For many of us, the last few months have been filled with opportunities to travel. I traveled twice in November with my almost one-year-old son, first solo to NYC, and then with my husband for a family wedding in Mexico. There was a lot of trial and error during those trips, some successful planning, and a good dose of improvisation.
All in all, I’m glad I dared to travel with my baby. Here are the top three lessons I learned that I plan to employ for future adventures:
Have a plan for your time at the airport and in the air
Planning for one-parent trips make it that much easier and enjoyable when actually accompanied by another adult. I was particularly nervous about traveling solo to NYC with my son, but I ended up doing very well. In the days leading up to the trip, I tried to visualize each step before actually arriving to the airport.
For example, how to push my stroller and suitcase at the same time until getting to the airline counter? Then, in line for security, what to do? My plan was to first take off my shoes, next, take the bottles and formula out of the diaper bag, then put my baby in his carrier, fold the stroller and place it on the conveyor belt, and then do the same with the car seat. I had to presume nobody would help (even though someone always will), and had convinced myself that I would need the physical strength and stamina to do it all.
My son, Solomon, who had just started to walk with help, wanted to explore. And I wanted to keep him relatively active and happy. Yes, airports are no doubt the most germ-friendly facilities out there. But if you’ve already decided that traveling is worth it, go with the flow. I made sure to have wipes ready for his hands and face, and as soon as I arrived at my destination, I changed his clothes and washed his hands. I also wanted to avoid changing a diaper on the plane (except in the case of a major blow-out) and made a point to take care of that about 10 minutes prior to boarding.
Finally, do something nice for yourself. Candy? Nuts? Doughnuts? A little treat (that you can hold with only one hand) goes a long way.
Yes, it’s a trip, but it won’t be a vacation
Some trips are not designed as vacations. For example, I went to NYC to be part of a special evening honoring my mentor’s outstanding career. I spent three days introducing my baby to old friends and was able to go for one or two walks in Central Park. Everything else was straightforward, the normal baby-and-mommy routine.
Real vacations are different. You’re eager to relax, you expect leisure time, maybe some sleep, etc. That is not what going on a vacation with children – at least toddlers and babies – means. This is not to say it can’t be enjoyable. Amazing, special memories will be created during baby’s first beach trip or hike. But you won’t rest, and you’ll come back tired. It’s good to be mentally prepared for that.
If you’re craving a vacation in that ancestral sense (that is, before you were a mother), wait until your baby’s old enough that you feel comfortable leaving her with a grandparent or aunt and take real time off for a couple of days.
Curb your expectations
You have plans to go away with family – aunts, uncles, grandparents, and perhaps even great-grandparents. Really great. I mean it! You assume they want to spend time with the baby, and they absolutely do. But “spending time with the baby” can and will mean different things for different people.
Perhaps you think it’s one or more of the following: a full hour playing and reading stories with the baby; going down to the beach for the only 45 minute window that your infant can actually be out in the sun; or hiking with the baby at baby-carrying speed.
Maybe it means someone else changes a couple dirty diapers, or puts baby down for a nap or two, or takes her out of your room in the morning so you can enjoy a one-time-only additional 30 minutes in bed. “Giving mommy and daddy a little time to themselves” might also fall under your description of “spending time with the baby.”
Some family members will do things like these, and others won’t. They love your baby, and they are excited to see her. But for some, it’s enough to hold her for 10 minutes (not an hour), and diapers and nap time are out of the question. Some will want to take a nap when you go for a hike or want to have lunch when you go out in the sun. Remember, they’re on vacation, not on call for childcare.
Yet, travel! Go out, explore. There are amazing things to see, extraordinary friends and family to visit, and so many memories to be made with your child out there in the world. Traveling can create opportunities for us to embark on journeys of discovery – to learn about ourselves and our incredible children, to understand family strengths and weaknesses, to try new things, and of course, to reaffirm that we can fold a stroller with only one hand.