Choose Your Own Adventure
About to plan your first vacation since welcoming your little bundle? The first rule of thumb is to keep your baby in mind when selecting your destination. Travel is a great way to step out of your usual routine and grow as a person. But remember that parenting a baby can be challenging even in a familiar setting.
Many travel experts recommend cruises to parents who want to see the sights and travel with tots. “It’s an all-inclusive price, you can get a cabin that will fit up to four people and many cruise ships are geared towards little ones with kids’ programs and activities,” says Vickie Meeuwsen, a public relations specialist for Travel Leaders Leisure Group. “Many cruise lines offer cribs for your cabin and in-room babysitting services.” One caveat: Babies have to be at least 6 months old on most cruise ships.
As a mom who has logged hundreds of thousands of miles with her two young children, Libbie Rice, vice president of marketing at Voyage.tv, advises parents to aim for a nonstop flight without a large time zone change. Indulge your wish to see Europe during the summer. Children can use the extra hours of sunlight to stay on U.S. time. For winter months, Rice suggests South America. “The biggest hidden gem is Argentina,” she says. “Opposite seasons, almost no time change and they love kids. The Children’s Museum in Buenos Aires is incredible.”
Save Your Money for Souvenirs
Check out discount travel sites early in the vacation planning process. Expedia.com and Orbitz.com allow you to book “lap rates” for infants at just 10 percent of the adult fare. While rules vary by airline, most permit you to install your car seat if an extra seat is available.
A few new services including Yapta.com allow travelers to track rates and availability for airfare and hotels. Grab those bookings at the lowest prices! While bargain hunting though, watch out for hidden fees. The lowest rate may not include surcharges. And pricier options may have family-friendly extras like a free continental breakfast.
Avoid weighing yourself down with stuff. Pack light without forgetting the essentials. A good baby carrier is a must-have, and many can double as a backpack.
A good baby carrier can even replace strollers, which may prove more of a burden than a boon on vacations. “I prefer not to use a stroller in the airport because it slows you down and limits the places you can go,” says Candice Broom, editor of the Mom Most Traveled blog.
During a recent trip to Portugal, we were able to climb castle turrets and hop aboard trolley cars; try that with a stroller. For travel, a soft structured carrier, such as an Ergo or a BecoBaby, or a Mei Tai, such as a BabyHawk, provides a secure carrier with lots of options, including front, hip and back positioning. Whether you are dancing at your cousin’s wedding, sprinting through the airport or hiking off the beaten path, you will be glad to have your hands free.
Many hotels have cribs or playards. If you opt to bring your own, try the PeaPod sleep tent or one of the new super lightweight and compact travel playards from Phil & Teds or BabyBjorn. Transport car seats with a snap-and-go frame for infant seats or the Go Go Babyz Go Go Kidz Travelmate for toddler seats. Both allow you to easily wheel along your seat with your baby strapped in.
While in transit, distract babies with a bag of toys. “Sticker books are great,” says Meeuwsen, “because even my 1 year old can put stickers on the pages.”
Learn from my mistake and get a passport for your baby immediately. A passport is required for overland or sea travel to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean, and both parents must be present to obtain the passport. When a sudden opportunity to travel knocks, you may obtain an expedited passport at your nearest passport agency. Call (877)487-2778 or see www.travel.state.gov for more information. I was lucky enough to get a passport for my baby in just one day by traveling to an agency in Manhattan.
Check with your pediatrician before vacationing for advice about inoculations, motion sickness and other travel concerns. Also ask your doctor what to put in a travel medical kit. Depending on the age of your child and your mode of travel, some possible items include a nasal aspirator, thermometer, calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream, petroleum jelly, antibacterial cream, tweezers, scissors, adhesive tape, cotton-tipped swabs (Q-tips), an ice pack, butterfly bandages, Band-Aids, cotton gauze and Tylenol. Pack extra plastic bags for snacks, wet clothes and garbage— these really come in handy.
Of course even the most prepared people can encounter emergency situations that can throw plans off-kilter. “My oldest son got food poisoning in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and had to stay overnight in the hospital on IV fluids when he was 18 months,” recalls Broom. In situations like this, the hotel concierge can be your strongest ally. Broom also recommends the Me No Speak and Point It series of books with pictures and native script for when you need to communicate with non-English speaking locals.
With proper planning, you can make informed choices to best serve your family. All-inclusive resorts may be a great deal for families to avoid extra costs. And, if you are traveling by plane, Rice recommends the bulkhead row to give kids more room. “You don’t have to worry about your child kicking the person in front of you,” she says.
Technology makes finding a destination that caters to families easier than ever before. Look on resort Web sites and call ahead to ask the concierge about the availability of cribs, babysitters and transportation with car seats and the amenities, such as complimentary breakfast, pools, children’s facilities and DVD players.
With Google Maps, you can check how close a hotel is to public transportation and the sites you plan to visit. Broom suggests staying clear of areas with a high density of bars and clubs.
Jamie Bartosch of TravelingMom.com recommends skipping hotels entirely and staying instead at a villa or apartment. “Being in a separate dwelling unit also eliminates the guilt of disturbing other guests,” she reasons. “If your baby screams at 4 in the morning, or bangs her toys against the wall at 7, you don’t have to apologize to anyone.