While there are some definite struggle-bus moments of being a mom (we’re looking at you, third middle-of-the-night diaper change), there are also some wonders that are tough to describe unless you’ve been there. Like all of the first ‘firsts’: from smiling (nope, it wasn’t a gas bubble!) to rolling over and saying, “Mama,” those memories will forever be stitched to your heart (and documented via Instagram). But there’s another first that’s a little more stressful to think about: traveling with your baby. From boarding and booking the flight to figuring out how you’ll get around a new city with all that baby gear, it can be overwhelming to plan a vacation with a tiny globetrotter.
But there are plenty of brave moms who have jet-setted with their tots in tow and figured out the best way to make it a fun experience for the whole family.
1. Change your mindset
Repeat after us: “Children change everything.” You already know that — but traveling with a baby will really bring it home. You just have to make sure you monitor your expectations heading into the adventure. Travel editor Alice Dubin is mom to 2-year-old twins and says reframing her thinking toward travel experiences with kids was key to enjoying trips as a mom. In other words, you can either take them or not travel at all — so why not bite the bullet and go for it?
“I know — trust me, I know — that traveling with two toddlers can be daunting,” she says. “But I also know that a few fussy hours on a plane is a small-picture issue. Compare that to a life without travel — which if travel is for you, like it is for me, a top priority and a deep yearning can make for an unsatisfied life in a big-picture way. I choose option A,” she says.
2. Focus on teamwork
Even if you’ve backpacked your way through Europe or Southeast Asia all by your bad self (you go, Mama), once you have a baby, it’s essential to ask for help. For mom of one Samantha Slaven, bringing her husband along on a cross-country business trip with her 7-week-old helped make traveling a reality. “We’d just both work together in the hotel room, then I’d run to my meetings, then rush back to take care of business. Not sure how I could have juggled my schedule without being able to leave my son for a few hours at a time and having someone there to care for him,” she explains.
If no one is available to make the trek with you, mom of one Elizabeth Corey says to ask for a special pass at the airport where a trusted family member can at least help you get to your gate. “It can be hard to wrangle a toddler and all our stuff. Many airlines will issue a gate pass so that Grandma/friend/aunt, whomever we were visiting, can accompany us until we board,” she explains. “They’re able to help out while we get through security and then I’m able to run to the restroom before the flight without my toddler and our tons of stuff!”
3. Be strategic with nursing
You know how your mom used to pack pieces of gum in your backpack when you were traveling by air? The chomping is supposed to help your ears pop. For infants, nursing can also be a way to help alleviate pain for your baby according to mom of four Bryce Gruber. “Don’t be afraid to breastfeed as the plane takes off and lands — the swallowing will help soothe your baby’s ears and nursing in general is extremely calming. Don’t feel awkward. People on the plane prefer your baby eating under a blanket to the sound of his/her screaming, guaranteed,” she says.
If you’re formula-feeding, Gruber recommends doing the legwork before you print off your boarding pass to make traveling less chaotic. “Pre-portion your formula in little zipper baggies. You know if your baby takes one, two, three or four scoops at a time, so preportion and then just combine with room-temperature bottled water when you’re on the plane. No fuss meal-making saves time and energy,” she explains.
4. Don’t stress about other passengers
In addition to hoping you didn’t forget anything (more on that later), one of your biggest sources of anxiety going into your first travel experience with your baby might be annoying fellow travelers. Slaven says to let go of the pressure and remember that nearly everyone has been there before. “You’re not the only one who’s struggled with a squirmy, noisy baby during a long flight, and try and keep the mindset that most of your fellow passengers are sympathetic and empathetic versus cursing you with every breath,” she says. “It helps reduce your stress and anyway, who cares what a bunch of strangers think?”
5. Ship if you can
If you’re traveling domestically and know the address of your destination — say Grandma and Grandpa’s house — mom of one Meghan Ely says to save on packing in bulk and ship your must-haves instead. Not only will it save on cost, but it’ll be less for you to lug around when you’re already carrying your babe. Use Amazon Prime to get items like diapers and wipes to your vacay spot and leave more room for other travel goodies, like toys to keep baby busy, in your carry-on or checked bag.