Monday, September 8, 2014

On Traveling with A Baby (less than 1 year old)

If you're thinking about traveling with your baby, THINK AGAIN. It will ruin your life, turn your hair prematurely grey, send your blood pressure skyrocketing, and generally lead you into a state of perpetual angst.

Just kidding.

You can totally do this. Unless it's a trans-continental or trans-oceanic flight. Then definitely don't do it.

Ok in all seriousness this time...
There is this stigma that having a baby sort of...ends your life, impedes your freedom, changes your plans. This especially applies to travel, and many young couples make a point to embark on the Eurotrip or all-inclusive beach vacation before they open the door to expanding their family. Don't get me wrong, I am all for that. There is a lot that changes once babies come along and you should totally have some valuable, quality, just-the-two-of-you time before taking that plunge (and even after taking that plunge). But there's often an attitude of "better get that done before you start having kids" because once the kids come, don't even think about it. Enjoy your last hurrah!

And in some ways, maybe even many ways, that is true. Having a baby adds a completely new dynamic, and often a complicated one. Priorities shift. Financial allocation tilts away from "travel fund" and towards "college fund". Time is definitely more limited, as is the freedom previously found in a child-free marriage. None of this is a negative thing, it's just a fact. Things change when a baby arrives.

BUT.

I don't think that having a baby should mean the end of life as we know it. And for us, that means continuing to travel around Europe as much as possible while we're here. If we were in the states, our travel would probably be suspended for a while...we would probably lay low, maybe take a trip to the beach if we got really brave...but mostly just hunker down and not put any major getaways on the agenda for a while. But we're not in the states, we're in Europe. And our time here is rapidly coming to an end. AND THERE'S STILL SO MUCH TO SEE! Granted, it's not as easy as it used to be. It requires more planning, more patience and certainly WAY more stuff. But it's a priority for us and by golly, we're going to make it happen!

The first trip we took with Zoe, I was a nervous wreck. How would she do? What if it was miserable? What if we forgot something important? (because without Target WHERE WOULD WE BUY REPLACEMENTS?!) What if this is a complete disaster?! We should probably just stay home. Safer, easier, more comfortable, Cheerios. Yeah, we'll just stay home. (I have this same conversation with myself every time I leave the house with Zoe, even to go to the grocery store. Except minus the Cheerios. Which is why I'm going to the grocery store anyways).

But we did it. We took the plunge. We started small, just a weekend getaway a few hours away. And you know what? It was fine. Good, even. Adjustments were made (early dinners, early bedtimes, frequent pit stops, etc.). It wasn't always perfect or easy (car rides usually include lots of screaming. Zoe also cries a lot). But we did it, and it was successful and it empowered us. Now taking a trip is not nearly as daunting or overwhelming, and we usually have a blast whilst working around the needs and schedule of a baby.

So. Here's a few things that we have found that makes traveling with a baby easier for everyone. Hopefully these may be helpful or encouraging to someone, but of course all babies are different and what works for us may not work for you. Find your own groove and enjoy!

Be flexible. And then be even more flexible after that.
This is really the most important thing, and maybe the only thing you really need to keep in mind while traveling with little ones. If your baby is on a schedule (and ours is), your best bet is to stick with that schedule. But with extra flexibility. Babies are resilient little things and EVERYONE WILL SURVIVE if naps don't happen exactly when and where they should or if mealtimes are pushed around a little bit or the bath routine isn't the same or bedtime is later than usual. Just go with it. Take your particular situation into consideration when planning your trip. If your baby is happier in the morning, travel in the morning. If your baby loves the car, drive. If your baby won't sleep in the same room as you without waking up and crying, consider renting an apartment/house with separate rooms for everyone. Go with what works well with your family. Relax. Smile. Take pictures. Don't freak if the itinerary changes or you don't get to do everything you wanted to or a meltdown happened before you got to go here or see that. Just take a deep breath and adjust. You're still on vacation, in a new place, with the people you love the most. Don't lose sight of the big picture when the small details of an afternoon crying fit or a diaper blowout threaten to take over.

Invest in a great travel crib.
We bought this one from Guava Family and it has been worth every penny. Super easy to set up and take down (which is especially awesome when we get to a hotel late at night and need to do a quick transfer of baby from car seat to crib). And it's very compact, which is a bonus for those teeny tiny European hotel rooms. Plus, it's carry-on size for flights. AND conveniently comes in a back-pack-style bag. Win-win-win. If you're not traveling as frequently, we've also borrowed this crib and it was super easy to set up and take down, but the carrier is bulkier and I wasn't thrilled with the way the plastic bottom layer extended up the sides a little bit. I prefer the full mesh sides of the crib we have; but that's simply personal preference.

The baby-carrier is your best friend.
We use an Ergo carrier. WE LOOOVE our Ergo, all of us. When we went to Venice and Lake Como, we didn't even pack a stroller, as those places are notoriously stroller UN-friendly. Now I understand that carriers are maybe only practical when you have little babies, but for as long as you and baby are happy, keep on using it! It's one less thing to haul around and maneuver into crowded restaurants or lift up and down stairs.

Food pouches are a simple and hassle-free way to feed your baby whilst traveling. Obviously this only applies for so long. But we're talking baby under 1 year old. Zoe has just recently started solids, so traveling with her as been easy in terms of food. She is still primarily breastfed, so we haven't had to bother with bottles or formula. Now that she's experimenting with food, we found the easiest travel-friendly solution was food pouches, similar to these. We packed those, a spoon, and some bibs. Done. I like these because you can just squeeze out a bite at a time onto the spoon and not worry about "contaminating" the whole batch and wasting whatever she doesn't eat. They're nice and compact as well, so they don't take up valuable packing space.

White-noise machine. Get one. Use it. 
Even if your baby doesn't sleep with one usually, this is a great item to bring along on a trip. Hotels are noisy places, even the nice ones. Doors slam, elevators ding, cars honk right under your window...white noise blocks almost all of this. Baby stays asleep. You stay asleep. Peace. We use this one, which has a power cord but also runs on batteries (so we don't have to take a converter with us all over Europe and risk frying it due to voltage issues).

Pack for the weather, and then some.
I need to address the "and then some" part of this first. You guys. Diaper blowouts. At least one a day. And this is a new phenomenon for us because I can count on one hand the number of blowouts we've had in cloth diapers. This alone makes them completely worth it, in my eyes. But when we travel, we use disposable diapers because they're so much easier to pack and dispose of. Plus, a lot less work. But WHOA. Those suckers are like a slip-n-slide for baby poop. Just straight up the back. WOOSH! Surely diaper companies can do something about this. Is this part of a conspiracy? Make the diapers aerodynamically encourage the funneling of baby waste up and out so that you have to use and therefore BUY more diapers? I'm on to you, diaper companies. I'm on to you.
ANYWAYS. You're going to need AT LEAST 2 outfits per day. Which I did not fully account for because I was not anticipating such issues. Poop is usually more contained in this household. (Note to self: cross-stitch that on a pillow.)
And consider the weather, my friends. We saw rain and cool temps in the forecast. We accounted for the cool temps. There were jackets and leggings and long-sleeved baby onesies galore. There was even a floppy hat for the sunny days. But you know what there was not? There was not a rain cover for the stroller. And this, my friends, was a terrible mistake. We bought a clear poncho and put it over the stroller, which is the equivalent of tying a plastic bag around your child, so send the Parents of the Year Awards right on over. It was unruly and billowed up with every slight breeze and collected puddles of water which then leaked onto Zoe's blankets or sneak-attack drained onto my pants and into my shoes. And Zoe just thought it was a delightful new toy and her sweet little hands reached for it and pulled it and bunched it and tried oh-so-hard to shove it into her mouth. So that was a battle. Listen. Just pay the $15 to get the generic "fits all canopy strollers" rain cover. Just do it. Then you have it. And you are prepared. And it's one less thing to worry about it.
In the same vein, bring baby sunscreen. Just always have it. And bring socks. Lots of socks. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have an extra outfit (or 2) in the diaper bag. Because, you know, diaper-company-conspiracy-poop-chute. Just go ahead and overpack for you little one. You'll probably end up using it all.
(Please note that if any of our destinations had access to a Target, I would consider this number completely unnecessary because, hello, you could just go in and buy whatever you needed. You might argue that we could do that anyways, in a Marks and Spencer's or whatever, but let's remember how strong the British Pound is and also note we do stick to a budget whilst traveling. Ok that's all.)

So there you have it, my friends. A few things that have made traveling with a baby a little bit more enjoyable, less stressful, and just generally easier for our family. What about you? What have you found to be super helpful/necessary/important when traveling with little ones? Let's hear it.

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