So you had a baby. A cute, adorable, screaming baby. Congrats! You now have a baby, a human life, that is fully dependent on you. Feeling a bit stressed are we? Sounds like you, your partner, and your baby, need a family vacation!
You’re happy, thrilled in fact to have newborn. But mainly you’re too tired to even process your emotions. You have diapers to change, endless nights of rocking your baby to sleep (or not!), figuring out whether he or she is hungry, too cold, too hot… The list goes on.
But, wait! You’re thinking… How can I take this little thing on a family vacation if I can barely take him across town?
You can and you will! You and your family need this.
But aren’t there a zillion things to think about when planning a family vacation with a baby?
Well yes, but we’ve drilled that all down to these five simple things you need to check off on the place you choose. If all of these things get a check, then your destination is family vacation ready and baby-travel approved!
1. Does the place have a baby bed available?
In most cases, having a bed for your baby on location is a must. If your baby is still very little (under six months) a bassinet/moses basket is all you need. Once your baby is bigger and pulling him or herself up, you’ll need a travel crib. We highly recommend having this provided for you, because, as you’ll soon discover, traveling with a baby lightly is nearly impossible, so you want to avoid lugging around as much equipment as possible and that includes a travel bed for your baby.
The exception to the rule here would be if you are traveling by car, in which case, this won’t matter as much to you.
The good news is most hotels will have a pack’n’play/camp cot available, sometimes for a fee (we’ve seen $10-$25/night). That said, smaller establishments or B&Bs may not. So you’ll have to call ahead of time and ensure they can provide you with one.
The situation gets even more iffy if you’re renting an apartment or a house. It will likely depend on whether the owner has (grand-)kids of their own. Again, you’ll have to contact them ahead of time to find out.
Staying where you want might not be entirely up to you. Perhaps you are sharing an AirBnB apartment with a group of friends (who are not yet parents!) and the owner does not have the bed you need for your baby. In this case, we recommend checking out the local baby stores, which typically will rent out pack’n’plays, and any other baby equipment you may need. With a little bit of online research, you should be able to find the closest baby store. Just be sure you get to your destination with plenty of time to pick up the equipment before the store closes.
Marianne’s anecdote : We were invited to a wedding in Charleston, South Carolina when Simon was eight months old. As we’d never been to the area, we decided to go for a week and stay a few nights some place else and then go to Charleston at the end of the week for the wedding. We looked on a map to see which cities were within a reasonable distance from Charleston (less than four hours drive considering we’d have to stop for feedings, diaper changes etc.) and would be child friendly. We ended up settling on Savannah, Georgia because it was relatively close (two hours drive according to GoogleMaps) and seemed quite walkable with a stroller considering it has lots of plazas and squares. But when we were looking for an apartment to rent on Airbnb, we couldn’t find one in Savannah that was reasonably priced and had a pack’n’play. So we ended up staying in a Savannah suburb where there was a cottage available with a pack’n’play and a nice garden and a dock on the river. Even though we were 20 minutes outside of Savannah, it beat having to lug around a pack’n’play or finding a store where we’d be able to rent one on a Sunday afternoon.
2. Will you bring your car seat or find one on your family vacation?
Oh the car seat. Here’s the ugly truth about car seats… No one seems to have figured out how to make these bad boys travel friendly… Unless your baby is still small enough for the infant car seats.
Infant car seats are relatively easy to carry around and can be secured with just a seat belt (you don’t need the base), so if your baby is still young enough to fit in one (usually 12 months and under), then we recommend you take that one with you. This might also come in handy on the flight. If you’re lucky enough to have gotten a free seat next to you, you don’t need to check in your car seat, and your baby can (hopefully) relax in the car seat, giving you more mobility.
Juliet’s anecdote : I traveled in France and Italy with my six-month old one summer. My son Felix still fit into the Maxi-Cosi car seat we bought at his birth, so I lugged it around with me. It proved helpful on the flight over from the US, as I was able to secure a free seat next to me when checking in at the airport. I took the car seat on board and, because it was an overnight flight, Felix slept relatively comfortably in his car seat.
Now when your baby graduates to the bigger (really heavy) car seats, you have a few options.
3. Invest in a cheaper car seat to use during a family vacation
This option is only valid if you’ve decided to have a family vacation at your parents’ place or someone else you feel close enough to that you’ll be going back regularly. You’ll also have to ask them to buy you a car seat (there are cheap ones available for under $100) and reimburse them (unless they are super generous!).
Juliet’s anecdote: I’m traveling for the first time this summer with my son Felix who is now 16 months old and well past his infant car seat. I’m going to visit my family though, so I’ve asked them to buy me cheaper car seat so that I can avoid traveling with my own. My husband will drop us off at the airport so I don’t have to worry about booking a cab with a car seat.
This of course is a very specific situation and if you are heading somewhere relatively unknown, you’ll have to consider the following two options.
4. Purchase a car seat travel accessory that will allow you to roll your car seat through the airport.
Caroline’s anecdote : We traveled on a 16-hour flight followed by a 6-hour flight from Maputo to California with our car seat. I would recommend the Brica Roll n Go car seat cart, that made traveling with the baby’s large (non-infant) convertible car seat really workable and practical. While he did not want to sit in the seat in the airport any more than on the plane, it made the car seat easy to manage during layovers and we piled in various bags on it as well. While this was far from being an ideal scenario, I credit it for the 7 hours of sleep we did get on the transatlantic voyage!
5. Rent a car seat
Major car rental agencies offer car seats for rent with your car (although we have yet to get one that was installed in the car when we picked it up).
Of all the things we have to consider while traveling with a baby, the car seat is one that doesn’t have an easy answer. That said, there are ways to figure this out and you’ll just have to decide exactly what works for you based on where you are going and who you may be visiting.
6. Is baby food readily available?
Making sure baby is fed and happy is one of our primary concerns as a parent, so it’s no surprise that this might keep you up at night with worry, especially if you are jetting off to a country you know very little about.
If organic food or a certain brand is important to you, you may want to consider packing your supply with you if this is possible. This may seem a bit of an overkill, in which case we strongly suggest you do a bit of research on what’s available in the country you are off to. This will be made very easy if you join our trusted group of parents based around the world (shameless plug!) where you will be able to ask fellow parents who have either traveled to or live in the destination you’re traveling to.
Alternatively, you may want to consider getting a place with a kitchenette so that you can make your own food (bearing in mind that in all likelihood they won’t have a food processor or blender available for you).
Also, don’t assume that just because there’s a store from a chain that you’re familiar with, that they will necessarily carry the same range of products as they do in other stores (especially when you’re traveling abroad).
Marianne’s anecdote : When Simon was 13 months old, we took a trip to Swaziland and the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. I’d previously bought organic baby food at the SuperSpar grocery store chain in South Africa and so I assumed that they would carry it at SuperSpar in Swaziland and in other parts of South Africa. Much to my surprise, there was no organic baby food to be found anywhere in Swaziland (I searched multiple supermarkets and pharmacies), nor in the Drakensberg Mountains. In fact, I even had trouble finding plain yogurt that I could mix with his fruit. Luckily, we had rented a cottage which had a kitchen and so we did a lot of cooking and mashing with forks. (I wished I’d packed the mini food processor!) On the other hand, when we were traveling to the southern US, I was pleasantly surprised to find so many Whole Foods stores which were all well stocked with a whole range of organic food products. Although the local pharmacies didn’t have any organic baby food whereas in New York they did.
Juliet’s anecdote : When I traveled to France and Italy when Felix was six months old, I started him on solids while there. France and Italy have a fantastic array of baby food (“petits pots”) in all of their grocery stores. In fact, when returning to the US six weeks later, I found it at first difficult to adapt to the selection available here.
7. What is the accessibility of your family vacation destination?
This is something you might not have considered much pre-baby, but now that you’re traveling with baby in tow, you’ll have to pay this special attention. You now have a stroller to factor in!
Juliet’s anecdote: I grew up in a New York suburb and have been taking the train to the city my whole life. Last year, when taking my baby to the city, I suddenly realized that I had no idea where the elevator down the platform was! I’d never once even pondered where it might be. It didn’t take me long to find it, but it goes to show that traveling with babies, near and far, is a vastly different experience.
In most European and East Coast US cities, there’s a decent public transportation system. But there’s public transportation and there’s baby-friendly public transportation. Let’s be honest, any place where it’s a pain to take public transportation with a big piece of luggage (New York, Paris, London) is going to be even more of a pain with a baby. The big problem is that they don’t have elevators or escalators in their metro stations and buses are often not at the level of the sidewalk.
Cities that have great public transportation include most places in Scandinavia (like Stockholm, Sweden) and newer US cities.
If you decide that public transportation sounds too stressful, you might want to consider renting a car (don’t forget to check off the car seat!). But even if you do this, you may want to book a cab to get you from the airport or station to the place you’re staying. In some cities, you can book a taxi with a baby seat. (Be sure to order it in advance!). At the very least, it’ll mean that you’ll have someone to help you with your bags when you arrive.
Marianne’s anecdote : We traveled to Paris in August, when Simon was 9 months old. As friends lent us their place, we decided to rent a car because we figured the city would be empty enough during peak French holiday month and it’d be relatively easy to get around by car. Certainly we drove around the city quite easily and there wasn’t any traffic, but parking was still tricky. Most street parking is free in August, but unless you’re hanging out in a super residential neighborhood like the 16th (where everything is closed in August and everyone is away), it’s still tricky to find free parking. But paid lots had plenty of spots… at a price. The upshot was that we took a few day trips outside the city which we wouldn’t have done without the car.
In addition to getting around, you should also really think about where you’re staying. If you’ve chosen to have a family vacation in Barcelona or Florence (great decision by the way), be sure to check you’re either staying on the ground floor or that there’s an elevator. As charming as staying in a 6th floor walk-up with a fantastic view is, you’re likely to get tired of hauling your baby and pram and diaper bag and shopping bags up and down the stairs, especially if you’re not used to doing it at home.
For apartment rentals, especially studios, it may also be helpful to find out if there’s a place to store the pram. Hotels may let you store your stroller in their luggage room which is usually near the reception.
8. What’s the weather going to be like during your family vacation?
Is your baby (and are you?) going to be able to handle the climate and are you going to need extra gear? The good news is that babies are generally pretty adaptable as long as they are appropriately dressed (or undressed).
If you’re going to a warmer climate, you may want to consider packing extra bottles or sippy cups to keep the little one hydrated. Sunblock and shade are a must. You might want a clip on parasol for your stroller or a sun canopy, and if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors, a sun hat, a tent or a parasol are advisable.
If you opt to get a beach tent for your little one, make sure it has plenty of ventilation, especially if you’re going some place humid. Those little play tents can get quite hot and stuffy. If you set it up under a parasol or in the shade, it helps keep it a little cooler.
If you’re going to a colder climate, make sure to bring enough layers, hats, mittens and blankets. In both cases make sure you bring appropriate pyjamas and sleep sacks.
Marianne’s anecdote 1: Even though we’d been living in Mozambique for a year, we were wholly unprepared when we decided to take Simon to the beach. It didn’t even occur to us that there wouldn’t be ANY shade as we were staying at a beachside bungalow. We assumed that they would have parasols for rent or palm trees or something. Fortunately our South African beach neighbors took pity on us and lent us one of their extra parasols.
Marianne’s anecdote 2: Since Simon only spent the first 7 weeks of his life in cold climates, and since then we’ve lived in Mozambique where his wardrobe consists of a diaper and perhaps a shirt year-round, we have NO warm clothes for him. So we’ve opted to only go visit our friends and families when it’s warm in their location. When we went to Europe in April, we borrowed some hand-me downs from friends and cousins for the couple weeks that we were there. Between that, grandparents, and other excited friends and family who can’t resist buying baby clothes, we were well equipped for the colder weather.
Let’s quickly recap:
- What kind of baby bed is available?
- What are our car seat options?
- What baby food is available?
- What is the accessibility of the place like?
- What’s the weather like?
So if you’ve found the perfect destination and you’ve successfully answered these five critical questions, then you’re one step closer to your family vacation.
Relax, your baby will be happy you did your homework and might even thank you for it by taking one long snooze in his stroller.