If it is your first time traveling with baby, you may have some concerns about what to bring and how to make it work. First and foremost, make sure you and baby have all the necessary vaccines and check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health page before you make plans. Once you have settled on a destination, here are 10 essential things to think about to help you make this hard-earned vacation one of the best.
Tip #1: Adjust your expectations
There is undoubtedly more work involved in showing a baby the world than travelling solo or as a couple – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the hassle. Babies need things, and you’ll need to carry those things. Babies need to eat, and you’ll need to have food. Babies need to sleep, and you’ll need to ensure a safe place for that.
So adjust the pace. Trying to cram as much into your days as possible will just make you all cranky and tired. Life has changed, and if you think travel hasn’t, think again. This is the time to slow down and accept that you can’t see and do it all. One or two outings per day might be the right fit; taking it easy on a beach all day might be even better. Travel is different now, but still amazing for a new set of reasons.
Tip #2: Keep the essentials accessible
Whether you are traveling by car or by plane, there are certain items you need to keep handy for whatever comes. Of course we are talking about the diaper bag here, but it needs to be stocked with a few extras, especially if you are flying. A short list includes: diapers, extra wipes, extra clothes, extra bibs, any medication baby needs, snacks, formula (if you use it), a book or toy. It may be that you can slip your own necessities into a small bag that you can keep in the diaper bag as well, except for when you need it. Remember that it’s not easy to dig a new outfit out of a suitcase packed in the trunk of a car, and it’s impossible to get one from a suitcase checked on an airplane. Airlines have delays and sometimes lose luggage, so make sure you have a few extras on hand.
Tip #3: Baby-friendly Accommodations
We live in a great time to be travelling with a baby! All of the new options on the market make it possible to escape being trapped in a hotel room with a sleeping baby. Because it is generally not ok to leave a baby alone in a hotel room, suites or vacation rental homes may be your best option. That way, you can put baby to sleep in one room and enjoy the rest of the space. You’ll also save any neighboring rooms from listening to crying at odd hours of the night, which might help you relax too. Travel can disrupt a baby’s routine and may add a few wakings you are not accustomed to, or even just fussiness as baby adjusts. Your ability to enjoy your immediate surroundings could make (or break) your trip.
Tip #4: Food in transit
Whether you are giving formula or breastfeeding, food is a comfort to a little one. If you are flying, give a bottle or nurse during take off and landing. The swallowing will help baby’s ears adjust to the change in pressure, thus helping you avoid unnecessary discomfort and fussing. Your row-mates will appreciate it too. For those breastfeeding, think about the potential proximity to strangers on a plane, and if you need an extra blanket or cover to make you feel more comfortable, bring one. Thin muslin blankets such as these adorable ones from Aden and Anais pack very small, and can easily fit into a purse or diaper bag. Remember, baby will pick up on your stress and may feel less relaxed as a result. Still, breastfeeding doesn’t just eliminate the need to lug bottles and formula around while trying to sterilize everything; baby will also be getting valuable antibodies that will protect against illness when away from home. So, if you are still breastfeeding and want to stop soon, keep that in mind and consider delaying until after your vacation.
If you are using formula, you may want to pack enough for your entire trip, especially if you are leaving the country. Not all formulas are available in all places. Even from state to state in the U.S., there can be differences in availability. So, if your baby is finicky, or has allergies, or you don’t want to deal with trying out something new, bring all you need for the duration of your trip.
Tip #5: Is a high chair necessary?
Of course, you will not bring a full high chair. Nonetheless, small chairs that attach to adult chairs or the edge of a table can be quite useful. If visiting friends or family, one of these might come in handy. If you are staying in a vacation rental, this is something to ask about. In the event that you find yourself without a place for baby to sit at the table, the stroller might stand in or, baby’s favorite place, your lap. Just keep your food and drinks out of reach!
Tip #5: Car seats: yes and how
If you are driving, the carseat is an easy one–leave it where it is! If you are flying, you need to decide if you want to rent a car seat from the rental car company, bring your own, or provide or borrow one from a friend or family member at your destination. Be careful that the car seat is the appropriate size for your baby and installed correctly, rear-facing. Airlines will allow you to check a car seat for free, but it does need to be in a bag that keeps all the straps safe from conveyor belts, etc. while in transit. If you have paid for a seat for baby and your car seat is FAA approved, you can also bring it on the plane adding to baby’s safety, and possibly comfort too. This is a great way to help baby take a long nap in flight!
For a long drive, plan on stopping every 2-3 hours to feed and move about, unless your baby is sleeping. If that is the case, keep on the road! Planning to leave when baby typically sleeps is another way to make good progress on a drive. You could leave in the early evening and get a few hours in before you need to take a break yourself. Just be careful not to push it, especially if you are already low on sleep.
Tip #6: Choose your Method of Movement: stroller, carrier, or both
There are a few things to consider when determining the best baby gear for your trip, and since a stroller can take up a huge chunk of space, it is worth thinking about. Key here, is to also consider the sorts of activities you will enjoy while vacationing, and if you are flying, the logistics of getting through the airports. At your destination, will you spend a lot of time relaxing in one place? Exploring shops? Taking hikes? Long walks? Will friends or relatives want to push the baby in the stroller? Furthermore, if your baby is more likely to take a good nap in a stroller versus a carrier, or vice versa, take that into consideration. Good naps make for happy babies, and while some flexibility is great, it can backfire if you push your baby to be too flexible while away. But you can make naps happen on the go. Here are a few scenarios and options to help you think through the details of your own trip.
Scenario #1: Flying and renting a car at your destination
To get through the airport, particularly if you are traveling alone, you can put the baby in a carrier, the carseat in the stroller, and then roll a suitcase with your other hand. This is perhaps the most extreme example, but it gives you a place to start. You can check strollers and carseats for free on most airlines, and you can take a stroller to the gate and check it there, if that helps you get through the airport.
Scenario #2: Visiting family or friends
Whether flying or driving, you may have a few options when it comes to seeing people you know. First, do they have a stroller that you could borrow? If a big stroller is not essential for either your baby’s naps or for you to take a jog with baby, then maybe you could pick up a small umbrella stroller to have on hand. If your baby is very tiny, this will not work, but if your baby sits up and meets the minimum requirements, umbrella strollers can be a great option for travel.
Scenario #3: No stroller necessary?
Perhaps you plan on hiking a lot, or not moving much, such as staying in a house right on the beach with enough adults to help hold and care for baby at all times. If you are already a family that practices babywearing, why stop on vacation? You can avoid bringing a stroller entirely and plan to keep baby in a carrier or in your arms whenever you go anywhere. The catch here is that you will also need the diaper bag, so either plan on wearing baby on the front and a backpack on your back, have your partner wear something, or someone, or choose a hiking pack, such as this one from Kelty, that has space for both baby and the stuff. Boarding a plane with one of these wins you lots of smiles as you make your way down the aisle hands free, and baby peeking out from behind.
Tip #7: Sleep
Again, you have a full range of options here. Pack and plays are great because they often include a changing table. Baby may enjoy spending time in it during the day, as well as sleeping there at night. If your baby is already accustomed to this type of alone time, by all means, keep it going. You will need to create space in the car, or plan on checking it at the airport. Again, you can avoid bringing a pack and play by arranging for one at your destination. Many hotels and vacation rentals will provide cribs or sleepers upon request. In this case, bring one or two of your own crib sheets so that you know the sheets were not washed with harsh chemicals, and baby will have the comforting smell of home. You’ll also find that smaller and simpler baby sleepers and travel cribs are available on the market that may better suit your needs and space requirements. Some amount to nearly a blanket on the floor, however, and some will only fit your baby for a few months. Think carefully about your baby’s safety before foregoing a sleeper altogether, but you know your situation best. Finally, if you happen to have the sort of stroller that allows baby to lie flat (such as one from Bugaboo), think about locking the wheels and using it as a bassinet for a few nights.
Tip #8: Sun protection
If you are headed to the beach, a pop-up sun tent might be the best invention. Baby will have a protected place to sleep, play, and take a break from the sand. You will have a covered spot for changing diapers and feeding. Your shady spot will be complete and always available. Happily, long-sleeved sun suits are also widely available, so baby can have full protection. Don’t forget a protective sun hat (read the label) and a sunblock that you feel comfortable putting on baby’s sensitive skin.
If you will ride in a car other than your own, you may also want to consider the sun coming in on baby through the windows. If not tinted, you can add a suction-cup shade that offers UV protection.
Tip #9: Pack smart
Think carefully about each item before throwing it in the suitcase or car. The more intentional you can be about this, the more likely you are to remember all you need and leave the things you don’t. You can roll clothes so that they take up less space; you can also share a suitcase with baby. Baby’s clothes are small, so bringing extras shouldn’t be a problem. But will you really have time for all those super cute outfits? Will you be able to wash at your destination? Analyze your use of gear before you go and anticipate your needs.
Tip #10: Be flexible
Plan to improvise! There is a lot to think about, and you may even regret a choice or two once you are on your way. But babies are flexible and resilient little people, so you should be too. Don’t stress! No, you don’t have to spend $250 to have baby’s favorite stuffy shipped overnight from the only person who makes those on Etsy. Relax and find another way. As with most travel, things will not go perfectly. Babies are major life-disruptors. Find your own peace and creativity in going with the flow. Maybe you don’t get to enjoy that 5-star restaurant this time (or, you enjoy it at 4:30 in the afternoon). Remember, this is a new season of life, babies grow, and phases change. Relax with some take-out and think about the time when you will introduce your teenager to your favorite fine dining 14 years from now. Most importantly, be safe, be well, and happy travels!
By A. Louise Yoder, a freelance writer raising three children in the high desert of New Mexico. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org
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