Travel is often thought of as an exciting and relaxing adventure. However, the idea of traveling with a baby often turns exciting and relaxing into stressful and nerve-racking.
Showing your kids the world exposes them to new experiences, and instills values of curiosity and exploration. If you’re one of the millions of Americans traveling as a family, then you also understand how stressful it can be to go on vacation with babies.
Alejandra Tejada, mom and founder of Totts, a company that sends customized packages of baby travel essentials to your destination, shares her tips for planning a successful first vacation with a baby. A key thing that may be missed is baby floats when you are on vacation near water.
What to know when planning your first vacation with baby
Traveling is such an adventure, and even more so when you travel with kids. Two years ago, we took our first vacation with our then 3-month old baby. It was the first vacation together, and my last before I returned from maternity leave. We have lots of stories and lessons learned from that trip.
Reflecting back, despite the challenges and stress, it was the best vacation we’ve taken as a family to date.
Cartagena, Colombia was a natural choice for our first trip together. We wanted a stopover on our way to meet family in Bogota, and a warm destination to save us from Boston’s winter tundra. Picking the right location, hotel and activities were key, but there were other pieces that just happened to fit into place (by luck, no less!)
Here’s what we learned and still apply to travel these days.
Location, location, location!
When you’re considering your first trip with your child, you may think beach vacations are the only ones that work — don’t limit yourself! Look for locations that have the mix of activities you want (e.g., site seeing, beach, restaurants) that are all central to where you’re staying.
Cartagena worked for us because we wanted a mix of culture, picture-perfect sites, a pool, and delicious food (with plenty of ice cream breaks). We had access to all of this within a quarter mile walking radius.
It’s worth splurging to get the location you need, especially if you are traveling with a little one. My son was 3 months old and feeding every 1.5 hours at the time, so it was key to be able to go back to the hotel when I needed to, without feeling like I was a slave to the hotel room.
Hotel vs Airbnb rentals
A lot of parents only go the Airbnb/vacation rental route, but for us, it depends. For our first trip, we chose a hotel that had a living room and kitchenette. We enjoyed the comfort of a buffet breakfast every morning, cleaning services and concierge help, while having a place to set up a changing station, heat bottles and wash equipment.
There are a lot of benefits to both, and you can always look for something in between. We now know what works for us in each travel situation, which is generally a mix of both. After all, it’s vacation!
Prepare for a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad FIRST day
This was a lesson learned for us, and if it’s not a bad day for you, you have luck on your side!
We found that the first day adjusting from any trip has been difficult. Whether it’s the time change, sleeping arrangements or just getting used to a new location, it’s important not to expect too much from the first day. Don’t set an itinerary; go with the flow and try to enjoy your first day adjusting together.
Starting a trip with these expectations helps set the tone for the fact that your first trip with baby is not like what you’re used to. You have to operate in baby steps (excuse the pun!), and when they are that cute, it makes up for not operating at regular speed.
Overpack, the extra weight outweighs the extra worry — but don’t let this discourage you!
I’m not a fan of over-packing; that’s why I started Totts. However, being prepared for the unexpected helped me ease my initial fears of traveling with a baby. You really don’t know what to expect the first time, so if you need to pay for extra luggage, bring more supplies or back-ups (I even brought a back-up pump in case mine failed) — do it.
While this may discourage you from taking the trip in the first place, don’t let it! If I needed to bring my whole home on this vacation, I would have done so in a heartbeat to have the memories that I now have of this first trip.
When I’m feeling blue or realizing how fast my baby has grown, I find comfort in the memories we made in Cartagena when he was 3 months old. And a small baby that sits calmly on top of your legs while you a sip a cold drink isn’t bad either!
The good news is that the earlier you start traveling with your baby, the earlier they will learn travel skills right along with you, and vacations will once again be something the whole family will look forward to taking.