Last month, my little family of 3 embarked upon our biggest adventure yet: a family trip to Mexico. While travel is nothing new to my husband and me, it was certainly something new to little Peanut, who would turn 11 months old during the trip. As I think back upon the least relaxing vacation of my entire life, I have learned a few tidbits about traveling with a baby. Let the wisdom-imparting begin!
1. This is not the time to try new foods. Corollary: Take about six times as much baby food as you think you need.
We splurged on the pouch food, thinking it was least likely to explode on the plane (and it traveled very nicely). But she’d never tried these flavors of food before, and that’s where we went wrong. While immediately took to the fruit-filled pouches (she would suck on the spout and could drain a pouch in about 12 seconds), the meat pouches were apparently Satan in Puree Form. After one spoonful she’d flail her arms until Turkey-Quinoa Blend went flying. We quickly ran out of food she would eat and had to buy more, but the selection was limited to only fruit. By the end of the week she had a mad case of the fruit poops. We should have stuck with the good ol’ Gerber combos we knew she liked, and packed them by the handful. Bad parents.
2. Schedule short flights.
Our first set of flights was easy — a pair of two-hour flights. Peanut was still on her normal sleep schedule and she did great. Our return, on the other hand, was one four-hour flight followed by a quick 45-minute flight. BAD IDEA. She slept 25 minutes on the way home. The remainder of the time she spent crawling across our laps, crying from exhaustion, pulling the hair of the people in front of us, and flirting with the folks behind us (I think she waved bye-bye for two hours straight). The four-hour flight would have been fine on the way down. When returning from a week that completely messed up her schedule, a four-hour flight was a recipe for disaster and a lot of stress.
3. Try to get a room with two rooms.
We stayed in one large room with a wheely-crib in the corner. At bedtime, we’d go through the routine as best we could, reading Goodnight Moon and giving her a little milk before bed. When we laid her down in the crib, we’d lay down on the bed and feign sleep. She didn’t fall for it, and looked right at us, screaming in frustration. Having us in the room was too much stimulation. Each night, she’d wake up crying at least once. The paper-thin walls kept us from letting her cry it out, so I would nurse her back to sleep, which made for a fun habit to break once we returned home. If we’d had a room we could close off, we’d all have slept better.
4. Ask for a high chair.
We usually fed Peanut in the room before meeting the rest of the family for dinner (we were 3 out of 13 in our travel party). Without a high chair to signal “okay it’s time to eat!”, she didn’t know what the hell we were trying to pull, and there was much flailing and kicking and food-splattering. I should have asked the resort for a high chair (every restaurant had a huge stack of them) and kept it in the room. It would have been a lot easier… and a lot cleaner. We tipped our cleaning ladies generously to make up for the mess.
5. Take two of anything critical.
The night before we departed, my very helpful father-in-law took Peanut’s sippy cup apart and washed it. At 4:45am the next morning, scrambling to get out the door, I saw it on the counter and packed it away in the diaper bag. But you know the clear plastic “filter” thing that keeps the water from pouring out unchecked? In the near-darkness. I didn’t see it on the counter. We had nothing for her to drink from on the way there and ended up dropping straws full of water into her mouth like a baby bird. A backup would have been smart.
6. Put an extra outfit in the carry-on bag. For the baby AND for mom.
She was pretty grubby by the time we hit our layover in Dallas, but my ensemble was worse. I looked like I was ready for the Sunday Morning College Walk of Shame. My shirt was covered in large spots — drool, spit-up, snot, and tears. The neck-hole of my T-shirt was stretched out so far it could have fit three people. My pants were wet with pee and water, my ponytail was now a side-pony and I had claw marks on my face. I really could have used a change of clothes.
7. Pack blankets!
On the plane, two baby blankets were a lifesaver. One was spread out on my lap to make for a nice nap surface. The other was draped on her once she fell asleep to keep her warm on the chilly plane. We definitely needed them both. Pack blankets that can roll up compactly.
8. Check a bag. Even if there’s a charge for it.
I used to take pride in my ability to pack everything in a carry-on bag. (Screw you and your baggage fees, Delta! I have prevailed!) When traveling with a tiny human, Economical Packing Pride is useless. You need every hand you have for the many items you’ll be carrying: the diaper bag, the stroller, the baby’s carry-on full of toys, mom’s backpack, and your own backpack. And oh yeah, THE BABY. Check that suitcase, dude, and use your hands where they are really needed — helping manage the critter you created.
9. Bring a stroller that reclines and has an adjustable sunshade.
You can’t plan your vacation activities around nap time. Especially if you’re traveling with others. Put the kiddo in the stroller when she starts to get cranky, recline the seat, adjust the shade to block the sun (we threw a towel over the top), and walk. And walk and walk and walk until they drop. Then let them sleep their little hearts out next to the pool while you sip a Pina Colada or whatever. But don’t go far, because an iguana might jump into the stroller (that almost happened). Just because the baby needs sleep doesn’t mean you have to be cooped up in the room, bored out of your skull.
10. Try to relax. Ha ha! Good one!
It’s time to accept a new reality: this is the beginning of vacations that no longer feel like vacations. I couldn’t believe how stressed out I was during the trip. But despite the stress, I delighted in seeing Peanut experience her first trip outside the midwest: her face when she felt sand for the first time. Her expression when she tried to suck her sand-covered thumb. Strangers smiling from her sweet little pageant-girl waves on the bus, or at a restaurant.
It wasn’t fun the way my pre-child vacations had been. In fact it was really, really hard. But it was worth it to see her experience new things in her world. And I have a feeling every vacation from here on out will be about her, not me or my relaxation.
Someday vacations will be about relaxation again. Until then, I must find tiny ways to relax among the stress. Luckily, we had a lot of family with us, and they watched Peanut while I went ziplining with my sisters and to a dolphin encounter with my husband. It was glorious!
What have I missed? Do you have any priceless traveling tips that you’ve learned from your own trials (and errors)?