Traveling with babies and young children
by HEATHER LEE LEAP
Welcoming a baby into your life needn’t limit your travel options, but just the thought of packing up with your little one might make you break out in a cold sweat. If you’re dreading the drive, understand your normal routines will need to be tempered with flexibility. Here are a few tips that, with minimal extra packing, will help your family hit the road and enjoy it more.
As your children move into the toddler or preschool years, you may find yourself succumbing to the temptation to “plug them in” to a device or pop in a DVD, despite your pediatrician’s warnings that children 2 and under should have zero exposure to screens. Timing and activities will help you avoid the tech-trap.
If possible, start by planning for a substantial portion of your drive to coincide with your child’s naptime. The more miles under your tires before she awakens, the fewer miles you’ll need to fill with distractions. An adult riding in back with an infant or toddler is available to soothe the baby or alert the driver that naptime is nearing its end, making it a good time for a stop.
Snacks can serve as a distraction for toddlers and preschoolers. Dole them out in small portions to slow consumption and minimize spills. For long drives, pack a variety of your child’s least-messy snacks, as well as extra wipes for sticky fingers.
Breastfeeding moms have the advantage of feeding a baby at a moment’s notice with no additional equipment, but will need to plan stops to allow for feedings. Even bottle-feeding families should consider getting baby out for some wiggle time during a feeding, rather than propping a bottle for her in the car seat. It is never worth the risk to remove your child from the car safety seat while the car is moving.
Familiar bedtime routines can help young children settle down in a strange location even at odd hours, so make an effort to continue the same routine.
Gear that adds convenience at home can be a burden on vacation. Parents Bill Richards and E. Ashley Steel, authors of “Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids” (Rumble Books, 2012) began traveling the world with their two daughters, starting when the oldest was about 7 weeks old. They assure parents babies’ needs to eat, sleep, get cleaned and cuddle require remarkably little gear.
Consider asking family and friends in advance about borrowing needed items at your destination, or get creative. Steel and her husband nixed the portable crib. “We used a drawer pulled out and set on the floor and even an empty suitcase as a bassinet when co-sleeping wasn’t an option,” says Steel. You may discover you need little more than a comfortable baby sling, an umbrella stroller and a sturdy backpack.
Familiar bedtime routines can help young children settle down in a strange location even at odd hours, so make an effort to continue the same routine during your trip. A tired family is a cranky family, and you don’t want vacation memories sullied by tantrums and exhaustion. Retaining bedtime rituals in particular will lead to more rest for everyone and more enjoyment overall.
Traveling with children requires parents to be honest with themselves about what they can expect to accomplish in a day and then to communicate that to travel companions. “When we visit grandparents or friends I try to make it really clear that the kids need down time,” says Oregon mom Diane Zipper. Grandparents especially want to indulge kids, spend more time with them and let them stay up late. Friends or family members without children won’t necessarily understand what is realistic to expect from young children. “You know your child,” says Zipper. “For us it was important to stay on a schedule.”
Finally, be prepared for the rough spots, but don’t let your worries keep you at home.
HEATHER LEE LEAP is a freelance writer and mother of three. She usually leaves her husband in charge of the driving while she controls snack distribution.
Before buckling in for that much anticipated road trip, pack a few simple entertainment items and proven distractions. Provide each child with a bag of goodies, but keep some things in reserve as surprises when the next rest stop is miles away. Here are just a few suggestions to help you stock-up:
A new book
Notepads, a coloring book, puzzle and maze books
Pencils (and a screw-top sharpener)
Yarn for cat’s cradle or finger crocheting
Brain Quest card decks
Small toys such as Lego, matchbox cars or a Polly Pocket doll (wrap them to increase the wow factor and slow down acquisition by a few seconds)
Special snack foods your kids don’t normally get to eat