For every new baby, there are dozens of friends and relatives clamoring to meet him -- in dozens of places. Happily, traveling with a baby -- even a newborn -- isn't as difficult as you might think. In fact, as long as your baby is with you, he won't care whether he's in Hoboken or Hong Kong.
When to take your first family trip is really a matter of when you're ready. Most new parents need at least a month to recover from the birth experience and to feel comfortable with feeding, dressing, and diapering before hitting the road. But once you've gained confidence and your baby is accustomed to these routines, there's nothing to stop you. Keep in mind that the younger your baby, the more portable he'll be. Besides, it's always a good time to introduce Baby to the wider world.
When family vacation time is limited, and distances are great, sooner or later you'll find yourself flying with your baby. Rule number one: Never assume that the airline will provide anything to make traveling with your child easier or more comfortable. That means you must be prepared to provide for all her needs -- from diapers to distractions -- throughout the flight.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reviewing its regulations governing child-restraint systems for infants under 2. Currently, the FAA recommends that an infant be strapped into an approved child-safety seat. If the child is not in a safety seat, then the FAA requires that your infant ride on your lap (not buckled into a seat on his own).
The truth is, many parents can't afford to buy an extra ticket. But even if the cost of another fare is prohibitive, bring your car seat to the gate. If the flight is underbooked, you can use an adjoining empty seat at no charge. If the flight is full, airline personnel will stow the seat.
Where to Sit
Request bulkhead seats when booking a flight. These seats provide more leg (and diaper-changing) room, because there are no seats directly in front of you.
Position yourself between the baby and another passenger out of consideration for that passenger. Also, a window seat is best for your infant, because no one will have to clamber over her, and you'll have fewer worries about things falling on her.
Frequent Flyer Secrets
Ask your travel agent which flights tend to be the least crowded. Reserve a nonstop and, for cross-country travel, consider booking a red-eye, on which the lights are dimmed for snoozing passengers.
Nurse or bottle-feed your baby or give him a pacifier during takeoffs and landings to avoid earaches. Give him decongestants prescribed by his doctor only if he has a cold. Although some doctors recommend decongestants to relieve in-flight ear pain, a recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine maintained that decongestants fail to reduce earaches.
Keep a frozen washcloth in a resealable bag for teething.
Change poopy diapers in the plane's lavatory, not in the main cabin. Diaper a small baby on a closed toilet seat.
It's in the Bag
Traveling with a baby means that your carry-on bag becomes a carryall. Here's what to bring:
- Plenty of disposable diapers; bring twice the number of diapers you'd normally use in that length of time.
- Lots of disposable wipes; you'll need one for every spill.
- Diaper-rash ointment.
- Small, waterproof changing pad.
- Pacifier, plus spares.
- One or two changes of baby clothes (preferably one-piece stretch suits), plus a sweater.
- If you're not breastfeeding exclusively, bottles containing premeasured dry formula (add measured water just before feeding), or empty bottles and cans of ready-to-use formula. Introduce your baby to room-temperature formula two weeks before the trip.
- For long flights that occur during regular mealtimes, baby food in jars, a spoon, and a bib.
- Finger foods (Cheerios, crackers, and bits of soft fruit, and cheese) in resealable bags.
- Cloth diapers to clean up the mess the wipes can't cover.
- A favorite blanket from home.
- A few small toys and books; pull them out one at a time so your baby won't get bored.
- Plenty of empty, resealable plastic bags to use for trash, diapers, and storing extra food.
There's a good reason why travelers with small children are always invited to board early. It's so they'll get a chance to stow all that gear. Here, essentials to take with you when you are flying through the friendly skies:
- Umbrella-type stroller. You'll be able to use it in the waiting area. When you board the plane, a flight attendant can store it in the main cabin or check it in with your luggage. Leave the fancy stroller at home; it may get mangled in the cargo hold.
- Front-pack or sling carrier. If your baby is 3 months old or younger, you can even get away without a stroller.
- Carry-on bag. A sturdy diaper bag or diaper backpack can double as a purse until you reach your destination (pack your empty handbag in your checked luggage). The fewer bags you have hanging from your body, the more together you'll feel and the less likely you'll be to leave anything behind.
On the Road
Nothing defines travel in America like the family car trip. Fortunately, it's the easiest way to travel with a baby. You can go on the spur of the moment, carry as much equipment as you need, and make all the pit stops you like. And no one but you will mind when the baby is fussy. To make your trip as hassle-free as possible, be sure to:
- Factor in extra time for stops to feed and change the baby and for giving her a chance to crawl, walk, or run around.
- In the car, place a box or bag of toys within easy reach of the baby.
- Play music or storybook tapes to amuse the backseat rider -- especially crucial if you're stuck in traffic.
- Dine al fresco, weather permitting. Buy picnic supplies in the morning and stash them in a cooler for later in the day.
When You Get There
If you're visiting relatives, you might want to ask them to borrow or rent a high chair, a safety gate, and a port-a-crib. Call Baby's Away (800/984-9030) to rent equipment. Infant car seats can be obtained from some car-rental agencies (though it's best to bring your own for the plane and any other vehicle you'll be riding in, such as taxis and relatives' cars). Pack enough diapers, formula, and baby food in your checked luggage to get you through until you have time to go shopping.
Whether you're staying at someone's home or a hotel, consider bringing basic babyproofing items such as outlet covers, corner bumpers, and bungee cords. Some hotels that cater to families provide childproofing equipment or childproofed rooms for parents who request them. Such hotels include Embassy Suites, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Radisson Hotels, and Westin Hotels and Resorts.
Sleeping Away from Home
Reserve a crib and bedding at your hotel, and bring a favorite blanket, a doll, or even a familiar-smelling sheet to make your baby's sleeping quarters seem more like home. Stick to routine as much as possible by putting your baby down at his usual bedtime. If you've traveled to a different time zone, let the baby adjust to the new time gradually, just as you do. Either go to bed at the same time as Baby, or try waiting in the bathroom until he falls asleep. Once he's asleep, engage in some quiet activity, like reading or writing, in the room for the rest of the evening.
If you're staying at a bed-and-breakfast, you may be able to leave a nursery monitor in your room with the baby while you relax downstairs. Check with the B&B first to make sure children are allowed.
THE RESOURCEFUL TRAVELER
For more travel tips, check out:
Baby Maneuvers, by Ericka Lutz (Macmillan; $15).
Have Kid, Will Travel: 101 Survival Strategies for Vacationing with Babies and Young Children, by Claire Tristam (Andrews McMeel; $9).
Trouble-Free Travel with Children: Helpful Hints for Parents on the Go, by Vicki Lansky (The Book Peddlers; $9).
www.cdc.gov; for vaccine information when traveling abroad