Shortly after my daughter, now 14, was born, I got the best advice: “Travel with her soon, ideally when she’s 6 or 7 months. That’s old enough to be engaged but young enough to be portable.”
My wife and I soon whisked her off to Amsterdam. We strolled along canals, sipped white beers with lunch, and explored art and history museums. Contrary to what many new parents believe, it could not have been better timing.
Pros and Cons of Traveling With a Baby
The most obvious perk of traveling with a baby: You don’t need to pay for their airplane seat until they reach age two! Besides that, the upsides and downsides depend on your approach to parenting.
Generally speaking, traveling around the 6-month mark is mostly positive. Before babies start crawling, they don’t struggle to be put down or need a baby-proofed hotel room in which to roam. You can ditch the stroller and opt for a carrier as you explore, and the baby can either nap or observe the scenery.
There’s also a good chance your baby isn’t yet relying on solid food — we actually delayed kickoff by a month or two until after our travels — so there’s no need to hunt down special infant meals. If you’re breastfeeding, keep it up through your trip and you’ll barely need to pack a thing for your baby. Otherwise, just bring enough formula (yes, TSA will allow it through) and you’ll be good to go.
With infants younger than 6 months, you may face more fussiness. And depending on the conditions your little one needs to get to sleep, your schedule may have to revolve around nap times. After they’ve started to crawl or toddle, you’ll want to be more vigilant of potential hazards in your hotel, rental, or host’s home.
When planning your day, keep in mind that picky eaters can take time to satisfy. But what better way to expand your kid’s palate than in another country? Our daughter tried her first taste of pancakes in Amsterdam, while sitting in her first-ever high chair, and it remains one of our favorite early-parenting memories.
By the way, we also have good tips for new parents wondering how families afford to travel.
Before you go anywhere, you’ll want to check a few important items off your to-do list.
Collect Your Baby’s Travel Documents
When you’re traveling within the United States, your baby is good to go. Just be sure to have their birth certificate on hand and, if only one parent is present, a letter of consent from the other, to avoid any custody dramas while you’re trying to enjoy a vacation.
If you’re traveling internationally, via plane, your little one will need a passport just like every other U.S. citizen. When traveling by sea, you’ll want to bring the birth certificate and consent letter from a parent who stays at home.
To apply for your baby’s passport, be sure to start the process as early as possible by filling out form DS-11 , found on the State Department’s site. You’ll be asked for evidence of a birth certificate (and/or other options to prove citizenship, if they apply to you) and a properly formatted photo. This image will be used until your kid is 5 and needs an updated passport — a source of great amusement for them until then, guaranteed.
Visit the Pediatrician
Consider bringing your baby to the pediatrician about a month before your departure, and make sure they are up-to-date on routine vaccinations. Additional shots may be required depending on your destination.
Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for other travel alerts. And be sure to pack any medications your child might need, such as baby acetaminophen in case of teething pain or fever.
(By the way, this article will tell you what to do if you or your baby get sick on vacation.)
Pack or Reserve Baby Items
Think about what you might need at your destination: bassinet, Pack ‘n Play, etc. You may be able to call to request larger items at your hotel or rental, attached to your reservation. If you plan on renting a car, make sure you reserve a car seat.
If you don’t already have a baby-wearing sling or pack that’s light and comfortable, consider investing in one. The structured Ergobaby and Tula are two excellent options. If you’re not a baby-wearing type and your baby is old enough to sit up, think about getting a lightweight folding stroller (Maclaren has a range of great options) that’s easy to carry and maneuver (and should meet all carry-on specifications). Leave your souped-up fancy version at home.
Flying With a Baby
What to Bring
The things you’ll need when traveling with a baby are not so different from what you need for a day in the park. Besides a stroller or carrier, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got enough amusements on hand to get your baby (and those around you) through the flight without much drama. I remember getting great new-parent tips from others about flying, including the advice to bring a small bag stuffed with distractions: board books, her Sophie the Giraffe teether, a light-up rattle. It was an excellent idea, even though she wound up happily playing with an empty plastic water bottle for much of our time in the air — anything that works!
If you’ve got a toddler who likes to snack, have plenty of their favorites with you (for yourself, too, as they’re not the only one who needs to be distracted from grumpiness). Other useful items to bring in your carry-on: plenty of diapers, wipes, a travel diaper pad to use in the cramped bathroom (not fun), formula, and a small cozy blanket.
Recommended: Air Fares: What You Need to Know
Dealing With Air Pressure Changes
When flying with a baby, take-off and landing are likely to be the toughest parts, due to air-pressure changes in the cabin that can plug up their little ears. Start breastfeeding or bottle-feeding a few minutes before the actual take-off or landing. The sucking and swallowing actions will help their ears keep popping. Your little one will be blissfully unaware that they’re supposed to start screaming.
At Your Destination
When traveling, think of your baby as a mini-version of you, and take all precautions (and then some) that you’d take for yourself. For summer travel in warm climates, apply mosquito repellant, use plenty of sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply!), and dress them in long-sleeved rash guards while swimming or on the beach. In new countries, avoid tap water.
Consider nap times, and where you’d like to be to help facilitate your baby falling asleep in a strange environment. Finally, be prepared to adjust your plan as you go to accommodate any fussiness and meltdowns.
Don’t stress out about traveling with your infant — enjoy it! Now, when your little one is still portable and not yet making their own demands, might be your last chance to feel free as a bird while exploring a new place. No, they won’t remember the experience, but you will. And you’ll have the pictures and stories to prove it.
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Photo credit: iStock/tatyana_tomsickova
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