How I’ve kept traveling — even after having a baby
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Before I had a baby, I had traveled to almost 60 countries and was on a plane every other week.
A huge fan of solo travel, yoga retreats with friends and adventurous escapes with my husband, I was always on the move. Thanks to the ability to work remotely, travel was easy. Then COVID-19 hit, and shortly after, I got pregnant.
So life changed, and so did travel.
But now that travel is picking up again, I’m back at it — with my eight-month-old in tow.
Here’s how — and why — I’ve navigated travel with a baby.
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Why I travel with my baby
Because I have to, and so does he
I live in Europe and my entire family lives in the United States. Like it or not, my child will have to constantly go back and forth between the two continents, and I want this to become second nature for him. I started flying with my child when he was three months old. He’s already on his 15th flight and 4th high-speed train ride — and has a few road trips under his elastic waistband.
Have some flights been really easy? Yes. Have some flights been harder? Also yes. But it doesn’t matter all that much either way, because we have to travel if we want to spend time with friends and family back in the United States. And most of the flights, with a few small exceptions, have been great.
Even you don’t need to travel with a baby, just know it’s possible. It may not always be easy, but you can absolutely do it if you want to.
I want him to experience the wonders of the world instead of material things
My apartment was recently broken into. As violating and frustrating as it was, I realized that I was able to get over the things they took from me (cash and jewelry) relatively quickly, even though some of the jewelry pieces were family heirlooms.
When I’m still traumatized emotionally about having my space invaded, the robbers couldn’t take from me what I most valued: my family and our shared experiences, especially the ones we’ve had traveling.
My hope is that my son will grow up understanding these same lessons and placing value on experiences and connections instead of things. And the best way to show this is by modeling the same behavior for him, which is often what motivates me to plan that next family vacation.
Because it’s fun
Playing with my son in the peaceful Caribbean ocean waves, watching him stare at the Chicago skyline with awe or seeing him smile at the iconic Eiffel Tower are memories I’ll never forget. Although he definitely won’t remember these trips, we will — and we’ll have lots of photos to show him one day.
How I make travel with my baby easier
Traveling with a baby isn’t always easy. From diaper blowouts during landing and bleary-eyed nights with a jet-lagged infant to nasty stares from passengers if my overtired son shrieks during take-off, traveling with a baby has its downsides and complications. Here are some hacks I use to make it easier.
I bring someone along to help
I know I’ll travel alone with my child as he gets older. However, for now, whenever possible, I try to have another adult in tow to help out — whether that be my partner, a family member or friend.
While I’m not expecting a friend to deal with a crying baby or his meltdowns, it’s helpful to have someone along to help carry luggage, make sure I don’t forget my jacket in the airport, hold the baby while I head to the restroom or help me fold up the stroller at TSA.
These little things can really make a difference when traveling. Once my child can at least walk on his own, I’ll start traveling with just the two of us.
I pack as light as possible
It’s true that kids — and especially babies — can need a lot of stuff. And there are things I really don’t want to be stuck without on a long plane ride like diapers or snacks (more on this in a moment).
When traveling with my baby, I try to bring everything I need but don’t go overboard. I swear by lightweight travel strollers and always take along a baby carrier and diaper backpack for a hands-free airport experience.
I like to book rental properties with as many baby and kid amenities already present as possible, such as a crib, high chair and more to avoid taking extra stuff along. I’ve also used rental companies in destinations for key items such as car seats, too.
Always bring these key items — especially when flying
What you can carry with you when flying is obviously very different than what you can lug along on a road trip, which offers you more space and added flexibility. That being said, these are key items I always take in my carry-on when flying with a baby:
- Extra clothing for both you and your baby (yes, trust me, you need a backup outfit just in case).
- Layers of clothing or blankets (plane temperatures can vary).
- Pacifier and clip (and backup).
- Comfort toy or blanket.
- Extra diapers (enough for an unexpected delay).
- Formula/breast milk/pump.
- Snacks (for you and/or your baby).
- Baby wipes.
- Sanitizing wipes.
- Extra bibs.
- Ziploc bags for soiled clothing (or a reusable, waterproof bag).
- Baby Tylenol or any infant medications.
- A basic first aid kit.
- Small toy(s).
- Anything that can help your baby fall asleep.
For more on what to pack and how to prepare for traveling with a baby, read this article.
Use points and miles for a more comfortable and affordable trip
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I love using my points and miles to fly in business class with my baby.
He’s actually better behaved than other passengers in some cases. Also, having the extra space to stretch out makes a real difference for all of us, especially on long-haul flights where sleep is essential for the entire family.
I have also dipped into my stash of points and miles to buy three seats in economy, taking a car seat along so my baby can safely sit in his own seat, even though that isn’t required at this age. The bassinet was once an option if I had enough points or miles for just two seats, although now my baby has surpassed the weight limit.
If you want to use the bassinet, always call the airline to see if this option is available and what the weight/size limits are, which can vary by airline or even route.
I verbally prepare my baby for travel
I’m well aware that my baby probably can’t understand what I’m saying. But as he gets older, he is starting to recognize words, and I want “airplane” to be one of them as quickly as possible. Whenever we travel, I softly and carefully explain to him what’s happening several days in advance each day before the trip.
I tell him we’re going to fly high in the sky on a plane, that we need to be calm, quiet and happy. I tell him that we’ll be spending time with many other people in a small space, so we need to not scream or kick the seat in front of us and bother other passengers.
I explain that we’re visiting a certain destination or specific family members or friends, where we’ll be sleeping and for how long we’ll be gone.
One day, he’ll slowly begin to associate these explanations with the journeys that follow them. Kids ask a lot of questions and want to understand what’s going on, so I hope explaining things to him will help him feel safe and in control as he gets older, as well as excited to fly and to travel.
I fly or take a train trip at least every two months with my son
I realize that as someone who’s worked remotely for more than 10 years, I’m afforded the flexibility to travel frequently and take my son along with me. I’m teaching my child how to eat properly and sleep well, and will pretty soon potty train, so I’m training him to travel, too.
With the convenience of low-cost air carriers and high-speed trains here in Europe (and a solid stash of points and miles), it’s easy to get my baby on a plane or train every few months to get — and keep — him used to travel and make it part of a familiar routine.
I minimize travel stress with early arrivals, elite status and lounge access
Running through the airport with a baby and luggage is stressful and not at all how I want to start a trip.
I find the calmer I am, the calmer our whole family is — especially my baby, who tends to absorb my energy and mental state. Getting to the airport with lots of extra time helps me feel relaxed and in control — and these feelings transfer to everyone in my travel party, especially my son.
Both The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offer lounge access, and considering my home airport of Madrid Barajas (MAD) has several really nice Sala VIPs that are part of the Priority Pass network, I find this credit card perk a valuable one.
I plan flights around bedtime and nap times whenever possible
While my son sleeps fairly well on planes, I prefer to plan flights strategically at times where he’ll already be fed, calm and rested. Although I can’t always make this happen, I do so whenever my schedule and flight schedules permit it.
I organize sightseeing and beach days around naps, too
When traveling, I always try to organize my days so that my baby can either nap at the hotel or vacation rental, or while we walk in his stroller.
Cobblestoned European streets are particularly helpful in coaxing my son to sleep in his stroller, as the vibration is relaxing for him. I also bring everything along possible to encourage sleep while on the road — a portable sound machine in the stroller, a portable night light, his lovey, a tent for the beach, our own sheet for the travel crib to remind him of home — really anything that will help him to nap and sleep, keeping him and the whole family calm and happy.
While I’m not hopping on a flight every other week like I was in those pre-pandemic, pre-baby days, having a baby hasn’t ruined travel for me.
I know it can be more restrictive and more expensive, but I now look at travel in a whole new way. I see it as an opportunity to bond as a family, give my son new experiences and help him grow into a flexible, excited young traveler.
My hope is that starting with these experiences while he is young will make travel a habit for him, just like going to school or playing with friends — something he is familiar with and learns to love and do with joy.
Featured image by RyanJLane/Getty Images.
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