How Old Should Your Child Be Before Taking an International Vacation?
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Do we have enough diapers? Bottles and formula? What about the Ergo baby carrier and top-of-the-line stroller? Can you gate check a car seat? Preparing for any trip with a baby or toddler can be complicated, but when it’s an international destination, there’s a whole other layer of issues: How long will it take to get a passport? How do you get a passport photo of an infant? Do we need visas? Will my baby’s vaccinations be up to date? If you’re traveling with a baby, it doesn’t hurt to have a helpful checklist to make the task easier.
My son was just 2-months-old when we took him to Antigua, a Caribbean island east of Puerto Rico. He was born in October and December seemed like the ideal time to escape winter in New York — plus I was keen to travel while off work for maternity leave. I spoke to his pediatrician and she gave the go-ahead since he had just gotten his 8-week vaccinations. The five-hour direct flight seemed manageable — in fact, I had chosen Antigua because there were direct flights from JFK at a fairly reasonable price. We had applied for his passport at the library near our house when he was a month old and it was delivered about two weeks later.
When the time came, the trip went smoothly: He slept during most of the flight, as infants often do, our hotel was thrilled to have a new baby as a guest and our rental car only got stuck in the mud once (and was pushed out quickly thanks to a friendly local). Some things were actually easier because he was so young: We didn’t have to worry about food since he was still breastfeeding; he didn’t care about going in the ocean or playing in the sand in the hot sun; and we even went on a hike with him in the carrier.
We also soon realized that it made sense to take as many trips as possible before he turned 2-years-old — the magical age when airlines require you to buy your child his or her own seat. Before 2, children can travel as a lap infant for free on domestic flights and often for just 10% on most international flights (depending on the carrier). We managed to get in 26 flights, six of which were international, before we had to really start paying for his seat — totally worth it!
Considerations for International Trips With Infants
Traveling internationally with kids — especially infants — can often seem intimidating but, in reality, it’s totally doable for a lot of people. There’s no exact age that is ideal for going abroad and there are pros and cons to going early or waiting. A few things to consider are how active or calm your child is, how adaptable to change, sleeping habits (and whether jet lag will cause a significant issue — for them and you) and if he or she has had necessary vaccinations yet.
In the TPG Family Facebook Group, many parents suggested waiting for the 8-week round of vaccinations (although one parent claimed you can get 8-week vaccinations at 6 weeks) as well as avoiding countries with vaccines needed that your child can’t get yet. Some also recommended not traveling during flu season.
But some felt you should wait longer. One parent named Danielle said, “My kid doesn’t have enough vaccines to make me comfortable putting him/her in large public gathering areas until 6 months. The germ level in an airport and flying tin can skeeves me out,” she added. It is true that measles exposures and such can and do happen on airplanes. Another parent waited until her child was 18-months-old so she wouldn’t have to worry about needing to buy bottled water for mixing formula. “We went to Brazil, and I just wanted to be able to take diapers, wipes and Goldfish!” said Nina.
Many other parents encourage travel at as young as possible — it’s often as they reach toddler age that travel gets harder. “Babies are awesome travel companions. You just stick them in an Ergo and get on with life,” said Ainslie, who took her kids to Australia and Japan at 5 months old. Jean-Francois, a parent who took his son to Paris at 3 months old, agreed, adding, “At that age, all they do is sleep.” One parent said they traveled abroad with their 3-week-old child, the earliest age mentioned in the group. Mommy Points first took her second daughter out of the country, to Mexico, at about 2-months-old (and found it to be worth the effort).
For people who love to travel, it’s never too early to start exposing a child to their world — the younger the better, assuming your little one is medically cleared for travel. Evelyn, who has two children, concurs, saying, “The sooner you start their journey to be a little citizen of the world, the better!” And dad Brett shared that his family traveled to 12 countries in his son’s first 12 months.
Every child is different and only you can know if they (and you) are ready. And of course destination is a factor: flying to say, The Bahamas, versus a place like Rwanda that requires multiple vaccinations including yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A and B, is a very different challenge. So while you may take a 2-month-old to one place, it might make sense to wait until your child is older for another. And, of course, make sure your child is healthy enough to travel no matter what his or her age. Checking with your pediatrician is a good place to start.
In the end, you know what makes sense for you and your family. Just remember, age ain’t nothing but a number, so if it feels right, go for it!
Featured photo by RyanJLane / Getty Images