Have Baby, Will Travel
Juggling diaper changes, naps, bathtime, and the occasional tantrum is tricky enough when you're at home. Managing it all while in transit can be, shall we say, a learning experience. As Jennifer Trevitt, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biopsychology at California State University at Fullerton and mother of 2-year-old triplets, advises, "You only learn how to travel well with kids by traveling with kids. Be brave and start early!" To get you going, we've gathered 17 tips for making your next vacation a bon voyage.
1. Embrace tv. Even if you're tube-averse at home, a long car trip is a good time to invoke the special-occasion clause. Kristin South, a mother of three boys in Orem, Utah, whose kids rarely watch TV, has soothed her backseat crowd with a portable DVD player on countless trips around the country: "You can help a cranky infant settle in with some Baby Einstein, or a toddler cool his heels with Elmo." Portable players with car-stereo power adaptors and headrest mounting straps can be found on Amazon for as little as $100.
2. Entertain their brain. Even if you have a DVD player, you'll also want to stock up on children's music and books on tape/CD. Bring several old favorites as well as new titles from the library.
3. Keep a "carry-on" up front. So you've packed half the contents of your home "just in case." Remember that the more you've got, the less accessible it will be while you're in the car. That's why keeping a fully stocked bag by your feet is essential. What you'll need: changes of clothes for you and the baby, diapers, wipes, bottles, and snacks, snacks, snacks.
4. Make (very) frequent stops. With a baby on board, you'll have to pull over often for feedings and diaper changes, so build in plenty of extra time and don't expect to follow a strict timetable. Road trips with toddlers require pit stops to get their ya-yas out (see also ants in pants, screaming meemies). Kristin South recalls a ten-day trip with her family over a route she'd covered in 48 hours back in college -- and claims the long way was better: "Because my sons needed to run around, we wound up in a wonderful state park in South Dakota, where wild burros stuck their heads into our car and ate carrots out of our hands!"
5. Join AAA.
1. Think twice about preboarding. Trevitt, the mother of triplets, recommends doing whatever you can to minimize the time that kids spend on the plane. One way for couples to accomplish this is to divide and conquer. "One goes ahead, bringing all the gear and luggage on board," she says, "while the other entertains the kids at the gate until the last possible minute."
2. Bring it on. If last winter's storms taught parents anything, it's that air travel can mean major delays. "I pack more diapers in my carry-on than I'm going to need, and at least two changes of clothing, both for me and my daughter," says Shauna Peet, a Chicago mother of a 14-month-old. "You have to anticipate being stuck overnight in a hotel without luggage, miles from a drugstore."
3. Avoid ouchy ears. Feeding your baby is the best way to keep him comfortable during takeoff and landing. If you're nursing, you know what to do. Formula families might want to bring their elixir in powder form, which is lighter, takes up less space, and is less messy than prepared. "Even if your plane is grounded for hours, the attendants are likely to provide you with water to mix up formula on the spot," assures Texas dad Christopher Bourell, the father of three girls under 4.
4. Kids need passports, too. "You'd be amazed at how many parents think their kids don't need passports" when traveling abroad, says Christopher Elliott, the host of Fine Living TV network's What You Get for the Money: Vacations and father of three kids under 5. That now goes for Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, too.
5. Seating safety. According to FAA policy, the safest place for a child under 2 is in a safety seat strapped into her own airline seat. If you opt instead to hold your baby on your lap -- as many parents do -- request an aisle seat, which will allow you to take frequent walks with your squirmy carry-on without having to climb over anyone.
1. One word: plastic. Gallon-size resealable bags, that is. John Maggio, a screenwriter and father of a 2-year-old, Hugo, has depended on them since his son was a newborn. "We used them to wrap clothes covered in spitup," he says. And they're essential for containing stinky dipes, banana peels, and wet swim suits.
2. Be full of surprises. Stash small toys in the diaper bag and dole them out at crucial moments, like when your toddler won't stop kicking the back of the seat in front of him. And a favorite lovey or cherished book will help kids feel comfortable in new places. For a car trip, prop a box of these goodies next to your baby's seat, so she can reach in and grab them when she wants.
3. Exploit the thanksgiving effect. If possible, carry a small cooler with a cold pack, which you can use in transit and at the hotel. "Give them room-temperature milk and turkey roll-ups, which calm kids down," advises Trevitt, who assures us that these foods' sedative effects are no myth!
4. Babyproofing made easy. All you need is duct tape. No, not for the baby's mouth! Trevitt uses it in hotel rooms to seal electrical outlets, drawers, and closets. It also comes in handy for quickie repairs to broken strollers, luggage, and toys.
5. Keep the to-do list short. "Even the best-meaning parents try to push through the day to get the most bang for their buck," says Elliott. They skip naps, don't pay attention to signs of hunger, and let kids stay in the sun too long, which leads to exhaustion, crankiness, and sunburn. "It's better to skip an entire theme park than to see it with cranky children."
6. Slow down. Make travel about the process. A drinking fountain, an escalator: These are as exciting to a toddler as the Grand Canyon is to you. Take pleasure in your child's fascination with the banal. Isn't this why we all had kids in the first place? To enjoy the world in a whole new way.
7. Just do it. "Traveling with an infant is easier than with a toddler," Trevitt attests. So welcome to parenthood -- now get out!
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