Traveling with a baby can sometimes make you wonder if you are really on vacation at all. “Why are we doing this?” is a question asked by many parents as they hustle through an airport loaded up like pack-mules, tired, dirty, and most likely with a screaming child who undoubtedly missed a nap and maybe a bottle.
“Stay-cations” can be really great.
BUT, when we had our little peanut, we were determined not to “put our lives on hold” just because we had a baby. As such, we’re proud to report that within her first year we were able to take 3 trips (with her, of course) with flights, cabs, all the cargo and the whole bit.
Needless to say, we don’t think you should “put your lives on hold” either. If you have an opportunity to travel, you shouldn’t let your little one keep you from going. This post will outline some tips and strategies that will help your vacation feel like an actual vacation.
As you already know, time is different in the baby world. This is amplified when traveling. So, the first thing to get into your head is:
Everything is going to take much more TIME!
If you plan for everything to take longer, and you give yourself more time to do EVERYTHING, you will have a much happier and more restful vacation. So, if it normally takes you 5 minutes to load all your stuff into the car or taxi, expect 15 or more. (You’ve got a car seat to hook up, remember!)
Your Baby’s Travel-Personality
What? Well, not all adults enjoy traveling – and the same seems true for babies. Some love the sights and sounds and being on the move, and others like it less so. Just realize that not all babies are super adaptable travelers. Ultimately, you won’t really know how your baby does until you try it – and then you’ll have a little bit better idea of what to expect when planning your next vacation.
Many factors go into choosing a vacation spot such as cost, distance, available accommodations, etc, and most bad choices are pretty obvious: rugged camping or Arctic explorations are probably out with a newborn. But after that, “how long will it take to get there?” is probably the most important question to answer. This is a huge consideration as the worst consequence of your day of travel is that your child will have their sleep schedule significantly disrupted. You might pay for this mistake for the rest of your vacation, so really think through how much time you’re going to spend getting to your destination. Direct flights are best. Napping in your arms on a flight or in the car seat is great and helpful, but it’s not the same as sleeping soundly in a dark room.
Again, cost and other factors may play a role, but if you can stay somewhere that has a little extra space, you’ll be grateful. When it was just you and your spouse, you didn’t need much room, but now you’ve got a little one who needs daytime naps and early bedtimes – and you don’t really want to have to put them in the bathroom or closet. Staying with friends or relatives, or getting a hotel suite with bedroom and living space are things to consider. I would not recommend a single studio hotel room.
If you are pumping, you want to make sure that there is a refrigerator to store pumped milk.
Finally, call the hotel/resort ahead of time to see if they have cribs or high chairs and reserve them. If they do, then you’ve saved yourself a TON of trouble. If they don’t, here are a few products we found helpful:
- Traveling high chair–this thing is awesome for older babies. And it hooks right to a regular chair!
- If your destination doesn’t have access to a crib, you will, unfortunately, want to bring a pack ‘n play. Infant travel beds do exist and we did end up getting one to try when we traveled the first time. Our daughter was 2 months old. Unfortunately, it will only last for their early months because once they are rolling and crawling, it’s not really going to hold them in.
If you are fortunate enough to have friends or family members who would like to travel with you to help with the kids, that might be the most ideal scenario, regardless of where you go or stay. Grandparents are usually pretty eager to go on trips with their grandchildren. So strongly consider having them join you. Having help will get you a few free hours each day to relax and enjoy yourself.
Flying with a Baby – This doesn’t have to be a total nightmare. In fact, it can go pretty smoothly if you plan well. Apart from the normal things like paying attention to feeding, napping, diaper changes, etc. you can anticipate and avoid potential problems. For example:
- Pack things to distract your child in the carry-on diaper bag such as toys, books, snacks, bottle, etc.
- Get to the gate early enough to be able to do a last-second diaper change, fill your water bottles, and get situated before boarding. The flight attendants will allow parents with children on first, so be ready to get moving whenever your “begin boarding” time is. You’re first! There’s a reason they give you extra time.
- Nurse or give your baby a bottle during takeoff and landing to help with pressure changes. If they are older, we found snacks that took her awhile to chew or made her want to drink from her sippy cup best. Like dry cereal puffs, one at a time.
Diaper Bag, Car Seat & Strollers – Remember that you will be gate-checking your car seat and stroller (for free), so plan enough time to disassemble all that gear before boarding. We used travel bags for these items which kept them cleaner and drier in the transfer process and also allowed quick identification of our stuff. The car seat backpack was great for keeping hands free. You need as many hands as possible! Highly recommended. Another car seat tip: if you’re renting a car, ask if they have car seats available to rent. Also, your diaper bag does not count towards your carry-on limit. It’s a free bag.
Milk – We recommend that you call your airline ahead of time if you are worried about how much breast milk or formula you can bring on the plane with you. My wife brought expressed breast milk every time we traveled and never had a problem with the quantity. She also knows a mom who traveled a lot for work and would literally bring back 300 ounces with her and they never gave her a problem. Just let them know at security that you have it and they might do a special test that doesn’t hurt your milk at all.
Sanitize – Another good reason to get on the airplane early when you’re allowed is so you have time to sanitize your area. Planes tend to be a harbor for germs. Lots of people – unknowingly sick people – are in and out of your plane all day long. We were pretty lucky that our daughter didn’t catch any bugs, but I truly believe it helped to be a little paranoid and wipe everything within touch with a great sanitizing wipe. Seats, arm rests, tray table (up and down), window (up and down), the screens, buttons, heck we even did the wall. All joking aside, you can’t be too careful here.
Shuttles – If you’re counting on airport or hotel shuttles, plan to get to the pickup location early! At least 15 minutes early (again, everything takes longer). You’ve got a lot of stuff, a car seat to hook up, and there will be other people all around you in a rush to get where they want to go. We missed a shuttle to the airport and had to get a taxi when we were even 5 minutes early, so get there early, or plan to wait for the next one.
I have to hand it to my wife – like, praise her skills, but also literally hand the computer to her for this part. She planned and packed very well for our vacations, and we would have been in a world of hurt without her doing so. So, here’s Kari…
I’m not great at making lists. But here are a few tips:
- Your child’s birth certificate or passport! This is easy to forget, but it is important to bring whatever ID they have.
- I think it helped to first pack a diaper bag. Make sure you’ve got burp clothes and a couple changes of clothes (pajamas were easiest for us that first year of travel.) A new, full size wipe container that will last the whole week, diaper rash cream/powder (especially for post pool help), and easy access to sanitizing wipes and any drinks, snacks or distractions.
- Think about what you might want to save space on and purchase at your destination. Like diapers! Bring enough for your travel day plus one more day and then buy a pack wherever you’re staying. Don’t expect to have diapers you’ve packed in a checked bag in case they lose it.
- Bring tylenol or ibuprofen in case your baby is teething. You just don’t want to mess with that stuff on vacation.
- Bring a travel/sink size baby laundry soap (that your baby is used to) to save space from “just in case” clothes and be prepared to do a load in the sink.
- If you’re going someplace warm, try not to overpack clothes. You’re on vacation! Let baby chill in a onesie. Especially when considering you might not have “summer clothes” in the correct size if you’re traveling someplace warm from someplace cold in the winter.
- Speaking of warm-don’t forget the sunscreen! There are also great long sleeve rash guards and hats for babies now with 50+spf. Remember that it’s not recommended to put sunscreen on a baby under 6 months old. Use your judgement here and try to have access to shade.
- Bring a sheet for the crib that’s hopefully available at your destination if that makes you more comfortable.
- Pack some toys that can transition from bath time to play time. Try to pack ones that are lightweight.
- Older children might benefit from some technology distraction on an iPad or phone during travel.
- Finally, Chris never leaves home without a couple surge protectors or other outlet multipliers. Never get frustrated with too few outlets again!
Have a great time. Be patient, and try to go with the flow. Your first vacation with your newborn is going to have some challenges, but it’s also very special. Which reminds me of one more tip: FREE UP SPACE ON YOUR SMARTPHONE OR CAMERA! You’re going to be taking even more photos and videos than you usually do!!