Sometimes all we want as parents is a brief window of time to step back and re-connect with our families, especially with a newborn. It seems like all the minutiae of the day to day grind once you have gone back to work has robbed you of the valuable family time you once had with your baby and the rest of your family. However, even the task of preparing your baby for even a small trip can be overwhelming. The first step is always the most daunting, and I decided to broach the topic of baby travel at the suggestion of a friend who was desperate for my secrets. Now, I do have an exceptionally good baby, but that really is only part of the battle. Before my daughter Riley was quite a year old, my husband and I did a fair amount of traveling with her. We live in Kentucky, and we have driven to: Lexington, KY to see my sister in a dance recital (2.5 hrs away), Panama City Beach, FL with my parents for our first family vacation (15 hrs away), Richmond, KY to move my other sister into her first EKU dorm room (3 hrs away), and finally to Chester, SC to see my grandparents (8 hrs away). Since then (she’s now almost 4), we have continued to take family vacations and mini-trips on a regular basis. I tell people of our travels, and invariably, the first thing they ask is “How in the world do you keep a baby still that long?”. My usual answer: duct tape. Some people get the humor, others look at me like I’m nuts and quietly lead their kids away. So if you haven’t switched off your screen in horror, these are my tried-and-true, much tested tips for traveling with your baby.
1 Make a list, and check it twice. Then check it again.
This really is necessary. You do not want to be in the middle of Nowhere, USA and need to find a store that carries the only brand of Binky (or anything else) that your baby will use. Trust me, when you need it, no one will have it.
2 Be prepared.
Make a sheet containing all your child’s information (SSI, birth date, last doctor’s visit (as well as his name, office number, and address), allergies, medications to have on hand. Mine is saved to my phone. Fortunately I have never had to use it, but I am ready, in case of any emergency.
3 Pack two of everything.
Back to those Binkys: My kid has an arm like a major league pitcher, and she will hurl those things in the blink of an eye, and it will always land in the one spot I can’t get to in a car. She will also invariably poop on whatever she is wearing, so having an extra outfit (or two) in the diaper bag handy keeps you from having to unpack your suitcase on the side of the highway. On that same subject, we learned the hard way that sometimes diaper disasters don’t stay confined to the diaper, pants, or even the car seat if it is a real doozy. I found a car seat cover (I literally cut holes in an old towel and put a trash bag behind it to do this) was a lifesaver on more than one occasion.
4 Do a recheck.
Before you even back out of the driveway, do a quick once over of everything you have, just to make sure you have everything.
5 Pack your baby’s special lovey. And DON’T wash it before you go.
Gross? Maybe. But having something familiar that smells like home works wonders for calming a cranky baby.
6 Take enough toys.
In the interest of packing lightly, try to pack those toys with multiple functions. Babies get bored easily, so it is important to have enough things to keep them entertained for the ride. Try taking your laptop with favorite TV shows or DVDs loaded on to it, or a CD of your child’s favorite music in addition to any special toys they are partial to playing with. If that means an extra bag, so be it.
7 Work with baby’s schedule.
My baby is on a pretty good schedule: Breakfast at 8 am, play until 9, nap, lunch around 11:30, play, nap, bottle at about 3 pm, play, dinner at 5, play, bath, and last bottle around 8:30 pm. Every trip we have ever taken we have waited to leave until its time for that first nap, in order to make the most of those quiet couple of hours. Keeping your baby on a similar home schedule during a trip is imperative to a happy baby. And if you are taking a long drive (like our 16 hours to Florida) plan to stop at least 2 hours before bedtime to use baby’s pent up energy from being in a car so they will sleep. That entire trip, she did not fuss once, and she slept like a champ.
8 Take a breast pump.
This one is obviously for moms who are nursing their babies. Attempting to breastfeed a baby in new surroundings is nearly impossible. They are looking around, taking everything in, and getting them to concentrate on the task at hand can be frustrating. While traveling, bottles work best.
9 Make frequent stops, but not while baby is sleeping if you can help it.
In accordance with Step 7: take advantage of a sleeping baby and get as far as possible during that time. If baby starts to get restless, stop and take a break. Fortunately, babies tire easily and a quick 20 minute pit stop can work wonders.
10 Be patient.
Even the best traveler will wear down. Once that happens, if you are not close enough to your destination to just put pedal to the metal and get there, go ahead and stop for the night. Believe me, your baby and your sanity will thank you.
As I said, having an easygoing baby can make traveling much easier, but being well prepared and working within your child’s limits can make the difference. So plan that family trip, or go see the grandparents. It will be worth it in the end!