Babywearing and Traveling

Babywearing and Traveling

By Olga Nguyen

‘It would be worth learning about babywearing for this trip alone!’ exclaimed my husband at the end of a particularly trying journey.

Indeed, babywearing on this trip, and many others, has made travelling with a baby or toddler much easier for us, so I wanted to share with you our hints and tips on babywearing (further referred as BW) when travelling.

Babywearing for going through the airport or on a train journey: my experience

I was really glad during our last flight (see Figure 1) that I had a carrier with me. It kept my toddler secure and close to me in an environment that was hectic and new to her and provided the opportunity for her to nap close to me and nurse whenever she wanted whilst I could have my hands free for all that needed doing when going through the airport.

We have also made a few train journeys ( Figure 2 and Figure 3) with our daughter and once again, BWing has proven essential for getting there and back in a smooth fashion. Well, as smooth as it gets when you are travelling with a baby or toddler!. I certainly liked being able to get to a platform using the escalator rather than having to rely on overcrowded or nonfunctional lifts, as I would have, had I used a stroller.

Choosing a carrier for going through the airport or travelling by train

The factors involved in choosing the carrier for plane or train are fairly similar, and so the list below is applicable to either situation.

The ‘ideal’ carrier choice for travelling will vary from person to person. Here are a few factors to consider.

  • Are you at ease with using the particular carrier that you are considering for your trip? It may be an obvious question to ask, but some people do learn how to use a new carrier faster and easier when doing it in a pressured situation (which going through the airport may be for some); others do not want the added stress of getting to grips with the new carrier while coping with the hassles of travel.
  • Will you need to wear your baby for extended periods of time on this trip? The answer would vary depending on your particular travel arrangements, such as the duration of time you expect to spend at the airport. (For example, whether you expect people in queues are likely allow travellers with young children to go to the front of the line, as they do in Russia occasionally.) You might also consider whether you have connections, and if you generally prefer to be prepared for a number of eventualities, such as unexpected delay due to weather conditions or mechanical problems. If so, you probably would want a two-shoulder carrier unless you can wear your baby comfortably in one-shoulder carrier for long stretches of time. In Figure 1 you can see my BWing at the airport in a wrap, and in Figure 4 you can see Jess BWing baby Reese in a pouch at the airport.

My personal preference is a carrier that I am comfortable wearing for a long stretch of time (just for that unlikely off-chance of us getting stuck in the airport and similar things). For the last trip we took (three flights, a long journey for an airport transfer, and three hours waiting for the connection flight – I am sure there are longer and more tiring flights to do, but this was bad enough for us!) I found the comfort of a wrap ( Figure 1) absolutely indispensable, but any other carrier that provides long-term wearing comfort would work just as well.

  • Will you have to take your carrier off/put it on often? If so, a ring sling, a rebozo or a pouch might be good for you, or a pre-tied front cross carry in a wrap or a pre-tied front carry in a mei tai.

If you are travelling with a toddler who wants to be picked up, put down, and picked up again, you may be likely to be taking a carrier off and putting it on again (or leaving it pre-tied instead) often anyway.

Also, even if pick-me-up-put-me-down toddler is not an issue, one point where you may have to take a carrier off when flying is at airport security. Experiences vary as to whether the airport security is likely to ask you to take off your carrier for security check. In my experience, on flights to and from the UK (none of which have been to the USA), the only time I was asked to take off a baby carrier at security was when I was going through the metal detector and something unrelated to the carrier set it off. All other times I would go through the security without any request to take off the carrier or take my baby out of it. Of course, this is just my experience and yours will vary depending where you are flying to and from. It seems that for the USA, until August 2006, it was standard practice for the security to request this: babywearer Carole’s experience was that on all 14 round trips (28 flights!), security requested the carrier be taken off. However, since August 2006, USA security has allowed any carrier that won’t set off the metal detector to stay on. However, there’s no guarantee that this will continue.

If you tend to take a carrier off rather than leave it tied on, it is worth considering whether you can put it on whilst holding your baby or toddler at the same time. This may be important if you are not happy about putting your baby on the surfaces available, or do not want your toddler to run away just at the crucial moment of crossing the border for international flights, etc.

  • If you are travelling with your partner or friends, are they likely to carry your baby? If the answer is yes and they use carriers, you may consider either packing another carrier for them if the carrier if you are going to use is sized and will not fit them, or if they do not know how to use it and are not willing or have no time to learn how to before the trip. choose a carrier that suits a variety of wearers. Or of course, you can just decide to carry the baby/toddler yourself and give your hand luggage to your travel companions!
  • Will you have to carry any hand luggage whilst wearing your baby/toddler? If you are, do consider the compatibility of your hand luggage and the carrier that you are choosing. For me, a wrap in a front carry and a small to medium-size rucksack has been a good combination; or a ring sling with a messenger bag (the latter being worn on one shoulder).
  • Is your baby/toddler likely to be still napping (or, indeed, to have already fallen asleep for the night) when you have arrived, and do you want to be able to transition your child to a carrier without disrupting her sleep? If you do, (e.g. you can not work around trains/flight timetables to avoid this happening, or if your baby’s naps are unpredictable etc), then think about which of your carriers you would be able to put on without waking up your sleeping baby/toddler. For me, it has been a wrap and a ring sling – on one of our train journeys ( Figure 3), I really appreciated being able to arrange a carrier around her and to get off the train without waking her up, instead of having to wake her up to get off the train. Of course, some babies and toddlers are happier to be woken up than others, and some are happier travellers than others, so whether this factor would be applicable to you would depend on your baby’s and your own needs at the end of the journey.

Of course, the above list is far from being exhaustive, but hopefully the ideas there can be useful as a start when choosing a carrier for your plane or train journey.

As always, use your common sense and usual safety precautions when using your carrier when travelling. Apart from the usual safety precautions, consider what you can do to make more safe your putting a carrier on and taking it off in a crowded place, where some people tend to rush without noticing the others. Below is a list of suggestions, which is by no means exhaustive:

  • choose suitable places to put on your carrier or to take it off. Obviously, if you are using a wrap or a Mei Tai, doing it whilst standing on the way of many people who are rushing past and can step on your carrier or catch it with their luggage is not ideal. Neither is doing it near the escalator (if the steps can catch the fabric), or too close to the train platform. Just use your common sense and pay attention to your surroundings and you are bound to find a safe place to put your carrier on. For example, next to a bench/sitting area in an airport or a train station may be suitable, provided that it looks like a place safe for putting a carrier on to you – you can both rest your carry-on luggage there and put Mei Tai straps or wrap tails there when putting either of those carriers on if you do not want those to drag on the floor or to be caught inadvertently.
  • consider pre-tying a carrier and keeping it on – this will save you looking for good places where you can put a carrier on safely;
  • as always, do make sure that your line of vision is not blocked in front carries, both when putting on and using your carrier. This will save you tripping over that unexpected step or bumping into somebody or their luggage in a crowded place like an airport or train station.

Enjoy your journey!

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Special thanks to Jess, who kindly shared the photograph of baby Reese and of herself (Figure 4), and to Carole McGranahan, who proofread and contributed to the article by sharing her extensive experience of flying with a baby. Big thank you goes to my husband Ian, for having been the first reader and proofreader of this article, and for having been a great travelling companion.

© Olga Nguyen 2006 The content of the article and photos in Figure 1-3 are copyrighted to Olga Nguyen; photo 4 is copyrighted to Jess, and protected by the US, UK and International Law on copyright. The article itself or any part of it, including photographs, cannot be used without the expressed permission of the owners of the photos or the author of the article. Whilst writing this article, every effort was made to ensure that the information provided was accurate and up to date, however, no legal responsibility is accepted for any errors, omissions or misleading statements.