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Oh, Baby! Family Travel

Oh, Baby! Family Travel

30 Tips and 2 Trips for Families with Little Ones

Today’s parents rarely see eye-to-eye, except on this: We agree that our own children are ridiculously wonderful! And yet. Blend kids – and babies, especially – with travel? Yeah, that often feels just plain ridiculous.

If you’re the parent who’s been putting off travel because you want every child in the family to be old enough to fully enjoy and remember the trip, I have two words for you: Stop it! Take the trip, experience the experience, have the adventure – while you can. If you wait too long, odds are good it won’t happen at all. Besides, in five years, looking at the fabulous pictures from the vacation with the baby in tow might be more fun than the actual vacation.  

Ultimately, there’s good news for those currently traveling with the tiny: Vacations become infinitely more fun as the kids get older. But for now, clever travel hacks abound that will make your life easier (well, at least a tad) when you’re traveling with babies. Let’s explore some of them together! 

Flying the Family-Friendly Skies

When our twins were eight months old, we visited my sister in Arizona. If I had a do-over, I wouldn’t fly with infants that first year. Instead, I’d take a car trip or two before advancing to a plane. However, I’ve had friends who say it’s so much easier flying with an infant than a toddler, so who knows?

If flying with your baby sounds like something you want to try – or you need to try! – soar with the following know-how:

1. How old should babies be before they travel? Doctors usually recommend waiting until a baby is four to six months old before flying. Air travel with a newborn isn’t the best idea due to the stale air up there and a baby’s still-developing immune system. If your baby was born prematurely or with health problems, definitely get an all-clear from the doctor before flying. 

2. Most airlines offer a precious few bassinet seats (or skycots as they’re known) on long flights. Your goal? Try to score one. The plane-bassinet is a crib that fastens to a plane’s bulkhead (cabin divider). The bassinet – for babies up to twenty or thirty pounds only, depending on the airline – is given on a first-come basis (often at the gate), so arrive early to lay claim. 

3. On shorter flights, snagging an aisle seat makes it easier to walk and/or change the baby without crawling over huffy seatmates. (Visit seatguru.com for your plane’s seat map.)

4. Some experts suggest wearing your baby in a sling on flights, but my back shudders at the thought. Wearing a baby in TSA lines, walking to your gate, and so forth can create lifelong back problems. Also, a baby will snooze more soundly in a tented stroller. Plus, when you wheel your umbrella stroller to the gate, the airline will check it for you. 

5. Sit as close to the front of the plane as possible; the back is noisy. Consider buying $25 noise-cancelling earphones. Baby Banz on Amazon allow a baby to sleep through endless overhead announcements.

6. Carry extra baby food in the event your plane is trapped on the tarmac.

7. If you’re breastfeeding, drink even more water than you already are. Start a day before the trip! 

8. Pack a carry-on with all the baby stuff – as if the airlines will lose your luggage.

9. If you fly internationally with a lap baby, you might incur a fee that can climb to $200. Call the airline to check on payment.

10. Be super-polite to fellow passengers and let your baby charm everyone in sight. Later, apologize profusely – while distributing quality chocolate – when the charmer goes rogue. 

11. When you land, always know where the closest ER or pediatrician is.

And here are some more tips for flying with your more mobile darlings, i.e. your toddlers: 

12. I’ll say it again, your goal is to always get an aisle seat. Yes, your little guy will love looking out the window, but it’s scary climbing over irritated seatmates later. 

13. One-and-done flights are easiest, but admittedly, kind of rare these days. If you have to connect, don’t let your toddler snooze in the airport. Find a fun spot and run her ragged. You want that sleeping to happen in the air, right?

14. Ask yourself if you want to board early to nab overhead storage – and sit in the plane for thirty  minutes – or forgo, and let your toddler blow off steam in the airport. If your partner is along, break up the duties.

15. Ask to sit next to an empty seat. It might exist, and it never hurts to ask. Everyone on the flight wants you and your baby next to an empty seat.

All Aboard – Or Not So Much?

Traveling by train is an old-fashioned and exciting option for family travel because 1) no TSA 2) the seats are super-comfortable with miles of leg room 3) the ever changing window always has something interesting to look at 4) you can get up and walk to the café car when you feel like it, and 5) you can upgrade on your train ride to a better riding class or a roomette if something is available.

On Amtrak, one infant (under age two) can ride for free with a paying adult who is at least eighteen. You’re allowed to place the baby next to you in an empty seat, but if a paying guest arrives, the baby (or toddler) must head back to your lap.

Good to know:

16. Traveling by train with a baby under ten months is tricky. My thoughts: A crying baby will exasperate everyone in your car. If you’re one of the lucky ones who is raising a quiet cherub, or if you’re taking a short day trip – say, Richmond to DC (a 2-hour ride) – Amtrak might be ideal for you.

17. If you’re riding with a toddler who can be enthralled with the lively scenery going by, treats, games, and jaunts to the café car, you’re likely safe on a longer journey.

18. Amtrak allows two carry-ons (fifty pounds each) and if you have a baby under age two, a stroller and a diaper bag – all at no charge.

19. Because trains tend to be crowded and hectic, try to book a trip at a non-commute time.

20. Always arrive thirty minutes
early; adults with small kids are allowed to board first.

21. Avoid the quiet car at all costs.

22. The roomette holds two people, plus a baby under two, and gives you a private toilet/sink combo and two beds. In my opinion, a baby over ten months might be manageable in a roomette for a 1-night trip. Under ten months would be rough on your train neighbors. (Some trains have rooms that hold more adults plus baby.) 

Vacationing with the Adorable

No matter how you travel – planes, trains, or automobiles – there are ways to make the most of your vacations with little ones. It’s all in the prep! 

23. Consider renting a home – on VRBO.com or Homeaway.com – with a kitchen and laundry room, versus using a hotel. Carefully note the extra fees these companies now charge including a service fee that is a percentage of the rental’s price.

24. Pack a sound machine in your suitcase. (Google “authentic sleep sound machine.”)

25. Bring loads of fun snacks and backpack them everywhere you trek.

26. Create a first-aid pack: red washcloth, thermometer, tweezers, small scissors, character Band-Aids, Neosporin, Benadryl, and Tylenol. Twenty minutes of reading on basic first-aid and other parents will marvel. (Download the American Red Cross first-aid app.)

27. Program the Poison Control number into your phone, so you are prepared in case an emergency occurs: 1-800-222-1222. Having the number at home on the fridge will not help you one bit. 

28. Lifeguard or not, never leave a child in a pool or the ocean alone without a paranoid adult’s 100 percent eagle-eyed attention.

29. Traveling to Europe? Ask for rooms on lower floors because European elevators are Lilliputian-sized which means your whole family and baby equipment might not fit on one ride. 

30. During your vacation, always know where the closest ER or pediatrician is.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Good news! Since babies and toddlers are captivated by a cardboard box, they won’t require dinner in Cinderella’s Castle or an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. With that in mind, these two trips are suggestions for the exhausted adults who love their families which include a little one. Repeat after me: You are not a bad person for enjoying a vacation with a baby who will not remember the experience! 

Five-star cruise: 

If your brood has several kids of varying ages (including the baby!), you can’t go wrong with a Disney cruise. Closest to Richmond are four Disney beauties that sail out of Port Canaveral, Florida. Either drive the eleven hours to the port, take the train, or take a quick flight ($113 to $250 per person depending on the season). 

The five-star Disney cruise might sound dorky to those who aren’t full-on Disney fans or who haven’t had the pleasure, but the experience is wowza for every family member. The Disney ship cabins are designed for families, and the restaurants deliver sights, sounds, and tastes that will impress baby to granddad. And don’t get me started on the live shows.

Disney’s kid-care is also outrageous. Kids three to seventeen will find an array of activities in Disney’s age-appropriate kids’ club. For babies twelve weeks to thirty-six months, the nursery charges a babysitting fee ($9 per hour for the first child, $8 for a second), but reservations must be made well in advance of your cruise (space fills quickly).  DisneyCruise.com

Smart tip: I highly recommend checking out Google Flights before purchasing plane tickets. Visit Google.com/flights to become acquainted with this fantastic travel tool. Also, if you’re not the type to get overwhelmed with too many options, keep Hopper, Airfare Watchdog, and Momondo apps on your phone to corroborate great flight prices on Google Flights.

Closer to home: 

If you love OBX but are raring for a new beach experience, consider the Mayberry-charm of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Just a 4-hour drive from Richmond, Rehoboth beach sits on the thirty-mile stretch of the Delaware shore and sports a vibrant boardwalk, a classic summer vibe, and a picturesque town that diligently stopped developers in their tracks. 

Since you’re traveling with a loud crowd (you’re bringing the baby, remember?), consider renting a cottage with a full kitchen and a washer/dryer to make your vacation with the little one much easier. If the grandparents are visiting and want something more full-service, suggest they book the beautiful Bellmoor Inn & Spa that sits about a block from the beach. TheBellmoor.com

Look for More on Family Travel

Oh, Baby! is the inaugural piece in RFM’s series on traveling with various ages. Next up, we’ll dive into the details of going places with kids ages four to ten (or what I call the sweet spot for family travel). Then we’ll share the secret sauce for creating a wildly successful trip for tweens and teens. For now, check out Online Extras under Community at RFMonline.com for a little something on how to craft a multi-generational vacation that thrills every family member, including the grands.

The travel pro’s motto is “plan for the best, expect plenty of spilled milk, and default into laughter at least once a day.” Once you catch yourself laughing at the travel-pickles we all get into, wear your invisible crown proudly:  You’re a true travel pro, too. Where is your crew traveling in 2019?

Visit JellyFishinJuly.com for more from Wendy on the reality of family travel.

photo: Preston Mack (Disney cruise)

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Wendy irvine is a family travel writer who recently relocated to the East Coast and a regular contributor to Trip Advisor and Expedia online, as well as local and national magazines. She homeschools her twin boys and lives with one foot in RVA and the other in Atlanta. Visit JellyFishinJuly.com for more from Wendy on the reality of family travel.

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