Traveling with a baby can be a delightful lark, an impossible mission, or both -- in a single hour of the journey! But if you're intrepid (and prepared), a family trip can be a fun adventure. We've gathered wisdom from road-warrior (and plane-Jane) moms about getting there with smiles and giggles intact.
Get it Together
Whether it's wheels or wings that will carry you to your destination, preparation is key. Heed these tips and get packing.
Check it off. "I write down everything I need, then cross it off as it goes in the bag," says Maryse Cassamajor of North Lauderdale, Florida. "That way, I can remember what I've put in, since I start packing a week in advance." Keep a master list of what went where, so that in an emergency, you can find the backup Binky in a flash.
Think small. Little things can be tremendously helpful. When her son Lucas was a baby, Maura Rhodes of Montclair, New Jersey, took a handful of outlet covers on trips to childproof the hotel room. Bungee cords and garbage-bag ties can gather drapes and cords. And it's no secret, but you can never have too many plastic baggies!
Choose carefully. It's tough to envision life sans baby bathtub and bouncy seat, but it won't all fit. "After many trips, I figured out the bare minimum," says Georgia Hallinan of Richmond, California. "You need a way to transport the baby, a place for the baby to sleep, and a car seat." To her list, we'd add a front or backpack carrier and your child's best lovey. That's it. Really! Be inventive: A stroller can triple as a high chair and a napping nest.
Carry on! If you're flying, realize that with a baby comes exemption from the "toothbrush, prescription meds, and a change of underwear" rule. Take enough diapers, wipes, and snacks to start a daycare center. "Don't forget extra T-shirts for the adults," advises Minneapolis mom Julia Litton, recalling a flight to Florida with then 14-month-old Patrick, who threw up all over her.
Invest in Sanity
Trade ill-timed flights or poorly equipped hotel rooms for the right tickets and accommodations.
Don't connect. When traveling by plane, look into direct or nonstop flights. A slightly higher ticket price may be preferable to the plight another Montclair mom, Andrea Messina, found herself in: lugging a double stroller, three car seats, two carry-ons, a 4-year-old, and infant twins as she and her husband tried to make a connection. "We did it, but swore never again," she recalls. Unavoidable stopover? Try to time it so it isn't at naptime; your child can burn energy crawling around the airport (and hopefully snooze on the plane).
Book a kitchenette. Room service is expensive. Oatmeal in the microwave is cheap, and your baby might actually eat it. Knowing that you can cook mac and cheese if you can't handle another meal out can also help lower stress levels. At the very least, "request a mini-fridge," suggests Melissa McLaughlin of Washington, DC; you'll want it for juice boxes and ready-made formula.
Spring for a suite. When it comes to hotel rooms, bigger is better. "With Patrick, we spent much more time in the room," Litton says. And trust us, taking a bottle of wine into the bathroom and whispering as you huddle on the tile isn't so cozy; neither is going to bed at 7:30 p.m., when your child does. Choose a cheaper hotel's suite over tiny digs at a fancier spot -- you won't regret it.
Move Right Along
Want to fly through the airport? Heed these terminal tips and nothing will slow you down.
Stroll smart. Don't head out with a Phil & Teds or any other supersized buggy. Instead, bring a cheapo umbrella stroller for easy folding at the security conveyor belt or the end of the jetway. What's more, if the baggage men play javelins with it, you'll have a lot less to lose. Traveling solo? McLaughlin recommends navigating the airport with your baby in a front carrier. "You can wear it through security with the baby in it," she says, so your hands will be free to tie shoes and put yourself back together after clearing the metal detector.
Stay liquid. The Transportation Security Administration has relaxed (or, well, made realistic) the rules regarding traveling with breast milk, baby formula, and juice for babies and toddlers. Parents may bring "reasonable quantities" of these fluids through security checkpoints -- you need only to declare them and allow for their inspection. Know your rights: No one at security should ask you to taste the liquids or demand that your child do so.
Master in-transit diaper changes. Practice the lap change (or, for toddlers, the kid-standing-up technique) so you can manage non-poopy diapers anywhere -- on a state-park bench or in an airplane's back row.
Make it Fun
It's unclear which is harder: persuading a small, antsy person to sit still on a long car ride or to sleep on a plane. Minimize mayhem with kid-distracting schemes.
Bring brain candy. Take DVDs, CDs, and books, both well-loved and brand-new. On a road trip from California to New York and back again, Pearl Yu of Menlo Park, California, discovered that her daughter, Avery, was spellbound by a homemade tape of Mom reading stories. "I also taped Avery singing songs and talking, which she loved," Yu says. Save the never-before-seen stuff for moments of drama -- it may get you out of jail free.
Make a take-along toy box. "My son loves to get in my purse," says Aimee Moore of Santa Clarita, California. "On trips, I bring a bag with all kinds of compartments, 'packing' it with a key-chain flashlight, fake credit cards, an old cell phone, and animal crackers. I keep the purse hidden until he's on the brink of a meltdown. He'll spend thirty to sixty quiet minutes exploring it."
Fall back on simple. Think you've run out of tricks? Desperate times may just call for the mundane. One miraculous time, an 18-month-old we know twisted the lid of an empty plastic makeup jar on and off for two hours while the plane was stuck on a runway in a thunderstorm.
Anticipate Rising Temps
You can plan to avoid germs and the people who might carry them. And to wash your hands every 20 or 30 seconds. And to sterilize everything you and your family will touch. Or you can play it safe in the real world.
Pack a meds bag. Think of the things you reach for in the middle of the night: a thermometer, saline nasal spray, a bulb syringe, and infant pain relief. Add small bandages and antibiotic ointment and you're almost as equipped as you are at home.
Connect with your pediatrician. Make sure her number is in your cell phone, and if the doc uses e-mail, bring the address. It may be useful when your child starts vomiting, as Messina's son Teddy did on a trip to Nebraska when he was a toddler. "I called the doctor immediately," she says. "He called back within ten minutes."
Know your options. Ask the front desk if there's a doctor on call. "Our hotel in Hawaii had one in-house when my daughter got sick," recalls Jenn Fallon, a San Francisco mom of two. "It eased my mind knowing she'd been seen by a professional."
Bend the Schedule
Babies and restaurants are better mixed sparingly. Try these tips.
Rethink mealtimes. New York City mom Monica Winsor, who took daughters Sophia and Athena to Greece when they were 3 and 1, says, "Our big meal of the day was lunch. It's easier for kids to hold it together earlier than it is at dinner, when they're exhausted and cranky." Restaurants are often less crowded at midday, and lunch always comes more quickly than dinner does.
Have a picnic. Lay a spread of prepared food from a supermarket on a blanket on your hotel-room floor. It won't be haute cuisine, but you'll enjoy it without tears (or tense glances from folks around you). You could even have two picnics, the second one on the balcony of your hotel room with dessert after your little one is in bed.
Keep it Real
Hope for a trip that will be rich in bonding moments and priceless photos. But accept that you might need to let go of those visions -- and then relax and have some fun.
Just laugh. Vacations are like life: flawed, messy, and often more amusing in the retelling. But think of the stories you'll take home with you! Revel in the perfect moments and try to smile during the not-so-great ones.
Snap it anyway. Go ahead, take a picture of your feverish baby sleeping next to the vaporizer you rushed out to buy at 4 a.m., and another one of the rain beating down on the palm trees. "We have a great shot of Patrick covered in sunscreen and sand, looking like a furious little tempura shrimp," Litton says.
And expect the best! Who knows, you may be like Stacy Peterman of Philadelphia and have a born voyager in your arms. "My son is like me -- he loves to travel and is so happy watching the scenery. And when my daughter was 6 months old, we took a thirteen-hour trip to Quebec, Canada, and she slept most of the way." Now that's what we call a blissful family vacation.