Travel with baby--how to make the best of it?

We are planning a two week trip to the East Coast with our new baby. Serena will be almost 5 months old when we leave.  We’ll be staying with relatives and this is their first grandchild on both sides, so it’s bound to be hectic.  Our families are great, but they are already making plans that seem like we’ll be overly busy, which worries me. Serena has begun to sleep pretty well and we don’t want to revert back to her three times a night wake-ups.  Any ideas for the travel and the time we’re there?

Traveling with your baby is a good way to practice having realistic expectations.  You will find that with some advance planning you can make some of the practical aspects of travel easier (not easy, because easy travel doesn’t exist anymore!) Begin by simplifying your journey.  Any experienced traveler knows that it doesn’t help to take a lot of stuff with you, whether it’s your own or your baby’s. At Serena’s age, she will do fine with a carry-on holding some diapers, wipes, plastic bags and a pad, your breast or bottles of formula, and one change of clothing. Toss in some small bright toys for her to grab and mouth if you need to amuse her.  For yourself, a layered shirt to remove in case of spit ups and spills might be helpful, but more important will be snacks to eat when you can. Flight attendants, no matter how sympathetic, are often too busy to be helpful. Other passengers may be irritated if Serena fusses or cries, but you will be better off letting her express herself, because after that she’s likely to sleep.  

Once you arrive, let Serena’s usual temperament and style be your guide for planning and predicting the day to day activities.  Some babies are outgoing and cheerful and happily interact with anyone they encounter.  They love stimulation and new places. Other babies can sustain moderate doses of new experiences before they begin to be overwhelmed.  Some babies are quietly watchful or reluctant to engage unless they are in a familiar setting and they know the people around them. Once a baby reaches her individual threshold of stimulation she may get fussy or sleepy or perhaps clingy to her parents.  Whatever happens, happens! Of course, it is easier to travel with an easy going baby, but it’s important to remember that an easy baby isn’t a better baby than any other type-- she is just a different person.   

If your primary goal for your vacation is to give your families a chance to visit with you and get to know Serena, you'll do just fine.  But if you try to plan too many activities that require you to be out and about, you may all wind up exhausted and irritable.  As you've probably learned already, a baby can pick up your mood and if you're under stress she’ll feel that and react in her own way. Less is always better when planning your days.

Sleeping arrangements in a new place for you and your baby can be a challenge.  The ideal is a separate room where you can retreat when your Serena needs down time or to be fed without distractions. Even if Serena seems to be adjusting easily to the new surroundings, you can expect her to need extra comfort at naps and bedtime. Try to establish a routine once you arrive.  Unless your baby has always been very adaptable to disruptions in her schedule, you'll be happier if you follow her usual nap and bedtime patterns. If naps don’t last as long, you may have to set limits on your families' expectations for the evening.  If you sense that she is tired, don't keep her up to please others or you'll pay the price for it yourselves!

Since it is sometimes impossible to stick to a nap schedule, Serena may be overtired in the evening and may need extra comfort during the night. Even if If she is sleeping in a crib or portable bed, in the middle of the night  it may be easier to let her join you in your bed.  If that’s the case, once you get home, you can restart whatever your usual sleep plan has been.   The back and forth change in time zones may be less upsetting to your baby's schedule than your own. It does help to start the day at the same time, but many babies are quite adaptable.

Serena may or may not be willing to let other people care for her without raising a fuss.  If she is at a stage when she prefers only mom or dad, you may want to limit passing her around, perhaps allowing only grandparents to have the pleasure of close company.  Even grandparents may need to take their time before engaging with Serena. A grandparent may not know or remember that reluctance with strangers is a normal part of infant development. Some babies find it necessary to study a new person’s face from a distance before they want to exchange a smile.  You may need to reassure your parents that any negative reaction to them shouldn't be taken personally!

If you’re looking forward to leaving Serena with her grandparents while you go out on your own, wait until she’s comfortable in her new surroundings. If you are nursing, make sure she’s willing to take a bottle if you plan to be gone more than a couple of hours.   It’s best to say goodbye rather than slipping out when your baby is asleep--she might be confused and frightened if she awakens and finds you gone.

One unfortunate fact of travel is that people get sick. Of course you will want to stay away from anyone with a respiratory illness. The best  protection for everyone is frequent hand washing, for yourselves and anyone who holds Serena. Make sure that her immunizations are up to date and ask your health care provider for a referral to a in the towns where you'll be visiting.  It’s also a good  idea to take any medication your baby might need for fever or pain. since most grandparents don't keep these supplies in infant dosages.  If Serena gets sick, you won't have to hunt for a pharmacy or sit in an emergency room in the middle of the night.

Try to come home a few days before the end of your vacation so that you can rest and get back into your usual routine routine.  No matter how well your trip goes, you'll need some time to settle in.  There's nothing like a vacation with a baby to make parents need a vacation!