With Mother’s Day coming up next Sunday, I’ve decided to dedicate each day this week to offering tips, inspiration, and stories to all the traveling moms out there, especially those who might be questioning how, where, or why they can bring their children out into the world. And I won’t be doing it alone. Each day other fabulous traveling mothers will offer their own words of wisdom. I’m so excited to bring you the collective experience of this truly amazing group of family travelers who have been round the world and back with their little ones.
When Tommy was nearly eight months old, Matt and I decided that we would spend his first Christmas in Wisconsin, where Matt grew up and where his sister and her family still lived. For reasons that I no longer remember, we decided to drive there from Delaware. It takes about 14 hours to do so.
Now at that point in Tommy’s development he loved to spend a lot of his time standing up. He wasn’t quite old enough to do it unassisted, so we had borrowed a toy that we called an “exer-saucer” from a friend. You may have seen these – stretching several feet across, they have a grooved saucer-shaped bottom where the baby stands, and then a large plastic ring, around the perimeter of which are toys of various types. A child using one can stand in the center, supported by a little sleeve, and rotate their bodies around to play.
Let me just say that it is not a small piece of equipment.
As I packed for our two-week visit, I decided, with the zeal of a new parent, that Tommy would be miserable if we didn’t bring the exer-saucer with us. The more I thought about it, the more imperative it seemed. The problem was that our car was a small sedan; if we had put the toy in the trunk, we wouldn’t have had room for our suitcases or any of the gifts we were bringing with us. So at my insistence, we borrowed a car-top box, which Matt grudgingly installed.
Driving with the box on the car was, how shall I say it? Miserable. It slid around, scratching the roof, and thumping in a very unnerving way. We weren’t exactly aerodynamic, and I shudder to think how much extra gas we used. And it made Matt extremely crabby, which led to more than one tense exchange.
Of course, Tommy enjoyed having his exer-saucer with him. But since the majority of the time he was either on the floor grabbing at the Christmas tree or sitting in the laps of the innumerable relatives that came to see him (did I mention that Matt has lots of extended family?) he probably spent a grand total of about twenty minutes in the thing.
Now, I don’t fault myself for bringing along the exer-saucer; doing so was what I needed to feel happy and secure about that trip. But it definitely taught me to think carefully about what is truly necessary when hitting the road with small children. There’s no one right answer of course – what you need depends on where you are going and also your own personality. But I do kind of wish I had a more experienced mom to tap me on the shoulder and gently suggest that perhaps Tommy would survive without that enormous toy.
For instance, it might have helped to have this piece of wisdom from Keryn Means of Walkingon Travels:
But there are also moms who believe that you can take it with you, like Corinne McDermott of Have Baby Will Travel:
Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino! suggests relying on local stores and rental agencies for baby necessities:
Rebecca Darling of R We There Yet Mom? seconds the recommendation to leave spare diapers behind:
Leave diapers at home (you can always buy them when you get there)– do not pay a baggage fee for them!
But Colleen Lanin of Travel Mamas warns that you want to make sure you have plenty of the essentials on hand, especially if you will be taking your child on a cruise:
Mary Solio of The World is a Book also recommends packing a little extra gear for cruise ship travel:
Nicole Wiltrout of Arrows Sent Forth has a basic set of principles that will help anyone traveling with babies and toddler plan what to bring:
The takeaway message here? What you need to bring depends on where you are going, how you are getting there, and the specific needs of you and your child. Keeping these three criteria in mind as you get ready to go will help you successfully plan and pack for any family vacation with your baby.
So what are your baby and toddler vacation must-haves? Please feel free to share them in the comments below.