I’m just going to say it. Once you have kids, vacations will never be the same. The first thing I want you to do is take your travel expectations and lower them by 75% . In fact, stop calling them vacations. From now on, you will refer to them as “family trips”. Listen I am here to speak truth 😀
BUT…. there are several things you can do to make these “trips” much more enjoyable.
I moved to Luxembourg when I was 35 weeks pregnant with my first (I moved back at 34 weeks with my second, expert pregnant traveler as well you could say). We moved with dreams of continuing the gypsy life we started individually way before we were a couple. Our passports were decorated with stamps from all over the world and this work opportunity gave us dreams of traveling all around Europe with our little family. The night before arriving to Luxembourg, I woke in the middle of the night to my husband creating a list countries long of where we were going to go. It was ambitious for even a backpacker.
Flash forward to my daughter being born. ha. HA. that list…. oh that list.
Our travels did start pretty immediately. One of my best friends was getting married in Cyprus (just a short 2 hour drive to Brussels and 4 hour flight away) 6 weeks after the birth of my daughter. I was a bridesmaid. We were going.
This trip taught us SO much. Gone were are days of carelessly globe trotting. If we were going to continue to see the world, there were extensive adjustments we were going to have to make. I spent that trip in a perpetual state of postpartum anxiety, only slightly putting it on pause to celebrate my 30th birthday and watch my friend marry the love of her life. Then rushing back to our less than fabulous airbnb to figure out how to put baby girl to sleep.
For the next two years, we continued traveling, but this trip bubbled up a myriad of travel discussions. we needed to change our strategy.
Here is what we learned:
The Pre Trip Planning
Your trip success begins the minute you start planning and booking.
- Try to make your traveling as direct as possible. If it means spending an extra $100… believe me, it is worth it. Search for destinations with direct flights. Traveling by car or train is always easier with small children too because they give you more liberty to move around. If you are traveling far, and need to break up the trip into 2 days, do it.
- Babies shouldn’t really be in their carseat more than 4 hours without breaks.
- On a long haul international flight, book the bulkhead seats and call to reserve the airplane cot. Travel at night so that baby sleeps most of the flight.
- The most ideal situation is to stay in a location where baby can have their own space, whether it is a room, walk in closet, or large bathroom. If you are able to create a separate sleep space for your baby, you will be able to continue to enjoy your trip long after they have gone to sleep. If this is not possible, then I highly recommend looking into the slumberpod (use apresthebump$20 for 5% off). This magical little tent creates a fabulous and safe space for your baby without you having to turn off the lights and start staring at your phone at 7pm in silence.
- Start making a packing list a week in advance. As you go about your normal routine, make note of everything you use for your little one. If you can start separating items into packing cubes it will make organizing everything so much easier. I like a packing cube for sleep items, one for daytime clothes, and another for all the extras (like pool things) depending on your destination.
- Take one pack of diapers in your suitcase and if you need anymore purchase them at your destination. You don’t want to arrive to your destination and have to rush out for diapers. I usually take 7 diapers per day we leave. This gives me 5 for the day, and 2 for emergencies.
- Do NOT forget the SLEEP ESSENTIALS: Whatever you do in your bedtime routine and for sleep, BRING IT. That means: the sound machine (I like this one), one or two books, the lotion you use, sleep sack, and lovey. You want to recreate your sleep environment from home, wherever you are going.
- Make it a comfortable trip. Choose good accommodations that look enjoyable and have good ratings. If you are going to try to pinch pennies traveling with kids, honestly stay home, it is not worth the work. Stay somewhere where you can access food at any moment. If you have a kitchen awesome, if not make sure there is room service. This has become my minimum for going anywhere. Kids wake up early, and I am not going to wait until 9am to get them food, especially if there is a time difference.
- When traveling time zones, for every hour of difference calculate one day to adjust to the new time zone. That means if you are going transatlantic or even from California to Boston, your trip needs to really be at least 2 weeks long. Otherwise you will spend it in a jet lag fog.
- Finally: MAMA… DO NOT WORRY about making goodie bags for the other passengers. Stop stressing about people looking at you. F them. You are in survival mode. They were babies once too and people had to put up with them. It drives me nuts that people think parents need to excuse themselves for raising our next generation. Honestly we have never had an issue with mean passengers, but I’m not exactly looking around asking for forgiveness. I listened to a baby scream from LA to Nepal the entire flight before I had kids. The world can listen to mine now.
tulip festival, Keukenhof, Holland
The trip there is my least favorite part. A lot of it is out of your hands, you just never know how travel will go even when you travel alone, so just prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.
- BRING ALL THE SNACKS
- Whether you are traveling by plane, train, or car, have a bunch of different snacks on hand. I love the smaller cereal puffs, and sliced up grapes. Basically anything that is small and takes time to consume helps you kill time. Rice cakes, fruit, raisins, sandwiches are some of the things I have taken. The most important part is variety and even novelty. If they don’t usually get prepackaged snacks, they will be THRILLED and entertained. I always take one cup of milk. With babies you are allowed to pass through security with liquids.
- Take the stroller
- I have ALWAYS regretted not bringing a stroller. Even if you are baby wearing, It is the perfect place to throw all the stuff you are carrying. Don’t break your back. Take the stroller, throw all your things on there, and gate check. With kids that aren’t walking yet, I still like to take the baby carrier because we have arrived to some locations where they don’t give us our stroller until we arrive at the baggage area and carrying a 20lbs baby through endless airport halls is no fun. Even just standing waiting for the plane to board or deplane, it is nice to have hands free.
- Novelty toys
- Before your trip, head to Target or the dollar store and grab a bunch of lightweight novelty cheap toys. I have done window stickers, coloring books, squishy balls, literally anything that I think will remotely interest them. If it buys me 20 minutes, It was a success.
- In your diaper bag:
- diapers (one for every hour you are traveling)
- novelty toys
- change of clothes for baby
Ok remember those travel expectations? Now is a good time to slice those in half. You will likely be tired. Traveling with kids is no joke. Embrace the tiredness and focus instead on the beautiful memories you are creating.
When I look back at pictures from our trips and see our smiling faces, I know we were both so very tired. But i love seeing my baby girl in her snow suit in the Austrian alps. Or clapping while watching a Parisian puppet show.
I’m pretty sure we had a night with several night wakings while in Wales but I don’t really remember that. Instead I remember her learning to walk on an unusually beautiful Welsh day with the Tremaddog Bay in the background.
These memories are cemented in my brain and are priceless. Because of how difficult it can be to travel with kids, I won’t accept just any trip anymore (my husband would travel to the ends of the earth with one change of clothes and sleep on the beach if he could), but those special trips in locations that can’t be beat? Ok i’ll be tired for that.
Once there, here is what you need to know:
- Plan one activity per day. In other words. Don’t overplan. You need to honor naps throughout the day and you won’t want to feel pressured to get to too many different places. If you do more than one activity that is great but just plan for one whether its a museum, a castle tour, a bike ride etc. Take it easy. The best plans are the ones where the little ones have space to just be.
- As stated above, keep your same schedule as much as possible. If you start dropping naps, or pushing bedtimes back every day, you are going to have one cranky child. If you are going to sacrifice one nap, make it the afternoon nap in a carrier or stroller. The morning naps are usually the best quality ones. If you are going to push bedtime back on day, maybe opt for an earlier bedtime the next day. Honestly, traveling with a tired, cranky, baby isn’t fun. Honor their schedule as best as you can while still enjoying your new destination.
- Stick to the same bedtime routine. This is your baby’s cueing system that it is time to sleep regardless of the new environment. They may take a little longer to drift off, especially if they are older and more aware, but this will significantly help.
- Same sleep environment. This means sound machine, dark room, and you can even bring crib sheets that smell like home. To darken the room you can just throw some aluminum foil and tape in your luggage, or you can buy something like the slumberpod. This is especially important when considering a bright destination in the summer when the sun will go down way past bedtime.
Ok the trip was a success, you made some awesome memories, and let’s face it you probably need a vacation from your trip.
- If you can build in some days off post trip you will really appreciate it. It is going to be insane if you go and come home on a Sunday and need to be back to work on Monday. Give yourself time to get groceries, unpack, and start some laundry.
- Get back into routine ASAP. In our home, the minute we get back home, whatever flexibility happened on vacation gets tightened up. If you room shared and your toddler got used to you being there while she fell asleep and wants to continue that now that you are home, hold the boundary. Do not come home and continue whatever bad sleep or routine habits you picked up along the trip or you are going to watch your good sleeper unravel. If you sleep trained, you may need to go back to your strategies. It usually takes us about a week to get everything back in order. Especially the times we have gone away from more than a week. Be consistent and hold boundaries.
- Learn and adjust! You will figure out pretty quickly what worked for your family and where you need to adjust to make the next trip more enjoyable. There is definitely a traveling learning curve and that is ok. Just keep doing it and soon you will all be travel pros!
I hope this was helpful. For more details like schedules and packing lists I encourage you to purchase my travel guide and check out this blog post with some of my favorite travel items and this blog post for my favorite travel toys.