Oh, The Places You've Gone With Your Infant! Tell me about them
December 16, 2016 8:27 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I used to travel regularly but since my daughter was born, we've barely traveled more than 20 miles from home. I know he'd like to go on a vacation and I certainly would but I'm nervous about traveling with a baby. Where are good places to go with a baby? What do we need to know? What was the best trip you took with your infant?

I'm the designated travel planner in our household (me, husband, seven month old baby girl) so I thought that for the holidays, I would like to put together a few trip ideas for our family. However, when I try to come up with those ideas (London? Rome? Maui? Jamaica?), I don't know if they're good places to take a baby.

I'd like to travel with our daughter and I think that after we've done it a few times, it won't be nearly as scary. I realize I just need to deal with the fact that there will be some uncertainty and I've heard many people say that traveling with an infant is relatively easy because she's portable and can't take off on her own like a toddler. But when I planned trips before, it was easy for me to be cavalier about the risks of going someplace off the grid and I feel like I can't do that now.

Also, our baby girl was premature and is still very small for her age. So part of me worries that we'll go somewhere, she'll decide she doesn't want to eat and stop gaining weight, we'll bring her to the pediatrician when we get home and say we were traveling and the pediatrician will say "you took her where?! what were you thinking??" and I will feel awful.

Ideally, it'd be nice if we could take her to places where we have already been but I think both my husband and I would like to go new places too. I also thought that it'd be helpful if we could ease into traveling, like let's see how we deal with a short flight before trying to go to Europe.

We live in Washington, D.C. so I thought we could try short trips to visit family in Boston and North Carolina. I also think it'd be nice to take her to San Francisco and maybe Seattle. It'd also be nice to go somewhere where we can relax like Jamaica or Maui. And I'd like to go to Europe again sometime. My husband has wanted to visit Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I'd like to visit London and Rome, among other places. I thought it'd be nice if we could take a family trip to celebrate when she turns 1. I saw a cool package to Portugal that included days in Lisbon and the Azores. I'd like to go to Cinque Terre but that's probably ambitious with a baby.

What do I need to know about traveling with an infant? What are good places to visit with an infant? Did you go on any cool trips with a baby? Where?
posted by kat518 to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Seven months, eh? How mobile is she? Having done multiple trans-Pacific airplane trips with my daughter who is now two, there is a really big difference between travel pre-six months (aka before she wants to be very mobile and can get bored) and after. After six months, those plane rides got increasingly miserable, and my daughter's daily routine had to be way more centered on her intellectual and physical stimulation versus just going along for the ride with what we were doing, or else bedtime and nighttime sucked. YMMV, but I would definitely encourage you do to a reasonable trip sooner rather than later, both to take advantage of her age and also to get a first trip out of the way when it'll be relatively easier so that you feel more confident for your next trip.

As a bonus, littler ones sleep more, especially in carriers, leaving you more free to wander cities and check out museums. Take advantage of their portability as much as you can! When my daughter was five months we brought her to visit family in the US and visited Boston and Phoenix, and that worked fairly well - we got to see the people and things we wanted to see without too much DROP EVERYTHING AND GET HER HOME TO GET TO BED action.

As far as general "traveling with a little one" stuff... if she's fully vaccinated and isn't immunocompromised generally, she should be fine traveling. Get travel insurance (or make sure your insurance covers you at your destination) to give you peace of mind in case she has any issues or isn't eating or you otherwise need to get in touch with your doctor. Depending on where you're going, make sure you know what the safety of the local water supply is in case you need to mix up formula or anything. (We went to the Philippines with her earlier this year and beverages were a bit more overhead than we expected, given the need for bottled water and the fact that cow's milk isn't really a readily available beverage there) Definitely start her early on the travel if you can; my kid has racked up tens of thousands of miles at this point, and she knows what the airport drill is, loves airplanes and airports, and can find our luggage on the baggage claim belt before we do. When she's old enough, get her a Trunki. Plan to buy diapers, wipes, etc when you arrive, rather than hauling them all with you. Bring baby Tylenol and other basics just in case. Bring some dish soap in a small container to wash dishes in hotel or AirBnB sinks so you always have clean bottles/cups.

Every kid is different, but from the age of 9 months or so my kid simply will not sleep on airplanes unless she's exhausted enough to literally scream herself to sleep, so redeyes are the worst possible kind of flights we can take. Sometimes it's inevitable (hello, Australia-US) but when it is an option, we go for the daytime flight. People will tell you redeyes are the best because the kid sleeps right through. Do not take that advice as gospel.

Travel as much as you can with her before she wants to stand/crawl/walk/run everywhere, to familiarize her and yourselves with what the Travel With A Kid routine is like. And I recommend doing a longer trip first, because if you can survive that, those short trips to visit family are going to look ridiculously easy even if by then she is increasingly mobile/bored/cranky.
posted by olinerd at 8:45 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

ALSO! Does kiddo have a passport? If not, get that going now! Kids do not travel on their parents passports!
posted by olinerd at 8:49 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

The actual travel with an infant (as in, the plane flights, etc) is very straightforward and not difficult. Where we ran into difficulty were 1) jet lag--nothing like your child being up for the day at 3:30 AM! and 2) the nap schedule. My kids did not nap in strollers or carriers so keeping a consistent nap schedule meant that we had to plan our days to be "home" from 1-3, and also in the evenings.

I would also strongly suggest staying in an Air B&B or something equivalent where you have access to a refrigerator and kitchenette and where the "living" area is separate from the "sleeping" area. The baby probably goes to bed a lot earlier than you do, and it's no fun to spend the evening sitting quietly in a darkened room because the baby is sleeping in the corner.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

First of all ask her pediatrician what you need to know; and give her a list of places you're considering. She'll tell you whether it's a bad idea in terms of contagion risks, etc.

Beyond that, it's just not that big a deal. You just try to stick to places that will have bathrooms where you can change baby's diaper (i.e. not Cinqueterre or other places where the whole point is to hike outside all day.) If you're in a city then baby can be in a stroller mostly. There are some places you might go where you'd want to be sure you can carry her comfortably in a pack.

I've been everywhere you mention other than Jamaica, and the only one I think is a bad idea is Cinqueterre (and even that could be done, you'd just need a trail stroller and possibly to carry some dirty diapers around between towns.) Maui is chock full of families with babies and small children. If you are taking a baby to the beach you'll obviously want her in a suit that protects her skin as much as possible, and swim diapers.

Your pace will be slower than it was when you were unencumbered, but not as slow as it will be when you're traveling with an older kid. It's fine.

Agree you want a VRBO apartment with a room for her rather than a hotel, so you can put her to bed and still have some hours of activity.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:52 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a lot that's more than 20 miles away and closer than Europe (or even Boston). Why not start with a day in Baltimore or weekend in Philly, New York, Shenandoah, or Eastern Shore? See how that goes and then do the plane trip to Boston, then consider the 3 hour flight to Jamaica, etc. Crawl before you walk, etc.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:54 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take a train!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:02 AM on December 16, 2016

We've taken babies (between 6 months-1 year) on camping trips, Las Vegas, 2-week California roadtrip (including Disneyland!), lots of two-hour trips to the mountains, and a weekend trip to Texas. We took our 4-month old on a 5 hour train trip to Seattle, and went to a Mariners game. These trips were lots of fun, and I do encourage you to give travel with baby a shot! Start with a small trip and work up from there. :-) Our babies have loved traveling (although it got more difficult for us when they hit about 3...they needed more to keep them occupied).
posted by I_love_the_rain at 9:08 AM on December 16, 2016

Thirding that AirBnB/VRBO is the way to go for these kinds of trips. It not only gives you kitchen access, it usually gives you more space so that kid can nap in the bedroom and you can hang out in the living room/deck/wherever.

We took our kiddo on five different trips before she was one. A couple were to see family, but we also went to Manhattan and Hawaii. It was all pretty manageable, and though we had the occasional tough flight in there, for the most part things went smoothly. Some tips, in no particular order:

1. Pack more formula/snacks/diapers/etc. than you think you need for the actual travel part of the trip. Planes get delayed, traffic happens, etc. Make sure you stay fed and watered as well.

2. You're going to be hauling a lot of crap, so see where you can downsize. If kiddo will handle travel in a chest carrier, you may not need the carseat if you can catch a train from the airport to the city center, etc. Also, lots of hotels and even AirBnBs can get their hands on a portable crib so you don't have to schlep one. If you're visiting relatives, it may be cost effective for the relatives to buy a portable crib or car seat rather than renting or trying to pack everything.

3. You generally don't need much in the way of other toys etc., since new spaces will often keep the kids entertained. YMMV though.

4. Diapers take up a ton of space and they're sold everywhere. Don't feel like you have to pack all you need for the trip. Amazon etc. can also ship stuff ahead so that it's there when you arrive; we did that for our Hawaii trip and it worked great.

5. Adjust your travel plans for the kid once you're at your destination. Shorter trips are probably going to be the norm; don't expect to go do a full-group 10 mile hike. Consider trading off time watching the kid with your partner (or even better, with friends or relatives along on the trip) so you can do adult things without baby in tow. We traveled to Hawaii with friends and to New York with my parents, so there were options to trade kid watching duties and do things like see plays or go surfing. Highly recommended.

6. This is more of a personal preference, but I'm not fluent in anything but English, and though I can certainly navigate non-English speaking countries, it adds a level of stress to the trip that I wouldn't want to deal with along with the infant stress, especially early on. I expect our next international trips will be without the kid, but certainly it can be done.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:10 AM on December 16, 2016

Check out wandermom.com - it has a ton of ideas on how to travel with kids, and the destinations show you how ambitious you can be.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:36 AM on December 16, 2016

I want to second what The Elusive Architeuthis said about jet lag.

When my daughter was this age we went on a trip with an 8 hour time change. She just would not adjust despite my best efforts. In fact she went a couple of hours in the wrong direction, finally falling asleep for the night around 7 am, even after we had been in that time zone for a week. It was not fun.

The smaller the time difference the better!
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 9:38 AM on December 16, 2016

Pack extra outfits FOR THE GROWNUPS ON THE FLIGHTS, said the mom who rode five hours to California encrusted in vomit, with a particularly large pool of it in her crotch area
posted by sestaaak at 10:32 AM on December 16, 2016 [10 favorites]

We took our daughter from San Francisco to Berlin when she was 8 months old. It went pretty well and we saw a lot of the city because she would sleep in the stroller while we walked around. Between 1 - 2 years old plane flights got to be pretty challenging because she wanted to move around and couldn't yet be entertained by videos. Since 2, the iPad works to keep her entertained for hours which makes the flights much better. We've done two more international trips with her as well as multiple coast to coast trips.

I would definitely try traveling. It seems overwhelming but it's not been bad for us. I would join the chorus that renting an apartment or house is much better than a hotel room.
posted by pombe at 10:35 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

With health considerations and the other things mentioned above taken care of, I would recommend you travel with your child. Exposure to a wide variety of experiences throughout childhood will benefit your children their entire lives. There are so many family friendly ways to travel in the US and many other places. Do take into account the additional demands on your energy and your baby's general adaptability and avoid over-scheduling. Plan for plenty of down time and just plain "being a kid" time. One of my nieces was exceptionally good about anticipating that her kids needed to run around a bit and would find an appropriate outlet - a nearby park, whatever. Then when they needed to behave for an event, they'd had a chance to expend some of that energy and were ready to settle down for a time. Her kids have always been the best-behaved easy to be around people I know.

With regard to jet lag, it probably depends on how much you and your child depend on a regular schedule. When my daughter was a baby and a toddler, we had a pretty flexible schedule because that worked for both of us and with the fact that her father worked the 3 - 11 pm shift. It would probably help if you started adjusting to a different schedule gradually in the week before your trip. For me personally I don't feel jet lag. Somehow the subjective time spent on the airplane expands or contracts so that I am at whatever time it is at my destination.

One more thing, from a frequent traveler:
A plea to all parents traveling with kids, especially if you and your children are not seasoned travelers.

On an airplane, please be prepared to give your child/children the full attention of at least one adult. This is not your chance to read, play games, or whatever. Expecting others in the small space of an airplane to tolerate your bored, squirmy, noisy children while you mentally check out is not okay. I have endured so many flights where parents have mostly checked out while their offspring kicked the back of my seat, pulled my hair, etc., etc.

Make sure you know what foods they will eat and what toys/activities they enjoy and be prepared to engage in those activities with them while on the plane. If you do that I would be delighted to sit next to you and your child. Babies may be fussy and the air pressure change is often painful until their ears adjust. Frequent travelers like myself understand and expect those things. We only hate when the adults in the party are not prepared to give their children their full attention to ensure the flight will be as pleasant an experience as possible for everyone.

On the rare occasions when parents have taken this approach, I have always made a point of thanking them and praising their parenting skills.
posted by Altomentis at 11:40 AM on December 16, 2016

Thanks everyone for your helpful suggestions so far! One specific question - I thought that if we were traveling, we should plan to take a car seat and stroller but what do you do about a place to sleep? I know relatives can plan to keep a pack 'n'play and sometimes hotels have them - should I aim for finding a hotel with one? I also have a travel bed like https://www.amazon.com/Eddie-Bauer-Infant-Travel-Solution/dp/B001OBDKJ2
but I haven't tried putting her down in it. Also, do you care about or recommend those bags for the car seat when you fly?
posted by kat518 at 11:45 AM on December 16, 2016

Yes, do it! Our daughter went to five countries and many states before she was 1.5. Here's my advice:

1. Do not stay in a hotel room. Use AirBnB and if you can, get an AirBnB that specifically says it is good for children. When we went to Rome, we stayed in an amazing place that had a crib and toys and it made a huge difference.

2. Adjust your expectations. The first trip we took with our daughter was disappointing in a way -- we didn't do 1/3 of the fun stuff we would do if we didn't have kids. But,you know what, once we adjusted our expectations it was great! We chose one restaurant every day and made the most of it, one attraction, etc. We did stuff that non-tourists do, like go to playgrounds. We just enjoyed not being at home. But don't think it will be anything like travelling before kids.

3. Try to check out local blogs, etc. before you go to find kid-friendly restaurants, activities, etc. For example, if you go to London there are literally thousands of activities for kids every day that are not designed for tourists -- playgroups, music classes, soft play, etc. Tapping into those and seeing how people go about ordinary activities in other countries is great fun.

4. Do NOT go to many places in one trip. We're always tempted to bounce around, but that is a mistake. Pick a place and stay there. It's not nice to the kid to sleep in a new place every night, and it won't be fun for you with all the stuff. Try to keep the same travel bed/cot each time, or co-sleep.

5. Oh, and don't bring all the stuff. Kids really do need very little!

Go as many places as you can before s/he is 2 and you have to pay for a flight!
posted by heavenknows at 12:27 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, saw your more specific questions. You can bring a travel cot for continuity, but most places will have them, esp. AirBnBs. Again, would avoid hotels -- you have to basically be a prisoner in the room with the kid asleep and it's no fun. Some AirBnBs have cots (or try kid friendly companies like kid&co for rentals.) Car seat bags are really pricey -- I wonder if a contractor's trash bag (big and thick) would work as well? Note that a lot of car companies will be able to provide a car seat if you call in advance so you may not actually need one!
posted by heavenknows at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2016

When we traveled with our kiddo as a baby we always brought a stroller - not an umbrella stroller, but a big one with storage and a seat that can lie down. It's such a lifesaver. I can't tell you how many times I ended up changing diapers in that thing. On big trips where we plan to get around a lot and there isn't good public transportation, we've brought the car seat. Most airlines will charge your for a carseat bag if you are checking it and don't already have one and they are honestly just big plastic bags, so I think something like the one you linked to would be a good idea. If we are just staying in the city center, we will forgo the car seat because it's much nicer to walk everywhere and lug one less thing around. Most hotels will have a pack and play or crib, you can ask when booking. That travel bed doesn't look too sturdy for a mobile infant.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 1:35 PM on December 16, 2016

I use a gear bag to carry the car seat + base as well as a pack and play.

Don't forget since you bought the kids a seat, they have the same baggage allowance as an adult.

I'd second the home/airbnb over a hotel, unless you are willing to do a suite at a hotel (which is actually a tremendous option if you can)

I've taken a two year old to non-Tokyo Japan, and a three year old + a 9 month old to Spain (from NYC)

Just accept the that the flight+ the jet lag will be brutal, but you will survive them. Try to move locations as little as possible. For Spain we were there a bit more than two weeks and stayed in two places.

The one mistake I make is choosing destinations that end up "Long flight+connecting flight or train+car ride." Don't do that. Fly directly to your first destination and stay there to acclimate to the time change.

Try to source a sitter so you can go out to dinner once or twice.
posted by JPD at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2016

We recently visited dear friends in Copenhagen, who moved there when their twins were about 6 months old.

I cannot overstate the degree to which Copenhagen specifically and Denmark in general are infant and baby friendly:

- Denmark has one of the highest fertility rates in Europe, and there are kids everywhere.
- strollers everywhere. Be aware its the norm to park your stroller outside, with your napping infants in it, while you hop into a cafe.
- playgrounds EVERYWHERE, including in the city center, with range of play structures that are suitable from littles up to big kids
- stroller-friendly and kid-friendly museums and attractions. Sometimes there is stroller parking where you leave your kids and the staff will keep an eye on them and alert you if they start to fuss, sometimes there are smaller strollers to borrow for a small deposit
- all the restrooms we saw had changing tables

We babysat for the twins (then 18 months) recently, and brought their giant stroller into a hip bar (shout out to Mikellar and Friends) and no-one batted an eyelash. To be fair, we were there in the late afternoon Saturday instead of prime time, but still.

It is just a very chill place to have babies and small children.
posted by foodmapper at 4:01 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I went camping with an 8-month-old, Australia-to-UK with a 15-month-old and stayed with family with a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old. Definitely agree that you should avoid staying in a single room as it is pretty dull whispering between 7pm and 10pm every night. AirBNB was ideal for us a few times, and in one case we got a suite in a hotel so the baby slept in the main room.

Everyone else seems really enthusiastic about travelling with young kids in this thread but honestly I found it incredibly tiring. You need to be in the mindset that it is NOT a relaxing holiday, it's going to be hard work and you will frequently be exhausted. Staying with friends was a lot easier, especially if they have kids themselves.

I am now at the point where I am going to wait a few years before travelling again, and will stick to day trips. Our kids enjoy any old trip that gets them out of the house and stretching their legs. They love going to the supermarket. So overseas holidays are not really for their benefit, and they sure as hell aren't relaxing enough to be for our benefit.
posted by askmeaboutboardgames at 4:54 AM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Even if you don't co-sleep now, when I travelled (max short 1-day/2-day drives within the province) with a baby that age, I brought a travel mattress and chucked it down on various floors -- it was a lot easier than hauling/looking for a travel crib, or hoping that the hotel bed would be co-sleeping-safe. By all accounts from my 20-odd people mummies' group, the non-co-sleeping babies did fine co-sleeping on vacation and then returning to their normal sleeping place when they got home. It was also WAY easier for me, sleep-wise, to be able to roll over, feed, and fall back asleep without mucking about to do that in a strange place.

It would not have occurred to me to take a stroller -- get a good comfy carrier like an Ergo if you don't already have one, get the kiddo used to it when kiddo is already in a good mood before leaving, especially if you're getting a new carrier. Throw it on dad if you get tired -- the less baby paraphernalia, the more packable the baby paraphernalia, the better!

(I can't imagine the paediatrician shaming you. On one trip with my daughter at 8mo she got too excited to eat much during the day, but pigged out like crazy at night. I fretted, though not for very long -- mind the diapers, they don't make pee and poo out of air!)
posted by kmennie at 5:12 AM on December 17, 2016

I have a 2.5 year old. When he was really little, say under 1 year, we travelled all over - cruises, long road trips, overnight stays with friends etc. the second the kid could be mobile, all of that began to suck majorly. He started refusing to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, refused to go in the stroller, refused to eat strange things. This is norm for toddlers. We've gone on a couple of trips since then, and they've been miserable mostly due to sleep issues mostly. Overnight trips are on hold for the time being. It's doable, but not enjoyable. What's the point if everyone is miserable?

We decided to put our energy into exploring the area reachable by day trips. This allows us to focus on expanding our horizons with new experiences, but not putting ourselves in situations where any one of us is bound to be miserable. Once the kid is 4 or 5, we'll experiment again with bigger trips.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:41 AM on December 17, 2016

We've done way too much travel with our eight month old (six round trip flights, soon to be seven), though only one trip was just for fun. Both the flights and sleep while traveling have been progressively more difficult as she gets older, but the daytime and eating out portions have been getting easier.

For flights, I definitely agree that you should plan that one adult will be 100% focused on entertaining her at all times. Be prepared for her to stay awake on the plane, though she may sleep. My daughter slept beautifully for most of the early flights (airplanes have fantastic white noise), but now she's so interested in everything and everyone around her, so she won't sleep at all. We've found it easiest to fly in the morning or the middle of the day so that she can at least go to bed at a normal time - ymmv. I am looking forward to when she'll be old enough to watch a movie on an ipad or something!

Sleep has been difficult when away from home - I think she can tell that she's in a different place, and on our most recent trip I ended up cosleeping with her because she woke up whenever a parent wasn't within arms reach (we have never coslept at home). For our holiday travel we're going to try bringing her unwashed crib sheet from home and hope that it makes it feel more familiar and safe, but we shall see.

On the bright side, if your daughter is sitting in a high chair and feeding herself, it makes restaurants SO MUCH easier. We're doing baby led weaning so we usually give her table food from our plates, but teething wafers or cheerios or whatever is also fine. It's so great to be able to eat out and have her entertain herself by eating and not need to be held 100% of the time during the meal! Also, if you think the baby may need to leave suddenly, I recommend asking the server for the check as soon as the food arrives and paying right away. We almost always do that and it makes it so much easier to just get up and go if there's a meltdown.

Car seat and stroller depend on the trip, I think - will you need to be in a car, or can you take public transit? Will you be walking just a little or a lot? Is your baby happy in a carrier or does she prefer a stroller? We bought a super lightweight and inexpensive convertible car seat for travel. It's not too bad to carry, and since it wasn't expensive I feel fine checking it with the knowledge that it might get damaged at some point. We've brought a stroller on all our trips since it makes getting through the airport eaiser, can be checked for free, and our baby will nap in the stroller but not in a baby carrier. Most or all airlines will check or gate check both strollers and car seats for free btw.

A short trip to visit family is probably the easiest way to test the waters, especially if you plan to spend most of the time at your relatives' homes just hanging out. That will allow her (and you!) to nap whenever, and if they can buy a pack n play, you don't have to figure out traveling with a place for sleep.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:46 AM on December 17, 2016

Public transit is so much easier without a stroller. Consider that while baby is still small enough for that to be practical.
posted by maryr at 10:40 AM on December 17, 2016

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