it (either in the checked bag or the carry on). Get a collapsable cane to fit better. Protect your brace with clothing and socks. Rent a wheelchair, don't bring your own. Whatever you can do to help make the airport process easier. "I wore my leg brace through the airport once. I was padded down and had my carry on checked by a security guard. It took a lot longer than expected." (Kourtney).
Babies always need extra. Pack extra of everything. Diapers can be really expensive in other places, so pack a few if you have room. On the other hand, if you don't have a lot of room, you can always buy diapers there. Always have an extra pair of clothes for baby in your diaper bag; blow outs happen. Put them in a ziplock bag so they are easy to get to. Then you can put the dirty clothes in the ziplock bag so they don't get anything else dirty. Also pack a change of clothes for you. You never know when baby may explode or spit up on you. Find out if the place you are staying has a washer/dryer. "That was nice because we brought a ton of her clothes, but were able to wash them at each place we stayed. That saved us some room, and from carrying around gross clothes for her the whole time." (Madi). This will also make your bags lighter and easier to carry.
Disabled or not, backpack diaper bags are the BOMB when traveling. They really help to keep you balanced. If you struggle to walk, remember your limits. Don't pack too much that you can't carry it. As like any other trip, try to have enough in the carry on bag that you and your baby could survive for at least 2 days incase your checked bag get's lost.
If you are going internationally, make sure you get your baby their passport early!
AIRPORT & SECURITY
Going through security can be pretty stressful, especially with a disability and a baby. "I was in an airport wheelchair, holding my backpack and baby on my lap, while my husband pushed the wheelchair, and all our carry ons and personal bags. I couldn't help at all through security. I felt so bad because he was so stressed and panicky and I just had to sit and watch." (Kourtney).
-Bringing a stroller or car seat carrier? You can check those for free.
-Some people like to wear their baby with a baby wrap during the airport.
-Take your shoes off and get out your ID when your waiting in the security line. If you are in a wheelchair, you most likely don't have to take your shoes off.
-Babies don't need any form of ID, so don't worry about them getting through security.
-Wear sweats or leggings so you don't have to worry about taking off a belt.
-Wear Tom's or other easy slip on shoes that are good to walk in, but don't have laces.
-Have milk or juice in a bottle? No worry! You can bring it on the plane! Security just has to take a look at it.
-Have all your baby food and snacks in the same place so you can take it out fast & efficiently through the security line.
"I used my stroller basically as a way to carry our bags and give me stability to walk to and from the gates. I found it easier to wear the baby on my front and load up the stroller with the bags and push that." (Becca).
The best thing you can do, is take your time. Don't rush. Get to the airport early enough that you can slow down, breathe, and not stress yourself out. Depending on the airport, if you are in a wheelchair or have a baby, you can go through a private security line so you have more room and more time to do you thing.
Depending on your physical disability, you may have different kinds of troubles. It's nice to have a wheelchair help you get to your gate, however, if you are still walking fine, you may consider not having a wheelchair help you during your layover; they take forever and waste so much time. Just be aware of your layover time and gate distances.
If you have a disability, or have kids, you are able to pre-board; take advantage of this. You get to board the plane first and take as much time as you need without feeling rushed. You can check your stroller for free at the gate. "Let the flight attendants help you put your bags up or anything else you need, they are so supportive and it is their job to help." (Becca). Try to avoid a seat at the very back of the plane. The flight attendants and bathroom goers will be really loud and distracting for your baby. If you can, get a window seat; kids like to look out the window.
It helps to feed your baby during take off and landing so their ears don't pop.
Let your baby flirt with everyone. People will tend to be more tolerant when your baby screams and cries if they like them beforehand. Your baby will also get bored (depending on their age). Bring toys, books, stickers, crayons, snacks, movies, etc. to keep your baby entertained. Just remember to be respectful to those around you. And if they aren't happy with you or your baby--just ignore them. Enjoy your kids and take care of them and yourself first. You won't see anyone else on the flight again. And you most likely won't have the only baby on the plane.
Once your plane lands and people are getting off, stay seated. It takes a moment for the airport employees to get your stroller from under the plane, as well as getting a wheelchair from the airport.
CAR RENTALS & TRANSPORTATION
Most car rental places have the option of renting a car seat and base. Sadly it does add more money to your rental, but it's worth not dragging the car seat around the airport. You'll also need a big enough trunk for a wheel chair and stroller if you have those with you. Triple check and confirm your rental before you fly out there. "We double checked our car rental and car seat reservation and when we got there, they didn't have it. This made for a very stressful start to our vacation." (Kourtney).
Rental cars at the airport are more expensive than in the cities. And if you have an out of state license they only accept credit cards, not debit cards. When traveling to other countries, make sure you know the laws there.
And don't forget your handicap pass!
If you are disabled, find housing that will accommodate to your needs, such as a flat condo with no stairs, toilet raisers and shower handles, etc. If you have a baby, see if your housing has a pack-n-play or stroller for you to use so you don;t have to bring them.
Many activities are hard to do with a disability; some even impossible. See if there is a local place to rent a wheelchair. If you do this, your baby can just sit on your lap so you don't need to worry about a stroller. "When we were in Hawaii, we rented a wheelchair, but also bought an umbrella stroller from Walmart when we were there. We never used both together. But some activities I wanted to walk, so I pushed my daughter in the stroller. Other activities, I need the wheelchair, so she just sat on my lap. It was nice to have both options." (Kourtney).
The beach can be fun, but it's definitely an experience. If walking on flat ground is hard for you, then the sandy beach is a rough challenge. It's tough to watch your baby closely when you can't run or swim after them. Make sure you have help. Their safety is the most important thing.
When eating out, ask for a booster or high chair. Try to keep them on your lap until the food comes or they may cry and want to break out sooner. If you have a wheelchair, don't be afraid to ask for a table that has extra room for the chair to fit comfortably.
FOOD FOR BABY
Always have extra food and drink for your baby when traveling. Especially if you are on vacation in a warmer climate; they can get dehydrated and constipated quickly. Snacks are also a great way to keep your baby calm, quiet, happy, and distracted.
A Breastfed Baby While Traveling: "I was worried but it was the best! I pumped two bottles worth before we left. In security, they let you have breastmilk as well as the ice packs to keep them cold. You just have to let them know that you have it. I breastfed her on takeoff and landings so her ears wouldn't hurt with the air pressure, and a couple more times in between, just using my cover. I used the bottles when we were in line after the flights in customs and such since I didn't have time to sit and feed her. Once we got to Spain, I fed her just about everywhere! In cathedrals, on park benches, etc." (Madi).
A Formula Baby While Traveling: "I liked that I could easily feed during any part of traveling. I used a container that kept the right about of powder in separate parts and then I would have about 3-4 bottles ready with water in them. I have traveled to a couple countries and have never had issues." (Kylie).
A Whole Milk Baby While Traveling: "I had 4 bottles of milk ready to go every day. I stored them in my diaper bag, which has insulated bottle pockets, or you could use a cooler. This was nice because the milk was ready and cold whenever I needed them. And if I ever ran out, I could just stop at a gas station or McDonald's to get more milk." (Kourtney).
SLEEP FOR BABY
Like I mentioned earlier, your housing may have a pack-n-play for you. Some places rent them out. "I STRONGLY recommend getting a KidCo Baby Tent. It was awesome! It folds up into a small circle that we just hooked onto my husband's backpack, but it's small enough that it fits inside of a carry on bag as well. Wherever we went, we just popped that thing open and she slept comfortably on the floor inside her own little tent! It took out the worry of bringing a pack'n play, or requesting cribs and such from our Hotels/Airbnb places." (Madi).
Depending on the time difference of your vacation, you may or may not want to keep your baby on your home towns time schedule. "Hawaii is 3 hours behind Utah time. We didn't try to keep our daughter on Utah time, and we didn't push for her to get on Hawaii time. We just let her sleep and wake up when she wanted. She did get off her regular Utah schedule about an hour, but it wasn't hard to get her back on schedule when we got back home." (Kourtney).
"I think we timed our international flight really well because we flew all night - so we got some decent sleep. The first night, she had a harder time going to sleep since she slept so much on the flight, but all it took was that first night and she was great for the rest of the time!" (Madi).
THANK YOUR HELPERS
Traveling alone with a disability and a baby can be very difficult. I suggest that you go with someone you know so that they can help you. A spouse, friend, family member, etc. You are going to need a lot of help watching, lifting, holding, feeding, and bathing your baby if you can't do it yourself. They are a great help to you as well with carrying luggage and transferring. As well, don't forget the needs of your caregiver. Don't take advantage of them or make them feel like they are only there to help you. Make sure they enjoy the trip too.
If you need more assistance, don't be afraid to ask for help; most people don't mind. And for all those that do assist you in any way, make sure you show respect and appreciation. Always say 'thank you!' It's the right thing to do.
Your child takes cues from you, so make sure you are calm and comfortable and they will be more calm and comfortable. Just focus on you and your family and you'll have a positive experience. Don’t care what others think of you. Vacations should be fun, not stressful; especially with kids. Plan ahead, and you'll be fine!