Traveling with a baby or young child can be an interesting experience to say the least. Spending hours in a car or plane, nights in a hotel, and being surrounded by unfamiliar faces will undoubtedly have an impact on your child’s routine, and your child will likely have trouble adapting to this change. This doesn’t mean that travel has to stop altogether, it just means that you have to change the way you travel to fit the baby’s needs, as well as your own.
Despite the unpredictability of traveling with a small child, there are several things that you can do to help your baby (and yourself!) adapt to changes and enjoy new travel experiences.
BEFORE YOU GO:
Consider your needs when booking your vacation
Traveling with a young child requires a lot of preparation because babies have a lot of needs. You are going to want to think through every leg of your trip when researching, planning, and booking lodging, transportation, and everything in between.
When selecting lodging, think about your child’s current routine at home—Does your child require frequent naps in a quiet, isolated space? Will having the whole family sleep in one room ensure that nobody gets any sleep? Do you plan on cooking meals, rather than going out? Will the pack and play take up a lot of space? Consider all of these needs when booking a room/apartment/house for your vacation. Is there a hotel located close to attractions you are hoping to visit? Does the hotel offer suites with multiple rooms? Will it offer a kitchenette? Will you require a refrigerator to store breast milk? How will you baby proof the room? Does the room have a bathtub or sink large enough to bathe your child? These things may cost you a little more, but if they reduce stress for you and the family, it’s worth it.
How will travel work with your baby? If you are planning to drive, chances are you already have the necessary restraints and child seats necessary. If you’re planning to fly, be sure to research airline safety recommendations for flying with a young child, and requirements for travelling with strollers, child seats, bags, etc.
You will also want to consider what your child will need once you arrive at your destination—if you’re renting a car, what kind of car seat will you need to rent? Where can you rent a stroller if necessary? Will the hotel provide a crib? Does it have bumpers? Find out so you can plan your packing accordingly.
Locate the nearest hospital/ER/ Pediatrician’s office to your lodging. Hopefully you will never need this information, but you certainly do not want to be left without this knowledge should a need arise. I would also recommend that you carry your own pediatrician’s number to contact him/her if necessary.
Practice before you try it
How will your baby sleep? Using a pack and play can be the easiest way to make your child comfortable sleeping while away from home, but it will likely take a few nights for your child to adapt to sleeping in this environment if he/she is not used to it. Have your child sleep in the pack and play at home for several nights prior to your trip to build familiarity.
Getting ready to spend a lot of time walking through crowded parks or museums? Will you bring a stroller or wear your child? Have you practiced maneuvering that stroller through similarly crowded areas? Is your child accustomed to being worn? I would definitely encourage you to try these things out. Some strollers, while comfortable and convenient in your daily routine, can become cumbersome and stressful in a new environment. Wearing your baby may put more strain on your back than is comfortable. These are all things you will want to know before you begin travel!
Is your child entranced by the iPad, but accustomed to playing a game or watching a show with sound? Have him/her practice wearing headphones at home prior to your trip. Headphones can be an easy solution, but they can also take some getting used to if they are new. Practicing at home will help you understand how your child reacts to the headphones and will give you an idea of whether or not the iPad is a good idea for your trip.
Does your child have a favorite comfort item that they can’t sleep without? A stuffed animal? Sound machine? Blanket? Book? Pack this first! You do not want to risk leaving home without the one item that your child cannot live without. If possible, track down multiples of this same item because inevitably, the original item will get left at the hotel, unknowingly dropped from the stroller, or damaged beyond repair—Trust me, I speak from experience here. If you are flying, be sure to check the TSA guidelines on what items are (or are not) allowed on your flight. Confiscated teddy bears will not do much good, but a comfort item can do a lot to calm a child’s nerves during take-off, landing, and potential turbulence.
If you are flying, you will want to pack as many of baby’s essential items as possible in a carry on. You do not want to risk having certain items get lost in airport transit—trying to find new pacifiers, diapers, change of clothes, in a new city can create a lot of stress that you do not want on your trip! You never know what kind of mess a baby will create, so don’t forget to pack an extra change of clothes for yourself too!
Pack clothes that allow for easy diaper changing. Sure, those overalls and high top boots look cute, but they can make changing a diaper difficult. When you are traveling, you are going to want to be as time efficient as possible. Onesies and stretchy pants are wonderfully simple. If your child is young enough, you may choose to simply forgo the shoes altogether.
In addition to baby’s normal toiletry needs, it’s a good idea to also pack some “emergency” items—baby Tylenol or ibuprophen, dissolvable teething tablets, thermometer, etc. Traveling will expose your child to a wealth of new and exciting germs, and you just never know what might happen.
ON YOUR JOURNEY:
Get the wiggles out
Before boarding a flight or hopping in the car, give your child a chance to get his/her wiggles out. Baby wants to crawl all over the airport while you are waiting to board? Let him! Trying to hold baby on your lap while you wait, then trying to baby on your lap while you fly will make him fussy and upset! But if your child is tired by go time, it will be a much more pleasant trip for everyone!
Travel friendly entertainment
Is there anything more uncomfortable than the disapproving side-eye from a fellow plane passenger when your child starts banging on the tray table, kicking the seat in front of you, or throwing hard plastic toys at strangers? When traveling with other people, you want to keep your child’s comfort in mind, but also avoid confrontation. Cheap, quiet activities can be an easy solution that will leave everyone happy. Felt puzzles, plush toys, coloring books, or even the iPad are examples of potential alternatives.
Snacks on snacks!
Do not, under any circumstances, leave home without snacks! Goldfish, applesauce squeeze packets, cheerios—whatever is easy to pack, easy to clean, and delicious to your child should make it into the front pocket of your most easily accessible luggage. Have these items within reach at all times. Pack more than you think your child could ever possibly eat by himself. Travel is not always conducive to your child’s normal eating schedule, but these snacks can help ease the hunger beasts until you have the opportunity to have a more substantial meal.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE:
Listen to your baby’s needs
Is your little one tired from the trip and in need of a nap? Head straight to the hotel and try to catch some Zs. Is the baby hungry and in need of a big meal? Grab some food. Listen to your child’s needs, as well as your own. Traveling can be exhausting and stressful, and if you are feeling it, your baby is too. This may require you to shift slightly from your normal routine, but you and baby will adjust—I (almost) guarantee it!
Unpack as soon as possible
As soon as you reach your destination, do everything you can to make your temporary space feel like home. Set up the pack and play, create a space for your child’s toys, put that favorite blanket on the bed. The new space will never be the same as your home, but the more you can make it feel familiar, the faster your child will adjust to the new environment. Setting up convenient spaces for adults—an improvised baby changing station, food prep area, closet—can help you adjust to the changes that come with traveling with a young child.
Adjust to the time change
Recovering from jet lag can be a nightmare for even the most seasoned adult. Since children don’t have a strong understanding of time, this can be another strain on parents. Nobody’s internal clock will automatically adjust to a new time zone. Try shifting your day—stay up a little later than usual, get up a little earlier (or the other way around, depending on how you need your body to shift). Get plenty of exercise to ensure your body is tired and ready for sleep when you need it to be.
Stick to your routine as much as possible
Travel is going to have an impact on you and baby, no matter what you do. But one way to help ease the struggle is to try to keep routines as familiar as possible. Do you give baby a bath and read a story before bedtime? Continue this when you arrive at your destination. If you usually eat breakfast at home as a family, try to simulate this while traveling. Naps, meals, and family time—these things are essential to your daily routine. The more closely you can stick to your schedule, the better off you (and baby) will be!
This may seem like it is coming in direct opposition to the “stick to your routine” suggestion, but as any parent knows, as much as you try to stick to a routine, sometimes it’s just impossible. Don’t try to schedule every second of your trip because inevitably, your baby will have a bad day and need to spend some time snuggling and relaxing in the room. This is just part of traveling with a baby. Enjoy the time cuddling; the attractions will still be there when baby is feeling better.
When you are in a new place, finding the nearest baby changing table or breast-feeding room can be nearly impossible. You may have to get creative with your solutions.
Breast-feeding is allowed anywhere that you are legally allowed to be. Do not let anyone tell you any different, or make you feel guilty for feeding your child.
Keeping a baby-changing mat in your diaper bag will allow you to transform any location into a baby changing station—park benches, museum floors, even your lap. Baby’s needs come first, and you can always clean up with disinfecting wipes if necessary.
Travel can introduce your child to a wealth of new experiences. Baby may get to see or do things that he/she has never seen or done before. This can be exciting for the child, and you as a parent. Be sure to take a lot of pictures and soak in all of the fun!
Traveling with a baby can be a challenge, but that does not mean that travel has to stop altogether. Children are creatures of habit and routine, but they are also remarkably adaptable. By doing plenty of research, planning ahead, and considering all of your needs as a family, you can continue to travel with your child and enjoy a world of new adventures!