We recently returned from a week in Hawaii with baby Feather – our first proper family vacation. I had planned to do a travel review post, but upon returning home, realized actually take any photos… Instead, I’ve compiled some of our learnings on how to travel with a baby – a 10 month old at the time.
1. The first day will not be like the rest. I think this is a really important point. After our first 24 hours traveling with baby, my husband and I were both incredibly frazzled. Baby Feather, who usually has two naps at the same time each day, refused to nap on the plane. Or at all in the hotel room. He was getting crankier and crankier, and we were getting more and more exhausted. At one point, my husband even explored the possibility of ending our trip early.
I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal when you don’t have kids – yup I know exact what you’re thinking, you child free couples with wonderful, globe trotting lives and tons of extra money! No big deal…your little darling didn’t take his naps. But it’s actually really stressful. Just imagine having to hold onto a very heavy, very large and squirmy cat which is getting more and more grouchy and yowly by the minute. A cat which you also have to feed, and doesn’t use a litterbox. You can’t put the cat down, because then it’ll trot right over to the beverage cart and knock all the drinks down, or it’ll eat an old piece of discarded gum on the ground which could contain Zika molecules. Multiply that by five hours. And that’s just the flight!
The first 24 hours of our trip were by far the worst, because baby Feather was adjusting to the travel and the new environment. But after that, our trip improved immeasurably. By the end, we were actually quite sad to leave Hawaii (and briefly contemplated just continuing to live there, so we wouldn’t have to get onto another plane). So remember…when you’re lying on the hotel bed exhausted and trying to wrangle away the room service menu from your child…things will improve.
2. Pack many portable toys. I used to really dislike all those bright plastic children’s toys, and the idea of lots of toys in general. I knew that I would be a different type of mom, and my baby would quietly amuse himself all day with organic German wood blocks.
Of course, that’s all gone completely out the window, and I can recite to you by heart most of the Fisher Price songs which seem to be recycled on all of their toys. I do try my best to keep the number of toys down at home, and introduce new ones slowly. But when it came to our travels, I must have purchased something like eight or ten little trinkets. Mr. Feather thought I was crazy, but by the time we were on our flight home, he was asking for more. “What do you mean, we’ve run out??” he exclaimed.
Sometimes you’ll have the energy to do another round of, “let’s crawl around and amuse the baby,” or “let’s carry baby up and down the aisles of the plane while making sure he doesn’t accidentally kick someone in the face.” But sometimes, you just want to sit and rest. Each new toy bought us about a five to ten minute break…a welcome reprieve!
By the way – those ten items didn’t just include actual toys. They also included sticky notes (fun for baby to rip off and stick), a mini Altoids tin (basically a rattle), and an empty NARS lipstick container. Almost anything can amuse a baby…for five minutes, at least.
3. Splurge on the hotel room to get extra space (and pay attention to which properties are family friendly). You spend way more time in your room than you normally would with a baby. Ours went to bed promptly each evening at 7-8 PM….and kept his two hour long naps as well (one in the morning, one in the afternoon). We made the decision to splurge on a one bedroom suite, and we were so happy we did – baby could sleep in one room, while we were still able to watch TV, read, eat quietly, and hang out in another.
When it was just me and Mr. Feather, we almost never booked suites at hotels (unless it was the only room category) – we just didn’t need the space, so the expense didn’t make sense. Now we really appreciate the space and freedom. We’ve accepted our fate that we’ll need to be paying for larger spaces going forward (and using Airbnb much more).
We also check out which properties are family friendly, and offer lots of activities for kids. Although baby Feather was too young to partake in most activities, it still tells you quite a lot about the general tone of the hotel, and what the property’s staff is trained to do.
4. Pack some memories of home. We made sure to pack baby Feather’s cribsheet, lovey, nap time blanket, sleeping sack, and favorite portable toy and book with us. The sleep items really helped in my opinion into making the hotel’s crib “his,” and feel more familiar. The toys and book were also a familiar sight. Keep in mind that baby doesn’t know you’re going on vacation….to them they’ve just been uprooted and plopped somewhere new!
5. Buy a dedicated seat. OK – this may just be for us, as I know lots of people who didn’t buy seats for their kids until they hit two. We didn’t do this on our trip, opting for two seats in business/first instead. I can totally see this working if your child is younger, or super duper well behaved, or you just have the tolerance of a super hero. But in the future, we will be getting baby Feather his own seat. It’s safer (since you can strap them into the car seat), and helps provide some relief.
Also keep in mind if you’re flying business/first as a family, that usually means that someone will be separated across the aisle, in a different row, etc. And some airlines that have pod seating don’t allow children under two to fly on their own in a pod…we just found that out trying to book ANA. Pod seating likely isn’t the best at a certain age anyway – you can’t interact directly and a parent will have to keep getting up and walking over to check on the little one…definitely not a relaxing experience!
6. Adjust your expectations. I really believe there is a moment during every family vacation when you think to yourself – Oh man, I’m spending all this money just to suffer. You’ll wonder why you ever left the safety and comfort of your home.
The mistake you’re making, is that you’re comparing a vacation with kids (and especially with a baby) to those you had without. You will not get to have cocktails by the pool undisturbed. You will not get to just pop into a random cafe you come across and have a nice relaxing tea. If you compare your vacation to these ideas, you’ll be disappointed.
If you adjust your expectations though, and think about experiencing new things as family – it’s a whole different view. The first time baby played in the sand. The first time we all sat and watched the sunset together as a family. And having to hang out in the hotel room (instead of going out) ended up being really relaxing in itself – just lounging on the hotel bed, reading.
I included the last blurry picture because that’s what most of our family photos looked like on this trip. We’d all get together for a picture, everything would be ready, and then we’d notice a food splotch on somebody’s shirt. Or baby Feather would decide to suddenly become very despondent. Or there was a thumb over the camera. I realized once our trip was over, that we hadn’t gotten any nice “posed” family shots…the kind I would have loved to commemorate our vacation with. The funny thing is, this photo brings back all kinds of good memories for me, and I remember exactly when and where we took it (Bills Cafe). That’s probably what your first vacation with kids will be like – nothing like you would have thought your dream vacation would be, but still a wonderful memory.
What are some of your tips and experiences, traveling with a baby, toddler, and kids as they got older?