There is something about early motherhood that makes you feel all at once in awe of this incredible new human and concerned about the fate of the old human you that existed. Between endless feedings, nights of little sleep and a never-ending stream of diaper changes, it can be difficult to even think about getting out of the house. But in fact, getting as far out of the house as possible was just what I needed to find myself again.
One year and family trips to 10 states later, I am a complete advocate for traveling with a baby. Not only did our getaways help me thrive in my new role, but the adventures also brought us all closer as a family and had an untold number of benefits for my son’s development.
1. Travel helps bridge the gap between couple and family: My husband and I joke that sharing the experiences of travel has always been our “love language.” We discovered early on that getaways deserved to be priorities for us — so nearly every other weekend of pre-parenthood was spent exploring. When we were expecting our son, I worried those days were over. But then, when we took our first family trip, I sat across the table from my husband while he bounced our son on his knee and realized it was even better than before. Traveling not just as a couple, but as a family, made me fall even more in love with the person I was lucky enough to have as a partner.
2. The dedicated family time may curb behavioral problems: The time together as a family didn’t just help my relationship with my husband, but may also deserve some credit for our son’s temperament. Based on a 2012 study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, children whose fathers are more “positively engaged” with them before 3 months of age are already shown to have fewer behavioral problems at the end of the first year.
3. If you can travel, everything else seems less daunting: There is nothing like taking a two-week road trip in a small camper with a baby to make an ordinary trip to the grocery store much less intimidating. Between nursing sessions in the middle of hikes, completing clothing changes on the ground of national parks and surviving meltdowns in airports, traveling taught us to handle any of the ordinary baby challenges thrown our way — which gave us even more confidence when faced with those same challenges in more accommodating situations.
4. You learn to love simplicity: It’s so easy to get caught up in everything babies should have. Then along come airlines with luggage restrictions and suddenly you have to decide what you really need. As it turns out, babies really can stay content with just a toy or two when you don’t give them the option of a whole basket of gizmos all the time.
5. Actually, babies are super portable: The ability to keep our son close in a front pack or hiking backpack meant we didn’t have to make many modifications to the activities we were used to doing. Now that he’s bigger and eager for his own independence, wrangling him makes everything more complicated. (No more taking in the views near the side of a cliff!) Plus, when it comes to nap time, all you need to do is hop in the car or offer a dark place — unlike when they are older and need a pitch-black room with their special lovey, their favorite lullaby and the temperature set to precisely 72 degrees for sleep to even be a possibility.
6. It’s so much cheaper than when they’re older: We are all about the rule that most airlines don’t make you purchase a second seat until your child is 2 years old. Besides flying, traveling with babies is also cheaper because you don’t have to pay for additional meals, beds or entrance fees. (And when you go out to eat, you don’t have to worry about accommodating a toddler’s picky palate!)
7. There are no temper tantrums: I’m never going to claim that babies are easy — but at least when they decide to pitch fits, the outbursts are generally for good reasons, such as hunger or exhaustion. Not because you didn’t let them push the elevator button. And even if they aren’t happy about it, other people tend to be much more forgiving of crying babies on planes than kicking toddlers.
8. New environments jump-start language skills: A change of scenery really does everyone in the family some good. According to a 2014 study published in the European Journal of Social Sciences Education and Research, “rich, varied” environments promote early language skills. And according to the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, young babies who are exposed to nature are generally more advanced than their peers when it comes to science and reading years down the road.
9. You’re teaching them to roll with the punches: Habits established during babyhood lead to good practices during the toddler years and beyond — and we’re definitely already reaping the rewards of shaping a little traveler. Now, he is unfazed by the Pack ‘n Play, (relatively) content during road trips and happiest when he’s outside.
As with everything, traveling certainly is more complicated with a baby in tow. But trust me when I say it’s also worth it. Although I know my son won’t remember his earliest adventures, I will never forget them.