If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that we do a lot of traveling – even with our baby in tow. In 2016, our baby’s first year, we travelled to 12 cities in 6 countries from February to December (that’s 14 flights in total, 6 of which were long haul ranging from 6 hours long to 13 straight hours!!!). We’ve also done 5 “Staycations” (across Manila and Jakarta). In the process, we’ve picked up a lot of tips, tricks, and hacks, and plenty friends ask what these might be. As such, I’ve decided to write this post – maybe these lessons might be useful for other families with a bad case of the travel bug too.
OUR FAMILY TRAVEL TIPS:
Pack Smart (& Light)
When you are carrying the most precious cargo (your child), you want to make sure that you’re not too weighed down by the unnecessary or simply-nice-to-haves (with little true value add). As one of Lucas’ favorite songs goes: just the bare necessities of life!
So how do we pack? Admittedly the first few trips left much room to improve, but by the last, I think we achieved a good best-practice baseline. When you are traveling as a family of 3 (2 parents, 1 baby), you have allowance for 3 hand-carries, 3 handbags/backpacks/laptop bags, 3 check-in suitcases (usually up to 23kg, but it depends on your airline and if you’re flying locally or internationally), and a pram. If you decided to use up your maximum, that’s 2 adults hauling 10 pieces of luggage/baggage (including the pram).
We try to keep it to 5 pieces in our case – max 6. For trips of 5-20 days, we always pack 1 medium suitcase (62cm in height, usually packed 11-15kg in weight), 1 standard hand-carry/cabin luggage (usually we add a 2nd if it’s winter – winter clothes do take up more space), 1 backpack, 1 baby bag (like this), and 1 pram. This is already a lot to carry, and I’m sure people have packed less, but we mostly see others with significantly more. So hopefully this provides a reasonable middle ground. Here’s our standard checklist:
- Check-in luggage: In 3 travel bags (like these), we pack the following (then we seal up the bags and stuff them in the suitcases):
- For Jay & I
- 5 tops
- 3 bottoms
- 5 pairs of underwear
- 3 pairs of socks
- Basic toiletries (travel size: shampoo, soap, lotion, deodorant)
- 2 pairs of shoes (1 for long walks and/or working out, and 1 that works for casual to smart casual outings)
- For me only: Basic vanity bag (1 stick eyeliner, 1 bronzer, 1 primer, 1 pair of tweezers, 1 foundation; 1 pair of earrings, 1 necklace)
- Bonus winter wear: 3 sets of thermal under garments (top and bottom), and 1 coat each — these go outside the travel bags and stay free roam in the main body of the suitcase
- For Lucas (baby) (We get a bit geeky/technical here for a bit)
- 1.5 tops/onesies per day or max 8 tops/onesies (whichever comes first; example: 4 day trip = 6 onesies/tops, but a 7 day trip = 10.5 onesies/tops so we just round it down to 8 and make sure we have laundry access where we’re going – whether via a laundromat close to the hotel, or a machine in the AirBnB/family home)
- 5 bottoms
- 5 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of shoes
- 2x bibs per day or max 8 bibs (whichever comes first; see #1 under For Lucas)
- 1 pack of diapers (between 20-40 diapers in one bag)
- 1 small toiletry kit: 1 baby toothbrush (we use Jack n Jill); 1 travel sized sunscreen bottle (we use Babyganics); 1 travel size all-in-one baby shower gel & shampoo (we use Babyganics)
- 1 travel blanket
- 1 toy (usually his ball)
- For pumping/breastfeeding moms only: 1 breastfeeding cover, pumping paraphernalia, 1 box of plastic storage bags (usually have about 25 pcs in each bag)
- Bonus winter wear: 3 sets of thermals (tops and bottoms), 1 coat, 2 pairs of winter socks, 1 pair of mittens, 1 winter sleep suit, 1 ski suit
- For Jay & I
- The exact number of bottles baby consumes in a day + 2 extra just in case (example: when he was 2 months old that was about 8 bottles per day +2; when he was 6 months old that was 6 bottles + 2; by 11 months, that was 4 bottles + 2)
- 1 book each for Jay and I
- 1 bag of emergency baby food that your little one enjoys (for us, Lucas prefers fresh food – go figure, and typically refuses most jarred foods, but he does like this Heinz Cauliflower and Broccoli powder, as well as pap/oatmeal. Thus, we always pack at least 1 box/bag of the latter just in case he’s hard to feed for the first few days)
- 3 books for Lucas (usually 2 board books and one soft book like a Quiet Book)
- 3 toys (usually 2 teethers, and 1 other like stackables or Duplo – yes he plays with Duplo and has since well before the “18 month” recommended age. We just make sure they’re the big robust Duplo pieces)
- Gadgets (usually my D7000 camera, 1 laptop, and chargers)
- First Aid Kit (fever meds, allergy meds, droppers, thermometer, and bandaids – we almost never use these things but it’s useful to have)
- Baby carrier (months 0-7 an Ergo 360 is great; any more than that, we prefer our Moby Go – the Ergo was too small for our son after month 8, and the Moby is much more ergonomic for our backs, especially as our son gets bigger and heavier)
- For pumped breastmilk fed babies: 1 thermal baggy with a day’s worth of pumped milk, 1 nursing cover
- For formula-fed babies: 1 week’s worth of formula
- Bonus winter wear: For Lucas: 1 pair of winter boots, 1 winter beanie, 1 coat, 1 pair of wool socks; For us: 1 coat to layer (typically we already wear our winter boots in the plane just for practicality’s sake)
Another best practice we’ve picked up is booking ahead. We do get rather detail-oriented when we plan, not to the very hour of the day, but we like to have a general idea of what we’re doing and where we’re going. This is to minimize waiting in line, and/or last minute purchases – as well as any unwanted surprises along the journey for things that should be very basic to the trip (like a hotel room big enough for our family).
Things we book ahead:
- Hotel rooms: This may seem obvious but we do book these ahead (sometimes well in advance), and we always consider:
- Size (hotel rooms are tiny in Europe in particular, so it’s good check and be sure the room you’re getting is a size you’re comfortable with that can fit a baby cot too)
- Accessibility (how far is it from the nearest station? How walkable is the area to see places close to it?)
- Price (we set a daily budget and we always stick to it, this will vary based on what you are willing to fork out)
- Baby-friendliness (we usually go only for places that can provide baby cots)
- AirBnBs: When we don’t stay in hotels, we sometimes stay in AirBnBs. However, it’s good to note that most AirBnBs are not baby friendly and can’t provide things like cots and high chairs. So you will need to bring your own (they have portable high chairs now, as well as cots) or rent (a quick Google search will reveal what Baby Rental services are available in the city you’re visiting – another reason why it helps to pre-book).
- Tickets: It’s good to look into the attractions you want to see in a place, and book your tickets earlier. For example, the Anne Frank Huis can only be visited now if you have an online appointment time. And the Colosseum is much easier to see if you book your tickets online and go to their ticketing office to pick them up (rather than wait in line and purchase on the spot – a horrible thing with babies in the heat of the summer sun, or in the cold of winter). Another thing to consider is just pre-buying city passes. In Paris, we found the Paris City Pass to be the most economical option to see all the places we wanted to (it typically allows you fast track entry into a lot of the best spots, and depending on which tier you buy, it basically pays for itself and more if you see at least 4 places).
- Inter-country rail/flights/car transfers: You can tend to get a much better deal on flights and train rides when you pre-buy them if you are going inter-Euro.
*Note: one thing we almost never book ahead is inter-city rail, but that’s sort of at your own risk. We’ve had an experience where pre-buying in Italy would have been best but we did not and were stuck with the worst train timing between Florence and Rome. However, in a country like the Netherlands, getting a train ticket between a place like Amsterdam and Apeldoorn is easy peasy as long as you’re early on the day itself and head up to grab seats in the cabins at least 5 mins before departure. So I say on this point, look it up online first and see what might be the best option for you.
Look It Up!
Before and even during your trip, when you have a baby, it does a lot of good to look places up in advance. Want to have lunch somewhere? Look it up to see if it’s stroller friendly so you know if you should take the baby in the stroller, or just ditch the stroller altogether and take the baby in your carrier. Want to see an attraction? Look it up to know if it’s open the months you’re there (Eagle’s Nest is closed in the Winter months). Want to visit a castle or historical site? Look it up to see if it even makes sense with a baby (Neuschwanstein Castle is open in the winter but requires a 40 minute walk uphill or a 10 minute carriage ride to get to the castle proper from the town). Main takeaway? Look it up. It’s good to be at least moderately prepared for what you want to do.
Stay Sane on the Plane
- Take shifts: We’ve been taking shifts since Day 1, and it’s really kept us sane. So on the plane, we do this too. We decide beforehand who will “wear” the baby in the carrier for the first 3 hours, then we switch for another 3, and so on. Sometimes we’ll fall asleep (and if we’re lucky actually go over the 3 hour mark), and that’s okay, we just pick up from where we left off. (It’s worth noting, that after 9 months old, Lucas rarely will stay inside the carrier while flying, and we’ve had to just keep him in our laps. We do cheat sometimes and let him play on the floor in front of us on top of a blanket since airlines typically give us bulkhead seats, but the stewards will usually ask us to refrain from that as much as possible – with good reason, of course, we just like letting him explore every new place a little bit.)
- Help each other out: Even when we’re taking shifts, the other is being helpful. For example, if I have the baby on me, and Jay’s free when the food comes, he gets both on his table and he feeds me first before feeding himself. This happens vice versa too.
- Equalize: We time milk bottles for takeoff and landing so that he’s always sucking on something as the pressure changes in the cabin. This works even with a fluey baby.
- Sleep when the little one’s sleeping: People say this about your sleeping baby even when you’re on the ground, and I find it’s even more important when you’re in the air. If baby’s resting, rest too. Those precious minutes count.
When we travel with a baby we try to only do 2 “big” things a day, and anything else is a bonus. With a baby, 2 things a day can even be a lot to ask. As such, it’s good to play it by ear. For us, this is what a standard schedule might look like in the Summer/Spring:
Day 1: Amsterdam: Vondelpark and coffee with friends; check-in at hotel, and dinner with family (out)
Day 2: Apeldoorn: settle into home, shopping in city center, dinner with family at home
Day 3: Day trip to the Hague: visit the Madurodam and Scheveningen; drop the baby at home in Apeldoorn with family to watch him, go out on a date
In the winter we are even more conservative and tend to have every 3rd day be a “day-in” for the baby and one parent except for one meal out. (Again, we take turns.)
Other Best Practices
- Dining Out
- Food choices
- 0-10 months: we bring food from “home” and lots of milk around with us when we’re out; and we keep baby on the regular schedule
- 10+ months: we bring emergency oatmeal and milk in the bag, but at restaurants we are usually able to order food for Lucas that he’ll be just fine eating. (For example, in Germany/Austria a basic broth with shredded pancake is a staple and very easy and nutritious to feed to babies.)
- We try to find out ahead of time if they have baby chairs, if they don’t we just bring our pram and let him sit in it while we eat/feed him
- Food choices
- Car transfers
- Always request for a child seat appropriate to your child’s age — in European countries especially all legitimate car companies will have this
- If you’re in an AirBnB, they usually have washing machines you can use. USE THEM!
- If you’re in a hotel, the drycleaning service is way overpriced, best find the closest Laundromat and walk over and spend a few hours getting your washing and drying out of the way. It’s worth it.
- Baby stuff
- If you’re used to washing bottles and then sterilizing them, fret not, you can either pack Dr. Browns’ Microwave Sterilizer Bags (reusable) or ask your hotel for an electric hot water kettle. Boil the water then rinse out your bottles with it and seal them quickly. That’s a quick disinfection strategy that we use whenever we travel and we’ve had no issues.
- The first 2 days are usually toughest while baby is adjusting to a new place, so we tend to be more lax those days and bounce our little one to sleep, but after that we find he’s usually well-adjusted enough for us to just put him in his cot and let him self-soothe to sleep. (This only applies when he’s healthy, though!)
- We had our first experience with a sick baby on a trip this past winter. He was perfectly fine the first 8 days – especially after adjusting to the climate. However, come Day 9 or so he came down with a flu, and after that it was very difficult to soothe him or feed him. He just wanted milk, and hugs. All day. It made it quite difficult and uncomfortable, and he was cranky and fussy a lot, so we did give in a little more to his cries for attention (and even let him sleep between us in bed a few times – something we hadn’t done since he was 2 months old in his co-sleeper). It did mean that our sleep suffered, and his sleep regressed, but I don’t regret giving him a little more love and cuddles during this time – no shame in soothing a sick baby.