Taking Your Wee One on the Road!
Parents often ask me what I think about them traveling with their tiny human. As a family with grandparents who never lived in the same state we did, this was a fact of life from early on for our us! We did plane trips and road trips from the beginning, and consequently have kids who LOVE to travel and are always itching for the next adventure. So, travel with babies? No regrets!
But how do you make it feasible? I mean, babies are a LOT! True. And there are some things you can do to make your adventures way easier. Read on!
Mix the novel and the familiar: ensure everyone's sanity by packing blankie and/or best stuffy (and the spare blankie and/or next best stuffy). But travel is also a great time to bring along a new toy or book that baby will find engaging.
Snacks! Snacks for everyone! The last thing you want is a hangry parent or baby...or to have to stop your car if the baby is finally asleep.
Think ahead about how you want to handle time changes. This will depend on the severity of the change (2 hours looks very different than 8 hours), the length of your trip, and your baby's temperament. We were super fortunate to at least have all the grandparents on the same coast, so it was not something we dealt with until we had older kids. No matter what, trying to get as much natural sunlight as possible, using blackout curtains (or a quilt, etc) when necessary, and maintaining the typical bedtime routine will be helpful. More ideas here: https://walkingontravels.com/while-there/adjusting-to-a-new-time-zone/
Most hotels and many rental properties (AirBnBs, VRBOs) offer baby gear for the asking: port-a-cribs and high chairs at a minimum; occasionally things like strollers, too. Cities usually have services to rent items like these as well (and sometimes more specific gear, like bottle warmers and backpacks), and if you're visiting family, it's time for them to reach out to their community and see what can be temporarily borrowed for your wee one.
LEAVIN' ON A JET PLANE:
When booking your travel, inquire about your airline's policy on unused seats. Although most airlines will allow babes in arms under 2 years old, many airlines will also prioritize empty seats for families with babies to use even if they haven't paid for that seat. If your airline does this, be sure to bring your car seat all the way to the gate in case you're lucky enough to be on a flight that's not full.
Consider WHEN you want to fly. If you have a long flight, night time might be the right time. But a 3-hour journey late in the evening, with the need to collect belongings, grab the rental car and get to your lodging can mess everyone up for days. (And, if you plan on using benadryl to induce sleep, PLEASE check this with your baby first! Most kiddos sleep, but a select subset react the opposite way and will bounce off the walls...that's an uncomfortable discovery to make on an airplane.)
Leave yourself enough time. It's stressful enough to be running to catch a flight, let alone doing it with a small person and all their stuff in tow while trying to get through security! Please plan to arrive at the airport with at least 2 hours before your flight..that means allow extra time for parking offsite, returning a rental car, etc.
Gate check your stroller! Make life easier until the moment you board the plane, then again when you get off, by having a space to put baby, or bags, or a tired older sibling...whatever works!
Divide and conquer. You know how airlines generously allow preboarding for families with kiddos? Use that to your advantage. Have one parent board early with all the kid stuff, get everything stowed, install the carseat (if applicable), ensure you get room in overhead bins! The other parent should board at the last possible moment...don't have your baby on the plane longer than necessary!
Always bring a wearable carrier on board. It doesn't matter if it's a soft wrap (Boba, Moby, Solly, K'tan) or a more structured carrier (Ergo, Tula, Björn), having a way to carry your baby without using your arms is a lifesaver. When your little falls asleep, you can still use the bathroom! You're free to eat with 2 hands! Even if baby has their own seat, they may not want to stay in it the whole time. Additionally, expect that while you will be able to hold baby for take off and landing if you have a lap infant, you may not be able to WEAR them during those times.
Bring a bottle, just in case. Sucking is both a comfort for babies, and helpful for equalizing ear pressure differences that occur during flight, much like chewing gum can be helpful for us. Occasionally, airlines are sticklers about babies being in carseats for takeoff and landing if they have that option. Which means nursing them to relieve ear pressure is not a choice since you also have to be belted in. Having a bottle or pacifier, just in case, will help.
Plan to nurse, a lot (or bring extra breastmilk or formula if you're bottle feeding). Babies get dehydrated with air travel just like we do. So, nursing parent, it's now your job to keep 2 people appropriately hydrated!
Be sure that EVERYONE has spare clothes. For whatever reason, babies like nothing more than to have blowouts on planes. Is it the change in air pressure? The excitement of travel? Who knows, but be prepared! Also, remember zipper bags for your dirties, spare diapers and wipes, plenty of hand sanitizer, and your best yoga moves...airplane bathrooms are tiny.
Timing is everything! Again, WHEN you go will depend a lot on how far you have to go. Try to capitalize on sleep if at all possible, whether it's naps or overnight sleep.
Backseat riding for grownups may be a thing on a road trip, even if it's not in your everyday life. A baby will usually be able to tolerate the car for longer if there's live entertainment sitting right next to them.
Backseat nursing is a thing. It's not dainty or delicate, but it is 100% possible to contort your body to feed a baby while they are strapped in a car seat.
Wherever your family is headed, enjoy your travels and your new adventures! You're beginning a lifetime of fun!
UPDATE: Since the original publishing date in 2018, there are even more gadgets on the market to make travel with kids smoother. Once we ever get to travel again, that is. Reading and updating this one was bittersweet to be sure. I don't miss the days of baby travel, but I miss the days of travel and we still really do enjoy going places as a family. May we all travel safely again soon, and in the meantime, I wish good health for you and yours.