Before we got married, my husband and I decided to quit our jobs to travel the world for a whole year. It was a trip of a lifetime. So when two years later we found out we were pregnant with our daughter, we quickly made plans to travel. We were lucky enough to give birth in California and have generous state-mandated parental leave policies, so we decided to create an adventure out of our respective leaves by taking a trip to France when our daughter was only three months old.
We were greeted with a great deal of concern and doubt from loved ones who thought traveling with an infant would be impossibly difficult. But given travel is woven into the very fabric of our relationship though, we weren’t concerned. And with a few tricks, a parental leave adventure is surprisingly doable.
1. Get the green light from your pediatrician. Before embarking on a great adventure, make sure to check in with your pediatrician and discuss your plans. Babies are much more susceptible to illness and germs, so it’s wise to be fully informed about potential risks and precautions to take. Our pediatrician recommended moving up a round of vaccines to make sure our daughter was more protected on the long flights we took.
2. Disinfect to protect. Take advantage of pre-boarding and go hog wild on the disinfectant wipes once you get on the plane. Wipe down everything in your seating area, including all the spots most often neglected during quick-turn plane cleanings: the seat pocket, tray tables and the AC vents. If changing diapers, do a quick wipe down of the changing station in the bathroom too. Keep hand sanitizer at the ready and make sure your hands are super clean throughout the flight.
3. Treats for seat mates. There is no reason to apologize to anyone else on the plane for the fact that you are traveling with an infant… but sweetening the deal with your seat neighbors certainly doesn’t hurt. For our flights to France, we brought nippers of Scotch, dark chocolate and disposable ear plugs for our seat mates. These little gifts went a long way in winning favor and dispersing bad vibes.
4. Double diaper- The going advice is to bring one diaper for every hour in flight, and that’s what we did. It’s also common that babies, particularly younger infants, may poop more on a plane because of the change in pressure, so it’s definitely wise to be prepared. Because our flights were over 10 hours each, we ended up double diapering our daughter, (i.e. putting on two diapers at once), to protect against blowouts and make the diaper changes quicker.
5. Travel light. The term “travel light” almost seems laughable when you think about taking an international journey with an infant, but you’d be surprised at how doable this actually is. When we went to France, we only took with us a baby carrier, the diapers and wipes we would need for the flight and the first day there, clothes, two bottles, pacifiers, our daughter’s sound machine/night light combo, a baby monitor and a handful of small toys and books. We strategically selected Airbnbs that were listed as “family friendly,” so wherever we stayed, we were supplied with a crib and a high chair. Two of the rentals also had strollers and came stocked with diapers. We would restock on diapers and wipes every few days instead of hauling a bunch with us everywhere we went.
6. Bring a hint of home with you. At three months old, our daughter may not have been deeply aware of what was home and what wasn’t, but she could recognize patterns. Because of this, we made sure to bring with us her night light and sound machine, as they created the feeling of home without a lot of extra load. We also brought an unwashed crib sheet with us so that her travel beds smelled like home.
7. Build a jet lag buffer. Jet lag with babies is a real thing, and no matter how well or poorly your little one sleeps at home, sleep is guaranteed to be thrown off with a major time change. The rule of thumb is that it takes one day for every hour of time difference for a baby to adjust, which we found to be more or less true. But we intentionally kept our daughter slightly off schedule for the possibility of dinners out. This slight schedule change also helped the readjustment when we got back home go somewhat faster. In general, it’s a good idea to be prepared for some sleepless nights on both ends as you all adjust to the time change.
8. Invite family and friends along. My in-laws joined for the first week of our trip, which helped us ease into traveling with a baby and offered some much-appreciated assistance. We then had a week to ourselves and ended with a week with friends. It’s lovely to travel as a new family, but it can be even lovelier when you have helping hands to offer some relief.
9. Give yourself graces. There will be moments on your trip where you may likely feel overwhelmed and overtired. At one point, I thought we permanently destroyed any decent sleep habits our baby had developed. In those moments, remember to be kind to yourself… and that nothing is forever!
Whether a faraway trip or one closer to home, there is something very special about traveling during those first few months of time with your new baby. Plus, it’s so much easier to travel with an infant than a toddler since they sleep so much more and just want to be worn in the carrier! Our daughter is close to a year and a half now, and we still travel regularly with her, but it’s a whole different ball game. While our trip to France may not have been as smooth as traveling as a duo was, it was nonetheless a magical memory to create as a new family.
Alexandra Brown is an author and marketing strategist. Her first book, A Year Off, documents the yearlong trip around the world she and her husband took together when they had only known each other four months. She currently lives in Portland, OR, with her daughter and husband.