Before Baby O was born, the wife and I put traveling a lot with the kiddo as a top goal for being parents. We wanted our son to get familiar with traveling early so it did not feel like an ordeal too great and we envisioned us three enjoying vacations and adventures and visiting family regularly and with minimal stress. But when we faced our first trip with baby, the whole project felt a tad more overwhelming. Like, how is this even possible? Everything from the packing list (such a long list!) to how the whole adventure would affect our sleep schedule efforts made me wonder how anyone ever managed an overnight voyage with an infant.
Let me pause here and say this: I’m beginning to notice a pattern with parenting. There’s the high aspirations I had pre-baby, then the fear and impossibility I imagine with baby, and both give way to the manageable, fun and challenging reality. So was the case with traveling – we took the trip and of course it was manageable, fun and great at times, and completely exhausting.
A bit about the trip – first, we traveled by car. I still think traveling by plane with a baby may in fact be impossible, despite all evidence to the contrary by most of my Facebook friends. Second, we were visiting two sets of grandparents – a disproportionately excited and forgiving lot. Loud crying in the middle of the night practically delighted this crowd and there was always a willing arm for Baby O to rest in when we needed to get something done (like sort through the 18 outfits we packed or reorganize the car so everything could fit).
It also happened that all three of us came down with a nasty cold (me less so than the rest) on our first night of this trip so sleep schedules, feeding needs, and general fussiness (from all three of us) were especially out of whack on this visit. And we were visiting during two holidays – Passover and Easter (so convenient when they fall on the same weekend!) – so there were a lot of visitors passing through and the grandparents did each have a few things on their plate – a more hectic time than usual to boot.
In sum: we both loved seeing Baby O in our childhood homes, reveled in him exploring new cities, and also found the packing gave way to a reasonably easy time. Sleeping was a mess, however, and fussiness was increased. We’re not scared off and even a little excited to do it again.
Here are our lessons learned from traveling with baby:
What I’m glad I brought:
- Having the right sleeping set-up is worth the money and time. This is a car specific item, to be sure. We ended up buying a new travel bassinet – this one just seemed far more portable, easy to use, and akin to Baby O’s usual set-up than the pack N Play. (It’s also one of the only on the market that can hold up to 25 pounds). It paid off – having a consistent sleep space for nap and sleep, even in slightly narrow spaces, helped us preserve sleep routines and keep a baby (who was inundated with more stimulation than usual) relatively well rested. This of course would be a non-starter on a place trip.
- Bring all the medicines you need. When I looked at our medicines bag I thought it was too much and I thought we could stick with just the essentials and run to CVS when we needed more. To be clear, where we were was 2 blocks from the nearest all night drugstore. TWO BLOCKS. And even in this proximity, it still paid to bring a full medicines bag. Because in the middle of the night when the s**t hit the fan and Baby O was sick, we tried whatever worked until it did – and thank god we had it on hand!
- Bring your breast pump in a well functioning bag. That the breast pump is necessary is fairly obvious – but what I didn’t realize until we were en route that having my whole pump set-up taken apart would pose challenges on the road. I wished I’d had a bag set up that had the parts easily accessible, the milk bag included, and a place to store all the bottle parts.
- Boppy. This was the kind of thing a pre-baby me would never have considered taking with me on a trip – and yet, it was essential. Baby O can get a little finicky about nursing when he is overstimulated. Thus the Boppy was essential on this trip.
- Pacifiers and wipes. Have so many pacifiers on hand — and so many wipes to keep them clean when he drops them amidst all new germs.
- Two blankets. We almost brought only 1, but that would have been a mistake. We needed 1 for playing on the floor and 1 for getting wrapped up in. And nevermind if he spit up on either!
- Lots of burp rags. Enough said.
What I wish I brought:
- Would’ve brought a noise machine. This definitely would have struck pre-baby me as crazy. BUT. There is so much shifting in the routine that being able to keep some normalcy to the experience – in our case, a noise machine – is great. And a noise machine is small. (As an aside, I had thought about this before traveling but thought we could just use an iPhone app. Turns out that when you need it most is exactly when you also need your iPhone on you). Of course, this would be a non-starter on a plane trip.
- Organizing our stuff. While overall I think we brought the right stuff, it was not well organized. I would have put a lot more thought into how I use it all and convenient packing dividers and such to make everything more accessible.
Things to pack lightly:
- Toys. Having the right toy at the right time makes a huge difference but having too many makes things stressful and adds clutter. We asked ourselves what we couldn’t live without and that produced the right amount.
- Bouncy seat. I was convinced we needed his bouncy seat as both a play area and also a place to put him when we needed our hands and attention a little more free. We took it out of the car at the last minute because it was just too much. Turns out, that was the right call – the new environment was stimulating enough for our little guy and grandparents were all too eager to hold him when we needed it (see above). But if we were traveling just the three of us, I might make a different call.
- Books. Bringing the right books is key. For us, that number was 5.
- Babies need lots of down time to compensate for the extra stimulation. Turns out, traveling is way exhausting for a baby. It’s also true about adults but we plow through it. I imagined it would be a lot for him but then I saw his long naps and extra fussiness and wide eyes all around him and realized how true it is.
- Walk around the house each morning to get bearings. Baby O likes to have a sense of place. We realized quickly that not only upon arriving at a new location but also each morning we needed to give O a bit of a walkabout to gain his bearings before he could settle down, play and engage.
- Establishing a feeding location. As above, Baby O is finicky about where and how he eats. Chaos doesn’t suit his fine dining and he requires much focus from me, his nursing mom. Thus, one of the first things I did at each location was carve out my feeding space – a place out of the main activity on the house and where I can be in a good position.
- Keep sleep times (including naps) consistent. We stuck as closely to O’s sleeping times as possible and it helped keep him happy.
- Traveling during first nap. Per above, part of keeping the nap times consistent was taking off during the first nap time. He was fed and changed before the trip ready to sleep already when we took off and we got a good 2 hours into his travel before he woke up.