Since it’s generally Spring Break time for many of us this time of year, I thought I’d focus on some thoughts on traveling with little ones and some hacks to make it easier. Plus, summer is coming, so it can’t hurt to plan ahead for your upcoming summer trips.
First of all, I know that traveling with a little one seems daunting, but really, it’s not so bad. You’ll figure out your own system and your own travel hacks (which I’d love to hear!).
And secondly, just do it. Do it now, while they’re young. There’s no better time to fly, for one thing, since most airlines let little ones fly for free. Even camping, which might seem impossible or unsafe to many, is actually a really great option when you have a baby because you can just strap them into your carrier and go have fun. So, if camping is something you loved to do before you became a parent, there’s no reason why you need to stop now. And if traveling with small ones feels nerve-wracking to you, you’ll feel so accomplished after your first trip.
And one more point I’d like to make: there’s so much supporting evidence out there that travel is GOOD for our kids. Don't believe me? Just Google "why travel with kids" and you'll find plenty of reasons. If you have a baby or toddler, they likely won’t remember much, but these experiences will still shape them. And when your littles get just a bit bigger, the positive memories will last forever.
On that note, here are some of the best tips I could think of for four categories--Flying, Driving, Camping, and Hotel Stays:
For your sanity, check your car seat when you check your luggage. I’ve tried carrying it to the gate and gate-checking it, and I assure you, it is not worth the trouble. Your car seat will be fine. If there’s anything worth gate-checking, it would be your stroller.
If you plan to rent a car, ask whether they also offer car seat rentals. Many will for pretty cheap, which makes life so much easier.
Kids fly free age 2 and under for most airlines, so if you have a child that is 2 years old or under, take advantage!
Try to book flights at times when you think your baby will sleep. Red-eye flights aren’t generally anyone’s favorite, but if your baby sleeps the whole way, it might be worth it. Or, if you deliberately book a super early flight, you might have good luck getting your baby to nap after you board.
If you have a toddler, a long layover might be a good idea--so your kiddo can get burn off some energy for a while before the next flight. Mine loved going up and down the escalators the entire time.
Do pack a change of clothes for baby because blowouts happen.
Do try feeding/nursing your baby during takeoff and landing to help alleviate pressure in their ears.
Do make sure your phone is charged - this will be your lifeline, not just for connecting with friends and family when you land. It will be your most convenient source of entertainment, if your baby does in fact sleep, and your baby’s best source of entertainment if they don’t sleep. Plus, you can’t pass up the photo-op.
Uber and Lyft will let you install your own car seat into their car, but do confirm with your driver beforehand that it is OK and don’t expect them to provide one for you. Taxi companies may or may not have car seats available. Call ahead to inquire.
Do plan on frequent stops. This will alleviate your disappointment at not reaching your destination in the same amount of time it would have taken you before you became a parent.
Pack plenty of snacks, for you and baby.
Strategize naps. Often we would deliberately postpone our baby’s nap so that she would sleep in the car once we finally hit the road. Don’t worry about their sleep schedule being thrown off--they readjust pretty quickly.
This is one time when letting your child watch a screen might be the biggest life-saver for you. Don’t judge yourself too harshly for it.
If you’re a pumping mama, you might want to purchase a car adapter for your pump.
If your child gets carsick easily or your baby screams any time you put her in a car seat, check out this post for more tips.
Weather will likely be the biggest concern, but as long as weather isn’t too extreme and/or you’re able to keep baby warm, there’s no reason why you can’t go camping with a baby.
Get baby accustomed to a backpack-style carrier, if they’re not already. A wrap-style carrier may do just as well, if you’re not doing anything rigorous and can keep baby secure. This will free you up to do many of the things you’d do on a camping trip pre-baby.
You don’t need any special equipment for sleeping, other than a way to keep baby warm, as long as baby is sleeping with you. Otherwise, you might prefer to bring a playard or a travel bassinet.
Camping is especially easy while you have a baby. Once your baby is crawling or is toddler-age, then they require a more watchful eye.
If you’re a breastfeeding momma, you couldn’t ask for a more convenient, “easy-to-pack” food supply for your little. Although, if pumping will be necessary for you, this is another case when a car adapter for your pump could come in handy. There’s even such a thing as an inflatable nursing pillow, which will make packing more compact.
If you’re a formula-feeding momma, pre-measuring your formulas will make life much easier. And you can carry a Thermos with warm water in it for warming bottles, and obviously, a cooler or insulated bag for keeping mixed bottles and snacks cool will make sense to have.
Diapering can be a real complication with camping and backpacking--or, more specifically, what to do with the dirty ones while camping. If you opt to haul all your dirties home (or at least until you find a place with a dumpster or washing machine), you might appreciate using biodegradable dog poop bags to keep the yuck at bay. Or, depending on the fire regulations, you might opt to burn your diapers when you can. No option is perfect, so do your research on the regulations at your site, and consider your activity plans (i.e. serious backpacking trip vs. car camping) as well as the type of diaper and materials it’s made of.
And lastly, the obvious: make sure you have sunblock, a first aid kit, bug repellent, extra wipes and hand sanitizer. You know, all the things you’d already be thinking about when packing for yourself anyway, only this time give a little extra consideration to their sensitive skin.
Many hotels have cribs available upon request, which may or may not cost an extra fee. Be sure to inquire at the front desk or when booking your reservation.
If your room doesn’t come equipped with a micro-fridge, ask whether they have them available for rent. This will come in handy for food storage and feeding little ones.
If a micro-fridge isn’t an option, you might need a cooler and/or a bottle warmer.
It’s a good idea to ask whether your reservation has a bathtub or only a standing shower in the bathroom. (One time while traveling, our hotel room only had a standing shower, but we got lucky because the sink was massive and made a perfect toddler bathtub. But you don’t know these things if you don’t ask.)
Sometimes, hotels will even have booster seats, bottle warmers, coloring books, etc. available, if you ask.
Basically, the big takeaway here is ASK, ASK ASK. You just never know what you might find out. (Just be sure to find out whether whatever you’re borrowing comes with a daily fee!)
If you need childcare assistance while there, do a little research before you travel to find out where the by-the-hour drop-in childcare locations are or you might be able to secure a sitter through Care.com.
Now, your turn! Share your best travel hacks in the comments! I’d love to hear.
P.S. Want to know the best way by far to make traveling with littles easier? Finding (and keeping!) your CALM! Learn how to do it in this month's workshop, Finding Your Calm as a Momma!