We’ve talked about traveling with infants before (two great examples are “They have babies there, too”: tips for traveling internationally with an infant and I want to take my two-month-old overseas: what should I keep in mind?, but since this appears to be a recurring theme here’s another post!
I’ve always loved traveling. Until recently, traveling meant buying the cheapest airplane ticket to Europe, booking my first and last nights in a hostel, and packing one carry-on and a Lonely Planet guidebook. Once arrived, I would adventure onwards, wherever suggestions in the guidebook, leaflets at the hostel, or my whimsy, took me.
My husband and I had already been planning our belated honeymoon to Ireland when we learned I was pregnant. We thought about it briefly, and decided to go anyway. I had been to Europe before; I had taken care of babies before. How hard could this be?
Other people seemed to think we were crazy (but then, they often do). They assumed that we would either cancel the trip, or leave the baby behind (I’m not sure where you leave a four-month old for an entire month). They were so worried that I thought I would look up “taking baby to Europe” online, to make sure I wasn’t missing something important. That was a mistake. While there is some information out there, I was taken aback by the abundant negativity towards taking young children on a trip, and there is a particularly vocal group complaining about the presence of infants on airplanes.
In spite of this, we went ahead, and took our four-month-old with us for an amazing month-long trip. While we were certainly fortunate — and while Ireland is not the most exotic of locales for an American to visit — here are some things that helped:
- Nursing on the airplane: Since we breastfeed, we simply nursed through much of the flight, especially during the ascent/descent when the pressure is particularly painful. (If you don’t breastfeed, you could use a bottle, sippy cup, or pacifier, during these times; the sucking motion is similar to chewing gum.)
- Babywearing: Much of our walking was done in woods, fields, or places where the pavement was uneven or there were steps. Medieval cities weren’t built to accommodate strollers! The Ergo was especially useful for long walks.
- Co-sleeping: Some places did offer a portable crib for the baby; but many others did not (especially as we were staying in many hostels). Regardless, Baby spent most of his nights sleeping with us, as he does at home.
- Bringing our own car seat: I really fought this one, because I wanted to travel light. Also, I was worried about it sustaining damage in the baggage hold. In the end, though, neither renting nor buying one was an option. We bought a car seat bag (a huge bag that fits over the car seat with a strap attached) for twenty dollars, and took our Britax seat. It was a bit awkward at the beginning and end of the trip, but well worth it. We felt safe, we were comfortable with the installation, and baby was used to (if not fond of) it. We were able to check it for free as one piece of luggage for the baby, even though he did not have his own ticket. As a bonus, we were able to stuff some baby supplies in it on the way over, and our dirty laundry in it on the way back. The bag was ripped at the end of the flight home, but the car seat was fine.
- Baby supplies: Many people asked us, “How are you going to carry all the diapers for a whole month?” I figured that people in Ireland probably have babies, and they might just also need the same baby things we do. We took just a few and purchased the rest at grocery stores and pharmacies over there — just like we do at home.
- Diaper changing mat: At home, we are pretty casual about the surfaces we change the baby on. However, we had a small changing pad that came in handy many time to create a “tummy time” surface for the baby. Since he spent so much of the day in the car seat or carrier, we made sure he got some time to get down and stretch out on a waterproof, padded mat, in cathedrals, museums, and parks.
- Start out easy: It is a general piece of travel advice to arrange your trip in order from least exotic to most exotic, but it was especially helpful to do this with a baby. We spent the first several days in one place, staying with friends. This gave us time to adjust to the time difference and gave Baby a more familiar environment (of being in a home) to get started in.
Traveling with an infant was definitely different from my carefree days of traveling alone, or even from traveling as just a couple. One big difference was the lack of downtime — I had previously spent most evenings of a trip writing postcards, but that really didn’t happen with a baby to feed, bathe, and entertain in the evenings! We also had a lot more laundry along the way.
Many of the differences, however, were positive. We got to spend an entire month together as a family in a way that we don’t usually at home. Traveling with a baby also gave us the opportunity to engage in the culture in more local ways, as we had more ordinary chores with an infant. And we found that a baby is the ticket to meeting lots of new people — our son has been spoken to in at least seven different languages, but baby smiles are internationally understood!