It’s vacation season, and the most frequent questions new moms are posting on social media revolve around traveling with a baby. Our family clocked about 40 hours of car and air travel in our son’s first year of life, so we have some experience with this.
Here are 6 Strategies to Make Traveling With Your Baby as Easy as Possible:
1. Consider the best mode of transportation.
- You can stop whenever you want (or need) to stop.
- You choose who gets to be a part of the trip and travel with you.
- Your trip is likely to be longer. More time in the car seat can make for an unhappy baby and more time crammed into a car can make for unhappy adults. Add those two together and tensions can run high.
- You can stock your cooler with food and beverages that will cost much less than in an airport.
- You will likely get to your destination much faster.
- Security checkpoints, airline baggage policies, baby equipment must all be considered.
- Baby’s ears may hurt, so you will need Tylenol in your carry-on.
- Babies under 2 fly free! What? Free!
2. Do your research to prepare in advance.
- If you are flying, read up or make a phone call to make sure you have all the information you need. Fifteen minutes consulting with Southwest Airlines last year gave me all the information I needed! A wonderful representative gave me some great tips for flying with a baby, explained the paperwork needed for a lap passenger, helped me understand where my car seat and stroller played into checked baggage, and gave me great confidence for flying with my 9-month-old last summer.
- If you are going the car route, plan your trip well. Research where construction sites are, pick up maps and brochures for attractions along the way, and have a plan. Stopping at a rest stop can get old on a long trip, but getting to see the nation’s largest papier maché peach can add a little variety to your monotony.
3. Arrange the best time to travel.
- Think about your normal daily routine. It will be most pleasant for everyone involved if the baby sleeps as much as possible during the trip. Our son, as well as many other babies, sleeps well in moving cars. If you can, start the trip during his best sleeping hours. For our 4-hour trip to grandma’s, we love to start the trip at bedtime (8 p.m.) and enjoy getting in at midnight with a sleeping baby to transfer to the pack and play.
- Stick to as normal a routine as possible and make clear transitions when the activity is changing. During your trip, when it is nap time, follow your normal pre-nap routine. For our family, this means a stop at a rest stop. We take a few minutes to let our baby out of the car seat to stretch. We stop and read a few books, as per our normal routine, and sing a song. We do our pre-nap time kisses and buckle him back in. I then move to the front seat to make it obvious my job is no longer to entertain him. Then when nap time is over, we make another stop to play for a few minutes. I then move to the back seat to show him it is play time again.
- Babies thrive with routines, so stick to your sleep, play, and eating schedule as much as you can, even if that means driving overnight.
- If you are flying, consider the times of flights available to you. Remember that you will need to arrive at the airport significantly before your flight and you will need time to collect your luggage after you land. Think about how those times may conflict with nap times, eating times, and any other scheduled activities. Your fellow passengers will thank you!
4. Vary your activities.
- Plan to entertain!
- If you are flying, you will be limited as to what you can bring, so pick favorites. Choose the toys you can count on to entertain your baby for the longest periods of time. Also consider the noise factor of your toys if you are flying. Your neighbor may not appreciate “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for the umpteenth time as much as your toddler.
- If you are driving, pack LOTS of toys and books.
- Switch out toys before the baby loses complete interest and throws a fit! We rotate through books, quiet toys, toys with music, CDs from the library, and even a little Daniel Tiger.
- Keep the next activity coming. A new CD saved the day on one of our trips, so look for things you may not do every day.
- Snacks will also save the day. Our last teen missions trip was rescued by a container of puffs and a few choruses of any kids’ song our teens could come up with!
- However you get to your destination, remember that new toys are always a bit more exciting just because they are new. Visit the Dollar Tree or look for low priced items at Wal-Mart and buy a few new things for your trip. Stagger their unveiling at a pace that will last the entire duration of your travels, and remember the trip back. Spending $10 on the front end of your trip may keep your child entertained for those 20 minutes you lost sitting in a construction zone.
5. Plan what equipment you’ll pack.
Babies require stuff. LOTS of stuff. Here are a few things you should definitely pack:
- Sleeping apparatus. A pack and play can save you from getting to the hotel after all the cribs are spoken for (this happened to me once and I will never be caught in that lurch again!)
- Laundry detergent. If packing space is limited and you will have access to laundry facilities, pack some detergent. That way you will not need 3 outfits for every day—just in case!
- Whether traveling by car or plane, have an extra outfit handy for baby and all adults traveling with you. A dirty outfit for mom and child can make for a miserable last leg of any trip.
- A car seat. Necessary and well worth it for baby to be in his usual car seat amidst everything else new.
- Diapers can be packed or purchased when you arrive. If you need to save space, pack what you need for the trip (and several extra!) and buy a box when you get there.
- Bath seats take space. A towel rolled up for a head rest will suffice if your baby is not yet sitting up.
- A stroller can be helpful, depending on what you will be doing on your vacation. If your baby is small, a wrap or baby carrier can be another option, but be mindful that transfer of the baby carrier will be more work than transferring the stroller to grandma.
- Think through your daily routine and consider any other equipment you use and could not live without. If the item is large, try to think through a small option. Remember that your trip will not last forever, so less is better. I am a firm believer that I can live without anything for a week.
6. Leave extra time on both ends!
Your trip will take more time than you think. Plan to leave for the airport a half an hour earlier than you think you should. Plan to get to the car rental counter earlier than you would have as a single traveler. Count on unexpected traffic or a detour delaying your trip. Expect your baby to have a major diaper blowout 10 minutes before you get to your hotel. Count on it happening and it will not ruin your vacation.
You can remember these planning strategies as TRAVEL:
- T–Transportation mode
- R–Read Up!
- A–Arrange the best time to travel
- V–Vary your activities
- E–Equipment to pack
- L–Leave extra time on both ends
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