Why You Should Travel While Your Baby Is an Infant
My daughter just turned 2 and has already been to five countries and traveled domestically around Nepal and New Zealand, the two countries my family calls home. As a travel-loving mother-to-be, I was excited to raise a travel-loving child, but I was also concerned that traveling with a child was going to be prohibitively difficult. I saw people doing it all the time, but I didn't know how enjoyable it would really be, especially in the infant years.
Two years in, I can confidently say that it was much easier traveling with my daughter before she turned 1 than it is after she got a bit older. Our last international trip — to Rarotonga when she was 22 months old — left me and her father feeling like we needed a vacation after our vacation. We definitely did not feel like that traveling with her when she was an infant. This doesn't mean that we're going to stop traveling now that she's older, just that we need to adjust our travel style and expectations for a little while.
While every child and family is different, many travel-loving families will find that traveling with an infant isn't as scary as it may first seem. It may actually be easier than waiting until they're older in some ways. Here are some reasons why you should travel while your baby is still an infant.
1. They're Portable
Until she was about 1, our daughter would go most places with us — whether traveling or at home — in a sling, and then a more structured front-pack baby carrier. We lived in Bangkok and Kathmandu for the first few months of her life, and a stroller would not have been practical on the busy, bumpy streets of those Asian cities. While at the time I thought this was inconvenient, in retrospect I see just how convenient it actually was. With no bulky pram to cart around, we were almost as mobile when stepping out with a baby than if we'd been alone.
Now that our daughter is a toddler, she still enjoys sitting in her sturdy hiking pack when we hit the trails, but she's too large for a light, convenient front pack. Make the most of the time when you can strap them on and be off.
2. Infants Take Lots of Naps
Related to the above point ... once we strapped her onto our chests, she tended to nap. We could stroll around town or sit down for lunch without hearing a peep from her.
The napping is also much easier when flying, or taking long-distance overland journeys. Even if your baby doesn't enjoy the disruption to the routine very much, the chances are good that they'll sleep for a significant amount of time on a flight. This was especially good for me and her dad when we flew long-haul from Nepal to New Zealand, via Singapore, on two overnight flights. Because she slept, so did we.
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3. They Tend to Stay Where You Put Them
Pre-crawling, walking or even rolling, I didn't have to worry about my daughter putting her fingers in uncovered plug outlets, or stumbling down ungated stairs. Toddlers are a whole other ballgame. They are challenging enough to handle at home, let alone when traveling, when you can pretty much guarantee those plug outlets won't be covered or those stairs gated.
4. They Fly for Free (or Almost Free)
Many airlines allow kids under 2 to travel for free, and others only require you to pay a small ticketing fee, or just the taxes. They don't get their own seat and have to sit on your lap, or be strapped into a bassinet so they can sleep comfortably.
While this sounds great — and really can be — it also comes with challenges. Bassinet seats on flights are limited, and if there are a lot of babies on your flight, they tend to be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis while checking in. Some airlines have policies to give the bassinets to younger babies (older ones may not fit), but in my experience, this doesn't always happen. On one Malaysia Airlines flight, we were bumped out of a bassinet row and that seat given to a couple that didn't even have a baby. The flight attendants just blamed the ground crew and washed their hands of us. (Check out TPG's recommendations for the most family-friendly international carriers).
However, if you're on a limited budget, it really does make financial sense to fly with your baby before he or she turns 2. Domestic and short-haul flights are usually more convenient because if you don't get a bassinet seat, you won't have to hold your baby in your arms for such a long flight. And you might just get lucky and have an empty seat next to you if the flight's not full — we've been blessed with this more than once. (Note you do generally have to pay some fee to fly internationally with an infant -- 10% of fare plus taxes/fees is common, but it varies.)
Of course, flying isn't the only way for your infant to travel for free. When my daughter was 11 months old, we took a daylong train ride through New Zealand. She wasn't quite walking yet, making this an ideal time to make this journey. She couldn't run wild up and down the aisles (as she undoubtedly would do now) but there was enough space for us to move around. She didn't get her own assigned seat, but the train wasn't full and she did actually end up with one.
5. Less Concern About Meal Times
While breastfeeding comes with its own concerns, I found traveling with an infant to be super easy when it came to meal prep. Before she was 6 months old, my daughter didn't eat or drink anything but breast milk, and I never bothered with pumping, so her meals were always right on hand (or, ahem, chest). After six months, we supplemented her diet with formula and solid food, but she continued to breastfeed for much longer. When we were out and about traveling, I didn't have to think about when or what she was going to eat.
6. They're Easily Entertained
Although theme parks, playgrounds and other kid-centric attractions can be as much fun for parents as for kids, there's no need to attend any of these if traveling with an infant. You're more free to choose the activities that interest you than you are when you have a toddler or older child. A baby in a front carrier likely won't mind a quick browse of an art gallery (although a full day at the Met might be pushing it) or a long, leisurely lunch. Just the thought of trying to take my 2-year-old to an art gallery now raises my blood pressure.
7. You Deserve It
Parenting is hard at every stage, but you don't have to wait for the fog of infanthood to pass before traveling with your baby. You've likely been through a challenging time of adjustment, at a minimum, and if traveling makes you happy, why not do it now? You deserve to treat yourself.
You also may have more time off work at this time, if you or your partner are fortunate enough to have some parental leave. Waiting until they're older, you're more likely to need to take leave from work. Make the most of this precious time for some family bonding.
Best Types of Travel Destinations With Infants
Most of our travels when my daughter was under 1 involved lounging on a beach or beside a pool, strolling through calm and attractive towns or other stress-free activities, such as a river cruise and a dolphin-watching trip. Of course, these activities can be enjoyed with older kids too, but as any parent of a toddler knows, you'll spend more time chasing after your child than actually spotting dolphins.
In our experience, both beach resort and city destinations were best for travel with our infant, but I wouldn't recommend rural destinations. This might seem surprising, but my logic is that with a baby, you probably don't want to be too far from decent medical facilities or stores. I had no reason to fear for my daughter's health while she was an infant, but when traveling to rural Nepal I was worried about something going wrong there. We were far from any hospitals that I'd be comfortable taking my baby to. While Nepal might not be everyone's first pick for a travel destination with an infant, at least in the cities I knew good treatment wasn't far away in an emergency. Staying out of the most rural of areas also meant we were never too far away from being able to pick up baby necessities as needed.
It's understandable that parents might want to wait until their kids are old enough to remember traveling. Of course infants won't remember your travels, but that doesn't mean that the experiences they have on their travels don't impact their development. Plus, you'll have lovely photos to show them later, stories to tell and your life doesn't have to stop because a baby has entered it. These experiences will become part of their life story when growing up.
Here's some advice for traveling with a baby:
- Flying With a Baby Checklist
- 21 Airline Stroller Policies Around the World
- Should You Select a Bulkhead Seat When Traveling With a Baby?
- Planning Award Travel With a Lap Infant
- Privacy Please — Best US Airline Seats for Lap Babies and Nursing Moms
- Traveling With a Baby: How Young Is Too Young to Fly?
- The Best Airline Seats, Suites, Lactation Rooms and Lounges When Breastfeeding