Ah, the holiday season. A time to revel in good friends, tasty food and lots and lots of family togetherness. But with the stuffing, stockings and presents also comes the dreaded “T” word: travel. Traveling with your baby during the holidays is a rite of passage all parents must endure at some point, and with the right amount of preparation it need not be as daunting an experience as it might seem. Indeed, having now made several holiday season cross-country trips with our 4 ½ year-old daughter Sadie, my husband and I like to think that we’ve garnered a degree of wisdom that will serve us well as we experience holiday travel with Sadie and her 7-month-old brother Ben.
Though I’m by no means an expert, here are some tips and tricks that I’ve found helpful in planning my holiday travel with kids.
Travel on an “off” day.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year for a reason. Everyone wants to be at their destination in time for the big turkey meal without having to take off any more time from work or school than is absolutely necessary in order to do so. Same goes with traveling on December 23rd, 24th or 30th. Travel on one of these “peak” days and you only have yourself to blame if you encounter delays, crowds and other obstacles that will have both you and your baby needing a nap. If at all possible, try to travel a few days prior to Thanksgiving or even on Thanksgiving morning, and return either the day after Thanksgiving (when everyone else will be shopping at the mall) or even the following Monday if your schedule permits. Indeed, now is the perfect time to take advantage of traveling during off-peak times, as your baby isn’t yet enrolled in school and tied to a specific calendar or schedule.
Focus on Logistics.
Remember those days when you could just pack up and get out of town on a moment’s notice? As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, having a baby renders a spontaneous getaway an antiquated notion at best. Traveling with your baby, whether for a weekend, a week or even for the day, requires a degree of preparation and planning akin to a military operation. Before any trip, I make a detailed list of what I need to purchase and bring with us, as well as plan how we will safely get our children to our destination (for example, traveling to the airport via a car service with car seats and renting a car with car seats at our destination). I also formulate a plan for doing laundry, purchasing necessities while we’re on the road, and how we’ll deal with things like keeping food and bottles cool along the way. I know it all seems a little obsessive compulsive, but trust me, doing a bit of legwork on the front end will result in a much smoother and more enjoyable journey.
Travel with kids involves a degree of difficulty that really should entitle it designation as an Olympic sport. And just as with any sport, family travel requires a specialized set of equipment that no player should be without. One of our best travel-friendly purchases has been a snap-and-go stroller that has made navigating airports a breeze, as we can simply place Ben in his infant car seat into the stroller and then remove the seat (with Ben in it) at the gate and check the stroller at the last minute. I don’t like keeping Ben in his car seat all day, so we also travel with or rent a lightweight umbrella stroller for daytime outings once we’re at our destination. If you’re headed someplace that doesn’t offer cribs or pack-n-plays, you might want to invest in a travel crib or portable bassinet (we’ve gotten tremendous use from our Phil & Teds Nest), and be sure to pack your own crib sheet so that you know your baby will sleep on something that’s been washed in a detergent with which you’re comfortable. Little things like an insulated sleeve and ice packs for bottles are also important, as are feeding bowls and spoons once your baby starts on solid foods. And when your baby is a little older, you’ll want to invest in a portable DVD player or other device which will allow you to distract your little one with videos and hopefully buy yourself at least 30 minutes of peace and quiet.
The first time we traveled with our daughter Sadie from New York City to California (where my family resides), my husband and I thought our heads would explode out of frustration when trying to explain to my father the importance of purchasing organic fruit, milk and chicken nuggets. That experience left us so shell-shocked that we knew there was no hope for ensuring my family would have the precise kind of diapers, wipes and baby shampoo that we preferred to use with Sadie. Rather than engage in a battle royale and stress over what we might find once we arrived, we simply shipped all of our “usual” supplies (including plenty of BPA-free sippy cups, plates and utensils) to California via Diapers.com, and had everything waiting for us when we arrived. It couldn’t have been easier, and we’ve subsequently made similar shipments when traveling to hotels (simply have the shipping address note that the hotel should hold the box for you). You also might want to consider shipping the base for your infant car seat to your destination, as it’s a heavy and cumbersome piece of gear with which to travel.
Maintain a Sense of Humor.
No matter how much you plan and prepare for that all-important first trip with your baby, it’s inevitable that something along the way won’t go according to plan. Whether your baby decides to spit up all over you on the one day you forgot to bring a change of clothes for yourself, or whether you forget to pack your baby’s favorite lovey (noooo!!!), it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective and humor about the situation or else you’ll go more than a little bit bonkers. Remember that this too shall pass, and that, with a bit of experience under your belt, you and your baby will be ready to explore the world. I know it seems easier said than done, but believe me, it does get easier. Now go out there and have some holiday fun!