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Having babies doesn’t mean traveling needs to be put on hold. Here are some things we have learned during our 200+ hours/100,000 miles of traveling with babies that we hope will help encourage you to get out and travel with young children.
Just go. You’ll figure everything out along the way and return with cherished memories. Once you have that first trip under your belt, subsequent trips won’t seem as daunting and you’ll have more confidence to explore further.
Start with a Staycation
Before embarking on a long journey, if possible, start with a staycation. If you’re anything like us, you’ll probably bring the whole nursery with you on this first getaway. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn which items are truly necessary and what can be left at home.
Babies Fly Free Until 2
Take advantage of most airlines permitting infants under the age of 2 to fly free on domestic flights if riding on your lap. On international flights, lap infants generally cost ~10% of the total ticket price. Checkout services like Airfarewatchdog to get notifications when flight deals arise to your favorite destinations.
You can go hiking with your baby, maneuver through congested crowds, airports and narrow paths, and stroll around Europe’s cobbled streets with ease with your baby attached to your chest in a baby carrier. It has the added benefit of preventing well-intentioned strangers from touching your baby.
The K’tan Baby Wrap (my personal favorite), made entirely of fabric, has a simplistic design that goes around your neck and then crisscrosses under the baby’s legs. It easily squeezes into backpacks/diaper bags and is great for discreetly nursing-on-the-go. I never left/leave home without it with a baby under 18 months old. If the baby isn’t in it while we are wandering, the wrap is usually around my neck hanging down like a loose scarf.
As the baby gets heavier and older, carriers such as the Ergo Baby Carrier provide greater support and stability for hiking and long walks.
Hotels have Cribs!
One less thing to tote around with you is the bulky Pack n Play. Most hotels (especially the large chain hotels) have cribs or Pack n Plays available that you can use for free. Of the 100+ hotel rooms we have stayed in since having babies, most will provide one for free. Only a few charged a small fee. I contact the hotel as soon as I make the reservation to reserve the crib/Pack n Play as they are first come, first serve. If we are arriving late, I call the hotel the morning of to request the crib be in our room upon our arrival.
Hotels.com, Airbnb, and Vrbo all have a “crib” filter option that will show you properties that supply cribs or Pack n Plays. I have found a couple of hotels that had cribs available even though it wasn’t designated as having cribs under the filter option. I typically do searches with and without this filter in case I fall in love with a hotel that doesn’t show up as having cribs, and then contact the hotel directly to confirm.
Booking.com doesn’t presently have a “crib” filter option (at least not one that I noticed), but whether the hotel has a crib clearly shows up while browsing through the hotel options. If you search TripAdvisor reviews, you will likely find a review about the type of baby crib/Pack n Play available, if any.
When our son was a baby, we traveled everywhere with a fold-able portable mattress that fit in our checked baggage because he was uncomfortable with the mattresses provided by the hotels. We have never needed it with our daughter.
Maintain Bedtime Routine
Babies only understand so much. Before plopping them in a new bed in a strange place, I show them where they are sleeping and where we are sleeping and I assure them we are super close and will be with them all night. I mimic our at-home bedtime routine as identically as possible to help the transition.
Darken the Room
Babies sleep better and longer in a dark room, especially in a new environment. Many hotels — especially the chain hotels — have blackout curtains. If blackout curtains aren’t available, taping black trash bags to the windows with painter’s tape will darken the brightest room. We have reused the same bags on multiple trips.
If you sleep in a separate room from your baby at home, finding a suite with a separate living area and/or bedroom may make the world of difference for sleep quality and quantity. If this isn’t an option, you may be able to squeeze the crib/Pack n Play into the closet or bathroom (after confirming the room is well ventilated), which provides a dark and quiet room for your baby.
Remember to check for nightlights in the bathroom you may need to block. If the baby is in the bathroom, this typically means you will need to walk down to the lobby for late night restroom trips, but it may be worth it if your baby sleeps through the night. Having a separate room and/or balcony provides the opportunity to enjoy the evening and a glass of wine after the baby is asleep.
If you want to leave the car seat behind, many car rental companies will supply them for a charge per car seat per day. While the car seats are really heavy and bulky, we always bring our own as I’d be too anxious about the quality, condition and/or availability to rent one.
Lugging the car seat around will save you money as most airlines will check the car seat for free. As we were preparing for our first flight ever with a baby, we bought a cheap car seat bag that got completely destroyed by the bag handlers. We then purchased the J.L. Childress Ultimate Backpack Padded Car Seat Travel Bag, and the padding has protected our car seats on dozens of flights. While the car seat is still really heavy, the bag wears as a giant backpack making it as easy to tote around as is possible. The bag also provides more space to stuff extra dry food and diapers.
Strollers Checked at the Gate
Most airports allow you to roll the stroller all the way up to the gate and then gate-check it. The airports that required us to check the stroller with the rest of our checked luggage had airport strollers available.
TSA has modified screening procedures for travelers with young children. While it takes a lot longer to pass through, we have brought pureed foods, milk and a cooler full of ice through security. Before traveling with little Winetravelers, read TSA’s procedures for traveling with children. TSA’s procedures state that “[i]nfants may be carried in a sling through the walk-through metal detector . . .”, but it has been a coin-toss whether I have been requested to remove my infant in the sling. I have only insisted on keeping the baby in the sling if the baby was sleeping. You will need to remove the baby from the sling/carrier during take-off and landing.
Food, Food, and More Snacks
Bring however much food you think your littles will need, and then just keep adding food wherever you have room as hungry babies and toddlers become inconsolable. I stuff bread, crackers, and other dry food in our car seat bag, and then stuff our carry on with extra food. Airlines sometimes run out of dinners and unforeseen delays are common, so I always like to be prepared. I select hotels with restaurants on-site or that have restaurants/grocery stores nearby to ensure food is always readily accessible.
Selecting a Plane Seat
There are many pros and cons as you decide where to sit on the plane. An aisle seat provides more flexibility to move around, but it also means you may need to move at an inopportune time for the other passengers in your row. The bulkhead seats provide more legroom, but the armrests don’t move and it’s a more trafficked area (i.e., louder and more commotion that may disturb a sleeping baby).
Many international flights have baby bassinets available but are first come, first serve, with a small supply and are only available if you’re sitting behind the bulkhead.
The weight limitation varies by airline and is typically only for babies less than ~20-25 pounds. You will need to remove your baby from the cot whenever the seat-belt lights turn on. If you’re interested in the bassinet seat, you will likely need to secure this seat early, and you may need to pay extra for it. We only sat behind the bulkhead while traveling with 1 baby. By the time we had baby number 2, being able to move the armrests to allow our toddler to lay flat has been a lifesaver on longer flights.
The time of the flight can make a big difference. Our babies have done better preserving nighttime sleep so we always pick late morning or midday flights when traveling domestically. We only fly overnight when traveling across multiple time zones.
I found the hardest time to travel via plane with a baby to be between ~9-18 months old. When they are itty bitty, while they are sweet and cuddly and you’re always exhausted, they don’t do much and sleep a lot. As their daily sleep needs decrease and they become mobile, every 5 minutes of entertainment feels like a win. During this stage, you can never bring too many toys. I pack favorite toys a week early so when I bring them out on the plane it’s practically brand new all over again.
When they are ~18+ months old, their attention span increases and they may even watch part or all of a movie. Stickers, Imagine Ink Coloring Books, and regular coloring books have been great plane activities.
If you’re switching multiple time zones, expect at least the first two nights to be rough with a baby under 2. Traveling several time zones is very difficult for babies since their tummies are so tiny. When they wake in the middle of the night, they are starving for dinner. I fill them up with their favorite foods during the new awake hours.
When our babies woke up ready to party in the middle of the night, I helped them adjust to several time zone changes by holding them in the dark, and nursing/feeding them as needed. As painful as it is to wake a sleeping baby, I woke them up in the morning at their normal wake-time and capped daytime naps. I kept them outside with the bright sunlight as much as possible during the day and stretched them as close to possible to their ordinary nap and bedtimes. Both our babies adjusted beautifully by night 3 on our trips (even when we switched 14 time zones when our son was 14 months old). Instituting the same process when we returned home has been an easier adjustment.
For all the nursing moms, I have felt like I could take my babies anywhere knowing they could eat so long as we were together. If you’re traveling with a pump, consider leaving the bulky electric pump at home and try a cheap manual hand pump. After traveling with the NUK hand pump, I never went back to the electric pump, not even at home. The hand pump is easy to transport, has less parts to clean, and for me, it was more efficient without needing to be connected to an outlet. I have had to replace it every 8-10 weeks, which is still significantly cheaper than replacing the expensive parts from the electric pump every couple of months. The Lansinoh and Medela Manual Breast Pumps are popular options.
Portable Potty Seat
If you’re traveling with a newly potty trained toddler, traveling with a lightweight, easy to clean foldable toilet seat that covers the public toilet seat may help tremendously.
Before traveling during pregnancy, I discussed travel plans with my doctor and then scheduled an appointment immediately preceding the trip to ensure I still had his blessing. I mapped out nearby hospitals in case of emergency, and confirmed the extent of medical insurance for international travels.
You should also check your airline’s rules for pregnant travelers. Many airlines prohibit expectant mothers from flying by 36 weeks pregnant for longer and international flights. The cutoff date is typically later for shorter and domestic flights. You may need a doctor’s note or other form(s) completed by your doctor confirming your due date and that you’re fit to travel. I brought one as a precaution while flying during the third trimester.
While flying (especially during the third trimester), drink lots of water, wear compression leggings and stretch your ankles and legs throughout the flight to avoid/reduce swelling.