By Claire Trageser
September 28, 2019
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When my husband and I brought our 9-month-old son on a weekend getaway to a mountain cabin, we planned and packed to a level that would challenge a military operation. Yet, two days into what was supposed to be a four-day trip, we packed it all up and went home.

Nothing was going right. Our son was up in the night, seemed to have an upset stomach, and was generally cranky.

When traveling with a baby, people seem to focus a lot on the act of “getting there,” as we did, by focusing on surviving the plane ride or car trip. But just as hard, if not harder, can be the “being there” — when you want your baby to sleep and be happy so you can enjoy the vacation.

Here are some tips to make your next trip with a baby go more smoothly.

1. Put the baby in the bathroom (seriously)

“Our kids are epic sleepers because we stick with routine as much as possible at bedtime, and a key to that is never letting the baby in particular sleep in the same room as us, and having it dark,” said Kate Emmanuelidis, who has two girls, now 18 months and 4 years old. “So a key thing we do is make sure the bathroom we get is big enough to accommodate a pack ‘n play or travel crib, and we sleep the baby in there, with a white noise machine turned on loud. It works like a charm and they both still sleep 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on vacation or wherever we might go! Just have to be quiet and not flush while peeing in the night — trust me though, it’s worth it!”

With her older daughter, Emmanuelidis said she and her husband now beg for an upgrade so their daughter can sleep on the pullout couch — again with white noise.

“If you’re staying in an Airbnb, or the baby has his own room, bring blackout shades,” said Sarah Shtutin, who has three young kids.

“They’re a lifesaver,” she said. “Very cheap paper ones, easy to put up and take down. We have put them up in an Airbnb or at friends and family homes to help our kids sleep on time even if it’s light outside and sleep in if we were out late. Sometimes we leave the shades there and people have said subsequent guests have appreciated them.”

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2. Stick to the routine

Emmanuelidis said they bring all of their kids’ things from home — sleep sacks, favorite pajamas, stuffed animals — and go through their normal bedtime routine.

“The closer you can stick to the home bedtime routine, even a quick version, the better they will acclimate,” she said.

3. Consider the time zone

The bedtime routine should also take into account the time zone. When traveling east, say to Europe, Emmanuelidis and her husband change their daughters’ bedtime to 10 p.m. local time instead of their 7 p.m. bedtime at home. But that method becomes a problem when they want to go west. They tried the method once and their daughter slept from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. “Never again,” said Emmanuelidis.

For Jamay Lau and her two young kids, she said it’s not worth trying to adjust to a new time zone for a short trip.

On a longer trip “one way to help them adjust more quickly is to wake them up at 7 a.m. or whenever they usually wake up at home to force them into the new schedule,” she said.

She did this with her daughter when she was a young baby, “but looking back waking a sleeping baby is a little crazy. So usually we just let them sleep and naturally adjust now.”

4. Rethink what you pack

“There’s so much stuff to bring when traveling with a baby,” said Lau. “We always have to bring a stash of toys and books and when they were younger we used to bring my breast pump, Ziplock bags of bottles, special baby plates, bowls, utensils, cups, snacks, and bibs for eating.”

Shtutin said she tries to bring as little of the bulky stuff as possible. “Ask the Airbnb if they have a pack ‘n play, some might even have a stroller,” she said. “If you are visiting friends ask them for stuff. If they don’t have it, see if they can ask around on Facebook parent groups for a loaner. I have lent high chairs to people I don’t know. If you will be visiting often, you might think about investing in an umbrella stroller and pack ‘n play to keep there.”

She adds that they try not to bring a ton of toys.

“We are usually busy being out and about and often visiting friends with kids who have lots of toys, so really just the essentials,” said Shtutin.

Her husband, Eugene Shtutin, adds that they’ve transformed over the years from “the ‘let's take everything we could possibly need’ to ‘let's only take what we will definitely need’” mentality. He said that that includes being realistic about the itinerary.

“Instead of ‘let's take the double stroller also, in case we go for a long walk,’ we need to think ‘when exactly in our schedule could we possibly go on such a walk?’” he said. But, he said they still bring a baby camera or monitor and a humidifier when traveling in the winter.

5. Create a fallback plan for food

For young kids, bringing some portable food from home that they’re used to, and buying more food when you arrive, is key to keeping babies comfortable.

“We pack everything we might need for food, including bagels, peanut butter and jelly that can sub for any meal,” said Sarah Shtutin. “We take nuts and dried fruit, cereal, pretzels, granola bars, basically if there is food they don’t want wherever we are, we always have something on hand. I have even taken pasta and sauce and oatmeal I can whip up without needing to go to the grocery store. I would rather feed them granola bars than have a meltdown at a restaurant.”

She adds that if you’re visiting family, you can give them a short grocery list. Or, you can make a grocery run an activity after you arrive.

“I also bring medicine like Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, thermometer, band aids, Zyrtec,” she said. “That buys you some time if your kid feels sick and the pharmacy is closed.”

6. Baby-proof the space (if you can)

The Shtutins said they don’t usually try to baby-proof on the road. “Just have to be vigilant,” said Sarah Shtutin. “We have asked friends to move furniture, like put a big chair in front of a large staircase, or a barrier to keep the dog downstairs.”

Brett Pohl said that when traveling with her young son she and her husband think about safety risks before arriving and “try to create a safe ‘yes’ space as we do at home so we can be confident that he's safe and we aren't always saying, ‘No, don't touch that.’ This also has the bonus of letting us be able to relax a little.”

She said that when visiting family they “do a quick sweep upon arrival and ask them to put up things that would likely get broken. When our son was a young toddler, we zip tied cabinets that had things he wasn't allowed to touch like fine china and throughout the day kept an eye out for any small items on the floor, like change, that he might want to eat.”

An advance conversation with friends and family can help remind them to check for breakable things and choking hazards.

“With an Airbnb, I feel there is more latitude in choosing a space that is inherently baby friendly because you can choose your space ahead of time,” said Pohl. “I avoid rentals with stairs and easily accessible pools.”

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