Baby hits the road

Before I had kids, I had fantasies about what it would be like to travel with them. 

I saw myself in a stylish-yet-durable wrap dress, my weightless baby perched on a hip as we gazed out over some gorgeous vista in the American Southwest. 

I used to seek out blogs written by parents who were traveling the world with their young ones for inspiration. The message was always more or less the same: Life doesn’t need to change when you have kids! Love to travel? Well, simple! Just bring them along! 

I naively took these accounts of prancing around Southeast Asia with an infant and a toddler at face value. It didn’t occur to me that they might be heavily edited to avoid sharing the details about what really happens when you cross four time zones with an infant. 

“I can’t believe some parents just give up traveling when they have kids,” I thought to myself. “That will never be me.” 

Well, we haven’t given up traveling, but it’s certainly not as idyllic as I’d imagined. What follows are some of my lessons learned thus far about traveling with small children, so that you may have a better trip.  

Plan obsessively 

When it comes to traveling with children, spontaneity isn’t recommended. Although babies are really quite portable, they frequently require a wide range of accoutrements. Write down everything you could possibly need. For example, if you need to drag along a breast pump, like I do, don’t forget to bring along extras of those tiny little valve things (which you will surely wash down the drain if you don’t have a spare). 

Prepare for the plane 

Like all things parenting-related, it’s best to expect the worst about the plane ride so you’ll be pleasantly surprised if things go well. Bring a large package of earplugs and offer them to your neighbors if the baby starts wailing. Pass around a bag of goodwill candy. 

Offer to buy your row-mate a drink if your little one spits up on her skirt. And for the love of all things sacred, just buy a seat for your not-quite-2-year-old if you’re flying to Hawaii. (We didn’t, and we’ve got the PTSD to prove it.)  

Sleep may tear you apart

One of the basic facts of life is that travel is going to mess up your kid’s sleep. The more time zones, the worse it’s going to be. My suggestion is to bring along as many of your “sleep associations” as possible — like special blankets and sound machines. Tack up towels over the windows to block out the infernal morning sun. 

Still cramming your four-person family into one room at the in-laws? It might be time to look at for some nearby rentals. 

Lower your expectations 

Last fall, a few months before Felix was born, Nick, Lydia (age almost-2) and I took a trip to Kauai. And it was great! But it was definitely a different kind of great. 

That is, Nick and I had a clear vision of what kind of trip we’d be having if we were, say, on our honeymoon, and not on our first big trip with our daughter. 

It’s very important to banish these thoughts from your mind! Traveling with children is a big lesson about living in the moment. 

Focus only on what's happening at that exact second and how you can make it as enjoyable as possible — and don't let your thoughts wander to the particulars of how this trip would’ve played out when you were young and unencumbered.

And remember — your little one’s days of being helpless and squirmy are numbered. 

One day she’ll graduate from the carrier on your back to join you on the trail. And the nights you spent soothing her back to sleep at 4 a.m. in a tiny hotel room will be nothing but a fond memory.