We've traveled a lot this past year. By her first birthday, Eowyn had visited 6 countries on 2 continents, 20 US states, and had traveled by plane, train, car, streetcar, bus, subway, cruise ship, backpack, stroller and ferry. Here are the trip-tips I've garnered as so many people ask me "how do you travel with a little one?"
1. Mentality: Just do it. This is my first answer to the above question. If you have in your mind that it's going to be insanely hard, you'll never try. But if you want to travel, and you have a baby, go for it! You just accept the difficulties, embrace the adventure, stay flexible, and be willing to laugh at everything.
- pick two colors and pack only clothes in that scheme. For example, I may pack all red and pink one trip, or all turquoise and brown another. This allows for mixing and matching when half an outfit inevitably gets dirty sooner than you planned, or it's much colder than you expected.
- pack one outfit per day, plus an extra cold-weather outfit and an extra warm one. Pack socks, leggings, a hat and shoes no matter what. You just never know how cold some part of your journey will be. Likewise, pack at least one short-sleeved outfit. You can always layer!
- keep a reserve binkie, lovie, paci, blankie, whatever your child needs to be happy. Keep it in the bottom of the bags and only pull it out in emergency. Otherwise you'll end up losing both your usual AND your backup!
- train your child to obey you right away the first time. This is absolutely critical in new environments. We play the "come to mommy" game every day to reinforce this!
- train your child to understand and obey "no touch." I can't tell you how helpful it's been to be able to tell Eowyn "do not touch this" item in a hotel or friend's home, and watch her play happily without bothering it.
- consider blanket or line training (teaching babies and children to stay on a blanket or within a line on the ground), because you will not be staying in only "child-proofed" areas. Alternatively, you can have "playpen time" in a pack'n'play or baby bed.
- get your child used to sitting in a stroller or being on a "leash" while walking-- whatever you're planning to do when you're away and in crowded areas should be done first stress-free at home!
- train your child to have good high-chair manners BEFORE leaving home! I was absolutely shocked when one of my friends told me she lets her son throw his food from his high chair because she has a steam carpet cleaner and doesn't mind steam-cleaning her carpet regularly. I just thought "but what about other people who DO mind, and whose floors your child will also eat above?" It seems to me that as Christians, good manners are part of loving our neighbors more than we love ourselves!
- I forgot this before, but it's CRUCIAL: Forget about your trip being about you. It's about the WHOLE family now. That might mean taking turns walking a fussy baby an entire plane ride. It might mean not getting to see everything you could have seen without kids. It might mean having to head back to the hotel more than you'd like. If you get stuck in the me-me-me rut, you will resent your child instead of being thrilled that they get to be WITH you!! Vacations are a time to explore, to rest, yes... but mostly, it's a time to serve, just like always.
4. If traveling by plane, know exactly what your airline will allow you to pack. Most airlines allow you to planeside check a stroller and a carseat for free. DO THIS! You can always use your stroller to carry bags and wear your baby. Also, ask if there are empty seats on the flight before you board; you can bring the carseat on if there are!
- note that a carseat might be unnecessary abroad. Most other countries don't have the same carseat laws we do, especially if you'll be getting around by taxi or public transit within a city.
- note that strollers can double nicely as high-chairs!
5. In-flight or in-car comfort:
- nurse or give a bottle on take-off & landing. If you can't do that, at least have them suck a pacifier. This makes their ears pop
- pack a first-aid kit in an accessible place, including teething tablets, pain reliever, saline drops, a nose squeegee, and tummy soothing medicine. Eowyn has gotten teeth on EVERY TRIP across the Atlantic!
- for a toddler or baby, raid Goodwill or a thrift shop for "new" books and toys. Take them out ONE BY ONE on the plane. Save a few for the return trip, too, so the novelty hasn't worn off.
- bring a sling or Ergo/Snugli carrier on the plane. Walking babies calms them even in the air. Eowyn would only go to sleep in one of these on our last trip. Most planes have a spot where you can stand up in a darker, quieter area.
- try to get a bulkhead seat. Either use a plane-issued bassinet or the floor so your baby/child can lay down and you can get a break from holding them.
- bring a bottle of expressed milk along for feeding on-the-go. VERY helpful in museums, airports, long walks... Keep it body-temperature by storing it next to your body or the baby's. Breastmilk can sit out for up to 10 hours without any problem.
- buy a manual breast pump. I got an Advent ISIS off Craigslist for $15 in nearly-new condition. I've been so pleased. Pack it in your carry-on! Even if you've never pumped before, or have a great electric pump, bring a manual. You do NOT want to be stranded in a foreign country in pain from a nursing strike or be unable to give your child a bottle!
6. Time zones. We've found that the "shock treatment" is best as opposed to trying to gradually get there.
-If possible, travel east during the night. The baby will sleep some since it's "night" to him. When you get there, have him stay awake until his next nap, NEW TIME ZONE time. Ex. When flying to Europe, our plane left at 8 pm EST and arrived at 11 am Paris time. We kept Eowyn awake until her afternoon nap time, then only let her sleep the normal 2 hours. We then put her to bed at 8 pm Paris time, and didn't go get her when she woke up around 11 to play, thinking that was her nap. :) She settled down after jabbering for a few minutes, and slept soundly 'til morning. Get your baby outside in the sun as much as you can during the day, and keep the room dark at night-- this really helps reset their internal circadian (daily) rhythms.
- Traveling west will be harder on the plane ...it's a really really LONG day, literally. But then you'll get home so tired that you fall into bed around 8 pm and sleep until morning. The next day you'll all probably be back on your home time, just a little tired and needing to take a nap or go to bed early. The nice thing about this is that your baby will take really great naps. :)
- load up on vitamins both before and after time zone changes to boost your flagging immunity! We love AirBorne! Orange juice, or lemonade with cayenne & maple syrup are great.
7. While there:
- plan only one sight (or group of nearby sights) to see per day.
- either head back to the hotel for nap times, or plan on strapping your baby to your back, or in a stroller during nap-time. Eowyn naps great in a moving stroller or on my back, and this has enabled me to enjoy museums she would have found unendurably boring.
- plan to let your baby down to crawl or walk or explore both morning and afternoon. There are public gardens and parks everywhere, and you'll both enjoy the sun!
- pack your own baby food. It's just not worth the time of trying to track it down once you're there. Even if your child is older, pack foods you know are safe and tummy-pleasing for him.
- refuse to stress. If you're tired, take a break. Nap. Sit by a river. ENJOY your trip.
- I've saved this for last because it's so controversial: BUT check the laws in your state regarding breast-feeding in a backseat. I know this sounds crazy, but I just looked up the actual SC state law, just to see if it were true, and there IS an exemption clause for "children being fed."** Use your own judgement-- but I can imagine this being super-helpful knowlege in case of a traffic jam or other slow moving traffic, when your baby has had enough and is HUNGRY. [We've never actually done this-- we always have pulled over, often combining gas or food stops with breastfeeding stops.] To check state laws, google "child passenger restraint law___ " and fill in the state(s) in which you'll be driving. I can't find a law authorizing this in KY, for instance. Regardless, NEVER NURSE WHILE DRIVING!
South Carolina law:
**SECTION 56-5-6430. Use of restraint device not required under certain circumstances. The provisions of this article do not apply if a child being transported is being fed, has a physical impairment, or a medical problem or any distress which makes it impractical to use a child restraint system. Alternate restraint protection, such as safety belts, must be utilized if possible.