We recently returned from a trip to France and Switzerland with our almost eight month old daughter, Emma, and while it may not have been the most epic vacation we have ever been on (there’s a lot to live up to!), it was such a special time for our family of three to focus on us. I had many requests to share my traveling with an infant wisdom, so without further ado, here are my top tips for traveling with a baby, in no particular order:
1. Just do it!
Many folks have reservations about traveling with young children or babies. First off, no, they’re not going to remember it! Second, it can be quite a hassle, trust me, I get that. But in my opinion, the sooner you get them groomed for airport, train, bus or car travel, the easier life is going to be when you need them to navigate it walking alongside you (instead of in your arms or in the stroller!). Sometimes you need to get away from your house and your typical routine to make for special family time. In our case, the house has taken up so much of our free time, even since Emma has arrived, that we feel obligated to get work done on our side projects any spare minute we get while at home. By taking ourselves out of the house and into a new and exciting environment, we dedicated every minute to the three of us.
2. Give yourselves time to adjust to the new timezone.
In our case, we learned by mistake! We traveled from our home in the Berkshires, to Boston to spend some time with friends before boarding an overnight 10 PM flight to Paris. Upon disembarking in Paris at 10:45 AM, grabbing our rental car after finding all our luggage around noon, we still had a FIVE HOUR DRIVE to Strasbourg. That was probably the worst decision we made and my only regret! I hadn’t slept a wink on the plane, Brian slept maybe an hour and a half, and Emma had only slept six or seven out of her usual 11 or 12 hours of sleep. Let’s face it, we were all CRANKY and exhausted. If I were to do this scenario all over again, I would choose a destination closer to the airport for the first couple days, and then move on to the next destination.
Speaking for myself, I don’t think I adjusted to the timezone much at all. My nights were all wonky and my days felt a tad off. But that first night we ate a quick dinner around 7:30 and we were all so tired and didn’t know what to expect for the night, we hunkered down and tried to fall asleep by 9. Emma was asleep for an hour before some loud folks in the apartment building woke up her and she had a screaming fit for an hour before we said, okay, let’s do a restart, turn on the lights and see if we can try sleep again in an hour or so. We were basically expecting her to go to bed 3.5 hours earlier than normal considering the time change.
Luckily, once we reset ourselves that night we all slept from midnight to 11 AM the next day. I looked at my phone and thought, no, that can’t be! But we felt refreshed and ready to attack our first real day of fun!
We have been told since traveling, that it takes kids one day to adjust to one hour in time change, and they were spot on! By day six or seven of our trip, Emma’s schedule was right back to what it always was at home, but unfortunately, once she adjusted, it was time to leave!
3. Go with the flow, and give yourself some grace.
Traveling with babies isn’t easy, but we had always talked about not changing our lifestyle just because we had a family. We still go about a normal day to day, except now it’s based on when she’ll be hungry or sleepy. Let your baby set the pace and listen to their cues. Try not to plan more than one destination a day, get as much outdoor time as you can, and split up the amount of time you spend in the car, especially if your baby isn’t a great car rider.
I typically travel knowing exactly what I want to see at my destinations, but this time I knew each place was a great spot for walking and exploring. We’re not big museum people, so there was no rush to go indoors and look at art. Instead we liked to see the botanical gardens and architecture of the city and fun of the different outdoor markets. Luckily our first couple days had beautiful weather lending to outdoor picnics and quick stroller naps.
Emma has always been a toss-up as far as her mood in the car goes. We probably should’ve taken that into account a bit more when planning this trip. She’d have great days and she’d have REALLY not so great days, which affected all of us. I wish we had less than two hours of traveling by car no matter where we went, but some days that just wasn’t the case. Next time…
4. Stay in apartments.
This became our norm years ago and we wouldn’t change it one bit. The convenience of waking up, making your own breakfast with goods from the local grocery store, and hitting the streets at your own time without worrying about a maid knocking on your door, that’s the way to go. Since we weren’t sure of Emma’s ever changing timeline and for weather-related reasons, too, we cooked dinner in a couple nights in Annecy and we were happy to have that option. We actually arrived in Annecy on a Sunday night, and just barely made it to the ONE grocery store that was actually open on Sundays. Not one restaurant anywhere near us was even open. Not really sure what we would’ve done had that grocer not been open. What would we have eaten?? Also, washing machines = less clothes to pack = less luggage. Aaah, apartments.
5. Pack the essentials.
We brought what we knew we’d absolutely need, and maybe a couple extra items just incase. One of our two allowed checked bags was Emma’s pack’n’play, come to find out we didn’t actually need to bring it because there was one available and set up at most of the places we stayed, even if it wasn’t mentioned on their Airbnb page.
We brought one large rolling duffel from LLBean, these bags are endless pits of storage, so amazing!
We were right at the weight limit because we carried all of Emma’s food, diapers and wipes for the trip, plus a counter high-chair for her. When I read up on France with babies, it was brought to our attention that most restaurants didn’t have high chairs, so we brought her chair with us when we ate out, and used it for meals eaten at the apartments, too.
We all had enough clothing and layers for 5-6 days travel, so we washed our clothes halfway through the trip in Annecy and then were set for the rest of the vacation. In addition to those two checked bags, we had one rolling luggage with a little bit of clothing, comfort items, snacks, and Emma essentials that we took on the plane, because that way if our checked luggage went missing, we’d each be taken care of for a least a couple days. Brian and I each had small backpacks to bring the plane, mine with my camera, all our passports, and some easily accessible toys and snacks, and Brian’s with the diapering stuff, water, books and headphones.
Final packing tally: One large checked bag, one pack’n’play, one umbrella stroller, one small luggage, and two backpacks. Not bat for a family of three for ten days, right?
6. Book a family photographer!
Flytographer flew across my radar a couple months before traveling, and since our trip was during Mother’s Day, I booked a family session in Paris for our last day before we had to leave for the airport. I’m SO glad I did too as I really needed some pictures with my girl, and us as a unit of three before Emma was one. Flytographer is a company that has folks located all around the world ready to take your pictures. They’re mostly located in big cities like LA, Boston, Paris, Berlin, etc. but in their profiles it notes that some travel elsewhere, usually for an additional fee. Totally worth it you guys! We spent 30 minutes with Olga at the Jardins du Luxembourg and we were promised 15 pictures, but we received over 20! Each location has multiple photographers to choose from, so pick one that suits your style best and see if they’re available!
Use my link to book a vacation photographer for yourself, you won’t regret it! And I’ll thank you profusely for getting us some money towards our next vacation session!
——> Go to Flytographer.com to search your next destination, and use my special code: CODE2548
7. Get your kiddos a keepsake that will remind them of their trip. While Emma obviously won’t remember her trips, I’ve started a tradition of getting her a book from each of our travels. In Arizona I got her a Dr. Seuss book about deserts because we were exploring Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon, and in France we wandered upon a used book market on our first day out in Strasbourg. I was immediately drawn to the kids section and I got her an adorable book for learning French words. As she grows up and reads these books, I’ll be able to tell her stories about her travels so while she won’t remember them, she’ll likely love the story about how she went to France when she was a baby.
Items that saved us:
// Ergo 360 Carrier with Mesh – it gets really sweaty in those carriers, this one was key!
// Snacks (for all!) but mostly for Emma – Emma started eating solids around four months, and snacks around 5-6 months, so at 7.5 half months we needed to make sure we always had puffs or squeeze pouches or biscuits with us that she could munch on to keep occupied and satisfy her hunger or boredom before our final destination. Here are some of my favorite baby snacks for her:
GoGo Squeez Fruit and Veggie pouches. They’re easy to pack and she can feed herself any pouch with a little bit of supervision.
Hot Kid Baby Mum-Mum Vegetable Risk Rusks. These biscuits are handy for teething babies and for overall motor function training. I like this Kale, Carrot, Spinach and Cabbage kind because there’s no added sugar, whereas a lot of these biscuits have added sugar for some reason.
Happy Baby Puffs. We’re a big fan of all puffs from any brand. Emma hasn’t tried one she didn’t like. We took a whole container of puffs with us for if we needed a quick snack to occupy her and keep her happy in the car.
// Layers, layers, layers! – We spent a few days in the mountains and as we already knew, weather can turn on a dime. We had a lot of fog and some days the winds were chilly, so having layers for Emma and rain coats for ourselves helped transition between when the sun was out and when the rain came through.
// Comfort items – Emma stopped using her binkie around five months and we replaced it with her lovey. Without that, those hard-earned car naps just wouldn’t have happened. Her lovey, lightweight Love To Dream sleep sack, and favorite books, teethers and toys saved us.
What we learned from this trip:
// We’ve had some pretty epic vacations (American National Parks road trip, Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park, Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian Coast) that are very hard to beat. Although we knew traveling as a family wasn’t going to be the same as traveling as a duo, I think we pushed ourselves a bit too far. We booked too many destinations with not enough leisure time worked in so next time we’ll book 1-2 destinations and really savor those places. I believe our vacations can still be epic as a family, we need to find that sweet spot to make everyone happy!
// On our way home we were able to adjust Emma much quicker to the time change. We left Paris at 6:30 PM which was around Emma’s normal bedtime. She slept for about an hour and a half, maybe two hours and then woke up. She was pretty awake and I assumed she wasn’t going to go back to sleep very easily so I kept her up. In keeping her awake and occupied, feeding her a little extra as if it were dinner time again, she was so wiped when we finally got to our car in Boston at 9 PM that she seemed to adjust back to East coast time rather quickly.
Further tips for traveling with an infant:
// To allow baby’s ears to adjust to the added pressure on flight takeoff and landing, be ready to feed them or give them a pacifier. They need something to suck on so they don’t get pain in their ears. If you have an older child, give them a lollipop or a squeeze pouch or gum. You don’t want a child with pressure in their ears, it’s not going to be fun for anyone!
// Bring extra clothes for everyone in a backpack that is easily accessible throughout the flight. You never know what’s going to happen, but you don’t want to be left with soiled clothing for a long flight, or even a short flight. We were lucky on Emma’s two trips so far, we never had to dip into our reserve clothing, but I’m glad we had it ready incase we needed it.
// I traveled to Arizona with Emma was she was nine weeks old and we didn’t need much as far as entertainment goes. I carried her and she slept in her Solly Wrap or the Ergo the entire time. Traveling at eight months was a bit different as she was a bit more restless and needed some entertaining. We had a couple smaller board books with us and a rattle, as well as a plush toy that could keep her occupied. We opted for quieter toys as we didn’t want to disturb any of our flight neighbors incase they were trying to get some rest.
// Carry wet bags with you so if you have dirty clothes or diapers, you have somewhere you can keep the soiled items. Sometimes it takes a little while to find a trash can while you’re out so it’s nice to have a place for the dirty diaper. Our friend Shannon got me these for my baby shower and I’m so glad she did! I always have one in my purse just incase!
// Changing tables are pretty rare in bathrooms, so Emma was often changed on the ground. Her Gathre changing mat came in handy if the floor or ground was extra filthy.
// Have a stash of antibacterial wipes handy. You’ll need them. We like these because they’re free of alcohol.
// If your baby isn’t a good on-the-go sleeper, don’t be afraid to have naps back at the hotel or apartment. We had Emma do an afternoon nap at the apartment on a couple occasions because she had a very short morning nap in the stroller and let’s face it, we all could use an afternoon siesta.
// Stick to your normal bedtime routine. If you have a system at home, which is soothing for babies and children, do the same thing while on vacation as much as possible. We typically have a dinner, a little play time, brush Emma’s teeth, change her diaper, put jammies on, nurse her, read her a story, put her in her sleep sack, and sing her a song before turning off the lights and leaving the room to let her fall asleep on her own. We did a very similar version on vacation and I’m sure that helped her sleep better at night.
// If you’re traveling overnight by plane, inquire about getting a bassinet seat. Unfortunately all those were taken by the time we booked our flight four months in advance, so they go fast! I never saw people using them, but I’ve heard great things about having them.
// If you have an older child, bring a couple wrapped treats and toys that are surprises for them. Having something new will keep them occupied longer and peak their interest! I also can’t wait for Emma to be a little bit older so I can use a tip I’ve learned from an Instagram mom/blogger. Pack each of your kids their own backpack so they can carry their favorite items with them. Inside the backpack, keep a zipper pouch of activities for them to do on the plane. This can be filled with small toys, sticker books, snacks, new surprise toys, etc.
// Travel pouches. For my organized travel brain, these were perfect. I had all of Emma’s clothes in a small pouch, diapers and wipes, dirty laundry, shoes. It was nice to keep things separate and know where everything was when I needed it. There’s a size that’s right for everything!
Overall we had an amazing time as a family of three and I’m obviously already planning our next trip, with a few obvious and needed adjustments. Feel free to comment below with any questions you have about traveling with your children and I’ll do my best to help!
Chelsea this is SO SO WONDERFUL!