Have baby, will travel
10 tips for traveling with an infant
Having children makes almost everything more challenging, including travel. After my husband and I had our first child last spring and started to hit the road again, we realized that there was a lot to learn about voyaging with a baby.
However, by planning ahead and managing expectations, taking a trip with an infant can be enjoyable for all. I've come up with 10 tips on how to successfully globe-trot with a newborn, which could come in handy this summer.
1. Pack sparingly but wisely
I call them the "in case" items, the things I pack in case of _______ (fill in the blank), e.g., rain, a formal occasion, the flu. With children, this list only expands. However, most of these items can be purchased at the arrival destination if necessary, unless you are going camping in the middle of nowhere with your newborn, in which case I commend and secretly pity you.
Do bring enough supplies for airport delays. The last time I checked, diapers, wipes, formula and baby food were not being sold at airport kiosks.
Clothing can be kept to a minimum, as should toys because infants generally find people and everyday items most amusing. Toiletries easily transfer into smaller, leakproof containers. For younger babies, a car seat-plus-stroller frame combination is more compact than hauling along the seat and a full-size stroller. Better yet, these bulky items can be rented at certain destinations.
2. Obtain documentation
Do you know that it takes about two months to process a passport application? It is therefore no surprise that many families, like the one standing in front of us at a passport acceptance facility earlier this month, end up paying extra for the expedited two-week service.
Likewise, visas can take time to process, depending on the country involved, and certain immunizations need to be administered over the course of several months. When flying with a lap child under 2, carry proof of age to ensure he or she can fly for free. To prevent delays or incurring additional fees, have necessary documentation readily available at all checkpoints.
3. Do your homework
Wondering what the shortest route is to a noteworthy attraction? Not sure which restaurants are family-oriented, or which accommodations are located near stroller-friendly parks and malls? An overwhelming amount of information, covering directions, accommodations, transportation, attractions, food, and activities, is available on the Internet.
Once you are able to narrow your choices, it is still prudent to contact sites directly to confirm the facts, and not rely solely on printed material. For example, the aquarium you are planning to visit might be closed for renovations the day you are in town. A trusted guidebook can assist in verifying the varied opinions on the Internet, and a regular map or GPS system helps supplement Web-based driving directions. Less time spent driving in circles means more time enjoying the area.
4. Make pre-arrangements
Earlier this month, I called an airline to book seats for a trip. When I mentioned that we would be traveling with an infant, the representative actually assigned us the coveted bulkhead.
This service professional might have been unusually accommodating, but making such arrangements beforehand does have its benefits. As soon as seats are available, call the airline to reserve the best spots.
Contact hotel reservationists in advance to request a quiet room with a crib. With prior notification, restaurants can also reserve a corner table with enough room for a stroller. Such conveniences will help make travel less stressful for you and your baby.
5. Preserve sleep
How many times have you heard, "Babies can sleep anywhere"? While it is true that newborns nod off easily, infants, like adults, rest best in quiet, dark, comfortable surroundings.
We made the mistake of sitting near the plane's restroom on one flight. Every time a passenger went in or out of the bathroom, the door banged and our daughter woke up crying. Needless to say, we learned quickly that if the baby on board does not sleep well, no one sleeps well.
For trips involving slight time zone differences (e.g., to the West Coast), it might be easiest to keep the infant on Hawaii time. For more pronounced time zone changes or longer journeys, try to adjust the newborn's schedule to local time. Both can be more easily accomplished by using blackout shades to signal when it is time to nap or sleep.
6. Stick to a routine
During vacations, adults tend to want to eat, sleep and have fun when we feel like it. After all, time off usually means being un-tethered from cell phones, PDAs and the like. Go ahead and leave the gadgets at home, but be aware that babies thrive on schedule consistency.
Little ones who are accustomed to being on a schedule will fare better if they have some sort of routine while on the road. Try to feed and put them down for naps at approximately the same intervals they experience at home.
To prevent diaper rash, make sure your child's diapers are changed regularly. Some flexibility is necessary and acceptable.
Most babies, however, will appreciate predictability in the midst of a new environment, even if they cannot say "thank you" yet.
Sloooooow down. Yes, there are dozens of intriguing sites to visit, especially in major cities like San Francisco, Paris or Tokyo. However, children of any age do not appreciate seeing one more place beyond their limit, even if it is the Eiffel Tower, and will not hesitate to let you (and the rest of the tour group) know. Schedule plenty of buffer time into your plans and everyone will be happier.
8. Safety comes first
Last fall, as we walked around a tourist site, another family was admiring our newborn. The grandmother inquired, "Can I hold your baby?" She seemed genuine, so we let her, and everything turned out fine. However, in retrospect, we should have been more careful, as not everyone is to be trusted.
Besides shady characters, there are a whole host of other dangers for parents to worry about, especially in large metropolises or developing areas. Unclean food and water, diseases, unregulated traffic and construction, pollution and crime are a few; and certain areas and attractions are simply not age-appropriate.
However, there are so many safe places in this world for families to visit that these hazards should not be a deterrent to traveling. Use common sense and take appropriate precautions. The U.S. Department of State's Web site, www.state.gov, is an excellent source of information.
9. Capture the moment
On Christmas Eve we were puttering about an airline terminal when we spied a passenger dressed as Santa Claus. The portly fellow was about to fly to Anchorage, perhaps en route to the North Pole. We grabbed our camera for an impromptu photo. If it hadn't been handy, we would have missed this opportunity to snap our daughter's first photo with Santa.
Although traveling light is a near ultimatum, do pack gear that you use on a regular basis to preserve family memories. A compact digital camera with a large-capacity memory card, extra battery and miniature tripod work well. Many cameras now have built-in camcorder ability, although for longer and higher-quality footage of events like a family wedding, a regular camcorder is preferable.
10. Have a sense of humor
Once, we packed our baby's milk bottles with no bottle brush; the cooler bag with no ice pack.
Or how about the day the museum was closed when the brochure said it was open, or the time the park road shut down because of storm debris?
It is easy to become frustrated in an unfamiliar environment, and even more so when trying to solve the problems at hand while caring for your little ones 24/7.
In aiming for solutions, try to take a deep breath, pray and focus on the big picture. At the least, realize that this will make a good story to tell once you return from your road trip.
Monica Quock Chan is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and former marketing executive. She has lived in Europe and Asia, voyaged to 50 countries and enjoys traveling with her 10-month-old daughter.