How to Successfully Travel with a Baby
Traveling with a baby doesn’t have to be a nightmare. The key to a successful trip is to change your expectations, plan ahead, and be flexible.
In Everett’s 9-months, he has traveled quite a bit. Along the way, we have discovered a few tips that have saved our sanity. We took three major trips this year with a few smaller trips in between. Everett did quite well during flights but struggled on the road trips.
Boston, MA: Everett was 4-months-old. The flight was 2-hours long. We spent one week there, stayed in a hotel, and used Uber to get around. We brought his car seat and stroller.
Alaskan Cruise: Everett was 7-months-old. We drove 4 hours to Chicago (horrible traffic + a screaming baby), stayed in a hotel for one night, took the shuttle to the airport, then had a 6-hour flight to Anchorage. We then took a 1.5 bus ride to Whittier. The cruise was 7 days long. On the way back, we took a tram to the airport and then we had a 4.5-hour flight to Chicago. We decided to drive the rest of the way home that night, instead of getting a hotel. We didn’t need our car seat on the cruise and brought a smaller travel stroller.
Northern MN: Everett was 7.5-months-old. We planned on driving the 14 hours to my family’s cabin but realized that we might not survive the non-stop crying. ;) We ended up flying from Lansing to Minneapolis - which is about a 1-hour flight. The bummer is that we had a 3-hour delay. Once we arrived in MN, we had a 4.5-hour drive to the cabin. On the way back, we left early in the morning, drove 4.5 hours to one of my friend’s homes and they brought us to the airport. This time we didn’t have a flight delay, so that was awesome!
Traveling with a baby can be exceptionally fun and memorable - you get to slow down and enjoy the simple things, you see the world in a new light, and you get a break from your day-to-day routine. Here are a few things to consider to make your trip as enjoyable as possible.
Planning Your Trip with Baby
As people who have always loved to travel, Nate and I knew that we didn’t want to give up visiting friends and family or seeing new places once Everett arrived. I will say, however, that it’s good to have a balance! We planned a few too many trips this summer and got a bit burnt out. We have learned that it would be better to space the trips out more.
Space your trips out: When planning a trip, or multiple trips, take into account what you have going on the rest of the month. It’s good not to cram too much in and to give yourself time at home to recover. - Yes, you will need to recover after a “vacation” with your baby. If you plan too many trips back-to-back, you may feel overwhelmed by having a lack of a routine, sleep challenges, and the constant packing/unpacking. With that said, we don’t regret any of our trips - we just won’t plan so many so close together in the future.
Think strategically about flight times: If you’re booking a 7 am flight, remember that might mean you are leaving your house at 4 am. We did that multiple times this year, and while it turned out fine, we did feel a little silly waking Everett up. With that said, we knew we all functioned better getting up early rather than traveling late at night. Give yourself extra time to get to the airport - you never know when an unexpected stop will come up when traveling with a baby. Also, if you have a connecting flight, make sure you have a long enough layover. Running through the airport with a baby and all your luggage is the last thing you want to do.
Pay attention to time changes: While many blogs told us to start getting Everett on the new time zone a week before our trip, we decided we didn’t want to mess with his sleep sooner than necessary. However, do whatever is best for you and your baby. The time difference between Michigan and Alaska was four hours. My biggest tip is to have a game plan for how you want to handle the time change, but be flexible to adjust to your baby’s needs. On the cruise, we had a fancy dinner every evening around 6 pm. That meant we didn’t get back to our room until nearly 8 pm (12 am MI time). We decided it was best for us to just go with the flow and be on Alaskan time. With that said, every morning on the cruise, Everett would wake up at 3 am and couldn’t go back to sleep on his own. We would bring him into bed with us, I would nurse him, and he would snooze until 5ish.
Tips for Flying with a Baby
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.
Bring at least one bottle of milk for your baby - it will be handy to have that option while going through security, etc. Security may have to run a test on the outside of the bottle, but they won’t do anything to the milk.
Put all of your liquids (if possible) in your checked luggage, that way, you don’t have to mess with the 3oz containers in your carry-on. - Make sure you bring items like Infant Motrin or Tylenol, etc., I always bring a thermometer, Gripe Water, etc.
Check your car seat and stroller at the luggage counter. Make sure you buy heavy-duty travel bags for your car seat and stroller. Otherwise, they will get beaten up. - If you prefer, you can take your stroller through security, but you will have to check it at the gate/as you get on the plane. Either way, you want to make sure you have a good quality bag - the bags will get dirty and beat up, but that’s better than your expensive car seat and stroller taking a beating. We enjoyed checking as much luggage as we could at the counter, so we didn’t have to juggle it. **When you arrive at baggage claim, if you don’t see your car seat, check the Oversized Baggage section.
Ask if the airport has a nursing room. The Vancouver airport did and it was fantastic! I had never thought of asking for one before.
Use a baby-carrier as you walk through the airport. Best way to keep your hands free and baby happy.
Either board right away - when they invite people who need extra time OR don’t board until everyone else has gotten on the plane. — Just don’t get on in the middle of the pack. :) - So, we’ve done this both ways. Getting on early can be nice if you really need to snag a spot for overhead luggage. However, if you get on the plane early, that just means you are going to have to keep your baby contained and happy for longer. If you wait until you’re the last to board, your little one will have more time to stretch out, see interesting things, nap, etc. I think this is what we will choose to do from now on.
Bring snacks for you and baby, and make sure you get water for you once you’re through security.
Nurse or give your baby a bottle during takeoff/landing. The sucking movement will help their ears with the pressure. - You can also use a pacifier.
A week or two before your trip, set aside some of your baby’s favorite toys and books. - That way, you can bring them on the flight and they will seem like new for your little one.
Dress in comfortable layers. I don’t know about you, but the combination of being stressed, running around the airport, and managing a baby has the potential to make me sweat. (I’m so glamorous, I know). Your best bet is to dress in layers - as a bonus, you can use a layer or a scarf as a pseudo nursing cover if needed.
Sit in the window seat. For all of our flights, I sat in the window seat with Nate or my sister-in-law in the middle seat next to me. This allowed me to nurse in private and also to have the window as a distraction for Everett when he got bored. I also changed his diaper fairly easily on my lap. (I never used it, but I was told that some first-class bathrooms have a changing table that you can use - just ask your flight attendant).
Ask for an extra empty plastic cup when they bring around snacks/drinks. Leave it to babies to be the more fascinated with a free plastic cup than all of their toys.
Take walks - it’s good for you to get up and walk around and baby might like a change of scenery.
Take turns with your spouse/travel partners. - Nate and I always take turns holding the baby - that way one person can have a break and relax. Bring high-quality headphones! Also, when we traveled with Nate’s entire family to Alaska, it was super helpful because they all wanted to hold the baby. It kept it more interesting and fun for him.
Pack a specific bag that only has the stuff you need on for the flight. That way, you will spend less time searching for things and can stay more organized.
Tips for Taking a Road Trip with a Baby
Give yourself extra time to make well-planned stops. While Nate and I usually like to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, we’ve found it’s more enjoyable to take more relaxed approach to road trips now that Everett is with us. That being said, if baby is asleep or happy, KEEP DRIVING! We only make stops when absolutely necessary and then we use them wisely. - Walking around, changing E’s diaper, getting food/drinks, etc. It’s okay to take time to let baby play and get a break from the car. However, we have found that if baby is asleep or content, that we keep driving as long as possible ;)
Have another bag of reserved toys. The goal is to keep baby happy and entertained.
Try to plan your drive time around when baby will be napping. Some parents drive through the night - we have not tried that yet.
Bring a variety of snacks - specifically ones that can be eaten slowly.
Pack plenty of water for you and for baby.
Have an arsenal of baby songs to sing. There have been several road trips where the only thing that has stopped Everett’s crying, is Old McDonald.
One final thing regarding getting ready to travel - you probably don’t need as much stuff as you think. For every trip we have gone on, I packed too many clothes for both Everett and myself. They can wear the same pjs a few nights in a row, you will likely put your baby in the same sweatshirt that you love multiple times, and if need be, you can buy anything you forgot or need. We also have had diapers shipped to where we are traveling or just bought them once we arrived.
All in all, traveling with a baby can be thoroughly enjoyable and of course, memorable. We will always cherish our memories of Everett’s first few trips. Sure, there were times when things didn’t go well, or I had to adjust my expectations, but all in all, the trips were successful.
As always, when traveling with a baby, take a deep breath, focus on the moment, and let go of any preconceived expectations.