New parents are sometimes hesitant to vacation with an infant and, admittedly, it can be daunting. Will she sleep in a strange place? Will she throw a fit on the plane? Will I be able to breastfeed in a crowded airport? But the right kind of trip may be just what's needed to recharge your batteries, bond with your family and create cherished memories. The twist is that traveling with a baby requires meeting her needs. Here are the best tips for planning your first family vacation.
Staycation, All I Ever Wanted
For your first overnight outing with baby, think about renting a hotel room in your own town. Here's why:
Home is Where Everything Is: It's easy to pop home if you forgot her favorite blanket or zoom to your own pediatrician if she spikes a fever. You may even be able to hire a familiar babysitter if you want to head out for a grown-up dinner. Or you can make a break for it if your getaway goes south.
On the Cheep: Travel costs are no more than the cost of gas for a trip to the mall and perhaps a parking fee.
Can You Say Spa?: With the money you save on travel, you may be able to splurge on a massage and facial while your partner takes the baby to the pool for a few hours.
What's for Dinner?: Not your problem.
Low-Hassle: Packing is easy, just throw what you want to take in the car; plus, no airport security and no fussy infant on a four-hour flight.
Keep in Mind:
- Check out unlikely places to stay. “Some large hotel chains that cater to business travelers during the week have been ramping up promotions to hook family travelers on weekends,” says Shelly Rivoli, author of Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children. Chains like Marriott offer great weekend rates and baby-friendly extras like play yards and childproofing kits.
- Try your luck on a discount site such as priceline.com, where you may be able to get a three- or four-star property for half-price. The nicer the hotel and amenities, the more you'll enjoy your time away. For this trip, the hotel is your destination.
- Consider a suite. For an upcharge (in some cases not much) you can get adjoining rooms; set up the monitor and close the door for some adults-only time after baby goes to bed.
- Have access to a time share? Trade a week for a hometown location.
- By exploring nearby with your baby, you may see familiar places with fresh eyes and notice places you'll want to come back to and explore when she's a toddler.
Expand Your Range
If you've already conquered an overnight close to home, consider a slightly longer adventure — say a three-day weekend at a destination a few hours away. Here's why:
Uncharted Territory: You're bound to find some fascinating place you've never visited. Whether it's a state park, historical site or even an outlet mall, a long weekend with baby is a great stop-and-smell-the-roses opportunity.
Loads of Extras: No need to bypass grown-up sites just because you have your baby along. Strolling through gardens, art galleries or even attending an outdoor jazz concert is easy with baby in a sling, carrier or stroller, says Lesley Carlin, a family travel expert at tripadvisor.com. “Don't be afraid of museums!” she adds. “They're actually very baby-friendly in terms of changing table access and places to nurse.” Also, museums have a soothing, low-key atmosphere with lots of bright colors and interesting shapes for baby to observe.
Keep in Mind:
- You'll need to plan your overnight accommodations carefully. If your destination is an out-of-the-way spot, don't expect to find a large hotel chain. Look for vacation rentals, cabins, cottages or simple motels. For now, skip the charming bed-and-breakfasts; do you really want to soothe your crying baby at 2 a.m. behind paper-thin walls?
- During the summer and fall, many ski resorts offer hiking, swimming and other free or low-cost family activities. You can stay on-site and enjoy laid-back outdoor time with your baby.
- With a weekend destination reached by car, you still have the flexibility to get home quickly should your baby come down with a sudden ear infection or bout of colic — no airline tickets to change or complicated events to reschedule.
Sometimes the best vacation doesn't involve any reservations at all — it's the house where you grew up (or where your friends live). Here's why:
Reconnecting: Show off your baby to loved ones or old friends, and enjoy a change of scenery all at the same time. If you're lucky, they live in a cool area you've always wanted to visit!
Built-In Babysitting!: Of course, you don't want to dump your baby and run out the door, but do let relatives snuggle and help with your little one, says Rivoli. No one understands more than your parents how much you both need some couple time.
The Price is Right: A friends-and-family vacation is the most affordable of all. Home-cooked meals surely make up for having to sleep in twin beds. Just make sure you buy some groceries and pay for dinner out or movie tickets — or at least buy a gift card or hostess gift.
Keep in Mind:
- You should give your hosts a heads-up about your child's bedtime routine and nighttime awakenings — especially if they're not used to babies.
- Find out what (if any) baby equipment they have. The crib stored in your parents' attic probably isn't up to today's safety standards; if their feelings are likely to be hurt by refusing it, you can always blame your baby by saying, “He's so fussy, he'll only sleep in his own portable bed.” Consider renting baby gear at baby-equipment-rental.com.
- If it's simply too much to cram yourselves and baby, say, into your mom's small condo, look into affordable, family-friendly alternatives. “Renting a vacation house with another family or friends can give you the best of both worlds,” says Carlin. “Far-flung relatives or friends get to meet the baby, but you don't feel like you're imposing and you get to spend time together in a fun environment.” And they may split the cost with you!
Beach Blanket Baby
The beach vacation is, hands-down, the classic family trip and perhaps the easiest with a baby. Here's why:
Room to Roam: Consider renting a beach house or condo, suggests Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at orbitz.com and a mom of a 2-year-old and a newborn. “You can easily prepare meals, and you'll have a kitchen to store milk, formula, baby food, etcetera — not to mention the extra space for your stroller and other essentials.”
So Long Schedule: A beach stay can be a soothing, laid-back slice of heaven for the whole family. You can work around your baby's feeding and nap schedule (and have a seaside siesta yourself in the afternoon).
Wallet-Friendly: You can enjoy off-season rates. Beach resort prices tend to drop dramatically in the off-season. Since you aren't tied down by a back-to-school schedule yet, you can plan your trip accordingly.
Oodles of Bonding: The lazy pace of a beach vacation will give you precious hours to connect with your family. And you'll bring home indelible memories of those little squeals of delight when your baby's feet burrow into wet sand for the first time.
Keep in Mind:
- Be sun safe. It's especially important to keep baby's delicate skin safe from the punishing oceanfront sun.
- Keep baby (and yourself) hydrated. Offer baby fluids (breast milk or formula for those under 1) frequently.
- Be hyper-aware of beach hazards. Take turns watching the baby while your partner snoozes, reads or swims. Curious babies move fast and are super-attracted to water. Most beaches are littered with choking hazards (sand, shells, fish bones) that are fascinating to babies.
The Love Boat
What's not to love about a cruise? The sun, the sea, the feeling of being completely removed from your everyday life — plus, you're in a safe, controlled environment — it's all good. Here's why:
Chow Down: Buffet meals are ready and waiting whenever you're hungry, so you can dine on your own (or baby's) schedule. You should bring your own baby food, although some cruise lines will purée certain foods for babies — so ask! Oh, and no dishes to do after baby's gone to bed.
See the Sights: You can visit many destinations and you only have to pack and unpack once.
Rock and Roll: It's easy to push baby around the deck in a stroller.
Hire a Sitter: You may be able to opt for on-board babysitting so you can enjoy a romantic evening. But do call ahead to make specific inquiries, suggests Rivoli. “Make sure you book with a cruise line that offers organized care specifically for infants rather than just the possibility of babysitting by unnamed staff in off hours,” she says.
Good Cents: The all-inclusive price of a cruise is almost irresistible; it makes planning a trip with baby so much easier.
Keep in Mind:
- Check out the cruise line's minimum age requirement, cautions Rivoli — it can range from 12 weeks to 6 months or older, depending on the cruise and itinerary. There may also be a minimum age for shipboard nursery care.
- Find out the policy for allowing babies in the pool. Believe it or not, some forbid it (even with a swim diaper).
- Ask about your stateroom. What size is it? Will there be space for a crib? (Speaking of space, you may need to swap your travel system for a compact stroller.) Does it have a bathtub? Is there a cooling unit for baby's milk or snacks?
- Find out ID requirements for baby. You'll definitely need her birth certificate, and a passport is required to enter foreign countries the ship may visit.
- Fly or drive to your port of departure the night before, says Tornatore. “Most cruises depart by noon,” she says, “and the last thing you want is to get held up by a baby emergency and miss the boat.” Now that's sound advice!
- Make sure to bring plenty of diapers, formula, medications and baby food. A limited amount of supplies may be for sale in the ship's gift shop, but they're bound to be pricey, says Rivoli — and you may not find what you're looking for on shore excursions.
Hot Spots That Simply Love Babies
Many of the kid-friendly OMNI HOTELS AND RESORTS feature amenities to shape your family's first vacation. Check out the zero-entry pool, shaded cabanas and cozy outdoor fire pit at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. omnihotels.com
LOEWS HOTELS offers the Loews Loves Kids program at its 18 North American locations. Each has a lending closet stocked with games, books, car seats, strollers, nightlights and baby bathtubs. A childproofing kit is available upon request. loewshotels.com
DISNEY CRUISE LINE offers fleetwide nursery services for infants and toddlers from 12 weeks to 3 years, bathtubs in most rooms, strollers on board and a separate swimming area (complete with filtration system) for babies and toddlers. disneycruise.com
CLUB MED includes its Club Med Baby Welcome program for free at some of its resorts. The program provides baby equipment and a feeding zone stocked with jarred baby food and equipment to prepare your own. For a fee, Baby Club Med provides on-site daycare and activities for babies 4 to 23 months. clubmed.us
Travels with Baby Checklist
allow plenty of time, whether you're traveling by car, train or plane. On road trips, figure on a stop every couple of hours for feedings, diaper changes and wiggle time.
carry plastic bags for convenient diaper disposal.
buy your baby a seat on the airplane. He'll be more comfortable buckled into his familiar car seat, and the harness will provide extra safety in turbulence.
remember medications your baby takes on a regular basis. It's always best to have a few extra days' supply, just in case your return is delayed.
pack outlet covers