Your days of packing light and taking off without a second thought are over now that you have a baby in tow. Traveling with your little one definitely takes more preparation, but the payoffs are great adventures and wonderful memories with your tiny jet-setter. Bon voyage!
Mile high baby
I have had a few wonderful experiences flying with my babies, times when they slept peacefully without making a peep. But I’ve also been the mom “discreetly” nursing under a blanket, trying to get my newborn to sleep amid a crowd of strangers. I’ve been the lady with the tired, screaming 1-year-old who stubbornly refuses to be calmed. (I was really popular with the college-age guy sitting next to me.) And my personal claim to infamy: I have been thrown up on (it was not spit-up, it was throw-up) just before a connecting flight.
Let’s face it—flying with kids is a gamble. You hope for the best, but it’s tough to predict exactly what you’re going to get. My best advice for a tolerable experience is this: Know your baby. If your tot sleeps easily in the car, she’ll likely snooze through a flight without a problem. But if she’s not a great sleeper, or she can’t fall asleep in your arms, you should try to book a flight during her alert, happy hours. Although you’ll need to gate-check your stroller (if you bring one), you will be allowed a carry-on plus a “personal bag,” which can be a diaper bag. Stock it with fun distractions (books, new toys, age-appropriate snacks, even a portable DVD player if you think it will help) and necessities (diapers, wipes, extra clothes, pacifiers, bottles and formula). Before the trip, ask your pediatrician about ear numbing drops—this Rx cure will soothe baby’s pain if her ears suffer with the change in altitude pressure during descent.
To keep your flight as benign as possible, go when baby is at least a few weeks (or months!) old and consider the season. Jim Sears, pediatrician, author and co-host of The Doctors, recommends, “For babies born in the fall, it is best to put travel plans on hold until spring. By then flu season will be over. Of course, if air travel is absolutely necessary, it is safe for a newborn to go on a plane … Once on the airplane, be sure to use sanitizing wipes to clean the hand rests and tray table.” Also contemplate your seating options. Baby can share your seat for free (within the U.S.), but if you believe your little one will do better strapped into her car seat, you may want to buy a second seat for her.
You might choose a shorter flight for your baby’s first airborne excursion; direct flights are easiest, unless you have a baby who fares better with a break in the middle. Shorter flights also mean you might get through without facing a dirty diaper—which is a major plus, since in-flight diaper changes basically have to happen on your lap or not at all.
Life is a highway
Driving. It’s the first activity you’ll enjoy with your baby after leaving the hospital. (I use the word “enjoy” loosely—it can be kind of nerve-racking.) Some babies crave the constant motion of the car, snoozing soon after the engine starts; others scream when they’re buckled into the car seat and don’t stop screaming until the car is parked and they’re back in mama’s arms. You’ll soon find out which type is yours.
If your baby is an auto lover, road trips might be pretty appealing. You’ve got a nonstop white noise machine and no schedule to follow but your own. However, do be aware that road tripping with a baby goes much slower than steering solo. First of all, babies need to eat—and often. If you’re nursing, this means stopping every couple hours to suckle before resuming the journey. If baby’s on solids, you’ll go longer between feedings, but you’ll need extra patience and paper towels.
Then there’s the diaper changing. You’ll want to tidy your baby’s tush at least every two hours to avoid rash formation. (But, of course, if you sense your tot is stinky, don’t delay pulling over to deal with it.) Overall, take your time on the road. Rushing will only frustrate you and stress out your infant. Stop when you need to, and enjoy the journey as a fun mommy-and-me experience.
Boat excursions with an infant may not be your most affordable option—unlike airlines, cruises generally charge for babies —but it can be done. When you’re planning a cruise, first pick a time of year when germs are less of a concern. You will be sharing the boat with hundreds of other passengers, so cruising during flu season can be risky.
Then, read the small print. While most cruise lines offer activities and babysitting for kids, they don’t all have programs for infants. This could mean that baby is with you for meals, shows and excursions, so make sure you’re OK with that before you book. When you’re packing for a cruise, realize that baby necessities may be hard to come by—you’ll be wise to bring all the diapers, wipes, formula, bottles, bottle-cleaning supplies and baby food that you’ll need for the trip. And don’t forget your gear! Although cruise rooms are teeny, you’ll want a stroller, baby carrier and portable crib, unless baby sleeps in the bed with you.
On board, live it up but watch out for baby’s two cruising enemies: germs and UV rays. Speak up when strangers reach out to pat your baby—it’s OK to have a hands-off policy. Keep baby away from the harmful rays of midday, and when you’re on deck, protect his delicate skin with a hat and sunscreen that has been approved by your doctor.