Last year I got an email from a new mother who had just found The Mother of All Trips on the recommendation of a mutual friend. Her words brought me back to how much life changes when you bring a baby home – and how hard it can be just to get out the door (let alone plan any kind of traveling):
“I just had my first baby about 5 weeks ago and have been wondering if I’ll ever be able to get back out on a hiking trail, into a kayak, or even into the grocery store… [your blog] is incredibly hopeful and fun and makes me think that my family will be able to enjoy similar adventures! The picture of your son in a kayak brought tears to my eyes as I too want to teach my son to love and enjoy the outdoors. So, thank you once again. I may even attempt to get my little guy out in his stroller at the Morris Arboretum in Philly this afternoon. It’s close to home – baby steps!”
This email got me thinking about what I could do to help new parents who want to travel with their babies or young children. Last week I celebrated 10 years of traveling motherhood; 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 I’ll be joined by other fabulous traveling mothers who 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.
I offer this as a tribute to all of the mothers out there who want, as the tagline of my blog reads, to bring the world to their kids and their kids to the world.
So what do I wish I’d known the first time I traveled with Tommy? I wish I’d realized how truly flexible he was. It took me far too long (years in fact!) to realize that as long as his basic needs for food, listen to a kids song before nap time and a place to lay his head were met, he would be just fine. Although in general our well-ordered life was a good thing for Tommy, a delayed nap or bedtime wouldn’t mean that he never slept again, a missed bedtime bath wouldn’t keep him up all night, and a little bit of fussing at the end of a long day in the car wouldn’t kill him or us. Even something as simple as a selection of newborn slings could have helped with the naps on the go. And while I laud our efforts to keep Tommy’s on-the-road routine as close to normal as possible (and appreciate that our desire to do so never kept us from traveling) we could have saved ourselves a great deal of stress had we lightened up a little bit.
Tommy could even fall asleep with the light on, a fact I discovered only after spending much time crouched with Matt inside hotel bathrooms (and trust me, even with pillows in them, the tubs aren’t all that comfortable) sipping wine from plastic cups and waiting for the baby to fall asleep in our darkened room.
Getting your little one to sleep is not always easy though. This is true whether you are traveling or at home! For example, sometimes the mattress you are using could be holding your child back from drifting off to sleep. Depending on your child’s sleeping style, the type of mattress that is best for their needs can vary. You can take a look at this guide to the best type of mattress for side sleepers for more information.
And it seems I’m not the only one who feels this way – or who resorted to liquor at the end of a long day traveling with baby. Here’s what Corinne McDermott of Have Baby, Will Travel has to add:
For the most part, my daughter was an easy, predictable baby. Unfortunately, (for her or for me, I’m not sure) I was not an easygoing first-time mom. The regular eating and sleeping routines I had established were really more for her benefit than mine – the structured day helped me feel and be more productive and in control. So of course, I was worried about travel messing up my baby’s routine. Our first full day there, she wouldn’t nap in the hotel crib, and I was at a loss. It all seemed like so much work, and I couldn’t relax. Then I took a deep breath, had a beer or three, and went with the flow. In no time we had a new routine – our vacation routine. Instead of napping in the crib, she napped on the beach or poolside – and really, which would you prefer? We usually experience what we refer to as our travel hangover, but we always, always get back on track.
Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino! also learned that a few bad days with baby doesn’t mean you should stay home (that’s her adorable son in the picture above):
We took our son to Europe for the first time when he was 13 months old and the first 48 hours were utter nightmare when he screamed all night and slept all day. Know that babies are resilient and despite a tough start, they often adapt easily, and in some ways, better than we do! Expect the worst and rest assured they will adjust. If I could do it again, we would travel even more during the baby stage as they are so portable and easy to entertain versus the later years.
Keryn Means of Walkingon Travels wishes that she could have lightened up – only in her case, it had more to do with gear:
I wish I knew how very little a three-month-old baby would need on a plane. We gate checked a car seat and stroller and we had an overflowing diaper bag of toys, clothes, and diapers along with our own personal bags. We should have checked as much as possible with our luggage and minimized all we could. All my son needed was a few diapers, one change of clothes, and a baby carrier to be happy the entire flight. Thank goodness for guides similar to this Baby Monitor Town guide on carriers, it makes family trips a whole lot easier.
For Colleen Lanin of Travel Mamas, it wasn’t what she wished she knew, but what she wished her husband knew before they left for their first post-baby trip to Hawaii:
As a stay-at-home mom, I was thrilled to have an extra set of hands to help me with diaper changes, bathing the baby, and feedings. My husband, however, seemed cranky. A few days into our trip he ‘fessed up. He had been envisioning a relaxing vacation, similar to our honeymoon in Jamaica, during which he could totally relax. Helping care for our baby seemed a lot like work, rather than a vacation. Once he wrapped his head around the idea that our vacation-time, much like the rest of our lives, had forever changed, my husband was much happier and able to enjoy splashing in the hotel pool with our daughter and taking long walks each day to induce stroller naps. I wish we would have had a conversation before we left home about how to manage nap times, parental duties, and what we could realistically do with a baby in tow.
Sandra Foyt of Albany Kid wishes she knew how much easier it is to travel with a baby than older kids:
The first time I traveled with my baby daughter, it was to move from New York to California with my two-month-old. The worst of it was the anticipation: How would her newborn ears handle the air pressure? Where to change her diapers on a plane? Looking back, I wish I had known how easy I had it. Now that I have teens, planning a trip can be a logistical nightmare.
And for anyone experiencing anxiety about traveling with a baby, I’ll leave you with the calm, reassuring words of Nicole Wiltrout of Arrows Sent Forth, who currently travels with both a baby and a preschooler:
What I wish I knew about traveling with a baby is that it’s much easier than I had imagined it would be. We had such a fun, relaxing experience on our first trip as a family, taking our six-month-old to South Haven, Michigan. Start simple and just enjoy the experience.
There you have it – a host of traveling mom wisdom. And now, we’d love to hear from you. What do you wish you knew the first time you traveled with a baby? Please feel free to share your responses in the comments.