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Babies. We love them. They’re cute. But successfully traveling with babies requires a special skill set they don’t hand out at the hospital. Whether you’re flying or driving, visiting family or a new city, here are the baby travel tips you need when planning a trip with an infant.
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Packing for babies is always a balance of taking enough stuff but not too much. One universal tip — take extra clothes! You’ll want to be prepared for blowouts, milk spills, chilly weather, and anything else that comes your way. If you’re flying, be sure to include extra changes of clothes in your carry-on bag — for the baby and for you.
While our family tried not to pack our entire house for every trip, we did find it worthwhile to keep some ultra-portable baby gear with us. We found collapsible high chairs and packable toddler tents helpful as we went from place to place. Be warned: unless you’re sure that your destination has exactly what you need, be prepared to bring it with you. (I’ll never forget the taxi company saying they could provide an infant seat and showing up with a booster seat for a five-year-old!)
On the Plane
The best preparation for a successful plane ride happens early. When booking your ticket, check the layout of the plane to determine what will work best for your family. If you decide to book a seat for your infant, you’ll need to bring a car seat to keep them safe (be sure to check if your car seat will fit in a narrow airplane seat). Some planes offer bulkhead seating with extra bassinets for young infants — call ahead to find out weight limits and reservation requirements.
For the flight, remember to keep liquid on hand for air pressure changes during take-off. (You can nurse or offer a bottle of formula, or try water or juice for older babies.) Once you are on the plane, here’s the key — do whatever you can to keep that baby happy, not just for your fellow passengers, but for your own sanity. Try toys, books, walks down the aisle, and endless games of peekaboo. If your baby is happy watching Daniel Tiger or other children’s shows, do it. I promise that I won’t tell the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the Car
Car travel with infants is both harder and easier than plane travel. While you can control when you stop and take breaks for more supplies, you can’t hold your baby or take a walk up and down aisles. I’m going to be honest here — when my kids were babies, they were great at car rides. However, some little ones seem to hate the car no matter how well their parents prepare. For that situation, I’m going to return to my flight advice: do whatever you can to keep that baby happy. Generally, I’m a fan of avoiding TV until children are over age 2. But on a long car ride? Do what you need to do.
Stock up on board books and small, easily washable baby toys to keep with you in the front seat. Then hand them out one at a time to keep your kiddo occupied. See how much mileage you can get out of Sophie the Giraffe before handing over teether keys or the Look, Look! book.
When You Arrive
When you get to your destination, take a minute to scope out the lay of the land. This means figuring out the best place to restock baby food and diapers. It may also mean looking up the local kids’ consignment stores or baby equipment rental services in case you need to find an emergency car seat or an extra pair of toddler pants.
Set aside space in your hotel room or guest room to take care of the essentials. Make sure you have a nap area (for you and the kiddo) and a quiet area to nurse or pump if you’re breastfeeding. You may want to create a small washing station by the sink for rinsing bottles or clothes. If your baby is crawling or walking, check for accessible outlets and watch for any fall hazards (you can even bring a few plug covers with you for extra safety).
I’ll never forget flying through Heathrow and getting an incredulous look from a security person as they opened all my sealed baby food and threw it away. Apparently, it was too close to liquid to fit within security guidelines.
If you’re flying with an older baby who needs solid foods, you may find it challenging to carry meals and snacks that are security-friendly. Here’s where two special foods are your friend — bananas and applesauce. You’re likely to find at least one of these in any airport (probably at the Starbucks), and if you’re lucky, you may even find small cartons of organic milk. Keep a spoon in your carry-on bag to help you serve the applesauce and slice/mash the bananas.
This tip also works well when you’re exploring a new city, wandering around a theme park, or visiting relatives or friends. Keep bananas, applesauce, and other soft foods in mind if you’ve exhausted your snack supplies earlier in the day and find yourself at dinner with no baby food.
DON’T MISS! How to Survive a Vacation in Europe with a Baby
When we took our one-year-old to Europe, we prepped ahead of time to prevent jet lag by gradually moving his sleep schedule up until bedtime happened in the afternoon. We thought this was a brilliant idea — until we got onto a loud, bright, noisy plane that kept him awake for hours past his new bedtime.
Flexibility and low expectations are the keys to surviving bedtimes while traveling. With my oldest son, I was all about the schedule. On most trips, we tried to stick with standard nap times and mealtimes. And guess what? When we were 7 hours off of our normal timezone, that didn’t work. Routines are awesome for kids, and if you can stick to regular naps and meals, fantastic! But if your baby is cranky in the middle of the night and threatening to wake all the neighbors, don’t worry about whether an extra snack or playtime is going to disrupt the schedule. Go into the trip prepared for unexpected bedtime bumps, you’ll be able to roll with whatever happens.
Successfully traveling with babies requires a special skill set they don’t hand out at the hospital. For instance, packing is always a balance of taking enough stuff but not too much.
Out and About
Here is one of the most important keys to traveling with an infant — the stroller. When you’re on a family trip, the stroller becomes your portable baby headquarters. It doubles as a high chair, a nap mat, and a storage unit. Trust me, the stroller is your friend.
When choosing which stroller to take on your trip, look for lightness and durability. For our travels, we wanted a stroller that was strong enough to use on cobblestone streets and light enough to carry easily (we ended up choosing a Maclaren — bonus points for the handy carrying strap). We added a pocket organizer and a clip for increased storage and found that we could take everything we needed for days full of adventures.
When traveling with infants, we encountered strangers who were delighted to help us onto subway cars and flight attendants ready to offer an extra set of arms. Everywhere we went with our babies, I was encouraged by the kindness and patience of everyone we met. Traveling with a little one can be tough, but it’s also a great way to see a beautiful, hopeful side of the world.
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