This post is limited to traveling in the first year with a single baby (not twins, no older kids) since that is the only experience I have.
We ended up traveling quite a bit in the first year. But except for two visits to Seattle and Boston for weddings when the baby was close to 1 yr old, the rest were all voluntary.
Here were the trips we did. From San Francisco, we did:
- (3 mo) Drive to LA for vacation
- (5 mo) Fly to San Diego for a conference
- (8 mo) Fly to Taiwan for two weeks for vacation and visit family
- (11 mo) Fly to Seattle then drive to Bellingham for wedding
- (12 mo) Fly to Boston for wedding
We also did numerous "staycation" trips to Monterey and stayed with the grandparents. The longest we stayed there was 5 days.
Except for the Boston trip where I got sick from some disgusting Japanese food on the first night and suffered stomach issues for the whole duration (through no fault of the wedding itself), all the other trips were highly enjoyable and successful. At no point did I regret doing any of those trips and I think what worked well for us was careful planning and setting proper expectations. I think if you got these two big points down, nothing can go that wrong unless you are really unlucky (ex: stranded at airport, food poisoning...).
Before I get to the planning, here are some thoughts I had from these travels:
You don't have to travel.
I did actually give up quite a few travels. And for the ones I gave up, it felt right afterwards. I didn't go to Ian's brother's wedding which was an hour away when the baby was about a month old: instead, Ian went there, stayed one night, and came back the next day. I gave up flying to New York for a wedding. I banned Ian from going to a bachelor party. I gave up going to a conference in Ireland. And there were probably many times when I said "no" to proposed travels.
The way I think about it is that disasters are more likely to happen --- and you feel extremely stressed about it --- if you were forced to go somewhere. Wedding is the ultimate form of forced traveling. You feel bad if you don't go but if you do go, you are very restricted to where and when you go.
I happen to detest social persuasion of this kind. I go if it makes me happy. A wedding is supposed to be merry and happy. If you aren't the one getting married, most likely you not showing up is not going to make a difference. The couple-to-be is going to be surrounded by hundreds of their best friends from all stages of their lives and they will be so stressed out about the wedding that they will hardly notice you not being there --- or being there but having a terrible time. We went to the Seattle/Bellingham wedding because it was our best friends from grad school and Seattle was our stomping grounds so we knew our way around and wanted to see some old friends as well. We went to the Boston wedding because it was Ian's other brother's wedding and I was a little interested in visiting Boston. And at both weddings, I knew there would be plenty of people who knew us and would be thrilled to play with the baby so I don't have to.
But if you do travel, it's because you want to and you know what you are in for
If you do travel, it's because you want to. I wanted to go to LA because I love visiting LA. It has amazing food, amazing views (I love the Griffith observatory), and it's just a fun place to be. I wanted to go to Taiwan because I am from Taiwan, my family and friends are there, and it has great food and views. I convinced Ian to fly with me to San Diego for the conference because he also thinks SD has good food and views....
I think you see the pattern here. I go to places because I like to eat and walk around in nice places. And that is what I am in for. As long as I get to eat good food and walk around, I consider it successful traveling. I don't have to see all the tourist spots, take pictures at all the famous sights, or shop at all the fancy stores, to make a it successful trip.
Specifically, all the places I took the baby to in the first year are places I have been to already. So I know what to expect in terms of traffic, logistics, lodging, restaurants, and the general layout of the city and its various neighborhoods. Then I planned and planned and planned --- and it all worked out in the end.
Traveling #1: Flying
If you go somewhere near, like within 6 hours driving distance, drive. You can pack a lot more stuff in the car and most importantly --- you can stop anytime and the screams the baby emits are heard by only your traveling cohort.
If you end up flying, you MUST READ THIS BLOG called FlyingWithChildren. It is written by a former flight attendant who has flown with her own children for decades. She knows what she is talking about. The post is long but so is your flight, so read it.
Nevertheless let me just quickly highlight the parts of flying for you and give you my two cents.
Every airline is different. Check their website for flying with infant policy. You want to check about (i) lap infant age limit (ii) carry on & gate checking policy regarding car seat, strollers, diaper bags (iii) bassinet and meals for infants on long flights.
In this year we have flown (2015), babies under 2 yr can be lap infants not requiring a seat. We DID NOT buy a ticket for her in any of the flights. We requested a bassinet & baby meal for the Taiwan trip (11-hr flight) by calling the airline.
FlyingWithChildren has a really important tip of seat booking that I really like. Try to book a not-too-full flight. If you are lucky and ask the gate desk, chances are they can reassign you to an aisle with just your group! You get the extra seat for free and some other passenger is saved from hearing your baby babble the whole time.
To and From airport
We took a car seat and a compatible stroller (meaning the car seat locks into the stroller). We did Britax B-safe + B-agile for Taiwan trip and Britax B-safe + Mountain Buggy Nano for Boston trip. I love the Mountain Buggy Nano because it is the only stroller that can go with any car seat and it folds up small enough to fit in overhead bin! (I still gate checked it though)
Here's the logistics: Call a Uber/Lyft from home, install car seat in the back (video tutorial here), fold up the stroller and put it in the trunk with rest of luggage. Arrive at airport. Put baby + car seat in stroller and go through security. You will have to take baby out, unpack car seat / stroller to go through X-ray, and reload after you go through. Stroll to gate. At the gate, ask for gate checking tags for the car seat and stroller. At boarding, you leave the car seat and stroller right before you go into the plane. When you land, the crew will bring out your car seat and stroller out by the plane exit. Load baby + car seat in stroller, and stroll to baggage claim. Easy!
Nice thing about bringing the stroller is you pretty much stack everything in the stroller and don't have to carry any luggage.
If you rent a car, still bring your own car seat and stroller. This way you have max compatibility and ease.
What to bring on the flight
Diapers. Diapers. Diapers.
A friend flew back to Taiwan a day before we did. As soon as she landed she messaged me and said: "BRING 10+ DIAPERS. I ran out of diapers on the flight."
You may think: "There's no way my baby can poop 10 times on a 11-hr flight!" Well, the one time you think that is the one time your baby is going to prove you wrong. Here's one good thing about diapers. They are very light. 10 diapers weigh nothing. They are also relatively cheap. They have been known to be absorbant so if something else bad happens --- like your first post-partum period or someone has a nosebleed --- they can double as...you know.
On our flight back from Boston, the baby pooped 3 times on a 5-hr flight. I had enough diapers but I was starting to worry about my wipe supply. But wipes are easier. You can always use toilet paper.
Also bring extra clothing. For you, actually. I mean, bring it for the baby too since their clothes are the size of your underwear. But bring an extra tank top and a T-shirt for your husband. Why? Because babies have been known to poop/vomit onto their parents. Up to you if you want to sit on a 11-hr flight with yellow stains on your shirt. Have you seen baby upset because he/she is immersed in their own poop? Have you seen how upset you get when you are immersed in your baby's poop? Bring yourself clothes. Baby can wear your shirt as a toga.
You should also bring some entertainment for the baby, but you probably already are used to carrying that in your diaper bag anyway.
Once baby can eat solids, bring them some food. Don't rely on flights to give you baby meals because that just means Gerber can food (and probably the flavor your baby hates). Buy those baby pouches (ex: Plum Organics), bring 2 - 3 on the flight and pack another 10 in your checked baggage.
Summary for flight items
- Car seat
- Baby carrier (optional, can also put in checked baggage)
- Diaper bag: diapers, diapers, diapers, wipes, extra clothing (baby & you)
- Baby snacks
- Baby scissors (if you do bring scissors, must put in checked baggage)
Traveling #2: Sleeping / Lodging
Josephine and I co-sleep. This makes our experience only applicable to co-sleepers. Nevertheless, we did bring a Greco Pack n' Play to double as a traveling crib for the San Diego trip (back when I still had dim hopes of getting her to sleep by herself). But for the hardcore crib sleepers, I'm sorry I don't have much more advice....besides that most hotels will provide cribs that are about as shiny and as comfortable-looking as a laundry basket. Bring your own crib/sleep device if you need it.
Co-sleeping meant we needed a bed. A big, comfortable, safe bed. This meant I only looked for hotels or AirBnbs that had either a giant king size bed or two queen size beds. I got very, very good at looking at hotel or AirBnb pages to judge whether the beds fit our needs. If you are a co-sleeper, you will have already developed an eye for that.
Once we got to the lodging, the first thing we do is either take the mattress down to the ground or push the bed against the wall. I have yet to encounter a case where the hotel was not OK with that. The baby either slept sandwiched between us or slept on the wall side. I ask the hotel/AirBnB for extra blankets so I don't have to fight with Ian for a blanket. Baby wears a sleepsack.
For bathing, I just make do. At home I wash the baby with a detachable shower head. You can sometimes ask for a baby bath tub but most places won't have them. I don't see a strong need for bringing your own bath tub, however. Most foldable baby bath tubs I have seen suck at best. I either hose the baby down with a shower head or put on a bath (with very low water level) or just wipe baby down with wet towels. Babies under 1 yr do not stink because they are not very mobile. And if they do stink, chances are you stink even more so people will only notice your stink anyway.
When I went to Taiwan which gets a lot of influence from Japan (Japan, aka the land of great daily inventions that make westerners look stupid and 100 years behind), I found these Japanese enzymatic baby shower powder that do not require rinsing. Seriously. And it smells good. And it's powder form. I ended up packing these for baths for both baby and myself. But you can also just bring a small bottle of baby shampoo or just use plain water. I repeat: Your baby will not stink. If they stink, everyone else there stinks too and the baby is stil the cutest.
Traveling #3: Eating
When baby is only on milk, eating while traveling is no different from eating at home.
Once they are on solids and have moved beyond baby pouches, you will have to be a little more diligent about eating. Traveling in a foreign place means you don't necessarily have access to all your usual foods. There is only one advice that will get you through: feed your baby everything (that is sanitary).
Taiwan didn't have baby food pouches. I found this to be a cultural thing. My Taiwanese relatives were super intrigued by my Plum Organics baby pouches (reserved only for emergencies). Most people in Taiwan cooked their own baby foods. Cooking was out of the question for me, so I got very creative.
At that time (8 months), Josephine was eating: yogurt, veggie purees, and rice congee. So I went to the supermarket and got her yogurt. I gave her soft bread from bakeries. I bought baby food scissors and cut up spaghetti. I gave her rice (availble everywhere in Taiwan). I stopped thinking about the salt/oil/seasoning content of what I was giving her. If it truly looked too salty/oily, I rinse it with hot water.
Then I got even more adventurous. Since Josephine had no food allergy issues, I started giving her foods she hadn't had before. I gave her cooked pork blood mixed with rice. I gave her milk for the first time. I gave her sips of pure lemon juice. I gave her custard and pudding and cake and ice cream. I didn't measure how much she was eating. And she lived.
Traveling #4: Sightseeing
Don't maximize your sightseeing. Plan for a few destinations that you would like to visit for the whole trip. Pick one destination for that day and get there at a casual pace, have backup plans for possible delays, wear really comfortable shoes, and you will be fine.
Make frequent stops to change diapers / go to the bathroom, take pictures, have a snack, or do nothing. Reserve some "baby time" in your trip. There are usually playgrounds, indoor and outdoor, at every humanly inhabited city. Find them and go there.
Taiwan, proving itself again to be ahead of western civilization, had a lot of indoor kid playgrounds. Even more amazing was it had kid restaurants --- places where you can order actual meals for both yourself and the baby and there is a play area next to it. The food there is not stellar, but it usually pretty healthy and 100% baby friendly. We went to a lot of those restaurants.
When we visited Seattle, Josephine was cruising and loved pushing her stroller around. So we did a lot of that. I took her to Target and made her push the stroller around for an hour before dinner. In Boston I found nearby playgrounds through Yelp and she had a blast there.
Traveling #5: The adult-to-baby ratio
The more adults you have, the easier the trip is. By adults, I mean adults who are willing to hold a wriggling and possibly screaming infant for more than 10 minutes. Bonus point if that adult can change a diaper while singing Baa Baa Black Sheep. Adults who won't insist going to a fancy restaurant because they want to even though you know the baby will suffer.
For the LA trip, we invited a friend to come along with us. The adult ratio was 3:1.
For the Taiwan trip, we were traveling with my mom most of the time. And sometimes my brother. The adult ratio was > 3:1.
For the Seattle trip, there was always at least me and Ian. And then friends who loved Josephine.
For the Boston trip, Josephine was surrounded by her relatives.
But why should you travel?
By this point, maybe you are thinking: Why travel when it is so much hassle?
Because in many cases, traveling is fun. If you already travel a lot before baby, chances are the same things that move you in your travels will happen with a baby too.
Is there any good in traveling with a baby in the first year? I think so.
I think it makes you stronger. Traveling with an infant is a great challenge, mentally and physically. Jetlag is brutal, but you survive it. Dealing with foreign foods and foreign culture makes both you and your baby more adaptable. Traveling with a baby trains you to be very tolerant, patient, and positive. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
And you will feel the love of the people you meet on your travels. If you have a baby you already know this: people are much more friendly towards you when you have a baby.
Josephine is a mixed baby. This meant when she was in Taiwan (where 99.999999% of the population looks the same, yellow skin w/ black eyes and hair), she stood out (even though she was tiny in stature).
People would stop on the road to look at her. Comment on her. Touch her (deal with it). Play with her.
When she screamed on the changing table in Taroko Gorge in Hualien, Taiwan, passerby stopped to soothe her. When we ate at restaurants, staff would literally line up and stare at her (in one case, the whole kitchen staff stuck their head out to admire her).
Of course, back in the USA she is just another baby. But people are still more friendly towards you and more willing to strike up a chat --- especially they have a baby of their own as well.
Traveling is about experience. It is about the intangibles. Traveling with your baby is just one variation of that experience.
The Internet is filled with articles that encourage you to travel with kids. Travelblogs has a collection of quick reasons to travel. Lucky Peach has an article about a couple who are seasoned travelers (they travel around the world to write books on foods).
There is danger in buying too much into what they say, however. Some people are very seasoned travelers. They can go to India and Nepal and the arctic circle on a whim and traveling with a baby to those places is only a little harder for them. That doesn't mean you can or you will enjoy it. I think it's important to know yourself as a traveler. For me, I preferred to stick with places I knew well. I was not interested in finding out how we would fare in Guatemala or the Congo.
It's also important to know how flexible your baby is. In our case, Josephine is a demanding baby, but her demands mostly consist of two items: hold her and nurse her. Once one or both of them are satisfied, she's all good. She has no food allergies. She is healthy. She can sleep in noisy environments.
We also have always kept a relatively flexible baby-led schedule, which meant that she does not need to be put down for naps at specific times. All these I think gives us some advantage in traveling with her.
That's all I have to say for traveling in the first year. I guess that was a lot...!