Traveling with kids can be a little complicated. But it's also a chance to make some amazing memories that don't happen at home. Whether you’re taking your first epic road trip with baby, or flying to a foreign country, set yourself up to enjoy your vacay to the fullest by following some friendly advice from parents who’ve walked before you.
- Know the amenities available to you at your destination. This applies to your in-law's house, your second home, an Airbnb, hotel, or even a campsite. For example, if you want baby to sleep in a crib, does the hotel have one you can reserve, and will they have it ready for you in your room when you arrive? When Grandpa says don’t worry about bringing a bed for LO, what does he mean? Where he thinks your little angel will be sleeping may not match your expectations.
- Check the weather. Look at the weather forecast for your destination, or at least be familiar with what the climate is typically like at the time you’re going. This helps you decide what you definitely need to pack, and which items can be left at home.
- List the activities you’d like to do on your trip. Again, this step eases the internal debate over whether you need the complete travel system, which can be a lifesaver during those all-day outings, or if the compact stroller will do for those short sprints to the park, or stopping off at the Farmer’s Market. If you’re taking a mini getaway to a rustic spot, maybe all you need is a baby carrier or baby backpack, so you can travel ultra-light and hit the trail as soon as you arrive. The goal is to calm anxiety about forgetting something essential and prevent you from overpacking.
- Testing testing, 1,2, 3. Make sure you do a run-through with any new gear. The security gate in the airport isn’t where you want to figure out how to fold the stroller. After a long day in the car, when you’re finally checked into your hotel room with a tired, cranky baby isn’t a good time to fuss about popping up the new play yard for the first time. Make sure you practice putting baby in the new carrier you got specifically for the trip before you leave home. You don’t want to discover LO doesn’t fit right or straight up refuses to cooperate as you set out on your planned and paid-for excursion.
- Think EXTRA. Always pack an extra change of clothes for everyone in your carry-on or an easy-to-grab bag in the car. Diaper blow-outs and spit-ups happen. When you’re on the move, it may come from baby but land on anyone close by. Suddenly, you’re two outfits down. Having an extra at the ready is also helpful if your luggage gets lost on a flight, or so you don’t have to completely unload your perfectly packed trunk.
- Plug their ears. If you plan to let LO watch their favorite show on your computer or phone, remember to bring along a set of headphones or earbuds that fit them comfortably. When on a plane, what they offer may not work for baby, and the other passengers won’t want to listen to Cocomelon. On a road trip, headphones for your little companion just might save your sanity, and you can play YOUR fave tunes like the good ol’ days.
If You Hit the Road
- Pack only a few more diapers than you normally need in a day. Check out stores close to your home base and buy diapers once you arrive. The same applies if you need formula or baby food. If the grocery store or one of the large box stores you’re familiar with is near your destination, you don’t have to worry about packing for the whole trip, or running out and ending up in an emergency situation. You can get the supplies you need when you arrive or during your stay.
- Play in the car. Infants won’t be playing games, but you can help pass the time by singing to them, reading a book, and talking to them. Entertain a toddler by surprising them with a new toy, or playing games like I Spy, the Alphabet Game (where you practice identifying words on road signs), and more.
- Schedule pit stops. As much as you may want to get where you’re going, it’s not a race. Break up a long drive with planned stops for eating, going potty, stretching your legs, running a lap around the rest area lawn, and getting some fresh air. You can search beforehand for good places to get lunch or enjoy a roadside attraction, then time your pit stops accordingly.
If You Take to the Sky
- You’re the exception to the rule. Parents often worry about being able to take liquids through security and in your carry-on items. When you’re traveling with a baby, there are exceptions. You’re allowed to bring more than 100 ml of ‘medically-required’ liquids like formula, breast milk, or juice. Just make sure to let the TSA agents know you’re carrying baby supplies and prepare for them to search your bag by hand.
- Have car seat, will travel. You’re allowed to bring your newbie’s car seat as long as it meets FAA regulations and fits into the dimensions of the plane seat. You’ll have to buy a separate ticket for LO to sit in it on the plane. If you want to have your baby under two years old sit on your lap, you don’t have to pay extra for them, and you can check the car seat with the rest of your luggage.
- Stroll with it. If you’re bringing a stroller, you can check it with your luggage. However, you may want to buy a travel bag to keep it in better shape during the trip (same goes for your car seat if you check it). A stroller can be a lifesaver in the airport as a place to keep your tiny traveler comfy and give you a little extra space to store their stuff till it’s time to board. This can be a blessing during flight delays or long layovers. Then, check the stroller at the gate. Sometimes they will send it through with the other luggage that ends up at baggage claim, but often they’ll have it waiting for you when you get off the plane. Just ask the gate attendant what you should expect.
- Full bottle. If you’re bottle-feeding, make sure you have a bottle of water before you board, so you can mix the formula when you need to. A hungry baby and waiting for the beverage cart to go by is not pleasant for anyone on board.
- Suck it. Have a pacifier ready for takeoff and landing. If you don’t use a paci for baby, or they’re not into it, try giving them a bottle or a boob. The sucking motion helps their little ears pop during the altitude change and relieves pressure.
At the Destination Spot
- Make your new space kid-friendly. Baby proof your new home away from home, even if it’s just one hotel room. You don’t want to find out your little explorer has mastered a new set of mobility skills in new surroundings. Plus, anything that is unfamiliar to you is greater cause for distraction. Bring the essentials, and once your setting is safe for baby, you’ll be able to relax more. Check out Babyproofing While Traveling for some tips.
- Forget the crib. Unless your baby dozer must sleep in a crib, opt for a play yard or portable bassinet to make setting up camp easier. It means less fuss, and you won’t be dependent on your hotel or host to provide one.
- Wear baby if possible. Depending on the type of outing you’ve got planned (especially a shorter jaunt or if you’re going on crowded streets), lighten your load by taking the baby carrier instead of the stroller. It’s easier to get around on foot, on public transportation, or up and down stairs. You keep your hands free, and baby’s tucked in and close to you. They can even nap in the carrier while you’re on the go, and if you’re with a partner, you can take turns. The other one can carry a backpack with all your supplies.
- Don’t scrap the nap. If you’ve got baby on a sleep schedule, try to keep it going as best possible on your trip. You worked hard to get into a routine. You don’t want to throw it away on a temporary getaway. That said, it doesn’t mean you have to haul back to the hotel room as the clock strikes naptime. Just plan for a part of your itinerary that allows for LO to snooze in the stroller, or snuggle into the carrier. Go through your ritual of eating, changing the diaper, and rocking as you pause on your outing. Once baby’s in dreamland, you can still take in the sights, a museum, or enjoy time on a park bench. Pro-parent tip: when traveling with an infant, consider buying a travel system, which gets you your car seat and stroller combo designed to work together. A winning combination when you’re traveling.
- Don’t overschedule. So, there’s planning ahead, but then there’s overdoing it. Trying to do too much or stressing about sticking to a schedule doesn’t make for a relaxing vacation. Leave lots of room for flexibility. You can’t plan for every situation, and jet lag can cause kinks in the plan. Be ready to call it a day, and just go back to your space and decompress. The most important thing about your getaway is being there together. If it doesn’t go like the travel brochure describes, that’s just fine. Sometimes, the downtime is the best time. And even the fails turn into some of the best stories you get to tell later.