How To Fly With A Baby. On An Airplane. By Yourself.
Most of the time, my life looks like this. I’m on the homestead, frugaling it up with Mr. Frugalwoods, cleaning up greyhound barf (thanks, Frugal Hound… ), weeding the garden, not wearing make-up, baking bread, and letting Babywoods eat my toes while I write (at least they’re clean?).
But these past two weeks, I’ve deviated. I’ve been on the road, in the air, spending money, and otherwise indisposed. To that end, this post has relatively little to do with frugality, but a great deal to do with my life.
When Preparing For Vacation: First, Get Sick
It all started three weeks ago when Mr. FW caught a gnarly stomach bug. The kind of bug that makes you vow you’ll never eat again. He was nearly incapacitated as evidenced by the fact that he reclined on the couch and watched TV during the day–a sure sign of his imminent demise. As a man who chose to read a book over watching TV while waiting for a root canal a few years back, I knew he was in a bad way.
I forced him to call the doctor, who was alarmed enough by his symptoms that he sent us straight to the hospital. We then got to experience a day in the ER with a baby (complete with IV fluids), and a trip to the grocery store to buy Pedialyte (not for the baby). Yum.
Of course this was two days before departing on our multi-city, multi-week trip to visit family and attend a conference. On an airplane. And, despite our best hand-washing, germ and contact avoidance techniques, I came down with the same malady the day before our trip. This being my second experience with air travel while suffering an intestinal ailment–the first was a case of food poisoning on a flight to Belgium a few years ago–I consider myself a veteran. Walk slowly and carry lots of water.
Flying: With A Baby!
Since our woods abode is an hour and a half drive from the airport, I packed a separate bag so that I could change Babywoods into her traveling clothes in the airport parking lot. Totally worked and we entered the airport with fresh clothes, fresh diaper, and a well-rested baby (thanks to her napping during the car ride). Don’t get jealous, it was pretty much downhill from there.
Babywoods was jazzed about the whole airline experience as there were large numbers of people to stare at (rudely), lots of non-toy foreign objects to grab (the tray table being her favorite), and repeated application of bananas (now googling: is it possible to overdose a baby on bananas?).
Mr. FW and I haven’t checked a bag since airlines started charging for the privilege, but we had to break that streak with Babywoods in tow. Since I flew solo on the second and third legs of our journey, there was no way I could manage a carry-on suitcase. With a heavy frugal heart, I checked one bag, gate checked our snap-n-go stroller plus carseat, and carried on Babywoods in my hand-me-down Ergo (babies not being eligible for gate checking), along with a backpack and purse. I did a dress rehearsal of this format in our house prior to departure, which was a wise move.
I ended up keeping Babywoods in the Ergo the whole time and pushing the stroller with the carseat, carseat base, purse, and backpack loaded on. This meant Babywoods was content, my hands were free, and I wended smoothly through airport foot traffic. In a slightly non-frugal move, we purchased this carseat cover for gate checking and I’m glad we did. Our carseat arrived intact with nary a mar while the bag now bears rips and tears.
Thusly laden with toys, food, wardrobe changes,
mini-bottles of wine, and a blanket, Babywoods and I made it ably through security and learned that copious amounts of baby food and breastmilk are allowed. Thank goodness since I packed about 4 days’ worth and was ready to throw down (not in a polite way) if the TSA tried to tell me otherwise. Running out of baby food in an airport is not on my lifelong to-do list.
Stop #1: Florida!
Our first stop was Orlando, where we visited Mr. FW’s aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and siblings. It was a joy for Babywoods to spend time with family and she impressed us with her flexibility vis-a-vis unusual sleeping circumstances and an altered schedule. We stayed in a hotel room adjoining Mr. FW’s parents and sister. This worked perfectly since we could put Babywoods down to nap/bed in our room and then slip through the adjoining door (with baby monitor) where wine and card games (Canasta!) awaited us. Excellent. And further confirmation of my thesis that wine sales are supported by parents…
This was an all-suite hotel, ideal since there was an alcove for Babywoods’ pack-n-play. I began putting her to bed at home in a pack-n-play a month before our trip in order to acclimate her and, it worked! She slept like a champion baby. Except for that one night when I was in the throes of the stomach bug and elected to skip the family dinner out in order to get some extra rest. Naturally, that night Babywoods decided not to go to sleep for several hours. But hey, who doesn’t want to hang out with a screaming baby in a hotel room while sick? I know I wanted to. I kept checking the door’s peephole because I was certain somebody would call security about the inconsolable baby screaming epidemic taking place in room 405. I pictured a SWAT team.
Stop #2: California!
The micro flights to Florida (with a two adult to one baby ratio) were mere preparations for my cross-country solo-parent trek to San Diego, where my family lives and where I attended a conference. We decided to have Mr. FW return to Vermont to tend the homestead (this is peak apple harvest season) and fulfill his day job commitments (this is an extraordinarily busy time for his company). While flying with two parents was manageable, stuff got real when it was just me and Babywoods.
Aside from both of us being covered in pureed carrots, a few pig squeals that made me wish I had a bag over my head, and that time I dumped out a bag of Cheerios on the floor of the plane and we both started crying, we made it. Fortunately, there was a compassionate social worker sitting in front of us and she reassured me and Babywoods during our crying jag. We both felt much better after she patted our hands, reassured me that I was a good mother, and let Babywoods play with her scarf. And hey, now I can say I cried on an airplane. Over spilled Cheerios, which I did feel bad about because they kept crunching underfoot and grinding into the carpet… yep, we were those people.
Also, in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t work to buckle a nine-month-old into an airplane seat. I figured I’d try since I had a row of seats to myself, but Babywoods saw this as an opportunity to fling her body towards the backpack-o-toys, which was located on the floor. Not my best moment.
In desperation, I let her play with an empty water bottle. And a full packet of pretzels. Also the flight safety information card. I brought a gallon-sized Ziplock of toys (good ones too!), but she was far more interested in everything else.
On my second solo flight–where I shared a row with two other (unlucky) people–I wised up. I wiped down everything in reach (back of seat, armrest, window, tray table, seatbelt, self). Then as a smug, experienced flying-with-baby parent, I allowed my daughter to do what she wanted: intensely play with the seatbelt. She promptly snapped her finger in the latch and wailed. I’m not sure if there’s a stronger word for wail? But that was it. Now all surrounding rows (not to mention my now-tragic seat mates) were staring at us as Babywoods beat me with her tiny fists and turned red from exertion. I quickly popped her on to nurse. She fell asleep in my arms and I inhaled.
But then I realized I was starving. Actually starving. And my lunch was on the floor in my bag. So, I levered my foot through the handle of the bag and, without shifting the sleeping beast, maneuvered bag on top of baby. Then–with one hand–fished out my sandwich and proceeded to eat like a drunk person, with my face going directly into the sandwich. I had no other option. People stared. Sorry to the airline about the mayonnaise on the seat…
Following this thrilling experience, we landed in Denver only to learn that our connecting flight was delayed by three hours. Babywoods and I circumnavigated the airport several times (I was grateful I’d spent whatever I’d spent to check that bag), made friends with other babies, and played on the floor atop our carefully packed travel blanket. Ok let’s be real, she scooted off that blanket post haste and proceeded to lick the airport floor. She also ate 6 meals, thus validating my overpacking of baby food… and confirming my suspicion that I should’ve packed a change of clothes for me in our carry-on. I was encrusted with baby food and related detritus. Encrusted. And not in a subtle way.
Once we boarded that tardy second flight, Babywoods was in rare form–she’d missed several naps and was no longer amused at being in my arms. Naturally, we did not have a row to ourselves and were instead sandwiched next to two other people–fortunately my seat mate had a baby and a two-year-old at home, and was not fazed. Babywoods kicks while she nurses (something I never noticed before this trip… ) and he was quite gracious about her little feet jabbing his arm.
People are incredibly kind and, for unknown reasons, seem to like strange, screaming babies on planes. A saintly woman carried her up and down the aisle of the plane (it was only after she walked off with Babywoods that I realized I didn’t know this person… but I reasoned it’s an airplane and there aren’t many places to hide a loud baby). Other passengers also held her, played with her, gave her toys, and generally made my life easier. I live by the worldview that people are inherently good, and this trip proved me right.
Thanks to this delay, the airline lost my one checked bag, which contained quite a few valuable items, such as: 1) all of my clothing; 2) all of Babywoods’ clothing; 3) all of everything else I’d packed since my carry-on was stuffed with $%&#ing bananas, baby food, and toys she wouldn’t play with. Luckily, we were headed to my parents’ home and they supplied us with necessary earthly possessions (toothbrush, diapers). Babywoods wore the same onesie for several days, as did I, and no one died. My bag showed up two days later (at 11:40pm, thank you very much) and there was much rejoicing.
In addition to visiting my fam in San Diego, I attended the annual financial bloggers’ conference (yes, that’s actually a thing). I am honored to share that, while there, Frugalwoods was awarded Best Frugality Blog Of The Year! Thank you all for reading! Totally made those flights-of-terror worth it.
Spending Money Without Stress (or guilt)
The reason I’m sharing this long-winded travel diary (other than to serve as my own personal parental venting system) is that I think it’s profoundly important to: 1) do what you love; and 2) spend money on the things that matter most to you. Frugality enables that. Since I don’t spend money for the vast majority of my year, the cost of flying to San Diego is nominal in the scheme of my overall savings rate.
Frugality is about prioritizing and efficiency. It’s not about hoarding every last cent and depriving yourself of a full, meaningful life. So, yeah, I took a group of friends out for drinks at the conference. I also went out to eat—several times. I didn’t have to pay to attend the conference since I was a speaker, but I did pay for my hotel (not to mention parking at said hotel). And I’m not stressed or mired in guilt.
This trip is also about spending time with family and friends. I value those relationships and so I don’t mind shelling out cash to facilitate them. There’d be no point to my frugality, or my impending financial independence, if I couldn’t enjoy every aspect of life. At the same time, I’m cognizant that I’ll return to a more stable level of frugality once my trip is over. Deviations aren’t a problem as long as they don’t lead to an overall uptick in spending.
The Journey Continues
Babywoods and I are still out in sunny (read: hot) San Diego spending time with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and Babywoods’ cousins. Of course I contracted a cold out here (despite the heat), but my stomach bug is gone, and I am grateful for the grandparental aid with Babywoods as I recover from this second illness.
Since Mr. FW and I do most everything together, this is a challenging alteration from the norm. I miss him. A lot. But, that’s a good thing when I think about it. Missing each other and missing my usual routine is an indication to me that I love my life. And I can’t ask for more than that. Perhaps an easy, non-delayed return trip? But that might be pushing it. I’m OK with just loving my life.