Let’s be honest: Taking care of a baby is hard work—even when you’re at home surrounded by an arsenal of infant gear, a fully stocked toy box and a three-week supply of diapers. So, it’s understandable if “Let’s take this show on the road” is the last thing on your mama mind.
But traveling with a little one might not be as tough as you think. Before you clear your calendar of any upcoming trips, get some insight from our trusty travel guide. Just don’t be surprised if, by the time you’re finished reading, you find yourself ready to hit the road and not look back. Adventure awaits!
Should I stay or should I go?
When Karen Edwards, mom of one in London and travel blogger at TravelMadMum.com, found out she was expecting, she decided early on that she’d continue to make travel a priority and bring her mini along for the ride. “I traveled extensively previously, and I did not want to give up my way of life,” she explains. “I feel our children should be a reflection of who we are.”
She and her fiancé, Shaun, came up with a plan to spend her year of maternity leave (the time allotted to new mothers in the U.K.) exploring the world with their babe in tow. But when Esmé was born, Edwards had second thoughts. “When I had Esmé I became unsure. I was psychologically nesting and didn’t want to leave home.” Edwards says her fiancé gave her the confidence to rent out their home, pack their bags and embark on their yearlong adventure when Esmé was 10 weeks old. (Little Esmé, now 20 months old, has since been to 14 countries!)
It’s doesn’t take much effort to come up with a laundry list of reasons why you should postpone your next family getaway, whether you’re globetrotting for a year or hitting the beach for a long weekend. It’s too hard. It’s stressful. You need too much stuff. Your little one won’t remember it anyway. But there are some pretty significant incentives to heading out of town, too.
Maybe your kiddo won’t be able to recall details, likes the names of landmarks, but her budding brain is storing away other kinds of memories—spending time together, going to new places and experiencing different things. You’re broadening her horizons and showing her that there is a great big world for her to explore. And when she’s older and looking back at photos from your adventures, you can tell her about the time she tried to pet pigeons in Paris or chased waves at Half Moon Bay. Your brood is creating memories that you can share together, now and for years to come.
Even if you clock plenty of quality family time at your home base, nothing encourages you to “unplug” from the daily grind and constant social media updates quite like escaping on a vacation. So, soak up the days you get to spend just the three (or four or five) of you. We guarantee they’ll be worth the effort of packing all that luggage.
Make a change
Much like adding a baby to your relationship, budget, etc., adding a baby to your travel plans is completely doable, but it requires some patience, preparation and adjustment.
“I planned all of our accommodations and flights in advance—I needed the time to research to ensure I was happy to take Esmé there,” says Edwards. “This was a completely different way of traveling for us. Prebaby we just went with the flow.”
Once you accept the fact that your vacations will look different than they did before your babe was tagging along, you’ll be able to enjoy them for the new, exciting experience that they are. Here are five general guidelines to preserve your sanity and make sure everyone has a good time:
This is your vacation, too, so splurge on one or two things that will save you time, give you peace of mind or just make life on the road easier. Maybe you want to stay in a centrally located hotel, so you can return for midday naps. Or perhaps a direct flight (versus a long layover) will help calm your nerves about baby’s first plane ride.
Keep plans flexible.
If you’re set to see the sights but your mini is only interested in seeing the back of her eyelids, it might be a good idea to slip into a quiet museum to let her snooze while you wander the latest exhibits. You’ll be back to your itinerary in no time.
Take frequent breaks.
From diaper changes to feedings, babies need to make regular pit stops. This goes for days spent in transit and at your destination. Don’t view these pauses as hold-ups; instead, take a few minutes to rest and recharge while your wee one does the same.
Remember less is more.
You probably won’t get to do as much as you would without a junior jet-setter by your side, but that’s OK. Prioritize what’s important to you, and consider the rest optional. If there’s time, fantastic! If not, you won’t be too heartbroken.“Everything was much slower [with a baby] than before,” Edwards admits. But that doesn’t mean you have to skip out on adult-only fun. “We would take turns with activities such as diving and snorkeling.”
Think about transportation.
We’re not talking about subway trains and cabs. You need to decide how you want to get baby from point A to point B. Your destination might determine whether you bring a stroller or a carrier—or both. (Edwards’ packing list included a stroller with a compact fold, but she touts the baby carrier as the most essential item in her eyes.)
Timing is everything
Edwards left home with a 10-week-old and returned two days shy of Esmé’s first birthday. After being on the road for 10 months, she confidently informs other parents, “It is easier to travel with a new baby than at any other time. It becomes more challenging as they get older because they are so much more stimulated, and it’s harder to entertain them. The first few flights for us were by far the easiest.”
Try to take your first voyage during the newborn stage. Those early months are an excellent time to get your feet wet because all your babe really needs is you. She’ll sleep a lot, so you can tie on a wrap and snuggle her as you sightsee.
The window between 9 and 18 months is an entirely different ball game. Your tot is on the move and has a lot more energy—but a pretty short attention span. Bring along lots of small toys and snacks to whip out when you’re desperate for a distraction.
If you’re traveling by …
- Stow anything you might need in your under-the-seat carry-on, where it’s easily within reach.
- Bring a car seat or request a bassinet (for bulkhead seats) if you prefer to securely buckle your babe in.
- Disinfect your seat area right away, including the armrests and tray tables. “Airplanes can be extremely germy with the influx of travelers in a small space,” explains Tanya Altmann, MD. “Bring a disinfectant that kills cold and flu germs such as Clorox Disinfecting Wipes On The Go.”
- Give your newbie something to suck on—a pacifier, bottle or breast—during takeoff and landing to help with changes in air pressure. “A baby’s ear canals are more narrow and curved, so changes in pressure may cause more discomfort than a parent would feel,” notes Altmann.
- Take time to deep clean your car and baby’s car seat before embarking on a long ride. Disinfect the most touched surfaces, like door handles, cupholders and windows.
- Keep an eye on baby with a strategically placed backseat mirror or monitor.
- Pull off the highway every few hours for your mini to get out of the car seat, stretch and eat.
- Minimize your petite passenger’s sun exposure with a window shade.
- Load up on water, food, sun protection, diapers and any other must-haves in case you have an unplanned stop (like a dreaded flat tire) in the middle of nowhere.
- Take precautions to keep germs at bay if you’re setting sail with lots of travelers onboard (think cruise ship). Altmann suggests washing your hands frequently with warm water and antibacterial soap—for at least 20 seconds—and carrying hand sanitizer in your bag.
- Verify that there is an infant life vest available, and know where to find it.
- Aim for small but frequent feedings just in case your tot gets motion sickness, though Altmann says it’s rare for newborns.
- Monitor your little’s sun exposure, and seek shade when you can—even if it’s in the form of an umbrella or sun hat. Most pediatricians advise avoiding sunscreens until baby is at least 6 months old.
Venturing out with a newborn can seem intimidating at first, but there’s a lot you can do before you ever set foot out the door to make your trip less of a hassle. “In all honesty, I found traveling [to be] easier than being at home. I did not have any chores to do or a household to maintain. I had my fiancé with me 24/7 for the first year of Esmé’s life. I personally feel it’s been a huge adjustment being at home—[it’s] harder for me,” explains Edwards, who adds that there isn’t one part of her around-the-world adventure that she’d change. “If I am lucky enough to have another baby, I will do it all again.”