What. An. Adventure.
Last October, when Ash was just six weeks old, we set off on a four month “traveling parental leave”. We left our jobs behind, put email auto-responders on, and tried—as best as we could—to avoid real life for a bit.
Sure, traveling with an infant is a little “non-traditional”. Maybe even a little “crazy”. But knowing how hard the first couple months are, it seemed a little crazy NOT to take some time off. This was our grand plan to make the first-time-parent-experience a little more fun.
So we took off.
We stayed at 18 different places: hotels, Airbnbs, family homes, and friends apartments. We visited Chile, Argentina, New York, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Portland, Seattle, and Mexico. And we learned a little bit about packing, re-packing, and traveling with the little one.
It’s not easy traveling with a baby. Not because the traveling is hard, but because nothing is that easy with a baby. We carried twice the amount of stuff we used to. We moved slower, and and settled into each place longer. We constantly played things by ear, and tried to figure out how to make baby more comfortable and happy. All of which is not at all different to other first time parents, except for the changing locations.
But despite the complications—here’s the important part—WE LOVED IT. Seriously. It was a blast. We wouldn’t trade those months and memories for anything, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.
If you’re thinking about taking some time off and traveling after your little one is born, do it. Seriously. DO IT! It’s easiest when they’re really little, when they still fly super good and before they’re old enough to get bored.
Whether it’s for one week, or a couple of months, here’s a some tips from both of us (Kyle and Richenda) that will (hopefully!) improve your confidence for traveling with baby. From the products you’ll want, to accommodation and travel planning, we tried to cover the most important bits. If you have questions, please post them in the comments!
This is mostly advice for parents of young babies: our little one was 6 weeks old when we started this trip, and is now almost 6 months old.
PRODUCTS WE LOVE (by Kyle)
#1 Phil & Ted’s Nest: Portable Bassinet and Bag
Because we knew adventure was ahead, Ashna slept in her Phil&Ted’s pop-up bassinet since day one. It’s super lightweight, pops up in five seconds, and collapses down perfectly into the bag it comes with. The walls are spongy, soft, and breathable. It ticks all the health and safety boxes, and is big enough for infants up to six months old.
It is too big to carry on (you’ll have to check it), but if you’re traveling with a baby, get used to checking luggage 🙂
#2 A Portable Changing Mat and Diaper Carrier
When you’re running down the airplane aisle, during massive turbulence, holding an infant who just explosively pooped through her diaper, It’s important to be sure you’ve got everything you need to get the job done.
Changing Mat? Check.
Our portable changing mat was perfect. As long as we kept it stocked, we knew we had everything we needed be victorious in battle against a diaper and it’s contents. Ours is a handmade gift from our friend Kristina Guthrie, who should probably go into business making these. It’s got plenty of space for changing baby, is fully wipeable on the inside, and has two pockets that fit 5 diapers and a box of baby wipes.
This mat keeps baby buns off dirty floors and concrete steps. This was a lifesaver so many times over.
#3 A Manduka, or similar Baby Carrier or Sling
Buses. New York Train Stations. Small Chilean restaurants with multiple winding staircases. Here’s a fun surprise, there’s a ton of places that your stroller doesn’t fit! We’ve found wearing Ash is often a better option than the stroller.
There’s a ton of options out there. We use a Manduka which we really like.
#4 A pacifier clip (and extra pacifiers)
If your baby uses a pacifier, bring an extra. Better yet, six extras. Plus a pacifier clip.
You will lose the pacifier on a walk, or at the grocery store, or leave it at the rental car counter in the airport 37 minutes before your flight departs for Mexico.
Basically, the chance of losing things is high while you travel. If there’s anything your little one cannot go without (like a Giraffe WubbaNub pacifier that helps her go to sleep) pack a few extras.
#5 Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bags
If you’re doing any pumping or bottle feeding, these Medela bags make disinfecting bottles and pump parts super simple. Just chuck it in the microwave for two minutes with a little water, and your gear is good to go. Each bag can be used 20 times, and they pack down super small.
#6 Motorola WiFi Baby Monitor
With this baby monitor, we could watch Ash nap in the room while we laid by the pool. The WiFi functionality only worked at certain hotels with a certain type of secured WiFi (WPA) but when it did work, it was awesome. Most Baby Monitors keep you on a leash of about 200 meters, which means you’re pretty much always getting room service delivered. But the WiFi extended the range enough that we could eat dinner at the hotel restaurant, and still keep an eye (and ear!) on the sleeping baby. Win!
#7 Rubber ducky thermometer
One of things we didn’t really consider was all the places Ashna would have to have a bath. Hotel showers, kitchen sinks, and sketchy Airbnb bathtubs WITH AN OLD WATER HEATER THAT GOES FROM COLD TO BOILING HOT IN AN INSTANT. This little gem makes sure you get the temperature juuuuust right… and as baby gets older it becomes a fun bath play toy.
TRIP PLANNING TIPS (By Richenda)
#8 A 2 hour layover? Totally cool.
When you’re not traveling with a baby, layovers are the worst. A massive waste of time, right? But with a baby, layovers can be a life-saver – especially when they get to the age (round 4 months) when they know they are in a contained space. We used our layover time to stretch legs, change diapers, go for walks with the stroller.
#9 Go Slow
Although we visited almost 20 cities, we moved at a slow pace. We planned at least a week in each home, often 2-3 weeks in each city. This meant we weren’t travelling like backpackers, and had plenty of time to relax and explore each place.
#10 Settle in
We didn’t want to spend months feeling like we were living out of a suitcase. So each new “place to stay” became “home”. We unpacked all our clothes, put away suitcases, bought groceries and made ourselves at home. We found local cafes, filled up the fridge, and sometimes even met the neighbors! On the way out, we (mostly) left ample time to pack up so that it wasn’t a rush job. Usually, this meant planning a full day for settling in and a full day for packing up.
#11 (Just!) One bag for each person
It’s that simple. One bag for each person – including bubs. Keeping your things compartmentalised means its easier to pack and pack up. For example, if I’ve set 4 hours to pack, I’ll start with Ashna’s stuff where everything has it’s palce in her bag. Then I’ll move on to my stuff.
#12 Get rid of things along the way.
One of the hardest things about travelling with baby was lugging stuff around for multiple climates (Detroit Fall, Chilean Summer, New York Winter). To make things easier, we shipped home the things we would no longer use once we left winter. And the baby clothes Ashna grew out of went straight to the local thrift store.
In future baby travels, we’ll try to pick 1 climate to prepare for to make packing easier!
Accommodation tips (Kyle)
#13 Apartments > Hotel
We usually found apartments much more comfortable than hotel rooms. With the bedroom separated the living space, we can put kiddo to bed and not worry about making noise or staying up later.
If you do stay in a hotel, it’s often worth springing for a suite-style room so you have a place to talk and drink wine after the baby is asleep.
#14 Small hotel room? Baby sleeps in the bathroom
Richenda is a light sleeper, and Ashna makes noise when she sleeps. So when we stay hotel rooms, we usually put her crib in the bathroom at night. It blocks out lots of the noise she makes when she sleeps, and it’s nice and dark for her.
#15 The Radio is a White Noise Machine
If your little one likes white noise when they sleep, just tune a radio to a static station. Works like a charm.
#16 In a Resort? Stay on the ground floor
I have a feeling that it’s not very common for people to ask to be moved from the top floor of the hotel, away from the ocean view, down to a poolside garden room. But that’s what we did. After one day of going up and down the elevators all day, we decided that the view wasn’t worth it and moved to the ground floor. Our baby monitor reached the pool, and we could quickly get back to the room for diaper changers, naps, and salsa refills!
General tips (by Richenda)
#17 Pack less baby clothes than you think
Baby clothes are everywhere and in the early months, you aren’t actually sure how much your baby will grow. Very quickly Ashna outgrew her age range, so most of what we packed was too small but it was super easy (and FUN!!!) to buy baby clothes along the way. Also, she got loads of presents from friends and family we visited.
#18 You can buy baby stuff everywhere
On that note – baby stuff is everywhere. Diapers, shampoo, bottles. Who would have thought – BABIES ARE EVERYWHERE? It was actually quite fun to see what nappies were like in different countries and languages. All did the job but some were more fun than others. My favourite was Chilean huggies for their ergonomic design and fun colours! Unless you’re traveling to a VERY remote area, or looking for something super specific (see #6) you’ll probably be able to buy it there.
#19 Breastfeeding *is* all it’s cracked up to be
When Ash was born everyone kept reminding me how convenient it was to breastfeed when travelling. At the time a bottle of formula seemed a lot more convenient than my nipples being gnawed at by a piranha but in hindsight, they were absolutely right. Ashna had no trouble with flying ‘cause she was feeding on the way up and down. Breastfeeding helped her adjust to new timezones (did you know your breastmilk changes composition from day to night!?) and it was always convenient for me to whip a boob to calm Ash when she was losing it at a national border. When you’re travelling, you’re on your feet, figuring things out as you go – breastfeeding seemed to flow quite well with that, especially in countries where water is questionable.
#20 PUMP IT UP
If Ashna’s wubbanub pacifier was her best friend, mine is the breast pump. Having a small convenient pump meant it was easy to carry around. Continued pumping meant having extra bottles ready so Kyle and I could go on dates and leave bubs with the grandparents. This was how we found out a bottle of expressed milk at night made for a better sleep! Regular pumping also meant I was able to monitor my supply, increase and decrease as needed. The idea of pumping can be scary to some mums who are used to au natural – but with months of pumping here and there it’s normal to me. Going back to work this week, I knew exactly how much to pump and when.
#21 The most important thing to prepare is you.
We could give you a thousand tips on travelling with a baby (maybe we should write a book?!) but by far the most important piece of advice—one that I never found online—is to be mentally prepared. When your baby is born, you immediately try to find order, routine in chaos. That’s normal. But travelling with baby completely throws routine out the window because your environment constantly changes. There were moments this was super stressful because I felt like I was losing my routine and control. It was double hard when we were going through a challenging time, like baby won’t sleep or trying solid foods for the first time and a poop hasn’t come in 4 days. (WILL A FLIGHT DELAY THE POOP ARRIVAL!?).
But stop. Take a deep breath. Remember it’s normal to feel this way. Don’t beat yourself up. This challenge will make you a more flexible parent. For me, it made me myself again. It made me less obsessed over menial things because there is too much to enjoy. Having time off with Kyle also meant we went through these challenges together, as a team. And getting through travelling with a baby really makes coming back home seem like a walk in the park!
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If you’re going to be traveling with a bub, I hope a few of the tips are helpful for you! If there’s something we left out, please ask away in the comments. And if you’re unsure about traveling with a baby, I hope you’re now inspired to take the trip of a lifetime!