Vacation time is almost here, and it's time to prepare for your first long trip with your baby. Don't let the worries of traveling with your little one put a damper on your plans! It's quite possible to travel and even to vacation with a baby in tow.
Planning is the key to traveling happily with your baby. Everyone will be happiest if you make detailed plans to see to baby's comfort. Start by mapping out your travel route. Plan to stop every hour or two to feed or change your little passenger. He or she will be more comfortable if given a bit of time to stretch or even to lie down. After all, imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you were strapped into the same position hour after hour. As adults, we stretch, wiggle and shift to alleviate this sort of discomfort, and we can ask the driver to stop when necessary. Your baby has none of these options. Look over your planned route and find baby-friendly sites for possible stops. Casual restaurants, malls, city parks, roadside rest areas, and larger discount stores are all likely to have restroom facilities and a quiet place where you can feed the baby. We've even pulled off in local cemeteries in a pinch.
The timing of your trip can also be important. Many families like to travel when baby is likely to sleep, like during naptimes or at night. This words well for some and backfires for others. It is mostly dependent on how well your baby sleeps in the car. Any experienced parent-traveler can tell you that traveling with a cranky, tired baby who won't sleep is no fun at all.
It's important to be able to stick to baby's schedule and accommodate his or her needs as far as possible on your trip. If you are traveling to someone else's home (like a grandparent's), this probably won't be difficult. However, many hotels just aren't set up well to work with an infant. A better choice, if you can find it, is a housekeeping suite or cabin. These often have small refrigerators and kitchenettes with stoves or microwaves that will allow you to heat food and bottles. In addition, they have the added advantage of being farther away from the neighbors and so more private. Crying babies are less likely to disturb others that way. Wherever you choose to stay, make sure they have a crib for your baby, or plan to bring your own. If you use a crib provided by the hotel, make sure it meets your safety standards.
The next hurdle is figuring out what to pack and avoiding bringing the entire nursery. You'll want the essentials, of course. Diapers, wipes, bottles and feeding utensils and food, soaps, lotions, and powder. Bring medications, such as pain/fever reliever, that you may need at a moment's notice. Two or three outfits per day in a variety of thicknesses, sleepers, and blankets will be very important. Be sure to pack a jacket, gloves and a hat if there's any chance they'll be needed. Don't forget the sunscreen! If you plan to take your baby to the pool or beach, invest in some swim diapers. Many swim areas now require them.
As for equipment, you'll want to make sure baby has a safe place to sleep and to be when you don't want to hold him or her. Some portable cribs can double as small playpens. How will you manage baby at mealtimes? An infant seat or seat that fastens onto the table may be just the ticket. Bring the stroller and/or baby backpack, too. It's also wise to invest in a sunshade for your car window. It will keep the sun out of baby's eyes and may prevent burns. If your trip plans include the beach, look around for a way to keep your little one in the shade. Consider an umbrella or a cloth shelter that can act like a little tent.
As you travel, you will want the things you need to keep baby comfortable and entertained close at hand. Pack the usual things in your diaper bag, and you may also want a goody bag just for the trip. Some ideas of things to pack include small toys, finger snacks if your little one eats them yet, and extra drinks. Tapes or CD's of children's songs and lullabies can sooth a fussy baby and maybe even lull some to sleep. You'll want to toss in any sure-fire kid pleasers that you know of, like favorite stuffed animals or puppets. Don't forget the security item or blanket! Pack some board or cloth books that baby can safely look at alone. Novelty can be a plus. You might want to shop for a few brand new treasures shortly before your trip to surprise your little one.
As you travel, be mindful of baby's comfort. As far as possible, keep the sun off of your little one. Monitor the temperature and try to keep the baby from getting chilled or overheated. Make sure baby does not touch car seat buckles or any other bits of metal that get hot in the sun. And NEVER leave your baby unattended in the car, even for a moment.
If you plan carefully and follow these simple suggestions, you will be well on your way to a pleasant and memorable trip with your baby. It can be great fun to take family trips, and having a baby in the group doesn't need to limit your horizons.