Many parents, as adventurous as they might have been before having children, deem travel a no-go, literally. Wanderlust and wee ones don’t mix, they declare. Or do they?
Parenthood is an experience shared across cultures and continents, not barred by language, religion, or race; and children – the ultimate icebreaker. We realized this in Lisbon with our own daughter, then a roly-poly seven-month-old, as grandmothers approached us and inspected her, inquiring about how many teeth she had, if she was crawling, if she slept through the night. A kind hostess at a restaurant, a mother herself, insisted upon holding her so my husband and I might eat a bite in peace. Had we not had our daughter with us, we would have missed these conversations, the photos and stories of cheery faces shown off to us on mobile phones, reminders that our daily joy and exhaustion are shared the world over.
That’s not to say that travel with very young ones is easy though. There’s the plane ride and the aftermath: jetlag, unfamiliar foods, new beds and spaces. It’s enough to jolt you and your wanderlust right back to you reality. But…with planning and perseverance (see our tips and gear guide below), trips with babies and toddlers can truly be fun and enriching. You’re making memories with them, for them. It’s an adventure, right?
If you’re reluctant to take our word for it, heed the advice of Beth Guastella, president and CEO over at Giggle (that baby store you’ve likely been to half a dozen times already).
“Traveling should be an incredibly happy time for new parents and their young babies. You are building so many memories you will never forget. My advice: take that trip, but be sure to do a little simple advance planning and preparation.”
My daughter’s first flight was at 10 weeks, and she took her first international trip at five months. I completely overpacked and took so many extra things. I felt overwhelmed as many new parents do. My biggest piece of advice when traveling with young children is to find products and gear that do double or triple duty. Focus on simple, smart, and healthy gear to keep you and your baby happy.”
The first eight months of our daughter’s life were some of easiest travel-wise. She mostly slept in a carrier, fed on a diet of breastmilk and fruit-and-veggie pouches, and required little to no entertainment. But she came with a lot of baggage. Here, our gear essentials, which were mostly to provide her comfort. And whatever you buy, be sure to use it at home, to ensure you and baby are both comfortable with before the trip.
Carrier or Wrap
This will likely be one of the most used pieces during your entire trip, especially if going overseas. While it can depend on your baby’s preference and size, a carrier or wrap makes it easy to walk cobblestoned streets, navigate crowded bazaars and take hikes. It’s hands-free and a snug spot for baby to sleep. Consider the Boba Wrap, a long, stretchy piece of cotton fabric that amazingly supports proper head, neck, back and leg positions with just a few wraparounds, tight knots, and tugs.
It’s particularly helpful during the early months when you want to keep baby close to your body. Or choose the customer favorite Ergobaby 360, which allows you to wear baby facing inward or forward, on your hip or on your back for up to 33 lbs. Ergo also makes a performance carrier, which is a lighter, breathable option with a mesh front panel that may be helpful for that beach vacation you’re planning. But if you’ve got the original and just dress baby in comfortable, airy cottons, you’ll be fine too.
Hotel cribs are notoriously overlooked and consistently out of date. We’ve encountered less than sanitary, rickety renditions more than a few times. Which is why we’re fans of the Guava Family’s Lotus Crib, which is intuitive to set up and features a zippered side door so you’re not breaking your back and faced with that “final little drop” when getting in. We also appreciate that it uses no flame retardants, PVCs and phthalates in its construction. Bonus: It folds down so compactly you can wear it as a backpack and carry it on in most cases.
This is such a personal choice, but we’ve had great luck with keeping a second, lightweight car seat on hand for trips. Car seats can be quite heavy and airport staff often just toss them around. Plus if thinking of strapping baby into the car seat on the plane, a smaller, lighter version comes in handy. So do yourself a favor and leave your fancy travel system at home and opt for a more basic, no-frills option when on the road.
If traveling with a car seat, a stroller frame the car seat can snap into is a great option, either the Graco SnugRider Elite frame, which swivels, has a roomy bottom basket and folds down fast. Baby Trend’s Snap-N-Go model is quite similar and works with a variety of car seats from Britax to Maxi-Cosi to Peg Perego. Lightweight umbrella strollers are also fabulous, and wonderful for stowing away diapering essentials and snack bags underneath or in the back. Maclaren reigns in this arena and its Mark II model weighs a mere 7.3 lbs, but still manages to offer an extra-long shade.
Blankets, Baby Care and the Fine Print
> I’ve adored aden+anais swaddles since my daughter was born. By the time my son came around, they had introduced their thicker dream blankets (essentially four swaddles quilted together), which have been exceptionally helpful for cool nights and work hard as a quick changing pad to lay baby on and as a tummy time blanket when on the road.
> From their diaper cream to their non-nano sunscreens, my family relies on Badger brand baby and kiddie products at home all the time (which seem to be made in a woodsy utopia in Gilsum, New Hampshire). When traveling, especially to sunny climes, you’ll want a baby sunscreen you can rely on and Badger really delivers with a zinc oxide, non-nano formulation (science speak for the larger the zinc oxide particles the less reactive they are) that mixes in good stuff like calendula and chamomile too.
> Check voltages when traveling abroad. The last thing you want is for your white noise machine to not work when you most need it.
> If you’re taking a portable breastpump and bottles along, pack a few of Medela’s steam cleaning bags. Thoroughly wash all the accessories and ask if hotel staff can then pop the bag in a microwave for three minutes to sterilize it. Most are usually quite happy to help.
> Necessities such as diapers and baby food can be bought quite easily when traveling domestically, and pretty easily aboard too (Pampers diapers are sold in 100 countries!). If you do some homework and locate the nearest grocery store or pharmacy in advance of your trip, you may not need to schlep as much stuff.
Much of the above applies when it comes to the off-and-running set, but you’ve added in a new complex component now: entertaining them! Keeping these busy bees, well, busy can feel like a dog and pony show. A few tricks to keep up your sleeve.
Once you’ve exhausted stickers, coloring books and snacks and are ready to offer the iPad (we adore the Endless Alphabet and Endless Numbers kiddie apps), make sure to bring a pair of children’s headphones. Califone’s fun animal-motif version were developed for use in schools so are sized for young children’s heads and ears.
Get your pint-sized jetsetter a backpack of their own (that you’ll carry inevitably). A small token like a backpack can go a long way to get your little one excited about the trip and offer a sense of ownership. This is their little space to cram with trinkets and small toys, a tiny stuffed animal or book or two. Skip Hop’s Zoo Packs are pretty darn adorable with motifs such as elephants, foxes, dinosaurs, and ladybugs. And they’re quite sturdy with a high-quality zipper too.
Car Seat Tray
If embarking on a long car ride, you’re usually destined to be reaching back to pass along crayons, pick up crayons, pass along carrot sticks, pick up carrot sticks. Sound familiar? The Star Kids Snack and Play Travel Tray offers a flat, durable surface on which to place books, snacks, the Etch-a-Sketch (one our favorites for car rides with our now preschooler) and other toys.
The Fine Print
> Again, you know your toddler best. If yours won’t sit still, consider a few small, new games and distractions that might keep him or her occupied. We’ve brought along a few Ziploc bags of playdough, reusable sticker pads, wind-up toys, etc. Sometimes the most mundane items such as straws and paper cups can provide surprising entertainment.
> If you’ve got a picky eater, do what you can in your pack and plan for foods and meals that will make things go smoother. Scan the room service menu before arriving at the hotel, or have a plan for breakfast or lunch once you’ve arrived at your destination. Hungry toddlers make for cranky travelers. Though my daughter has always been pretty flexible and adaptable, when she was a year and a half, we’ve bring along a few cans of organic vegetable soup and ask our hotel kitchen staff to open and reheat for her as needed.
> For some little ones, sleep is the first thing to go when traveling. If bedtime is your Achille’s heel, it helps to make sure you’ve got their favorite lovey, pajamas, or must-have bedtime book. We’ve found that booking a hotel in the center of town or near to where you plan to be made it easier to pop in for a quick afternoon snooze and return with time to spare before hitting the sack. This gives everyone a chance to unwind before lights out.
Our team of Family Vacation Experts can help plan everything from quick getaways to multi-week international holidays. Request assistance on our Connect with a Travel Advisor page.
Los Angeles-based Tanvi Chheda dares to mix wanderlust and her two little ones. She has written about travel, culture, style and food for publications such as T: The New York Times Style magazine, Virtuoso Life, AFAR and Delta Sky. She counts taking her then toddler daughter to Machu Picchu as one of her proudest (and perhaps craziest) travel moments. When not on the road, Chheda loves frequenting the farmers market and singing along to Elizabeth Mitchell.
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